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Interview With Vic Wertz

Vic Wertz is the Director of Product Development at Paizo Publishing, which is in charge of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. He shares a massive Star Wars collection with his partner Lisa Stevens (President of the Official Fan Club). Mr. Wertz was kind enough to sit down with us at JediDefender.com, so without further ado we present to you our interview.

JD: What is the best part of working at the Fan Club and at Paizo Publishing? What exactly do you do there?

VW: I actually have quite a few different jobs. I'm one of three owners of Paizo, so I help make decisions that affect everything we do. I'm also the company's Technical Director, which means I manage all the computer stuff - from the hardware to the network to the website. I'm the Director of Product Development, which means I get to make some of the stuff we sell to Fan Club members. And starting with issue 69, I'm the Associate Editor for Star Wars Insider, which means I have an increased role in the quality of the content in the magazine.

The best part for me is that I'm working on something I love. Every day, there's at least one cool new thing that I get to do or see. And I get to help make things more fun for Star Wars fans all over the world. How cool is that?

JD: What was the first thing you wanted to change at the Fan Club when you first started working there?

VW: We wanted to make the term "Fan Club" live up to its billing. We've made some progress - bringing back the membership kit, and re-introducing Bantha Tracks, which gives the fans a voice and a face in the magazine. But we still have a long way to go. We want the Fan Club to be a more interactive experience. We're thrilled about the upcoming Fan Club Breakfast at Disney's Star Wars Weekends this year - if it goes well, we're hoping we can do more events like that. We're also hoping to do similar things at some of the conventions we're going to this year. And we're inviting more interactivity on the net - we have a special forum on the starwars.com message boards just for us and the other Official Fan Clubs worldwide - http://forums.starwars.com/forum.jsp?forum=76.

We have some other ideas for increasing interactivity among Fan Club members, but it's a bit too early to be more specific. Keep an eye on starwars.com and starwars.paizo.com for more news in the future. Actually, while I'm on the topic of our own website, it's going to get a lot better this summer. We recently hired a new web guy, Robert Head, who used to work at Amazon. Rob has been working on a bunch of under-the-hood stuff that will allow us to be more flexible with future Fan Club product offerings, and will allow us to provide a higher level of service to our subscribers. As soon as he wraps that up, he'll be charged with increasing the quality and quantity of information and interactivity on our website. It'll take a few months to see a lot of the changes, but we hope that we'll end up with a site that people will want to visit at least a couple times a week. Keep in mind that starwars.com is and always will be the main place to go for Star Wars news and information, but we hope to provide a better complement for our members.

JD: Would you explain again for those that don't understand, the difference between the Fan Club and the Jawa Trader (Wizards of the Coast) Store?

VW: Wizards of the Coast currently holds the license to run the official e-commerce site, which is represented in print through Insider's Jawa Trader section. Wizards makes all of the decisions regarding what they offer on their site, and what content they provide for the Jawa Trader. They no longer run the Official Fan Club.

Paizo holds the license to publish Star Wars Insider and run the Official Fan Club. Lucasfilm grants us one-shot licenses to sell specific items to Fan Club Members - so far, those items have included the IMAX theatrical poster and banner, and the Jerry Vander Stelt Attack of the Clones art print. We've also been allowed to distribute Hasbro's Convention Exclusive action figure at the shows we attend this year, and after the convention season, we'll sell the figure to members-only on our website.

JD: There have been a number of very hard to find figures over the years that have barely ever hit retail. Is there any chance of the Fan Club picking up old stock of these, or making new stock, and getting them out to all the fans who may have missed out on them the first time around?

VW: For the most part, I plan on focusing on exclusive products for our members. However, we've already seen that Hasbro is re-issuing some of the older figures that many collectors missed the first time around, so hopefully that will solve everyone's needs.

JD: Met "the maker" (George) yet?

VW: Almost! I apparently just missed seeing him in the hallway at Skywalker Ranch once. That's okay, though - I have no idea what I could say to him that he hasn't already heard a million times.

JD: How long have you been collecting Star Wars items and what was your very first piece?

