Collecting & Playing Together: Kids, Parents, and the Toys of Comic-Con

Whether you’ve actually attended it or not, when one thinks of Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), toys probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, despite being in the name, even comics play second fiddle at this point to the massive presence of Hollywood at the annual fan gathering in San Diego—now the premiere destination for those looking to promote new movies and television projects. But toys are a massive part of the Comic-Con experience, and this year proved that it’s not just for “the adult collector,”  but for families looking to bond through the experience of play and the entertainment properties that embrace it.

At an event known for expensive limited-editions and sought-after exclusive toys that are destined to remain forever behind plastic in their cardboard window boxes, nostalgia is a driving factor in many offerings—including many with cross-generational appeal that will actually be played with. I was in attendance to appear on a panel—Living in a Post-Toys “R” Us World: Navigating the Future of Toy Retail—and one possibility presented is that fan events like Comic-Con might help fill some of the gap, with toymakers bringing their wares to where the families are. Few point it out, but SDCC is the largest, consumer-facing event of the year—and unlike trade shows, it’s a place where toys can not only be shown, but also sold.

Moose Toys arrived in San Diego to introduce the first-ever boy character to their popular line of Shopkins Shoppies dolls. While NECA quickly sold-out on their expensive versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their 1990 movie form, over at the Nickelodeon booth, all sights were set on the September debut of their new animated series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Following a preview at Toy Fair New York last February, the new Turtles from Playmates Toys were made available to the public for the very first time in SDCC-exclusive packaging. They were priced and packaged with collectors in mind, but I saw kids loving them.

If there was ever to be an extreme example of different cultures coming together, it was Lloyd Kaufman and the Troma Entertainment team setting up shop just 8 feet from eOne’s double-sized booth. There, just a glance away from The Toxic Avenger (remember Playmates Toys’ Toxic Crusaders?), was Peppa Pig alongside Catboy, Gekko, and Owlette, collectively known as the PJ Masks!

Following-up their 2016 SDCC-debut, Just Play issued a 2018 Convention Exclusive PJ Masks Super Moon Adventure boxed set that features our three heroes in chrome versions of their costumes. Limited to just 220 pieces, this set is designed for kids ages 3 and up, and celebrates the debut of the new Super Moon Adventure toys that will be hot for the upcoming holiday season.

As the retro-wave continues to foster a new era of hands-on play, Entertainment Earth was previewing their new Pin Mates Red Series. Unlike the previous Pin Mates that were geared toward adult collectors ages 14 and up (a line that continues), the Red Series is a throwback to a simpler time, inspired by the Fisher-Price Little People of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Recommended for kids ages 4 and up, the first offering is a limited-edition Luckee the Dog, and priced at just $4.99 it’s a perfectly affordable (and adorable) beginning to a collection. Expect to see more of these in the months ahead to be released under the new E.E. Toys line. The Entertainment Earth booth was also the first public, non-industry offering for Wow! Stuff’s fantastic new line of Harry Potter products, including the incredible Mystery Flying Snitch that was recently seen at Sweet Suite.

The big players were also reaching out to families with both Mattel and Hasbro presenting massive booths filled with toys and collectibles, while Jakks Pacific showed off a ton of new toys from their ever-expanding Nintendo line and their forthcoming Mega Man collection.

Mattel tapped into the spirit of Comic-Con by focusing on their new Aquaman and Harry Potter lines, while showcasing the 50th Anniversary of Hot Wheels and some of the incredible new crossovers between Hot Wheels and Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, and even WWE. A Surprise Jurassic Park presentation revealed that there’s much more to come as the success of Jurassic World continues. New toys feature in-scale figures, dinosaurs, and vehicles, while next year will see a collector line of 6-inch action figures debut.

Across the aisle, Hasbro’s co-branded Transformers Bumblebee Razor Scooter was quick to sell-out alongside a My Little Pony 1983 “Greatest Hits” set. A constant flow of new reveals from the fan-focused Marvel Legends Series kept collectors watching, while kids were captivated by new items from My Little Pony, Transformers, DreamWorks’ Trolls, and, of course, Star Wars. One line with a lot of buzz: the kid-focused Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

With events such as Play Fair starting to pick-up steam and hit the road, could we eventually see something like a “Toy Pavillon” at SDCC? I asked my Magic 8-Ball and it said Outlook good.” An intriguing thought indeed!

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