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John's Action Figure Column 9/19/96

PEG O' MY HEART

     The humble retail peg is the source of most, if not all, of
our beloved toy finds.  However, this simple, bountiful device
gets short shrift in the annals of action figure collection.  Oh
sure, we write stories about various retailers, poems about Aisle
7c (well, *I* do); we go on about trucks, clerks, boxes, SKUs,
you-name-it, but we ever ignore the basic tine of provender in
the toy world, the limb on which all our joys hang, the simple
peg.  I mean, think about it: without the peg, all the new
figures would just sit in messy piles on the floor -- the world
would be like one giant Wal-Mart.
     So this week we pay tribute (after a fashion) to the
unassuming peg, upon whose back (well, I guess it's more like a
spine) the fruits of the action figure world hang in dependable
plenty.

HOME IS WHERE THE PEG IS...OR COULD BE
     I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of
coming up empty at the toy store, particularly in the "shortpack
department."  You know what I mean:  a new load of figures hits
town, you race on over to the TRU, or the Wal-Mart, or Target, or
Kaybee, etc., and "when you get there, the cupboard is bare...." 
Oh, there may be scads of figures, but that one figure you've
been hoping for, wishing for, is nowhere to be seen.
     Now, it isn't necessarily the distributor's fault:  your
local store may well have received this figure.  That is, it is
possible that you just aren't the swiftest collector in your neck
of the woods.  On the other hand, as more and more non-collectors
wade into the hobby, despicable White's Guide in hand, the more
the shortpacked figures are going home with folks what ain't a-
really gonna enjoy them for their intrinsic merits.  Which, well,
sucks.
     Not to mention that after getting your hopes up reading
various "I found 'em!" posts on rec.toys.action-figures, you end
up doubly glum staring at an aisle filled with figures not even a
Mother-1 could love: leftovers, longpacks, high-colonic
Wolverines, ghastly "Nickelodeon" repaint Mendozas, etc.  (And
why didn't McF send the Wetworks repaint cases out with new
Bloodqueens, Pilgrims and Assassins, and use the _rest_ of the
space for *proven* hits like Vampires and Werewolves?  It boggles
the mind.  But I'm getting distracted....)
     Many recent rtaf-ers have described the awful, drained,
despondent toy-feeling such emptiness engenders, and believe me,
I've been there.  Hell, by now, I bet we've *all* been there. 
(Yeah, done that, and would've bought the t-shirt, except the
only size the goddamned scalpers left was _small_.  C'mon,
*nobody* wears a small, at least not after the first laundering. 
Heck, Tracey barely tops 5', but I even buy _her_ larges if I
want them to fit after one spin cycle through the dryer.  But I
digress again....)
     So what can a mild-mannered, good-hearted, toy-loving
collector do?  What's the solution to a world where toys are
scalped by the ignorant and greedy faster than a speeding
bulletin from the binary posting police?  Do we hang up our capes
and cowls and leave the "good stuff" for the slavering, scabrous
scalpers?
     Nah.  We just have to keep at it, keep talking the truth,
and trading amongst ourselves.  Fighting the good fight, one hand
helping another, shoulder to the wheel, if a task be large or
small, step on a crack, break your mother's...uh, never mind. 
Trading -- it's safe, it's healthy, and it's extremely
satisfying.
     But there *is* something you can do to relieve that
"longpack syndrome," as I call it.  And it's pretty simple. 
(Although I should note that it will only work if you keep at
least a few figures at home still on-card.)

