Hello again everyone and welcome to Tales of a Would’ve-Been Action Hero by other means. As you are now aware, the AFI Columns section is no more. It has evolved into a set of those latest existence-justifying, Do It Or You Don’t Count human activities, blogs.
Can I get a Woot! in the name of progress just one time?
This blog will literally begin where my column left off…
It was about three months ago, I hadn’t written a column for AFI in about six, and I wasn’t happy with my life as a collector. As that was recurring theme of my column, I decided to let it all out in a piece about confession and catharsis and move on to happier, nerdier things. I did that, but the AFI reboot got in the way and now here we are, months later, and some things have changed.
But not all.
And so I present to you the final edition of Tales of a Would’ve-Been Action Hero, the lost column, if you like, as it would have appeared had not the Otterization of AFI lead us to the bloggest land. As you read, I’ll chime in with little editor’s notes to point out how things in my collecting life have changed since this column was written. It’ll be just like your favorite comics!
…of 20 years ago.
In any event, here we go.
(The Lost) Tales of a Would-Been Action Hero #8
"They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!"
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact
In 1977, I got my first action figure. I became a toy lover.
In 1993, I bought my first action figure as an adult. I became a toy collector.
Sometime around 2000, I became a toy addict.
I am in recovery.
It’s been quite some time since we shared a visit. When last we spoke, I was in the throes of another huge action figure purge following the realization there was just too much toy in my life. That was almost a year ago.
Since then, much has changed. I no longer own a single G.I. Joe figure (Not true, I’ve reconstituted my Sigma 6 collection. -JJJ). I no longer own a single Masters of the Universe figure. I no longer own any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures (Re-bought a lot of those, too. -JJJ). About a dozen other smaller collections have been cut out as well, and there is more to do.
The most surprising part? I haven’t looked back. Not even once. (You and I now know that’s not true. -JJJ)
You have a diamond. Clear, glistening, beautiful. In order to keep it safe, you put it in a little box. You decide that’s not enough, so you put the little box into a bigger, stronger box. Then you put that box in a bigger box with a lid and a lock. Then you put that box in a chest. Then you put the chest in a safe. Then you put the safe in a vault. Then you build a bunker around the vault. Then you build a fence around the bunker. Then you dig a moat around the fence. Then you build a wall around the whole thing and you can see nothing but bricks.
That was my action figure collection. A great wall so vast and monotonous it could only be comprehended as a singular entity. No nuance, no facets, no individuality, and no joy. My collection was one ugly, faceless whole. I hated it, and I hated myself for allowing it to get that way.
Self-loathing, the mark of every relaxing hobby.
If we time travel back to my last column (Still posted in the Archive. -JJJ), we’ll find all my deep, dark collecting secrets. I lied my way in, I bought things I knew I didn’t want, and so forth. You knew that. You also knew I was about to do violence to my collection and now you know I’ve done it. What you don’t know is what I’ve learned from the experience, and that is this:
Collecting is addiction.
The collector mentality is anxious, insecure, competitive, jealous, rapacious, and has no memory whatsoever. It does not look back fondly on where it’s been, it does not stop and consider its many treasures and bounties, the collector mentality only looks forward. The next line, the next wave, the next resculpt, the next retool, the next repaint, the next variant, the next exclusive; that’s all the collector mentality wants. And when it gets what’s next, whatever it is, the collector mentality will do everything possible to destroy it.
That was me. That’s how I thought, how I acted, and how I felt. Looking at pictures of what was coming next was far more satisfying and titillating than actually going and buying the figures, let alone possessing them. And why?
Because you can’t collect orgasms. They’re here…and they’re gone.
The collector mentality wants the high of finding the toy, not the toy itself. The collector mentality wants it first, not forever. The collector mentality wants to trash it, not cherish it. If I can find something wrong with this thing; its paint, its scale, its articulation, its likeness, then it is inferior and must be replaced. One day I will find it, that perfect version of this thing. Then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be satisfied. Then I’ll be able to rest.
Until then, what’s next?
Here’s something I know now; maybe you already know it, maybe you don’t.
There is no perfection. There is no figure you will ever buy that couldn’t be topped a year from now, that couldn’t be better in some small way. Unless you can enjoy a figure for exactly what it is, you will never rest, you will never find what you’re looking for, you will never stop adding to your collection. There will always be a next, but there will never be a best.
I made the decision recently to have one comic-based DC figure for each character. One. I turned to DC Direct’s Silver Age figures because, for me, they represent the iconic, Super Powers, versions of DC superheroes. I have purchased 12 figures so far and I haven’t enjoyed building a collection, or DC superheroes, this much in years.
The collector’s mentality doesn’t want what was released three years ago; it wants what’s coming next month.
In a previous column, I talked about things I like any figure to have. Holsters, jet packs, a square jaw; that sort of thing. Last year I started collecting Chap-Mei’s Dino Valley and Wild Quest figures. They are wonderful 3 3/4” scale figures of explorers, adventures, hunters, poachers, and all the animals and dinosaurs they encounter. My favorite is Dino Valley’s Dr. Skinnybones McButt, leader of the evil poachers. Skinnybones is very 1930s evil. He looks like the kind of guy who would have tricked Tarzan into leading him to the elephant graveyard. He’s pulp fiction; he’s what I like. He also has the best active pistol holster I’ve ever seen at this scale and a place to hold his machete. Skinnybones McButt, a little dinosaur, and several accessories cost me four dollars at KB Toyworks last year.
The collector mentality says Skinnybones is junk; he’s not even based on a cartoon. And if he’s not based on anything, there’s nothing to compare him to. There can’t be a next.
I’ve no doubt you may see yourself in this column. If you do, and you’re not happy about it, here are ten things I’ve learned in the last year. I won’t be so presumptuous as to call them commandments. Let’s call them:
Ten Ways Out of Toy Addiction
1. If you’ve got the money, and you don’t buy it the first time you see it, you don’t want it. Never buy it.
2. Don’t ebay what’s on display because you need the space; you’ll re-buy it.
3. If you love figures you have stored more than you love what’s on display, ebay what’s on display and display what you have stored.
4. If you wouldn’t start a collection at full price, don’t start it because it’s on clearance.
5. A single attribute (articulation, sculpt, it has a jetpack) is never enough to buy a figure. A single figure is never enough to start a collection.
6. If you wouldn’t buy it off a peg today, don’t buy it on ebay because you had it, or didn’t have it, as a kid.
7. If you love the comic/movie/show, but the figures don’t grab you, don’t buy them. You’re still a legitimate fan of the comic/movie/show.
8. If two or more waves of a line you collect go by without a purchase, ebay what you have from that line.
9. If stored toys interfere with the operation of your closet, ebay until remedied. (Obviously, you can substitute "donate" for all these "ebay"s. After I wrote this, it bothered me I didn’t include that . -JJJ)
And most succinctly:
10. If you don’t see yourself willing it to someone, don’t buy it.
I’ll see you on the other side.
When you get there, enjoy your diamond.
Obviously, my reinvestment in Sigma 6 and Turtles undermines some of the steely resolve portrayed above, but it was disgust-driven zeal that lead to those lines’ ouster to begin with, so I don’t feel too badly about the regression. I still believe in the ten things I cited and they’ve served me well.
Anyway, that is how TOAWBAH (hey, that’s almost word-like): The Column ended.
Here begins TOAWBAH: The Blog.
Long live it.
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