It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens put it best in his famous Tale of Two Cities novel, although I doubt he imagined his quote would ever be applied to talking about the current state of toys. The truth is, however, that it’s a very fitting statement about the current state of collecting.
I was lamenting the other day about how their was a bit of a golden era around the turn of the century and the first few years after, where we were seeing nearly everything and anything get licensed toys. Often they were really high quality and amazing pieces, for downright dirt cheap prices. However, there was also a lot of issues with quality control, many toy companies made promises they couldn’t keep and as with every bubble, there came a bust.
Fast forward to the year 2011 and as we draw closer to the end of yet another chapter on the calendar, I can’t help but think we’re better off now than we’ve been in many years. Yes, we now lack many of the great little companies that once defined an era of excess, but at the same time there is no lack of product out there. It may be impossible to find, but it is being produced.
For the first half of the new millennium, especially from about 2006 until more recently, toy companies were afraid to take risks and many properties just languished. Now we’ve seen the revival of everything from Mego to Masters of the Universe, Doctor Who to the freaking Ghostbusters having a pretty impressive plethora of toys. We’re on the verge of having super poseable Godzilla figures and Gremlins are on the shelf once again for collectors.
Things are very much, good. With MOTUC we’ve seen that basically the sky is the limit (and apparently the sky is Ram Man and Castle Grayskull, but I digress) and nearly anything you can imagine is possibly being produced. Of course this comes with it’s own pratfalls, like the fact that many things are being made that folks perhaps wouldn’t even want or didn’t know they wanted until it was previewed… At the same time, legacies are being fulfilled. We’re getting the Fearless Photog. In a few days, I’m buying She-Ra’s pegasus. There’s no denying, it’s a good time to be a collector.
However it all comes at a price and that price is not just figurative, but literal. Although there is plenty of good, we’ve come to learn that this is the era of inflated price tags and online exclusives. Want that Christopher Reeve Superman? He’ll only run you $200. Granamyr is coming, but he’s going to be at least $80. Enjoy your import Kaiju and Doctor Who, but be prepared to have your wallet sufficiently abused in the process. We live in the online exclusive era, where fans are perhaps not forced, but prodded and pleaded to make their dollars count as votes.
From pre-orders to minimum subscription plans to collector’s clubs and even good ol’ fashioned importing, the computer is now the main marketplace for action figures. It seems like every other day we hear about some new property that’s either about to get off the ground or needs a certain number of pre-orders to do so. Retail is largely non-existent for the collector and while there are a few lines that do manage to flourish under the big box outlets, if they ever should falter, we know that they’ll like end up as high priced online collectibles. Every time a line like the WWE Legends even loses the slightest support at retail, it’s quickly shifted to an online store where prices and availability will vary greatly.
It makes it hard on the collector, especially the one who might previously be a cherry picker at retail. Certainly in some sense that’s no different than shopping at stores, but this new era has brought with it some unique conflicts for collectors. Do you sign up for the GI Joe subscription, lock yourself into a Mattel Ecto-1 club only to find the figures discounted later in a fire sale or do you learn to import from your Japanese hobby shop of choice? It’s tough to navigate and hard to decide what’s worth it. Often we’re forced to put our money up, or at least make a commitment before we ever even seen a working prototype, much less a final product.
So are we better now than we’ve ever been before? Are we the same? Are we worse off? I cannot say I have that answer. It’s hard to find too much to complain about (but we manage just fine) when I can look on my shelf and see every incarnation of the Doctor, Kamala and Kevin Von Erich (okay actually he’s not on my shelf, I can’t find him anywhere, but I pretend he’s there), super poseable Gamera, Peter Venkman and sight gag Gremlins. Things ARE good, but I suspect just how good, will vary depending on your own personal pocketbook, addictions and willingness to part with paper for plastic.
In the end I can only say that it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times… But man, it sure is an interesting time. What’s your take on how things are these days? In the meantime, keep on collecting, because I know I will.