January 24, 2012
Toy and Collectibles Show!

(Remember how I mentioned the possibility of blog-only features in the last entry? Consider this a test run for one of those. 😛 Let me know what you think in the comments!)

So, this past Sunday I attended a toy and collectibles show at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, MD. I'm writing about here because I originally intended to do an actual article about it -- with photos of the show and whatnot -- but forgot my camera in my car. And it was cold, and I ended up parking at least a half mile from the convention, so I didn't relish the idea of walking all the way back to the car just to get the camera. And without photos, I don't feel like it can be a proper article... and I kinda feel like rambling, so this probably won't be as "structured" as an actual article (I do try to structure them somewhat, you know). So, yeah. Blog-exclusive content!

Anyway, the toy show? It was kinda weak. (I feel inclined to note that I'm glad I was tipped about it and went -- and I had pleasant company in the form of artist Kevin Bolk of Interrobang Studios fame and his punker brother -- so nobody should feel bad about giving me the word or encouraging me to come out to the thing. Keep keeping me posted!) I think that I hate most about these kinds of conventions -- and about anime conventions, and probably fan/collector conventions in general -- is the attitudes of the sellers and (sometimes) attendees. In fairness, it's the same kind of attitude that I find among collectors on the 'net, too.

See, me, I'm a toy "collector" in the sense that I collect toys -- but I don't view them as "collectibles" or items that should command high aftermarket prices. I spit on the "you gotta pay to play" mindset that has become prevalent among many online collectors, and I don't give a shit about "winning" by having "the most toys" or the rarest and/or most coveted toys in my collection. I open and "play" with all of my toys. I don't collect toys because I view them as potential "investments." I just fucking like toys, and that's where it begins and ends with me.

Which isn't to say that I don't understand the collector/seller mentality. Among other things, sellers have other expenses they need to cover: the cost of booths at conventions, food/travel expenses, storage expenses for toys, etc. And then there's the "culture" of toy collecting that says that X figure is worth Y amount of money... and the fact that (some) collectors are actually willing to pay Y amount of money for X figure. I admittedly have difficulty making trades with fellow collectors, because I know that some less scrupulous collectors will take the results of that trade and flip it on eBay -- and I don't want to be the sucker who takes a $5 figure in trade for something that the other guy then goes on to sell for $35 on eBay. But I also don't want to be the guy who takes $35 from a kindred spirit, especially when I personally wouldn't pay $35 for that item and don't think anyone should. It's also worth noting that, while I don't have a family or any people depending upon me, many people do -- and I'd feel incredibly guilty overcharging some guy for an action figure when that money could be going into his kid's college fund.

Anyway, most of the people at these conventions are not like me. They're not thinking about what an item should be worth or about trying to quote you a reasonable price for what the item is -- which is a fucking toy. As sellers and entrepreneurs, they're largely about trying to take you for as much as they think they can. And again, it's a mindset I understand -- especially when many attendees are of that same mindset and will attempt to turn profits on their purchases -- but it just really rubs me the wrong way. On multiple occasions, I'd ask how much a figure costs, and --

Actually, stop right there, 'cause that's another thing I hate about conventions: having to ask how much something costs. I like price tags. I look at an item, see how much a seller wants for it, and if it's more than I'm willing to pay I leave it the fuck alone and move on. With asking, I have to physically grasp the item and walk it over to some bloated bearded dude reclining on a folding metal chair for him to quote me a price: and more often than not it's a price that's too high for me. But now I have to deal with the "embarrassment" of admitting that that's too much for me -- that I'm poor -- and putting the item back on the shelf. But I place "embarrassment" in quotes because I'm not really that embarrassed. My lack of purchasing power in these situations has so much more to do with mindset than means, and in any case I would never feel bad about admitting that my financial state doesn't allow me to spend $75 on a smurfing Smurf figurine. (I could be a billionaire and not spend $75 on a smurfing Smurf figurine, because, seriously, what the smurf?!) I can imagine, however, other collectors feeling compelled to buy the item as a show of self-sufficiency -- even if they would have left it alone had the item been clearly marked with the quoted price. And I'm sure that many of the guys who don't label their items with prices do that with this precise scenario in mind. It's the mindset of the seller, and of the unabashed capitalist. In my view, it's also the mindset of a dick.

