Since I was a little kid, toys have always been a big part of my life. As an only child, I think my parents substituted the latest figures of the day for siblings. All the better, since not only did I have all the toys, I also didn’t have to share them. I had the first He-Man figure with the weird little comic book. I had Star Wars, Transformers, Army Ants, Battle Beasts, Sky Commanders, Visionaries… the list of toy collections I had on the go was ever growing with the latest addition to the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. With the exception of GI JOE, who my parents objected to as “he was an American that went around starting wars,” if it was a character that had been cast in an articulated piece of plastic, there was a good chance I had one somewhere in my room.
The funny thing about my toy collecting is that unlike many kids, I never stopped. As soon as I started making my own money, I spent it on toys and comics. My focus did tighten during my teenage years, just superhero stuff – even when the offerings were god awful. (Anyone else out there collect Total Justice?) I got through the awkward Toy Biz years into the golden era of Marvel Legends. I dabbled in the Batman animated series and I bought way more Spawn figures than I really had any reason to.
I got older, I got married, I had kids. I kept on buying toys.
Now, to be fair, I have cleared out a lot of stuff over the years. I parted with my G1 Transformers. My classic Star Wars, my TMNT, C.O.P.S., He-Man and Thundercats have all moved on to greener pastures. In recent months, I have even cut my rather spectacular Marvel Legends collection in half and sold most of my S.H. Figuarts Kamen Riders and Super Sentai figures.
But, even as I get rid of stuff, there is still something special in opening a new figure that I just don’t know I will ever move on from.
Oh, that’s right, I did say “open” there. You see, as far as collectors go, I’m what you call a “pay for play” kinda guy. What good is a Spider-Man figure with 30 points of articulation if you keep it in the package? No damn good at all, if you ask me.
One of the things that has both helped my collecting and hurt my wallet is that, thanks to the new age of social media, specifically Instagram, I have discovered that I am not alone in this. In fact, there are thousands of collectors out there stacking figures in Detolfs (the Ikea-sold shelf of choice for most toy collectors), chasing down variants, and going on toy hunts to Walmarts far and wide.
Instagram is also where I discovered that not only was I not alone in collecting, I was also not alone in posing my toys, taking pictures, and loading opened figures into storage once I’d taken them for a spin.
Toy hoarding and the quest for a bigger plastic tub
At one point during the height of my Marvel Legends collecting, I had two full Detolf shelves, multiple tubs, drawers and boxes fully loaded with Legends. Caught as I was in the Build-A-Figure (BAF, for short) trap, I had figures and accessories that would never see the light of day. I just ripped the package, grabbed the leg, arm, or whatever piece I needed, quickly posed the toy I had to get, before locking it away in the depths of my workroom.
I wasn’t collecting, I was hoarding.
I’m not saying I’m perfect now. I still have many figures tucked away that I don’t particularly like. But I have whittled down my collection in an attempt to focus not so much on having all the toys, but having the toys that mean something to me.
With so many collectors out there, selling large chunks of a collection has never been easier. Especially if, like me, you don’t do it trying to get rich or rip other people of. I sold my figures at reasonable prices to fellow collectors to help them round out collections. It can get ugly out there, with some guys buying out stock at their local toy stores then marking up the price online. Being one of the good ones felt important to me. I mean, collecting toys has been something that has made me really happy and connected me to people I never would have met otherwise, so how could I not pay that forward in my approach to selling?
In fact, toy photography in particular has been one of the most eye-opening and world-building experiences of my (digital) life.
When I was 21, I took a photography class at Ryerson University in Toronto. For my final project, I did a series of black and white photographs called “The Final Battle”. In this epic series of pictures, taken on the gravel roof of the garage behind the place I rented with some buddies, my heroic figures lined up against all my nasty, demonic-looking Spawn toys. There was action, movement, and some pretty decent posing that all culminated with a Toybiz, movie-style Wolverine, Legolas and Blade standing tall. The teacher said it was “weird stuff,” but I passed the class, so I’ll take it. I kept at my toy photography during those days, doing little stories and battles around my apartment and then taking the rolls to be developed. Nobody but me really saw them, but that was okay. I had found a way to play with my toys again as a (semi) adult person and that was what mattered.
Then, a few years later, Instagram came along and I found out just how deep the waters of toy photography really were.
The first time I took a toy picture and began to understand the application of hashtags, I was amazed at what I saw. People, like me, were taking pictures of their toys! But, unlike me, some of these folks were really, really good. There were cut-outs, dioramas, and lighting effects. Edits, wiring, and more. Toy photography was an art form that had found its perfect platform. There were groups and styles to follow or emulate. There were liking sessions where toy photographers from around the world would converge on a hashtag at a set time to appreciate each others’ work and even petty fights between groups to sit back and scroll through for a laugh.
And, most importantly for me, there were some guys I would end up calling friends.
It’s a curious aspect of the digital world that we can connect instantly with people we may never meet face to face. Thanks to a nexus of nerdery that included toys, wrestling, and superheroes, I’ve met some guys that I truly consider friends, even though I know them better by screen names than by the ones their parents gave them. I have not, and may never, have the pleasure of sitting down for a cold beverage with most or any of the toy photographers I have connected with through Instagram, but with connections that have now gone on years, it would be a disservice to not count them among my friends.
We take pics, we talk toys, wrestling, comics. and sometimes real life. It’s good fun and a reminder that borders, cultures, and such aside: geeks are geeks the world over. And that’s kind of comforting, isn’t it?
While photography has made friends I know through my phone’s screen, Facebook groups have provided a chance to meet other collectors face to face.
Buying, selling, and trading with collectors in the digital age is easy and efficient. A certain degree of trust is needed to send money to a guy in Calgary and hope he is, in fact, going to ship you toys and not pocket the cash. But, groups like Northern Legends police themselves and provide a framework for transactions to remain on the up and up.
Groups also allow you to set up trades in person and coordinate trips to Comic-Con or other Meccas of geek culture.
I even throw a basement toy nerd party from time to time at a bar in Toronto, complete with beer, pinball, arcade games and, of course, lots of toys.
It’s a strange community to be sure, but within it are a lot of really cool people that share a spectrum of interests and a habit of wandering down the toy aisle at Walmart whenever they get the chance.
This column and what to expect
Okay, so all that up there should give you some kind of idea what type of toy nerd you are dealing with here:
I buy toys to open and pose them. I take pictures, talk to other geeks, and host toy meetups when I can. I’m mostly a Legends guy, but I dabble in WWE Elites and other lines here and there. I don’t buy everything. I’m not a completist and I’d rather sell an old figure to a kid that will play with it for less money than to a grown-up that won’t for more money.
Every two weeks I will take the reigns of this column and look at toys I have, toys I want, toys I don’t want but you might, and other aspects of collecting that I have gotten into a bit already. My goal is to talk toys with you and share a hobby that I have had for as long as I can remember.
I will also try and figure out how people afford Hot Toys. But, that’s for another week.
If you are in the Toronto area on Saturday, October 12th and would like to attend Toy Jam, the action figure meetup I host, please check out the event here.
Til next time, keep your figures loose and your joints tight.