Back in 2021, veteran animation writers and toy collectors, Chris “Doc” Wyatt and Gavin Hignight, launched their independent toy company, Wandering Planet Toys. Their first project out of the gate was a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for an officially licensed toy line based on the cult television series The Prisoner. It was a smashing success raising ten times more than its initial goal. With The Prisoner toy line in the rear-view mirror, Wandering Planet toys is all set with its next Kickstarter campaign for the first-ever officially licensed Nancy Drew toy line.
Since debuting in 1930, the character of Nancy Drew has starred in hundreds of books but has never before received any toy license. Wandering Planet Toys aims to fix that with this new line featuring 4-inch retro style collectible figures based on the classic Nancy Drew book cover art by celebrated artist Rudy Nappi.
The Beat had a chance to interview Chris “Doc” Wyatt and Gavin Hignight over email about the new Nancy Drew toy line crowdfunding campaign. During our conversation, we discussed what inspired the decision for this specific license, as well as lessons learned from their first Kickstarter. In addition, Wyatt, Hignight, and Jenn Fisher, the President of the Nancy Drew Sleuths and consultant on the package design for the toy line, weighed in on the ongoing debate regarding female action figures.
Taimur Dar: After the incredible success of The Prisoner toy line, I don’t think people would have expected your next toy license to be Nancy Drew. What led to pursuing the Nancy Drew toy license as your next toy line project?
Gavin Hignight: I think from the beginning of Wandering Planet Toys I’ve wanted to make a left turn when people expect a right turn. It’s nice to surprise people, it’s nice to keep folks guessing and Prisoner was very rewarding to us as we had the opportunity to produce collectibles for fans of a series that was lacking in collectibles. That to me was a great similarity between Nancy Drew and The Prisoner, a multigenerational fandom, a really cool character that somehow never had action figures. It made sense to us that a retro style Nancy Drew would look great on the shelf next to her books and fans would want that. (As fans of the books we wanted that).
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: Yeah, definitely an unexpected direction. We got many messages guessing our next line would be another British cult TV show from ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s. We love those shows. We hope to one day make figures of all those shows. But we also don’t want to do only that. We want to diversify. In our house we have a shelf of Nancy Drew books, ones my wife and I read as kids, which now our kids read. Knowing Nancy has never had a figure line, it was like—this is the perfect multigenerational toy project.
Dar: How does producing a toy line based on a beloved book series compare to a cult sci-fi television show?
Hignight: I had a great nostalgia for the cover art of the Nancy Drew (and Hardy Boys) books. So to me it was a visual property from the start. Such rich, beautiful storytelling on those covers. Making figures based on the cover art made total sense. I think we were so excited about bringing those covers into the medium of toys we didn’t even think about them as different than a film or TV property. Everything we needed to make a great figure was already there on that cover, it was just a matter of paying attention and getting the details right. The cover art helped tell the stories and hopefully now these figures will as well in a different way.
Wyatt: Taking a figure straight out a book is a little different than coming from TV. One of the strangest differences is that pulling figures from cover art means only seeing the character from one angle. We have to do a lot of guess work about what the back of an outfit looks like, or in some cases, where there’s a cover on which you only see Nancy from the waist up, you have to try to figure out what the rest of her look would be.
Dar: Was there anything you learned or discovered during your first Kickstarter campaign that you’re applying to the Nancy Drew Kickstarter?
Wyatt: There were so many lessons learned, about how to work with the factory in China, about how to deal with cargo freight customs issues, about the logistics of shipping out figures. It was a lot to learn. Hopefully Nancy will benefit from all that.
Hignight: LOL, EVERYTHING!!!! The Prisoner was super fun, but rough in that we had to learn so many lessons the hard way and in front of an audience of customers/backers who are excited and anxious to get their figures (that they helped bring into reality by supporting you). I am sure with Nancy Drew there will be a new set of lessons to be learned, BUT, there are some things we know to do differently and we know will go better, as now we know better. Biggest surprise for me on the manufacturing side, our factory was much more helpful, proactive and creative to solutions than I thought they would be, given the horror stories I’d heard from other creators about manufacturing in a different country (during Covid when we couldn’t travel and meet face to face). Biggest lesson, be absolutely careful who your fulfillment partner is. You can do everything right, and if you can’t get your figures safely into customers hands none of your hard work matters.
Dar: How has the working relationship with Simon & Schuster been like? Are they involved in every creative decision for the figures or do they leave it mostly to you?
Wyatt: Simon & Schuster have been great partners. They look at everything, they have notes on everything, but they’re always about pushing the project forward, and they’re always enthusiastic and supportive.
Hignight: The Nancy Drew team at S&S has been so positive, personable, constructive. I was confused when I realized they were at a massive publishing house and not some small boutique agency or something. No kidding, since Doc had taken the lead on reaching out for the license and communicating, I didn’t even understand at first we were dealing with S&S. I’ve dealt with a lot of different corporations and IP holders in my creative career and can say my experience with the S&S Nancy Drew team is a pleasant contrast to many of my other experiences. Very thankful for them.
Dar: The prevalent belief in the toy industry is that female action figures don’t sell. This attitude is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that recently fired Marvel chairperson Ike Perlmutter was behind the decision to block Black Widow toys for the Avengers films. What are your thoughts on this notion and did that concern factor in any way in the Nancy Drew toy license?
Wyatt: It is a measurable fact that action figures of female characters sell fewer units than action figures of male characters; but is that because the action figure buying public rejects female figures, or is it because toy companies make fewer female figures, and therefore fewer are sold? If you put only one Black Widow per case, as opposed to 5 Hulks per case, guess what? Hulk will outsell Black Widow 5-to-1. It’s a self-fulling prophecy.
Hignight: When I was a kid I wanted a Princess Leia figure as much as I wanted Luke or Han. When She-Ra came out I ventured into that all pink girls toys isle to get one to help my other toys fight Hordak and Skeletor. And when Batman Returns Catwoman was short-packed I harassed a poor guys at Service Merchandise to go in the back and open a case for me so I could get one. Wandering Planet is gonna make figures of cool heroes period. It’s Nancy’s time, she’s due a good figure, and Nancy Drew Mystery fans no matter their gender, age, whatever deserve to have one in their collection. Because we are aimed at collectors, and because of the great flexibility crowdfunding and modern manufacturing allows us to approach smaller production runs of figures, we don’t have to care about those antiquated ideas about what sells or what sits on a peg.
Jenn Fisher: Nancy Drew is such a Pop Culture Icon and has been for decades, that I think that transcends the typical norm in the comic book world – she’s in her own league. Millions of fans have read her books over the decades from all walks of life, so there’s a diverse group of collectors excited to collect these figures and relive that great Nancy Drew childhood nostalgia. So, it’s no mystery to me that Nancy Drew will fare well with not only female fans but also male fans as well.
Hignight: Thank you for the great questions! Always fun to ramble a bit about the process and passion of making these toys.
Nancy Drew Retro-Style Action Figures and an All-New Novella Kickstarter is live now. You can see images and info and make your pledge, here.