• Brad Gullickson

Interview: Bill Murphy on Resurrecting the Eagle Force Toyline

We chat with the Fresh Monkey Fiction founder about his desire to return the forgotten action figures to their former glory, or give them the glory they were denied.

The eighties were an action figure decade, and I obsessed over all of them. Star Wars, Transformers, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Silver Hawks, Sectaurs, Inhumanoids, Rock Lords, Computer Warriors, The Saga of Crystar...okay, where did I lose you? Sectaurs? It was Computer Warriors, wasn't it? While some toys like Transformers and G.I. Joe still fight for relevancy today, others have been lost to time.

Eagle Force was a two-and-three-fourths-inch military-themed toyline from the Mego Corporation that hit shelves in 1982, the same year that also saw G.I. Joe embracing similar measurements. Eagle Force was die-cast metal, a little sturdier. But they never captured the public's imagination, and after a single action figure wave, they disappeared.

However, Eagle Force did not evaporate from the imaginations of those who somehow managed to put their kiddie mitts on them. Their nostalgic pull was strong on this chosen few, and Fresh Monkey Fiction founder Bill Murphy was there from the beginning. He remembers his time with those figures fondly, and when he got the chance to acquire their license, he jumped at it.

Now, forty years later, Bill Murphy has unveiled the Anniversary Eagle Force action figure wave, and he's bringing them to consumers via BigBadToyStore. Having already successfully updated the designs and characters a few years ago, for this year's celebration, he wanted to maintain the original figures' integrity while also renovating the mythology a bit.

For Murphy, that's where the fun and potential really resides with these figures. He's confident that Eagle Force can sustain an epic narrative, and he wants to shape their story into something as compelling as what G.I. Joe once achieved. We chat with the creator about how this project initially came into being, the challenges that arose in its construction, and why he felt compelled to give Eagle Force a story beyond their look.

Currently, there are a dozen+ action figures available for pre-order via BigBadToyStore, including Captain Eagle, Sgt. Brown, Harley, Stryker, General Mamba, R.I.O.T. Saboteur Nemesis, R.I.O.T. Shock Trooper, and Ivan the R.I.O.T. Russian Arms Dealer.

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Brad: Were you there at the beginning when Eagle Force launched? I was a G.I. Joe kid, and I knew of them as their lesser competition, but I'm not even sure that's true. I don't think I became aware of Eagle Force until much later down the line.

Bill: Yeah, I was an eighties kid. I grew up with G.I. Joe, but also had Eagle Force as a kid as well. Eagle Force was originally a line that came out in the early eighties. It lasted one wave. It was a series of military figures, but they were three-inch die-cast metal, so those were good. My brother and I would go throw them at each other. But then G.I. Joe kind of came out at a similar time with similar themes, and it sort of took over the market, and Eagle Force couldn't make it past its first wave.

So, it kind of just came and went. It had some cool stuff, though, at the time. It had like a, Eagle mountain playset, and some Jeeps, and a tank, and a plane. And so it had a very similar concept then as G.I. Joe, as well, but it just, again, it just didn't really resonate. And G.I. Joe took off.

Brad: And the misconception is that Eagle Force was a knockoff of G.I. Joe, but they really came out at the exact same time.

Bill: Yeah, and had very similar themes. I think Eagle Force played heavily into the stereotypes at the time sadly. And some of the characters were actually named the same, even though they were coming out at the same time. So it's actually very interesting that two companies were thinking about similar things at the same time. I'm sure, obviously, that Eagle Force was inspired a little bit by the 12-inch G.I. Joes, obviously like the three and three-quarter-inch were as well.

And then about four years ago or so, I relaunched the line as a Kickstarter, and what we did was we brought back some of those original characters, but we updated them with more styling, like articulation and style. We played homage to the characters in terms of we brought them into the universe. We put them in more of a modern-day setting. We aged them up a little bit, so Captain Eagle was now in his seventies, and we started to build out a new team. We decided it would be better to take that and bring them more into the modern age a little bit.

Brad: What even gets the idea of a relaunch going in the first place? How does that even happen?

Bill: Well, I was a huge fan, and I was able to acquire the property. At the time, Hasbro wasn't doing much with G.I. Joe, and I felt like there was a hole in the market for a similar type figure. And I felt like there was a lot of cool character stuff that we could build off of if we brought the original lineup back, as well as continue to augment it, which we've then done, and now grown out sort of this Eagle Force universe beyond just the original figures that came out. We've done some sub-teams and that led us a few years later to looking at the 40th anniversary and going, "Okay, yes, we actually used some of those characters, but we didn't do as many homages to the original line as we sort of wanted to." And some of the fans actually wanted us to do, so when the 40th came up, we decided, let's go ahead and do another wave, and do this event and really look at doing those same characters from the eighties in their gold uniforms again.