Anyway, back to asking about the price of an item. After they'd quote me the price, they'd also add something like, "It goes for X higher amount on eBay." Which annoys the fuck out of me, because it's completely irrelevant. This transaction isn't between me, the seller, and eBay. It's between me and the seller, and bringing eBay into it doesn't please me in the least. Also, the eBay price isn't relevant unless I'm willing to pay it (I'm mostly not) and is further irrelevant because a) sellers can set any prices they want and b) the final auction prices have less to do with the value of the product than with the competitive drive and obsession level of the winner. I can log onto eBay right now and find you BIN auctions for mislabeled figures released in the last five years selling for thousands of dollars. I can also log onto eBay right now and find you completed $30 auctions for figures hanging on the pegs at Walmart with prices of $6.88. Does that mean those figures are actually worth, respectively, $4,999 and $30? No. EBay prices don't mean jack shit when they're set by greedy sellers and impatient, overzealous collectors. Don't act like you're cutting me a deal by trying to sell me a smurfing Smurf for $75.

I keep referring to that price quote because it actually happened, by the way. (Also because I like swearing with the word "smurf.") Kevin is apparently a big fan of Smurf comics, and especially The Black Smurfs story -- one that I find fairly interesting too given the zombie connection. So when we saw a Black Smurf figurine in a case, I asked how much it was -- whereupon the seller responded with the $75 price and then, probably in response to the incredulous look on my face and my subsequent assumption that that was the price for the entire Smurf case, went on to say how he's seen it go for $125 and even $150. From my perspective, it was like prolonging an insult. You've already told me you want $75 for a smurfing Smurf -- don't further insult me by attempting to justify a price like that. Make a joke, like, "Yeah, I know, Smurfs are smurfing expensive, right?" Or something. One of these will get a chuckle out of me; the other just makes me want to smurfing smurf up your smurfing face even more.

These red underlines are getting annoying, so it's time to teach Firefox a new word.

Anyway, yeah! Let's take a look at what I ultimately got.

Darkness, Dark Willow, Slimer, and Worf

I picked up Darkness, Dark Willow (aka Darth Rosenberg), and Slimer there within minutes of arriving: they were loose in a bin and lacked prices, so the guy gave them all to me for $4. That was a great deal... and probably the only deal I felt as good about during the remaining few hours I spent at the show. Darkness will be great fodder, Willow is going to my Buffy shelf (I hated Season 6, but view the musical episode and sexy Dark Willow as the only good things about it), and Slimer will join the collection as well. My nostalgic attachment is more to the Real Ghostbusters cartoon than the movies -- and the 6" Mattycollector figures cost too much for me -- so I've always kinda hoped that I could get Slimer separately, since that figure could double as a cartoon version as well. And now I've got him, and without having to pay extra for a figure I don't want! Hurray.

Oh, and Worf back there? I paid $2.50 for him. No attachment to Star Trek, but for a while I've thought that that figure might make for a quick and easy Ogron custom (when I saw the Ogrons, the first thing I thought of were Klingons... in blackface). So, yeah.

DCUC Omac and TF1 Robot Replicas Megatron

Next, DCUC Omac for $4.50... which I actually bought under false pretenses. See, I don't need that BAF piece, and the guy was selling BAF pieces, so I asked if it'd be cool to swap the BAF piece in there for something I do need. I figured it was a longshot, and I wouldn't have been insulted if the seller had said no -- but the girl watching the booth said that'd probably be cool, so I went ahead and bought the figure planning to do that. But then the guy running the booth (I guess she was his girlfriend or something) came back, and she asked him about it... whereupon he flatly refused. (And was kinda mean about it, I thought, considering that I was standing right there. That's another thing that bugs me about sellers at cons -- they might be selling stuff, but very few of them have actual customer service training or personable interaction skills. A seller should always at least try to make a customer feel good about buying from him/her, even if that's by smiling, thanking the customer for his/her purchase, and not coming across as a total dick. Most sellers at conventions, however, don't even bother with the simplest courtesies.)

Anyway, even though the woman herself was fairly apologetic and offered to take Omac back, I was like, "Eh, whatever." Maybe it'll come in handy for a custom someday. Maybe I'll end up with enough Kilowog/Brimstone/Validus pieces to create a hybrid figure. Maybe it was my destiny to have that particular BAF piece, and maybe somewhere along the line it will enable me to not be a dick to some fellow collector by helping him/her to build Validus. Yes, it's true that I wouldn't have gotten the figure in the first place had I not been led to believe that the trade would be a go... but ah well.

