When Diedre Twitty and Jordon Vargas’ shelves were overflowing with Funko collectibles, they could have just stored some of them away.
Instead, they built more shelves.
The Stanwood couple have earned their titles as “Funatics” — the nickname fans created for themselves to show their enthusiasm for the Everett-based toy maker — since starting their collection of pop culture characters in 2014.
Twitty was at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle when she saw Funko Pop! figurines for the first time. She was drawn to their cute, big-eyed, bobblehead appearance.
So she bought two characters from “The Walking Dead” for Vargas and herself — a pistol-wielding Rick Grimes and a one-eyed version of The Governor — plus the nerdy but lovable Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” for her son, Jagger Twitty.
“After that, it kind of took off,” Twitty said.
Funko, founded in 1998, has turned into a global phenomenon over the past few years, according to Funko’s Everett retail manager, Liz Lawson. The company’s diverse range of merchandise, which capitalize on new trends in pop culture, has created a wide fan base and led to a meteoric rise on Wall Street.
For Twitty and Vargas, who now have more than 1,000 collectibles in their house, Funko has given them a family hobby.
“The collection is definitely a ‘wow’ factor,” Lawson said of the Twitty-Vargas collection. “Our typical collector is going to have around 200. It’s very impressive, especially if you have to pay $200 or $300 for some of them.”
A way of life
Mystical creatures, troubled antagonists and famous football players all have a place on Twitty and Vargas’s shelves, from the iconic Indiana Jones to the kids on “Stranger Things.”
They get their collectibles from Funko’s flagship store on Wetmore Avenue in Everett, the online Funko Shop at www.funko.com, from $30 subscription boxes that arrive in the mail every other month, and via trading with other Funatics.
They’ve spent more than $10,000 on Funko’s products so far; the company’s Pop! figurines, which make up the bulk of their collection, typically cost between $10 and $15.
The couple also have toys from other Funko product lines, such as Dorbz, Hikari and Pint Size Heroes. They even own Christmas ornaments, salt-and-pepper shakers and dishes made by Funko.
“You’re supposed to buy what you love,” Twitty said.
What is it about Funko that’s so appealing? Steve Pasierb, one of the leading voices in the toys industry, says it’s because Funko stays one step ahead of pop-culture trends.
“They always have something you want to buy,” said Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association, a nonprofit trade association in New York City that represents more than 750 member companies, including Funko. “They’re going in all these different directions because they follow trends and they’re on top of trends.”
For example, Funko recently released its “Captain Marvel” collectibles to coincide with the release of the film of the same name.
Vargas said the company’s seemingly endless churn of products is both a blessing and a curse for Funatics.
“It’s a full-time job to keep up,” he said.
Waves on Wall Street
Funko has rebounded after a shaky initial public offering in 2017.
The company’s opening stock price of $12 per share two years ago dropped to $7 by close on the first day, leading one early shareholder to sue the company for allegedly misleading investors. The drop was due to investors’ fears that Funko was a fad.
But the very next year Funko’s stock grew by 169.5 percent, while net sales totaled $686.1 million in 2018.
Funko stock currently trades at $19.56 per share.
Twitty and Vargas bought a combined 66 shares in the company when it went public in 2017. They were aware of Funko’s rough start but never considered selling their stocks.
“This company is more than just a product to us,” Twitty said. “It’s a whole network and community.”
So how does the Everett company stack up with the rest of the toy industry? Pretty well. Pasierb said Funko was very popular at the 2019 American International Toy Fair held mid-February in New York City.
“Funko was the largest in the action figure and collectable space,” said Pasierb, who keeps one of his two Funko Pop! figurines on his desk. “Biggest, best, most exciting and well-merchandised company in that space — a main attraction.”
While Funko isn’t the size the mega companies such as Lego, Mattel or MGA, Pasierb said they could be someday.
“Five years ago, everyone was writing them off as a novelty. And here they are. There’s no reason to bet against them.”
Funko’s toys and collectibles are similar to bumper stickers in that they offer a glimpse into the collector’s interests and personality.
Vargas, 34, a 2004 graduate of Stanwood High School who works as a general contractor, collects “The Lord of the Rings,” Marvel Comics and Seattle Seahawks figures.
A few of his Funko Pop! characters are autographed by the people who inspired them. His Steve Largent toy is signed by the football Hall of Famer himself. His Winter Soldier figure is autographed by actor Sebastian Stan, who portrayed the mysterious assassin in the 2014 film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Another Pop! character, in the likeness of Conan O’Brien, was signed by the late-night TV host at last year’s San Diego Comic Con.
For Vargas, the appeal is as much about the characters themselves as the boxes the cartoon figures come in.
“We go back and forth between taking them out and putting them in,” Vargas said. “I personally like the way they look because I like the artwork on the box. It just stands out. I definitely like to keep them in as good of condition as I can so it protects the Pops! themselves inside of it.”
Jagger Twitty, 11, a fifth-grader at Cedarhome Elementary School, keeps “Fortnite” characters on the shelves in his room to show his love for the video game. He also has some “Star Wars” characters, like Chewbacca and Han Solo.
He takes pride in his display. He likes to see his friends’ reactions when they see his Funko collection for the first time.
“It looks fancy,” Jagger said. “A lot of my friends haven’t seen them before, so they’re like, ‘What are these?’ And, ‘You have a lot of them.’”
Twitty, 41, has the largest collection in the house, with more than 700 collectibles. When she was working as a government contractor at Naval Station Everett, she visited Funko headquarters, just 1½ miles away on Wetmore Avenue, every day on her lunch hour.
“That’s how my collection grew the most,” she said.
Her favorite of the bunch? The 6-inch-tall Hulk Buster from 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” It’s nearly twice as tall as traditional Funko Pop! figures, which are about 3½ inches tall.
“It was just so cool,” Twitty said. “I just fell in love. That’s just so different.”
Twitty regularly attends Funko events at the company’s headquarters in Everett, where Funatics have a chance to mingle, win collectibles or chat with the Funkast crew, the team that runs Funko’s social media and records a weekly podcast. She also makes a point to ask about new products.
Retail manager Liz Lawson said the positive attitude among Funatics like Twitty speaks volumes about the community.
“She’s definitely one of the reasons I love my job, in the sense that all of our customers are happy to come in and hang out and choose the Pops! of their choice,” Lawson said. “You feel the community atmosphere. We call it the Funko family.”
Funatics also are prominent in Funko Facebook groups and on message boards. While some squabbles over products — which sometimes sell out in a matter of seconds — are probably impossible to avoid, animosity between Funatics is rare, Vargas said.
“That’s half the fun with collecting, too, is meeting new people and being part of the community,” he said. “We all help each other out. You get to meet people who have a lot of the same interests you do. You talk about the newest announcements of whatever they’re making, or newest movies.
“That’s the thing that’s kept us going. We can buy as many figures as we want, but meeting new people and everything is what’s really connected us to it.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Want to meet other Funatics? Emerald City Comic Con is March 14-17 at the Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Seattle. Funko will have a strong presence at the event, which drew about 95,000 people in 2018.
Learn more about Funko at www.funko.com.
This story has been modified to clarify Funko’s impact at the 2019 American International Toy Fair.