Pop culture collectibles, especially in the last decade or so, have become a massive business. With the popularity of comic book films, the return of Star Wars, and the ever increasing popularity of genre film and television, this is hardly a surprise. Although well established players like Hasbro, Lego, and Mattel have had plenty of success it is the rise of smaller collectible based companies that has been the real story. Companies like MacFarland, Diamond Select, Kotobukiya, Super 7, and many more, have found a foothold in this ever-growing business. None of these newer players though has come close to the success enjoyed by Funko, based in Everett, Washington.
Founded in 1998 by Mike Becker, Funko started out as a company that made bobble heads, which they dubbed Wacky Wobblers. In 2005, Becker sold the company to current owner/CEO Brian Mariotti. Although the company enjoyed success, it was the 2010 introduction of Pop! Vinyl (originally called Funko Force 2.0) that put Funko on the map and led to the creation of an empire that surpassed $425 million dollars in revenue during 2016.
But what makes Funko so successful? Sure they have licenses with the most beloved franchises and companies in pop culture, ranging from Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm and DC comics, to Hanna Barbera, and other countless film and television franchises. But many of their competitors do as well. Is it the lines themselves? Since the introduction of Pop! Vinyl, Funko has successfully introduced Dorbz (inspired by Fisher Price’s Little People and Kawaii Super Cute), Mystery Minis (small blind box characters), and Pint Size Heroes (very small blind bag figures), among others. Sure, the diversification of product lines has paid off incredibly well for Funko but I don’t think that’s at the root of it either. What, then, is the secret to their success? One word: community.
Funko is unlike any other company in the world in how it interacts with its collector community. This is mainly done through their website Funkofunatics.com. This forum is not just a random fansite, it is officially recognized by the company itself. Not only does it provide a means for the company to interact with their fan base directly, it has also created a massive community of collectors, who in turn are able to feel a legitimate connection with both the company and each other.
In addition to the forum, Funko puts on events for their fans. Last year saw them introduce Fright Night (a Halloween event), and there are rumors of a new event in the works. In addition they put on what has become one of the, if not the most, sought after events to occur during San Diego Comic Con: Funko Fundays.
But what is Fundays and why are people so interested in it? Fundays is an annual event that takes place during San Diego Comic Con weekend (though at least one year it happened in Las Vegas). It’s a party thrown by Funko to celebrate and thank their fan base. It is also where Funko gives out a number of awards to its fans, known as Funatics. These awards are for the rookie of the year, spirit award, the collector of the year, and the hall of fame. Yes, this company loves their fans so much that they created a hall of fame for them and annually choose members from their forum to be inducted.
I had the great pleasure of being able to attend Fundays this year. It was my third year in a row attending. So what was the event like? Well, Fundays always occurs on a Friday night. Funatics start lining up early in the day in anticipation of the doors opening to be let in. The event takes place in the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, and by the time the doors opened for the 2017 event at 6:30 PM, the line stretched all of the way down the side of the hotel, around the back, and towards the boardwalk. The past two years have seen the introduction of both themes for the event and special entry procedures. This year’s theme was Intergalactic Superhero Circus. Upon entry attendees have their ticket scanned and are handed the highly coveted Box of Fun. The box, which is given to every attendee, contains 3 different Pop! Vinyl figures. These figures are always based on Freddy Funko, the company’s mascot, dressed up as different characters from franchises with which Funko works.
Next, attendees and the people in their group were assigned to one of 4 sections: Avengers, Hogwarts, Justice League, or Rebel Alliance. These corresponded to the section they would be sitting in and gave them the table #. Right after this, each group was ushered into an area to play 3 games; spin the wheel, plinko, and a rolling giant dice. The results of the 3 games determined additional prizes for each team, running the gamut through Funko’s various lines specially made for the event.
Afterward, people went to get food from the buffet and were seated. This was when the actual show began. The Fundays parties are hosted by former owner Mike Becker as part of his duties as Funko’s COF or Chairman of Fun. Becker is a bit of a ham and clearly loves his role as host.
Over the next few hours, attendees were treated to a variety of spectacles. These included everything from an aerial silk dancer dressed like Harley Quinn, to 3 of Funko’s artists doing 3 random paintings that somehow fit together perfectly. There were also contests where whomever won would win prizes for everyone seated in their section. In addition, there was a special appearance by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, as well as major reveals of forthcoming licenses and products by owner Brian Mariotti. The whole time, aided by the enthusiastic “prize patrol” and and the music, the crowd kept getting whipped into a frenzy. And this is the part of Fundays that people who haven’t been before can’t really understand.
Fundays is more than a party and more than prizes, although both are fantastic. The feeling of unabashed joy and wonder evoked during the event is like nothing I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. People are constantly on their feet; screaming, cheering, shouting. In my opinion the only thing I can liken it to is a sort of religious experience. Even after the event officially ends, it is not truly over, as people will stay well after to talk to friends and try to buy, sell, or trade items from the evening.
One thing is for sure though, not only is there no other event like Fundays at SDCC, I don’t think there’s another event quite like it in the world. Especially not one hosted by a manufacturer of collectibles! It is one of my greatest dreams to continue to be able to attend Fundays next year and for many years to come!