A Peek Inside The Funko Vaults, From The Earliest Wacky Wobblers To Never-Seen Pop! Figures

It all started with one bobblehead… and a dream. Back in 1998, Funko founder Mike Becker found himself looking nostalgically at the Bob’s Big Boy mascot and made the big bet that there were other toys fans just like him that would pay to own a collectible wobbly-headed version of the oversized burger-pusher. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s gotta be a thousand other knuckleheads just like me out there,'” Becker tells Yahoo Entertainment with a laugh.

Flash-forward 25 years and those thousands of so-called knuckleheads have become millions. From its humble beginnings in Becker’s Washington state garage, Funko has grown into one of the leading names in the collectibles market. And the company is taking a quarter century victory lap at WonderCon on March 25 with an all-star panel that promises plenty of surprise cameos and new product reveals — including a fresh update of its signature character.

Funko Wacky Wobbler Freddy Funko With Proto

Funko Fun On The Run Bitty Pops

“We’re going full circle,” confirms Becker. “It’s the first time in probably 17 years that these Wacky Wobblers have appeared, and we have these really cool Bitty Pops to show as well.” And the thought of premiering those items triggers Becker’s own full circle moment. “I always think back to being in that garage, full of self-doubt and worry,” he recalls. “And now I’m about to go to WonderCon and appear in a 4,500-people arena! It’s like, ‘How in the world did we get here?'”

Becker’s other big WonderCon announcement is the launch of Funko’s nationwide “Fun on the Run” bus tour, where the Freddy Funko figures will be available as exclusives. Kicking off on July 7 in Nashville, the 10-city trip will chart a course from the East Coast to the West Coast with stops in Tulsa, Amarillo and Tucson along the way. The Funko bus will pull into San Diego on July 19, just in time for the start of Comic-Con International. (See the full tour schedule below.)

“I remember growing up in a little town and wondering when a carnival or some other event would come through,” Becker says of what inspired him to launch Fun on the Run. “The biggest thing we got was hydroplanes! When those came, it was like the Fourth of July and Halloween rolled into one.”

And he promises that the traveling bus will put on a show in every stop it makes. “You’ll be able to get exclusive products all housed in really cool custom boxes,” Becker says, also citing bonus features like photo ops and giveaways. “We want people to have that feeling of ‘I can’t believe they came here!'”

Funko’s early collection of Wacky Wobblers 

Becker surrounded by some of his personal collectibles 

After launching with Bob’s Big Boy, Funko’s collection of licensed bobbleheads grew to include oft-licensed characters like Garfield, Betty Boop and Felix the Cat. But the company’s breakthrough hit came courtesy of a certain British super-spy. No, not that one. In the early 2000s, Becker scored the license to New Line’s Austin Powers franchise and the popularity of those bobbleheads got them into the pop culture game in a big way.

“If I remember right, they wanted a $5,000 guarantee, and I was like, ‘That’s crazy!'” Becker says of those negotiations over the Mike Myers series. “But we did Austin Powers and sold a hundred thousand of them right out of the garage. I remember we had pallets lined up down the driveway and the truck driver would call ahead saying, ‘Make sure you have a pallet jack!’ I thought, ‘What the hell is a pallet jack?'”

The view from Mike Becker’s garage where Funko began

Inside Becker’s garage where they shipped a hundred thousand Austin Powers bobbleheads, the licensed collectible that took Funko to the next level

These days, of course, a Funko licensing deal is a prerequisite for almost every major movie and TV series: The company has the rights to such gargantuan franchises as Star Wars, Marvel, DC and Stranger Things. And the range of collectibles has expanded beyond bobbleheads into multiple variations on the classic Pop! collectible, as well as fashion accessories, board games and NFTs.

Fan-favorite characters from some of those franchises will be celebrated via the 25th anniversary Pop! Classics line, with a new figure announced every quarter.

Toy Story 3’s Lotso Bear is making his debut at WonderCon and Batman’s longtime nemesis the Joker will be the next classic figure getting the Classics treatment.

The Joker is part of the Pop! Classics line for Funko’s 25th anniversary

The Joker Pop! Classics figure comes in a collectible anniversary tin 

Even as Funko has charted a profitable course over the past quarter century, the collectibles market has run into difficult economic headwinds in recent years. The convention circuit is still recovering from the severe economic hit it sustained during the COVID pandemic, and even toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel have reportedly experienced rocky times.

Earlier this month, Funko experienced its own challenging earnings report, revealing that the company was going to destroy $30 million in unsold inventory of its vinyl figures. However, Becker downplays any concerns. “I just focus on the fun,” he says. “That’s my primary job here — I focus only on the fun and the task ahead.”

Mike Becker in the Wacky Wobbler photo spot

Funko founder Mike Becker with Mr. T

And Becker’s immediate task at hand is finalizing what he’s going to say when he takes the stage at WonderCon for Funko’s 25th anniversary panel. “What usually goes through my head is, ‘Don’t trip!'” he jokes. “But I’m honestly just so full of gratitude to see something that I’ve loved and poured my heart into actually work with other like-minded people. I always felt like I was one of the misfit toys, but now I see that we’re all kind of bound by this feeling of fun.”

Reprinted from Yahoo: LINK

Published by Larry Fire

I write an eclectic pop culture blog called THE FIRE WIRE that features articles about books, comics, music, movies, television, gadgets, posters, toys & more!

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