Maybe I’m older than I feel, but it doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago when a convention exclusive was actually exclusive to a convention. If you weren’t going to be there in person, you either had to have a connection who could cover you, or you had to hunt for that figure and pay a little (or a lot, in some cases) more for it. These days, the big toy manufacturers make their convention "exclusives" available to non-attendees via their web sites after the shows. I have a request for those companies: Stop.
I’m not condemning anyone for taking advantage of the opportunity. In 2008, I ordered Mattel’s Justice League Unlimited Giganta figures and Hasbro’s G.I. JOE Cobra Commander with podium online myself. In addition to my order with MattyCollector.com, I also obtained a Giganta set the same way I’ve acquired previous San Diego Comic-Con exclusives, though, by having someone I know pick it up for me. That’s how I got the Justice League Unlimited Solomon Grundy figure, and I received the three-pack with John Stewart, Shayera Hol, and The Ray in a trade with AFI’s own Julius Marx. In fact, the only convention-exclusive figure I have from actually attending its respective event is my Rowdy Roddy Piper figure from JoeCon 2007 (okay, I have two of those). We don’t get any exclusives for HeroesCon here in Charlotte.
Born on a Monday!
But even when I was planning to order those exclusives online last summer, I still didn’t care for the idea. Sure, it would cost more money to buy them on eBay, but selling them to the general public diminishes the… well, the exclusivity of the item. I won’t be going to San Diego any time soon, but if I did, the thought of picking up something that’s only sold on the convention floor would definitely appeal to me. The way I see it, the people who spend the money, fight the crowds, and wait in long lines should have a chance to get something that no one else can buy at the same price. When I couldn’t make it to a convention, getting my hands on an exclusive actually meant something. My "chrome" Toy Fair Darth Vader from 2002 isn’t worth close to what it was six or seven years ago, but it’s still special to me because it wasn’t sold to every STAR WARS collector on the planet. An old friend hooked me up with it for twenty bucks while they were selling for more than $200 (thanks, Travis!). Like the Toy Fair Vader, the fact that people went out of their way to make sure Grundy and Shayera made it into my collection gives them more significance than many recent exclusives. Piper has the most meaning of all, because I actually stood in line to buy him. More than just a figure, he’s a memento from the experience, one that never saw a wide release.
…I’m all out of bubblegum.
Then again, I’ve also missed out on my share of exclusives, too. If I don’t have a hookup for an item, I either cough up the cash or I live without it. I got the Celebration-exclusive George Lucas figure on eBay when I missed going to Indianapolis, and despite its current value being maybe twenty percent of what mine cost, it’s a special piece to me. Why? Because it was an actual exclusive and something that had to be tracked down at the time. The Celebration III Darth Vader that I ordered from StarWarsShop.com? I don’t even remember what it looks like, to be honest. I know it talks. I didn’t get the SDCC Destro figure in 2007, even though they were sold through HasbroToyShop.com after the convention. By the time I knew that was an option, they had sold all of them. There aren’t many holes in my 25th Anniversary G.I. JOE collection, but that’s definitely a noticeable one. So why haven’t I tracked one down? In my mind, it’s just not that great of a figure. I don’t want it that badly, so I just live without it. If the figure was really on my list of wants, though, I’d suck it up and buy one.
I really just preferred the days when an exclusive meant exactly that, an item made available by the vendor at a specific event only. While these companies set aside a percentage of their stock in response to complaints about things not being "fair" for everyone sitting on the sidelines, what’s "fair" about that deal for the people who actually made an investment of time, money, and effort in the event? What was once a treasured piece of convention memorabilia is now just a preview of something that will be sold to the general population a few days later, and that’s not what an "exclusive" should be. The word itself comes from the Latin excludere; that some would be excluded is the very nature of the concept. Yes, it would mean that I have to find someone willing to wait in line for me or pay the premium on eBay, but so what? If I really want something, I’ll work out a way to get it.
These were genuinely "exclusive" figures.
And so for Mattel’s DC Universe Classics exclusive at this year’s Comic-Con, a Wonder Twins two-pack with Zan and Jayna, only attendees who purchase the figures at the convention will receive the Twins’ space monkey sidekick, Gleek. I view this as a step in the right direction. Personally, I would like to see a return to the way things used to be, with a set that only those people who brave the madness of the convention have a crack at buying from the manufacturer. That’s not about "punishing" people who can’t make it (remember, I’m one of them); it’s about offering something truly special to the fans who spend the time and money to go. Should Mary get to meet Neil Gaiman, even though she blew off the book signing? Should Stan get front-row tickets to a concert, despite not waiting in line like thousands of other fans? So why is something like a collectible toy any different? Yes, there will be plenty of those in attendance who will buy extras and sell them on eBay, and so what? That just means you’ll have the opportunity to buy something you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to acquire, and if participants want to capitalize on the demand for an exclusive, then so be it. They paid for plane tickets, convention passes, and hotel rooms. They used vacation time to make a trip to San Diego. They waited in line for hours to buy the figures. Mary and Stan stayed home. Should they really be afforded equal access? No way, and I hope Hasbro and Mattel decide to make exclusives exclusive again in 2010.
I’m happy to see Mattel rewarding those who go out and support this event by offering a character that will only be sold at SDCC. Remember, not going to the convention doesn’t mean you can’t get Gleek. It just means you’ll have to work a little harder for him.