You’ll Go Crazy for Warpo’s Retro Toys

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Warpo Glow Cthulhu
Warpo President Bryan Katzel shows off the limited edition glow-in-the-dark Cthulhu figurine. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Warpo’s slogan is “Making Yesterday’s Toys,” and they’re doing a fantastic job of it.

Last summer, Warpo launched a Kickstarter campaign for a toy line called the Legends of Cthulhu. Designed to look like action figures from the late ’70s, the Legends included four characters from Lovecraftian lore: the Spawn of Cthulhu, the Deep One, the Cultist, and the Professor. The campaign was a hit, raising over twice its $60,000 goal, and backers got their brand new retro toys early this year.

At Gen Con, I spoke with Bryan Katzel, president of Warpo, about the company and the toys, and plans for the future.

Warpo was started by three friends–Katzel, Tommy Baldwin, and Eric Lefeber–who worked in the toy industry and were collectors themselves. They felt there was something lacking in the current state of retro toys and wanted to take a more artisanal approach, making their action figures really look and feel like something from an earlier time.

Warpo figures
Kickstarter backers had access to some special versions of the figures, including a translucent Spawn of Cthulhu. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

They were fans of Lovecraft, but weren’t really sure if there would be enough demand for it–and then Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter campaign raised $1.4 million. Katzel said he had known there were people who liked Lovecraft, but didn’t realize he had such a huge following. A lot of people (myself included) know about the characters and lore even if they haven’t read the books–they’ve picked it up from games and pop culture. And there was no full toy line based on the property. Looks like Warpo had found its first project.

Warpo’s Kickstarter campaign raised 220% of its goal. To get that retro feel, they worked with people who had the right experience. Eddy Mosqueda worked at Mattel in the ’80s, sculpting figures from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Masters of the Universe, among others. He still sculpts by hand rather than digitally, and Katzel said he really wanted that hand-made feel.

The packaging illustrations were done by Ken Kelly, who paints in oil. He actually has family ties to Frank Frazetta, and had painted for Dungeons & Dragons, Micronauts, and some KISS album covers. Between his paintings and the rest of the packaging design, you’d swear you were looking at a carefully preserved toy from several decades ago, not something that was just made this year.

Warpo Big Cthulhu
The 12″ Cthulhu figure is designed to hold the Professor in its hand. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Legends of Cthulhu line has done well, even getting picked up by Diamond Distributors, so you may see them in comic book shops and specialty online stores like ThinkGeek. This is the first Kickstarter-funded product that Diamond has picked up for distribution. After the initial four figures, Warpo also created a huge 12″ Cthulhu figure, and they’ll have a collector’s set delivering in November.

Warpo collector's set
The collector’s set includes a collector’s box, a letter from the Society of Investigators, a ring and pin, a tableau for your action figures, and more. Also available: a coloring book! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Both the 12″ Cthulhu and the collector’s set went straight to pre-order and retail, skipping the Kickstarter route–Katzel said they wanted to use Kickstarter to get their company started, not just to fund a single product line. It’s clear that they’ve put a lot of love and enthusiasm into everything, and the attention to detail is fantastic. The coloring/activity book looks like something I might’ve had as a kid (other than the subject matter, of course), and there’s even a TV commercial (Kickstarter backers could get it on VHS).

Warpo still plans to use Kickstarter from time to time for the marketing value. Its next toy line won’t be Lovecraftian, and will be headed to Kickstarter in November–but it’s a secret. Katzel wouldn’t even give me a hint, but he said he’s really excited about it. Stay tuned!

Warpo Spawn of Cthulhu
My daughter was extremely pleased with her Spawn of Cthulhu action figure. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

For more, visit the Warpo website.

Disclosure: Warpo provided a Spawn of Cthulhu figure for my Cthulhu-obsessed daughter.

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