Emil Vicale’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since his company, Herobuilders.com, released a tanorexic doll earlier this week, spinning it off from news about burnt-sienna-hued New Jersey mom Patricia Krentcil. The Oxford (Conn.) action-figure maker is gearing up to make hundreds of copies of its so-called “Tanorexic Action Figure,” which has an orange face and blonde hair and sells for $29.95.
An industrial designer from New York, Vicale founded Herobuilders.com about 10 years ago. The company specializes in custom action figures—made to resemble any individual—that cost $375 for the first doll and $39.95 for additional copies; a voice chip can be added for $20. (Vicale once asked an ex-girlfriend out by leaving her a figure of himself with a recording of his phone number.) The company also makes novelty action figures based on current events. Characters have included former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, socialite Michaele Salahi, and cast members from Jersey Shore.
The company’s most popular character so far: Baghdad Bob, based on Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. Vicale says the company sold tens of thousands of Baghdad Bob figures.
Herobuilders, which has four employees, uses 3D printing to produce dolls in small runs, as demanded by the rapidly changing news cycle. The company originally did all its printing in-house, using two printers. While it still does the design work, it now outsources to 3D printing companies that can make the molds cheaper. The figures’ heads and accessories are all designed using 3D printers, while their bodies are made overseas. Details such as tattoos are done by hand.
The technology allows the company to make a prototype quickly and at low cost to test demand. Because this doll is being marketed as a general “Tanorexic Action Figure,” Herobuilder sees no legal liability. The company’s other dolls are mainly public figures.
Herobuilders has the capacity to make 500 figures a day when a doll becomes a hot item.
Vicale, a news junkie, says he has televisions set to CNN and Fox News all day. He gets ideas from TV, the Internet, and Twitter, among other sources. Still, even he can’t always predict what will catch on with consumers. Herobuilders produced about 100 Obama figures after he announced his run for president. “We assumed he would sell like mad,” says Vicale. “It never happened.”