Earlier this year, when large gatherings were still happening and I was preparing to head to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, better known as C2E2, an email appeared on my phone. This email was asking about an opportunity to interview the founder of a toy brand that, up to that moment, I’d known nothing about. In a moment of curiosity, I set the meeting with Panda Mony Toy Brands president Ryan Magnon for opening day of C2E2. I would discover that Panda Mony was in the midst of a successful release, with its Alter Nation line of toys—along with a partnership with Dark Horse Comics for a tie-in digital comic written by Tim Seely (Valiant’s Bloodshot and DC Comics’ Nightwing) and art by Mike Norton (Battlepug) and an animated webseries with Lil Critter Workshop.
Upon meeting Magnon at booth 817, which was perfectly located near the entrance of the convention, he stood out even in a room filled with flashy cosplayers. Magnon, who drives to create new and exciting toys that spark a desire from kids, was wearing a colorful suit jacket with his self-described “bitchin mohawk” on full display. As I waited to speak with him, I witnessed a moment of pure joy as a young kid was trying to understand how to play with one of the toys. Magnon sat down on the floor with the kid and showed him that if he pushed down on the head of the toy, it would do a backflip. The kid’s reaction was one of amazement.
Also ahead of my interview, I skimmed through the free convention-exclusive comic featuring the team of Alter Nation, written by Curtis Andersen with art by Magnus Arts Agency. It provided the introduction to Panda Mony’s team of warrior animal hybrid creatures with human-level intelligence, led by electric eel/catfish/stingray cross character El Rey. I would later discover that each character had a mini comic that would tie in with the convention exclusive.
I asked Magnon what inspired him as a kid.
“Most definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man,” he replied. Looking at the characters of Alter Nation, the influences of both series show—especially in the case of Albert Vll, the bull/monkey hybrid character, who bears some resemblance to Michelangelo from TMNT. But as much as he loves those longstanding properties, Magnon wanted to create his own brand-new thing rather than licensing characters that have been around for decades. He hopes to provide something fresh and unique with the Alter Nation characters and stories and to incorporate features that, as the Panda Mony website proclaims, “stimulate your curiosity as much as your imagination.” Magnon’s guiding principle is “Be creative but be respectful.”
In discussing the tie-in comics, he explained that animation and toys were what got him into comics when he was young. “It was discovering that there was more beyond the toys and shows,” he said. “Kids read more graphic novels than single issues, and we have a graphic novel planned.”
Around this time in our conversation, Magnon found himself in a moment of awe when a fan came by the booth. This fan was honored to meet the creator and his partner at the booth and mentioned how inspired he was by the product Panda Mony had created.
“I totally planned that,” Magnon joked to me after the fan left. Between the kid’s amazement with the action figure and this adult’s excitement meeting him, it gave the impression that he had achieved his goal of provided kids with new and exciting toys.
During the rest of C2E2, I began to recognize some of the characters from Alter Nation around the convention. Throughout the show floor there were promotional pieces featuring characters, and outside the entrance there were signs featuring Alter Nation directing attendees where to find them. While watching the webseries in my hotel room on the final night of the convention, I noticed that a scientist bore a resemblance to Ryan—I mean, not every scientist has a bitchin’ mohawk.
This article originally appeared on twincitiesgeek.com and can be found in its entirety here.