Hello. My name is Josh O’Rourke…and I am a toy collector. On the surface, this statement doesn’t sound like much. Everyone has a collection of something. It is the one avenue of the human experience where size truly does not matter. You could collect coins from foreign nations, stamps from a bygone era, or perhaps you collect John Grisham novels. But for me, as of 2013, I had set out to become a toy collector. Innocently enough, I wanted to only collect the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I had acquired in my youth and the subsequent variations found in the years since, but as time went on, and figures were acquired, I started to ask myself a question that would come to fester in my brain and occupy time on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis.
What’s next? What figures would take up shelf space in my increasingly smaller room? What figures would be relegated to boxes in my closet, and what price was I willing to pay, not just literally, but mentally as well. I know this may sound dramatic if not overly grandiose; but in all honesty, the days of having a simple collection of Ninja Turtles may very well be gone. And in its place is a hodgepodge of plastic men and women, mutant and monster, hero and villain, warrior and sorcerer. Yes, I have become truly, and embarrassingly, overwhelmed, desperate in fact as I am trying to learn how to overcome this weird desire to collect more stuff. So, in an attempt to become a better example of a well-adjusted human being that my own children could possibly look up to, I give you four rules to collecting that you should take under advisement, because I chose to ignore them.
Know what you want
As I stated before, I started out wanting only to collect the various version for the four Ninja Turtles that have been released. Right from the start I had my reservations. I was hit with the collecting bug back in 2012 when my oldest son had received the four Turtles from the Nickelodeon series as a Christmas gift. When he was done playing with them one night, I picked one up and honestly felt as if I were five years old again, picking up Donatello for the first time. I began to think of an undeniable truth that I still believe today: The things you collect are an extension of you. My love for the TMNT reignited after years of self-imposed silence, I set myself a strict rule of only the four turtles and nothing else. No variants from the same line, no vehicles or playsets, no figures from other toy lines, no matter how closely related they may be. And then it happened, I found myself in a position of having every figure that I wanted after four years, but I still had the desire to collect figures. You shouldn’t ignore this feeling, it’s natural. People love collecting as a point of pride, accomplishment, fun and nostalgia. But understand that that feeling can very quickly control you if you let it. Yes rules can be broken from time to time, but remember that when it comes to collecting, you’re the one who makes the rules, and you’re also the one that chose to follow them. It may be tempting to ignore the fact that you bought six figures over the last few weeks, but you also have to be willing to limit yourself with what you acquire. Remember, stuff always costs money.
Price should never be negotiable
After you’ve decided to become a full-fledged action figure collector, you have to make the agonizing choice of deciding what you want to spend on your favorite things. Or more accurately, what you don’t want to spend. Want to start collecting 90’s-era Toy Biz X-Men figures? Then you should know that they made a lot of those figures, when many characters and variants. In my opinion you should spend more than twenty bucks a figure at the most. Sure, if you want to get technical about it, you will probably spend more if you’re trying to find an action figure mint on card with all the accessories(MOC), as opposed to loose (just the figure, no accessories). But if you’re the kind of collector that displays everything in the box, then we can’t be friends because I’m afraid you’re missing the point of an action figure. But we’ll talk about that another time. It’s true that we can debate the legitimacy of “value” in an action figure. Maybe the toy you want was only produced in Canada, or was a limited production figure due to cost of manufacture. Perhaps the figure you want was a fan-favorite and was always sold out or maybe you fell victim to artificial inflation of price due to people just saying often enough that, yes, Scratch really is worth a thousand dollars (!)…bid or buy it now? In my experience, there is nothing worse than looking at an action figure that you love and seeing nothing but dollar signs. I have a set of TMNT figures from a China-based company called DreamEX.
They only had the license to be sold in China and were available in America only via the online marketplace. These figures (review coming soon) were highly detailed “toys” that were loaded with accessories, articulation and character that I just couldn’t pass them up. I had to have them no matter the cost. I had about a year to save up for them when all was said and done. But the fact of the matter is that these figures cost anywhere between $155.00 and 219.99 a piece…and I have seven of them. Meaning I spent over eleven hundred dollars on six figures in the last year, and those weren’t even the only figures I acquired in 2017. So please, don’t do what I did, don’t put yourself in the position to resent getting something you love seeing every day. Set a maximum price point you’re willing to spend on an item (the $50.00 rule) and do not budge from it. Be unwavering in your resolve. Because if you don’t, you will resent the things you have.