And that pile of parts there? Robot Replicas Megatron, which I bought for $2.50. Note that he didn't break -- I dismantled him! See, as I looked at the figures in the Transformers bin, I saw that some of his joints looked very familiar... and mistakenly assumed that he'd been augmented with Revoltech joints. So I bought him for the joints.

Psuedo-Revoltech joint

See? They even have that cross that Revoltech joints have! But it turns out that they're not actually Revoltech joints, and that they really did come with the original figure. But they'll still work for my purposes, as will some of the figure's other joints. Heck, if I had known that Robot Replicas came outfitted with these Revoltech knockoff joints, I would have gotten some when they were on deep clearance years ago. In any case, now I know to look for them at future shows and conventions.

Street Fighter IV - El Fuerte vs Seth

Finally, El Fuerte and Seth from Jazwares's Street Fighter IV line. Now, this is probably the least interesting 2-pack to me -- I remember the classic games and characters fondly, but still have yet to play SFIV -- but I was curious about the 3.75" Jazwares SF figures in general because classic characters do make an appearance in the assortments. At $4.50, I figured this was a good way to gauge the quality of the figures without plunking down the $14.99 Toys "R" Us is asking for the 2-packs.

Yeah... I don't recommend Jazwares's 3.75" SF toys.

And, well, yeah... this is pretty much what I think of the toys. Now, I'm familiar with toy breakage, and I don't go using excessive force to break joints free... but poor Seth's limbs snapped off with almost no effort and literally within seconds of me taking him out of the package. (Despite the tightness of his shoulder joints and the apparent thinness of his pegs elsewhere, El Fuerte survived the process wholly intact.) It was like, "Testing shoulder, SMURF! Oh well, maybe I can fix that. Elbow, okay. Wrist, okay. Hip, okay. Knee, SMURF! Ankle, SMURF! This toy is terrible." On top of all of that, I couldn't get Seth's right hip moving -- though the testing force that I applied to that joint didn't snap it. Seriously, if it had just been one joint that broke, I might have been inclined to tell potential buyers to use caution should they pick up the figures. But when a figure ends up in as many pieces as Seth did? My advice is to not buy these figures at all. Which kinda hurts to say, since I love me some Street Fighter. (NECA's Chun-Li remains one of my top five favorite figures of all time.)

But in a way, this is kinda fitting -- because it's precisely one of the reasons I don't subscribe to the collector mentality when it comes to toys. They're not one-of-a-kind works of art by veritable masters of the craft who died hundreds of years ago: they're mass-produced items subject to all of the flaws of the production processes used to make them, and the technology used to make such items is continually improving. Moreover, unlike fine wines and cheeses, toys don't get better with age. They lose paint and pieces and get brittle and fucking smurfing break, sometimes just by being touched or breathed on (cf. gold plastic syndrome). It makes more sense for MOC items to command high prices -- when so many things can damage packaging and when plastic bubbles can yellow with age, it's truly impressive for an older toy to look just as new in its box as it did when it first hit store shelves decades ago -- but even there you're paying for an item that you can never open, lest you devalue your purchase and discover that you actually forked over fistfuls of money for a box of exceptionally well-preserved sand.

There was actually one seller with vintage carded Princess of Power and Golden Girl toys. The boxes weren't in exceptional condition -- the cardboard was dinged and the bubbles looked like the plastic had been mixed with strong urine. But what was even worse was that the seller had left the original prices on them... and that these original prices were very, very low. $2.97 at KB Toys, 99 cents on clearance at TRU, etc. Now, I don't begrudge the guy for wanting to sell them for more than that, if only because he possibly paid more for them (we don't know if he was the original buyer) and in any case had the burden of hanging on to the figures for however long he did. But leaving prices under $5 on a toy and then asking for $50 is just tacky, especially when the presence of the price tag diminishes its MOC value in the eyes of most collectors -- to say nothing of the state of the packaging in other respects.

But that's the kind of seller the collector mentality attracts. Toy shows should be filled with enthusiasts who really care about their product. Yes, it's understandable that they might want to turn a profit, but they shouldn't be looking to cheat fellow collectors -- they should be glad about sharing something that they feel very passionately about with like-minded individuals. That they have to charge money to do it should be an unfortunate but necessary consequence of the world and culture in which we live, not a prime objective that overrules all other motivations.

