When I set out to write about the newest wave of Funko reveals, I didn’t think I’d end up doing a deep dive into the history of the company. Why are these little Pop! figures so prolific? It feels like they just sprung up overnight, doesn’t it? One minute you’re minding your own business, the next there’s a wall of small vinyl figurines in every vaguely pop culturally relevant store in a 20 mile radius. Where did they come from, and what makes them so popular?
Funko was founded in 1998. Predominantly dealing in bobbleheads at the time, the company was created to seemingly introduce lower-cost merchandise and collectibles to vintage properties where the initial cost of investment would have been ludicrously steep. Initial licensed properties ran the gamut from vintage comic and movie characters to advertising mascots and more. The first item manufactured by Funko was, in fact, a bobblehead representing the titular Big Boy from restaurant chain Bob’s Big Boy.
In 2005, Funko was sold, and the brand kind of exploded in popularity from there. In 2010, the brand debuted a new prototype at San Diego Comic Con – dubbed Funko Force 2.0, it effectively served as the beginnings of what would become the Funko Pop! figurine. Two variants of Batman, Batgirl, and the Green Lantern were sold as con exclusives, with previews of figures in the line to come.
Of note is that the original Funko fan base weren’t too keen on the Funko Force 2.0 figurines initially. Brian Mariotti, president of Funko, was quoted as saying in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview that “’[t]he early results from my fan base were fairly negative,’ he admits. ‘They didn’t like the look, the feel…the fact it didn’t bobble.’” Mariotti noticed, however, that women, as well as other Comic Con veterans who didn’t typically purchase Funko products, were particularly drawn in to their style.
Funko began to experiment with their three biggest licensed properties – Marvel, DC and Star Wars, to start, and eventually picked up 25 additional licenses (and then some) – and promoting their merchandise outside of traditional comic and collectible stores and marketing them to more traditional big box stores and online retailers. The accessibility of the figures – now known by their current name, Funko Pop!s, – was apparent. Between availability and an extremely reasonable $10 price tag, they were available for even the most casual collector.
The proliferation of the Pop is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. The available licenses spread like wildfire, with Funko picking up more and more on the regular. You can find figurines of damn near anything, including (but not limited to) comic books, video games, sci-fi movies, musicals, presidential candidates, musicians, animated features, the entire Disney canon, live-action tv shows, cereal mascots, anime, and more.
Funko’s eagerness to corner the vinyl collectible market is admirable, with them introducing more and more lines between the Dorbz, Pint Size Heroes, Mystery Minis and more – and the price point and selection is both fair and vast, in that order. For a beginning collector, Funko’s seemingly the way to go.
That being said, I’m looking forward to the new Overwatch Season 2 figurines, as well as the Nickelodeon Nicktoons line that will be coming out later this year.