You may never be finished
There’s a great documentary on Netflix called Sneakerheadz. This film shows off the extreme lengths that people go to collect their favorite thing…shoes. Now I did chuckle when I first heard of this concept, but hearing the cultural impact that sneakers have had on our modern day. While the various talking heads found within the movie all come from different backgrounds, are all different colors and genders and are probably on different sides of the economic seesaw, they all echoed the same sentiment:
It’ll probably never be done
What they’re referring to is their collections of various shoes; the same sentiment can be applied to collecting toys and action figures. You have to understand, to a serious collector, your collection will never be done. I started out only wanting to collect the four Ninja Turtles. That turned into collecting all of the basic series figures from the ’88 toy line. In turn, that turned into collecting only early 90’s Playmates Toys action figures that were also in-scale with those old TMNT figures. And now, it seems that I am collecting action figures from the 80’s and 90’s, with a few exception. Most recently, I bought a Skeletor and Evil-Lyn figure from the 2002 action figure line for the rebooted He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toy line. Now I have no nostalgic or emotional investment into He-Man but I have always loved Skeletor, and Evil-Lyn kind of looks like my wife. But now, I have it in my head that I should buy a few more of these figures, maybe just the bad guys. Maybe just the crew of henchmen that Skeletor had in his employ during the first episode. Maybe I should get He-Man and Teela just to have a foil for the icon villains in the MOTU cannon. And that is just a small taste of what it’s like to compulsively collect action figures. In my opinion, I’m never going to be done collecting toys. Yesterday, I got it in my head that I want to get an Optimus Prime figure because…well…I should have one, right? Given the nature of my collection or 80’s and 90’s era toys, I should have at least one Transformer, right?
The answer is no. The obvious answer is no. There’s no person on this planet that absolutely needs an Optimus Prime figure, but, damn do I suddenly want one. I don’t even have a place to put any more figures and yet the desire to get more stuff hasn’t dwindled. The point is, there will always be something out there that you want. The thing to remember is that you have to pace yourself. I bought as much as I could in a small gap of time. You can’t do that and expect your bank account to remain your friend. Also, your significant other, or worse, your children, may start to get frustrated when they see you getting more stuff when you need things like groceries or functioning water. I understand that everyone is different. I know that everyone is in a different situation, so I can’t tell you what type of plan you should have when filling out your collection. The only thing I can tell you is to be honest with yourself about what you want, and be realistic about how much you can afford at any given time. Twenty dollars at Target every week may not sound like much, but after a year, that’s over a grand. Collecting is an endurance race, not a sprint. Remember to budget and remember to try your best to avoid buying something just for the sake of buying something. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment and frustration.
Don’t fall prey to what is popular
I promise not to spend too much time on this point because it’s one of those things that will be different for everyone. I watch a lot of toy collecting videos on youtube. Everything from Toy Galaxy to Pixel Dan, looking at collectors and reviewers on the internet, you may think that the thing to do is just collect everything that you can get your hands on. As much as I have tried to stay on a singular path while collecting action figures, I have found myself teetering outside the comfortable boundaries of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My collection also includes, in no particular order, figures from the Real Ghostbusters, The Stone Protectors, Street Sharks, Skeleton Warriors, Dick Tracy, The Toxic Crusaders, Zen: Intergalactic Ninja (really?), Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Menace, Predator, Monster Force (…why) and most recently, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (plus there is a Batman and Robin figure in their somewhere, but I honestly don’t remember why). Now I will admit that this was a lot of figures to gather in a short amount of time (roughly eight months). I know that I should have paced myself and waited. But I am not a patient person and I hate waiting. So in spite of my own better judgment I went ahead and threw caution to the wind along with my debit card. Personally, I happen to think that I did some serious financial damage to my family that we were only barely able to recover from. So you might think that the cool thing to do is to get as much as you can as quickly as possible because you see a lot of others doing it too. The reality is, most of the collectors you see online, have been collecting for years before they ever sat down in front of a camera to give a proper review of their favorite or newest toys. Another stranger reality is, is that you may just resent yourself a bit for having spent what you did on little plastic humanoids. To be honest, there are days where I wish I had never started collecting. I can remember the day I bought the figures that kicked off my epic Ninja Turtles collecting days. It was a set of the four Turtles from NECA toys that were crafted in the style of the Mirage comics that started a dynasty. That was probably five years ago when I bought them and just before I clicked “buy it now”, I had a moment where I played out the scary possibility where I just collected too much stuff and people would either resent me or find me foolish. It is crazy to think that I still have this thought breeze through my mind from time to time. Yes, I love collecting and I love the figures I have on shelves and in glass cases, but there is a part of me that feels that I have gone overboard and it is my hope that I can learn from past mistakes and not be so frivolous with my cash. I may have thought that is was the cool thing to do to have every figure that my heart desired, and while it arguably is, the way I went about it was completely irresponsible.
So with that, I hope you understand that it is okay to want things. It’s okay to try and recapture your youth. It’s awesome to have a non-destructive hobby that has a massive community around it. But what you should be cautious of is your own behavior. I went into toy collecting knowing that I have an addictive personality. As someone who has been smoking since I was fifteen and been to more than one AA meeting, I should have planned more when deciding to buy my youth all over again. I will likely always collect toys, but I hope that you read this knowing that I hope you do a better job of than I did. Because self-loathing is no picnic.