Hello readers, today I want to talk about the realities of collecting action figures. Any adult who has been collecting for at least a year knows about how difficult to find some items are within a line, and almost anyone has felt the sting of a favorite line being cancelled for one reason or another. I’m going to discuss some of the issues related to these topics, and try making sense of things that infuriate collectors when it comes to this hobby.
If you have ever collected Star Wars, G.I. Joe, WWE, Marvel or DC comics related items; you may well know how hard it is to find the popular figure from any specific wave. There are a few factors to look at to understand why this happens. First is the fact that the bigger name characters are always going to be packed more heavily because the retailers want the figures that moms and dads might be tempted to grab for little junior, even if they aren’t big fans of the property. That means the figures we collectors want get relegated to one or two figures per case, if we’re lucky, and then we have to deal with the next situation. Those being other local collectors or the possibility of resellers/“scalpers” as collectors love to call them. Over the years I have had my share of encounters with both varieties. Other collectors can be anti social and territorial around the pegs they’re looking at, which does no good for the stereotype we have to deal with, and some of the resellers I’ve encountered have excitedly asked me if I was buying something to put up on eBay, because it goes for at least double retail before a bidding war. The look on the face of the resellers when I tell them I’m buying for myself, and plan on opening it in the car is always priceless. Dealing with the short packing, fellow collectors and resellers would be fine if it wasn’t for the next issue; distribution.
Distribution is the other bane of the collector’s existence. We’re always left to the decisions of the big box retail buyers who decide how much of any item to purchase from the company, then it’s generally luck of the draw how many of each case a particular store will get in any given area. You can check any message board and see that people claim a particular figure is a “peg warmer” in their area, while others will retort by saying they’ve never seen it in their area at all. That, in a nutshell is what distribution means to your average collector. Shopping online with web stores can help alleviate this a bit, but when it comes to lines that are known to have issues quality control, some collectors swear by the brick and mortar store, where you can carefully look over each item to find the best version to purchase. The other problem is that you never know when there will be a restock of a certain line, even if you know when the supply trucks come in and stores put out new product. With restocks also come the possibility that the same wave of product is sent to the store, as many items will be in bulk at the distribution centers, and might not get reordered until it either sells out, or reaches a certain level before an order goes to the manufacturer.
If you can navigate the minefield of shortpacking, other customers and distribution, you can also look forward to the fear of collectors, line cancellation. Fans of Marvel Legends felt that sting when Hasbro took over the Marvel Legends line, and eventually ended the 6 inch line. Many fans revolted, swearing to boycott Hasbro after they announced the new, smaller scale Marvel Universe line. There are now rumors floating around the internet that the Marvel Universe line might be ending due to lack of interest from retailers who are sitting on product. News like this hurts collectors who avidly hunt for these items, only to see the same things on the pegs for sometimes months at a time. Distribution definitely plays a part in this, as does the fact that if some collectors can’t find what they want locally, they will go online to find it if local sightings don’t look promising. I had to do this myself while looking for the G.I. Joe Renegades Storm Shadow figure from the third wave, because he was packed only one to a case, and the mold was then used for 2 recolored figures for the Joe movie line; which is a whole other problem.
The other problem with lines being cancelled can be examined by looking at Bandai’s Thundercats line. There were lines based on the new cartoon on Cartoon Network, and a line dedicated to the 80s original series. The first problem was that Bandai first made the classics figures in 8 inch scale, to “resemble the original line”, if I remember the excuse that was given at the time. It began with the San Diego Comic Con Lion-O with chrome Sword of Omens, sword stand, and different paint applications. Fans groaned and repeatedly asked why these weren’t in a scale closer to other properties they might also collect, but were fed the same general line. Bandai also doesn’t speak with the fan community as much as other companies do, so when news leaked that there were 6 inch versions of Lion-O and Mumm-Ra on Big Bad Toy Store, a lot of people assumed it was a typo on BBTS’s part. While this was going on with the classic line, the new cartoon line stopped abruptly as Cartoon Network stopped airing the show, and according to speculation, didn’t want new product coming out that would spoil events happening in upcoming shows. You fast forward to about a month and a half ago when the show returned, and there’s still no new product, even when collectors know there is a 6 inch modern Tygra figure that popped up on eBay, and a few online retailers. We still don’t know if the line is cancelled, but it isn’t looking promising. We didn’t get a complete team of Thundercats in any scale other than the less than ideal 4 inch scale, and it now looks like Art Asylum will be making Minimates of the Thundercats, who will be in yet another scale; but will have a much better chance of yielding a complete team and villains for collectors.
When you look at all of these issues, you might wonder why collectors would put up with this for little pieces of plastic. On a personal level, I have dropped lines that I either lost interest in due to choices in figures (DC Universe Classics, which itself has ended and has some sort of line coming to replace it), or have limited it to characters I have a fondness for, like the Marvel Universe and Mattel WWE Elite lines. I have also spread out the general items I look for, and begun saving for some of the higher end collectibles like Hot Toys that have enough variety of properties and release dates that one can spread out their purchases. If you are a longtime collector, I hope you have come to terms with these realities, if not accept them, and if you are new to collecting any of the properties mentioned, good luck with your toy hunting.
I’ll see you in the isles.