But that's the way it is -- which is why, instead of pleasant sellers and toy enthusiasts happily sharing their merchandise with the world, we get greedy, fat, antisocial old men with unkempt beards and overlong yellow fingernails peddling 30-year-old toys in smoke-yellowed packaging and demanding $50 for them because they go for $75 on eBay (or, to return to that smurfing example, demanding $75 for smurfing Smurf figurines). These guys might know everything about a line, from the release date of every single figure to the names of the sculptors who worked on it to the significance of every repaint color scheme and obscure reference in the cardback bios, but for them toys have become rare collectibles and financial investments.

As such, they've forgotten the most important thing about what a toy is supposed to be.

(For those of y'all wondering how I can rag on sellers despite having gotten mostly decent deals -- the Omac issue and Seth's disintegration notwithstanding -- it's worth noting that I'm not talking about all sellers. It's also worth noting that I got all of these figures from the same seller. So I guess it is possible to kinda sorta be a dick and yet not be out to cheat folks... though it's worth noting that nothing I got would be desirable to card-carrying collectors. 😛 )

-posted by Wes | 12:06 am | Comments (6)
6 Comments »
  • Molly says:

    This is a lot like my experiences at antique shows, though I seem to have had better luck when asking for a price... I've typically been surprised by the lowness of the quote. And of course there's, oh whats the word, haggling? Come to OR soneday and I'll take you to one. Not ALL toys, but plenty to be found.

    • Wes says:

      Well, I'd imagine that antique collecting appeals to a (somewhat) different kind of person than toy collecting! Also, I suspect that antiques, while well documented, aren't as thoroughly cataloged as toys -- because the toys at these shows were released in the last 50 years, most of them in the last 30, and were mass produced by established manufacturers and appeared on retail shelves. I mean, you can stumble upon an antique lamp that even an expert might not recognize, but one doesn't even have to be an expert to recognize a vintage G1 Optimus Prime.

      As for haggling... yeah, I don't tend to go in for that. Besides, how do you haggle with a dude who wants $75 for a smurfing Smurf?

      Dude: $75. It goes for $150 on eBay blah blah blah

      Me: I'll give you $2 for it.

      Dude: $65.

      Me: $2.

      Dude: GRAWRGH don't you understand that this is an uber-rare Smurf figurine from the 1960s?! I've only ever seen one besides this one, and that was at a trade show where the guy wanted $125 for it!

      Me: I understand that it's a smurfing Smurf figurine. So, actually, $1.

      🙂

      And I will totally take you up on that offer someday. We will have antique show adventures, yes!

      • Molly says:

        I should probably explain that "antique" doesn't have much meaning around here, and a lot of stuff at the toys, at least in many of the "toy" booths, are from the 80s and 90s and there are a lot of toys for sale still in their packaging. I usually go looking for DuckTales items or Lego, but there's rarely any Lego. There's this one Indiana Jones Micro Machines set I always eye, but they want $60 for it, and even coming down to $50 or $40 would be nuts (like your smurf.)

        A lot of sellers are really nice people at the show I go to, but the ones that drive me nuts are the ones I hear blabbing on their cell phones saying stuff like "Yeah it's really slow, no one's freaking buying today, grr grr grr." Geez at least act like you have customer/sales skills. On the other hand, I also hate it when they're like HI! BUY THIS! THIS IS FOR SALE! NEED ONE OF THESE? dude, just let me shop.

  • "NECA's Chun-Li remains one of my top five favorite figures of all time."

    That sounds like a great idea for an article -- Wes' top ten figures of all-time!

    Also, would love to Wes return to Red Lobster with camera and revisit the kids' meals.

    • Wes says:

      Waaaaaait. All that rambly goodness and collector/seller culture/attitude analysis and you comment on a parenthetical line? ;P

      But seriously, that's something I'm thinking I'd like to do (well, more of a top "collectibles" piece including figures and other merch, since the Hellraiser cube isn't technically a figure) -- though I'd actually like to do it as a video piece. You know I have some issues with video content, and especially video toy reviews by collectors, but I think I could be brief enough in a piece that spotlights my favorites and what makes them so neat (as opposed to giving full reviews of them in general).

      Dunno about the Red Lobster thing, though. Are adults even allowed to order from kids' menus? I've always assumed not...

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