VW: I loved Star Wars as a child. I collected all the trading cards, comic books, and action figures from 1977 through the early 80s. Since the Kenner figures didn't come out until 1978, my first item was probably either a pack of the first series of Topps cards, or the first issue of the Marvel comic book. I stopped buying stuff around the time that Jedi came out. When Bantam re-launched the fiction program with Tim Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy, I picked the new books up, along with the Dark Horse comics that followed, but I wouldn't have called myself a collector at that point. I was excited when I heard that Hasbro was re-launching the action figure line in 1995, but the He-Man-style of the sculpting left me disappointed, and I didn't bite. A few months later, my partner, Paizo CEO and Fan Club President Lisa Stevens, who had endured my endless prattling about how much I loved those action figures when I was a kid, surprised me with an orange-carded Boba Fett. Well, you know, Boba needed some friends, of course... so within a month, I'd caught up with all the figures I'd missed, and then Lisa and I went nuts from there.

JD: What is your most prized item? Rarest?

VW: Lisa and I have many one-of-a-kind items, but my favorite is probably the original Greedo mask - the one worn by Paul Blake in the cantina scenes that were shot in London. Let that be a lesson - shoot at Han Solo, and your head might just end up in my trophy case. :-)

JD: Many people can only imagine what it is like to have such a large and fine assortment of Star Wars collectibles and memorabilia. What does it feel like to have one of the largest collections around?

VW: It's mostly fun, but it's a lot of pressure. I feel like I have an obligation to share it with people, but it's extremely difficult to display so many items, and it makes me sad that I have great stuff that nobody but Lisa and I will get to see. We're planning a website that will allow us to share more of our collection with anybody who cares, but we just don't have much time to put into it right now.

JD: What is your favorite Star Wars action figure from both the vintage Kenner and the modern Hasbro lines?

VW: Well, I have to admit that the best figures from the vintage line were made in the mid '80s, but because I had stopped collecting by then, they don't have the level of personal attachment for me that some of the earlier figures do. That first Luke figure gave me an awful lot of happy moments when I was a kid, and that's hard to beat. As for the new line, they're doing some amazing work now, but the 300th Boba Fett is probably the top in my book.

JD: Are there any "holy grail" collecting pieces out there that you're still trying to get your hands on?

VW: Sure - but I learned from Steve Sansweet not to say what they are, because as soon as you do, the price on them goes up. ;-) I'll tell you about one we just got recently, though. We finally filled the final hole in our collection of coin-op games with a little-known Star Wars pinball game that was manufactured in 1987 by Sonic, the Spanish branch of Sega. It's a terrible, terrible pinball game - the worst I've ever played - but now Lisa and I have every Star Wars pinball and arcade game ever made, as well as a German slot machine!

JD: Who holds the majority of the high scores on all the cool Star Wars video games you two have at your house? Do you have the games rigged for free, or do you have to charge yourself a quarter to play each time?

VW: There are some games Lisa's better at, and some I'm better at - and then there are some that so-called "friends" have had the nerve to score higher on than either of us. ;-) Most of the newer games are set up for free play, but that's not an option for the Australian or Spanish pinball machines, so you have to add credits on those via a switch. You also have to put quarters in our Star Wars Pepsi machine, but they drop back out the coin return. :-)

JD: Will the upcoming Silver Boba Fett Mexican convention exclusive figure packaging be identical to that of the Boba Fett that Hasbro will be selling through the Official Star Wars Fan Club? Might there be subtle differences?

VW: Lucasfilm told us that the Mexican Fan Club will *not* be doing any special packaging, so there should be no difference between theirs, ours, and the ones you can get from the other foreign Fan Clubs.

JD: Hoth Han: Brown or blue coat?

VW: I'm happy with the "both" answer Hasbro has given us, but if I had to choose only one, I'd have to go with blue, because that's the color my Han Hoth was 23 years ago.

JD: Where do you stand on the great Expanded Universe (EU) debate, which has two very vocal factions of people who either love it or hate it?

VW: You already know that I bought all the Marvel Comics, and the quality of EU work has improved significantly since those days. Sure, there's some EU stuff out there that's not so good, but there's some great stuff, too. To me, saying you hate the EU because it isn't really Star Wars is like saying you hate John Lennon's "Imagine" because it isn't really the Beatles.