Brad: The reaction to that first Kickstarter campaign was extremely strong. I was surprised by how many people came out to support Eagle Force, because again, my idea of Eagle Force was it was like the lesser G.I. Joe thing, and then I discovered that there was this massive fan base waiting out there. Were you surprised by that or were you pretty confident when you initially launched, that the fans were going to be there for you?

Bill: I knew of people who had known about the line, but not much. What I was hoping to see, which I think we got, was people going, "Okay, well, this is like G.I. Joe, but it's different. It's based on a similar line in the eighties." And they're like, "Okay, I can kind of get on board with this." This is sort of some new characters here with similar themes that really, I think, spoke to a lot of folks. So I was pleasantly surprised when we funded, and I think we'd brought more of an audience in than I thought we would in terms of people who didn't even know of the brand.

Brad: Yeah. For me, it like jumpstarted a memory where there was some deep-seated knowledge still in my head about Eagle Force, but had kind of drifted into the recesses of my mind, and then boom, your figures come about, and it's like, oh, boom, this wake-up call.

Bill: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think that was a lot of it. I think people were like, "Oh, I kind of remember that thing. And, oh, these are kind of neat." And Hasbro's not doing a lot of stuff in this scale anymore. And for me, it's also really much about the world-building piece. I mean, as an eighties collector of toys, so much of those lines, not just G.I. Joe, but Transformers, He-Man, and the list goes on, they really built a lot of mythology around those characters, and I kind of wanted to do the same thing. So that's why it was really important for me to start building out the characters beyond just the typical, like oh, I'm an army man, or I'm the leader, and I'm the tracker, and I'm the medic. Just really trying to break down what those characters are about and who they are, and that's something I think we brought to it that I think interested people, as well, in a similar fashion to, again, some of the toys they grew up with.

Brad: talk a little bit about building out that mythology and wanting to give it a universe. How did you go about achieving that?

Bill: Yeah, I mean, I think the big thing was we had a decision to make. We knew we weren't going to go with the gold figures at the relaunch, because I just felt like that was probably not going to resonate as well.

Brad: Sure.

Bill: At least with the market that was out there. But I can reinvent Captain Eagle as a current character with a current continuity as a mid-twenties to 30-year-old leader, just like he was in the eighties, but then, I really wanted to play, build that eighties line into a mythology and not just go, "Hey, we're just going to relaunch it and forget that it existed." Right?

So, what we said, "Okay, well, we're going to bring these characters back and we're going to age them up in real-time. And then we're going to bring in new characters." So there's like a generational aspect where a couple of characters have children, and then they've joined Eagle Force and other members that we brought in who are new. So I think that was a big part of it. Trying to build out this sort of new world, while also tipping the hat and not throwing out the past either. So, that was a big part of what we wanted to do.

Brad: And the challenges that you discovered in initially bringing that first wave to life, what were the surprises there?

Bill: I think, as far as the toy line goes, I think there were not a whole lot of surprises. The folks came up, they were excited about it. Because of the nature of the Kickstarter platform, I think that also helped. At the time, it was still relatively new. People were embracing it.

Then, sadly, we hit some factory challenges for the first wave that really extended what was supposed to be a two-year project into almost a four-year project. And so we really had to put the brakes on any future stuff that we wanted until that stuff go out - obviously we could fulfill those orders through Kickstarter with our backers. And so, we had planned to really launch something every, probably six to eight months, but because we hit some factor delays, we couldn't. We were able to recover from that about a year and a half ago.

So this ended up where we're at now, which was going, "Okay, well, if we're going to do this again, let's play homage to the 40th anniversary since it's coming up." And then we did a couple of gold characters as just a, yeah, let's test it out. Those got a really good response, more than I thought actually there would be, so when we had the opportunity to redo the 40th, I was like, "Okay, we're going to probably index more into the gold for this one and give those fans something that they really, really wanted."

Brad: And have you found the nostalgic hunger for this wave to be even more intense than the previous anticipation?

Bill: I think it's about the same. I think if I look at our fan base that we've built over the last few years, it's relatively split. I think there are some fans who love the characters. Well, all fans love the characters - I think it's good, but some fans really are like, "Hey, I just want them, to relive the eighties with the gold and bring it back." It's such a fun, different type of thing that obviously was not going to happen with another toy line. And then you have the other fan base who's like, "Hey, I also love the characters, but I really like the modern interpretation." So when we did the 40th, we sprinkled in some modern as well, too, so that we could, again, bring everybody back into the fold.

Brad: And what does it mean for you to finally put your hands on figures like these, to reach back into your past, into your childhood to bring them out?

Bill: Oh, it's really great. I've always wanted to do my own toy line. I was a big fan, as I said, of G.I. Joe and what that meant. And so I was like, "Okay, I want to do something similar." So now, having done the initial Kickstarter and that was over 22 figures, having those done and now having the opportunity now to work with BigBadToyStore to provide these figures, it's super exciting.

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