JD: What type of presence do you anticipate having at Celebration III in a couple years? Any goodies we can look forward to there? Were you at the previous two, and if so, how would you describe your experience(s) there?

VW: We haven't finalized our role in Celebration III yet, but we certainly hope that we can play a pretty big part in it. It's far too early to be any more specific than that, though.

I did attend the previous two Celebrations. Celebration II was a *much* better experience for me than Celebration I. Lisa and I were running the collectibles panels, so I didn't get to see as much as I wanted, but I loved everything I did get to see. As a side note, one of the people who deserves a lot of the credit for how well Celebration II went was Lucasfilm's Mary Franklin - who is now working for Paizo.

JD: With Episode III marking the end of the Star Wars saga on the big screen, do you think the fevered pitch of Star Wars fandom will continue or decline? Have you thought about how you are going to keep the franchise alive through the Fan Club and Insider?

VW: From the very beginning, we approached the Fan Club license as a long-term thing. It would be optimistic to assume that the audience wouldn't shrink after the movies, but we believe that Star Wars is timeless, and there will be a large enough audience to sustain a Fan Club for years to come. Given that Hasbro has recently extended its toy license well into the future, it's obvious that they agree.

JD: Are there any plans to expand the Insider's "collecting" coverage of action figures and other such collectible focuses? If so, is there any information you can give us regarding future editions?

VW: Generally, Paizo's management has left the direction of Insider to Dave Gross, but the one thing Lisa and I have encouraged him to do is increase the amount of collectible coverage. We will be doing regular collectible features like Pete Vilmur's article on Revenge of the Jedi collectibles in Issue 67, and we've added a new Toybox department featuring news from Andy@Hasbro starting with Issue 68. Expect that to expand to include LEGO and other toy coverage in the near future. So, in addition to Steve Sansweet's Scouting the Galaxy - one of our most popular departments - you can expect a couple of articles per issue targeted towards collectibles. And that really is a minimum - Issue 71, for example, has collectibles as the main theme. I also just received approval from Lucasfilm to add yet another regular department that I think will make a lot of collectors very happy, though it won't start for a few more issues. Keep watching starwars.paizo.com for updates.

JD: Could you give us the details on the upcoming Star Wars Weekends Fan Club breakfast at Disney World? Are there any surprises in store for the attendees?

VW: I think it'll be a great event. We've got Jeremy Bulloch and Peter Mayhew, of course, and also Steve Sansweet from Lucasfilm and Paul Palmer from Hasbro. Lisa Stevens, Mary Franklin, and I will all be there from Paizo. And, of course, it'll be a good opportunity to meet other Fan Club members from all over the US - and even as far away as Ireland. Disney is very excited about this event, and they're doing everything they can to make it a special morning for participants. Lucasfilm, Hasbro, and Paizo will also be contributing items to a special gift bag that, well... I don't want to give away the contents before the event, but let's just say I was very pleased with the list.

JD: What does Paizo and the Fan Club have in store in regards to it's presence at the summer conventions such as the San Diego Comic-Con and Wizard World in Chicago?

VW: We're still working on our convention plans. Obviously, Hasbro's convention exclusive action figure will figure prominently, but we're also hoping to set up some interactive events for most of the shows we attend. Keep checking starwars.paizo.com for updates.

JD: In closing, is there anything else that you'd like to tell our readers about regarding Paizo, the Fan Club, or yourself?

VW: Yes. While we at Paizo are proud of what we've achieved in the ten months we've been running the business, what you've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. We're in an industry where it can take several months to see the results of the changes we make, which means that many of the things we've already done won't be apparent for quite a while, and many of the things we're planning now won't be visible for even longer than that. But we do believe that we're well on the way to making the Fan Club, the Insider, and our other magazines better than they've ever been, and we're not going to stop improving things anytime soon.

~A very special thanks goes out to Vic Wertz for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with JediDefender.com and the many Star Wars fans out there. We all greatly appreciate his efforts in establishing a line of communication between the Fan Club and the fans. An additional thanks to Mary Franklin as well, for her help and cooperation in presenting this interview. Feel free to discuss the interview and get input from Mr. Wertz by visiting this forum thread.


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