HE'S JUST FULL OF GOOD IDEAS, ISN'T HE?
     First, you need a small pegboard.  One mounted in a good
solid piece of wood would be best.  Then you need four long
looped metal hooks that fit in the pegboard.  You know, pegs. 
Pegs.  As the Good Book says, "Consider the pegs of the aisle,
how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin...." (Gospel
according to St. Hasbro 6:28.  And actually, you *can* get 'em to
spin, but it makes an unholy _mess_ of the damned aisle....)
     Ahem.  Where were we?  So, you arrange the hooks in the
pegboard about a foot apart, and then you set the pegboard up in
a convenient space in your home, preferably out of plain view, a
convenient, low-traffic corner, some place off the beaten path.
     Next, gather up a bunch of your carded figures.  "Common"
figures would be best at this point.  Take an armful of figures
and place them carefully on all the pegs, being careful to leave
about three inches of bare space at the back of each peg.
     Now go through your collection and find four precious, hard-
won, cherished, carded shortpacks.  Carefully place one of each
of these at the back of the pegs, behind the other figures and
against the pegboard.  Once you have done this, gently push from
the frontmost figure back against the others until all the
figures settle evenly and firmly on the pegs.
     Now you're all set!  Next time you come home from the toy
stores dejected and angry at the state of things as they so
regrettably are, simply trot on over to your "home Wall-mart"
setup and begin scanning the pegs.  "Hmmm, Kylun, Bonebreaker,
Sauron, Mandarin, Professor X, yeah-yeah, who cares...hey! 
What's this!  Why, it's a Light-Up Psylocke!  Whaddaya know!" 
Already the good feelings are making you all tingly.
     If that's not enough to erase the feelings of frustration,
worry not -- just move on to the next peg, and start the process
again.  "Hoth Han, Dagobah Luke, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, R2D2,
Chewbacca, *whoa*!  Stop the presses -- it's a *Princess* *Leia*! 
Hoth Damn!"
     Now, if you're _really_ feeling the toy-gone blues, move on
down to the third peg.
     "Delta Commander, Frankenstein, Toxic Spawn, Angela,
Redeemer, wait a second!  Can it be?!?  Why, it *is*!  It's a
Cy-Gor -- original purple paint!  Aa-OOOH-gah!  Aa-OOOH-gah! 
Somebody pinch me, 'cause today's my lucky day!"
     And if it's just been a meat-grinder of a toyday, watching
hordes of now-all-too-familiar local dealers race down the aisles
at store opening to pick clean the action figure racks, the
Burger King out of crappy meal toys, and the postman delivering
the scrap of a box attached to a note reading "sorry, your
package was destroyed by our bomb-seeking dogs, who should know
the difference from gelignite and regular plastic, but who are
developing a fondness for Bandai Tick figures...," well, it may
be time to pull out all the stops and move on to peg #4.  But I'd
make sure your day is moving from mere blue to a repaint sheen of
black with dark violet highlights -- you don't want to use peg #4
for just any old cruise through the doldrums....
     "Gee, same old crap.  Admiral McCoy, Geordi as Tarchannen
Alien, Dr. Soran, Captain Pike, Original Spock, Picard as seen in
Tapestry, Sarek...YEEEEEOHMIGOD!  Tracey!  Tracey!  Look what I
found, just sitting there on the peg, it's a Tap Picard...yah-
HOOOO..."
     And you don't even have to feel bad about trumpeting your
victory to other, less fortunate shoppers.  Unless of course you
can maneuver your Significant Other to check the racks again,
"just in case."  "No really, honey, give it a try -- I could have
missed something...."
     Well, maybe she'll have better luck tomorrow....

TIME, VELOCITY, RARITY -- THEY'RE ALL RELATIVE...THE PEG IS THE
ONLY CONSTANT
     For my money, there are peg-hangers, and there are peg-
hangers.  I mean, there's a world of difference between a two-
year old Scotch Plaid Batman with Bola Hemorrhoid Action and a
spiffy Mr. Freeze.  (If you don't agree, you probably needn't
bother reading the rest of this section.)
     Y'see, people have been complaining lately about certain
once-hard-to-find figures appearing in greater numbers.  "Ras al
Ghuls are clogging the shelves at my TRU...", "Hoth Hans are
everywhere...."  I find this extremely ironic, and maybe even a
Bad Idea(TM).
     Now I understand the feelings that arise when you search for
the dozenth time for some figure, only to find instead doubles
and redoubles of some other figure about which you couldn't care
less.  I've done my own share of grousing about McLongpacks,
Batman variations, heck, _Superman_ variations, superabundant
original Chewbaccas (who, by the way, I've become convinced, is
actually *not* Chewbacca but rather Snoova in *Chewie* disguise! 
Think about it....) and the like.  But it seems to me that
collectors sometimes get *more* upset when the figures that begin
to appear in abundance are those that we had trouble finding when
they first appeared.
     Now, this is natural enough -- particularly if you spend a
lot of time and effort looking for something early on, it can be
frustrating to see scads of them showing up a few months later. 
"Hey," that little voice in your head says, "why did I make
myself crazy hunting for that silly Bane figure...."  (Note, this
is *not* the same voice that tells you it's a Saint Bernard from
Alpha Centauri and wants you to superglue your Congressperson to
her cell-phone).  Patience is a very tricky thing in the action
figure world, but experiences like these certainly demonstrate
its virtues.
     Well, okay, patience can be tricky.  Often it pays off, but
every once in a while patience turns around and bites you right
on the ass.  F'rinstance, if you hung back on Spawn IV, thinking,
"oh, I'll get a purple-trim Cy-Gor when the frenzy dies down,"
you probably have a McFarlane shelf bereft of purple Cy-gors. 
Similarly, biding one's time over an immodest Emma Frost would
lead you straight to the bowdlerized version.  But for the most
part, patience is the Collector's Friend.  (Note: this is not the
same as the Motorman's Friend, which is handy on a really long
drive but would absolutely _ruin_ a carded action figure).  Let
the mad hordes devour themselves over the first ten cases of SOTE
figs; Kenner'll make more, just you wait.  Heck, *Xmas* is
coming, after all (and you know how Vader *loves* the holidays).
     Anyway, I think peg-hanging once-shortpacks are a perfectly
fine thing.  Let's remember the manufacturing climate we're mired
in -- folks like Kenner seem cemented into the belief that the
only figures that *really* sell are chartreuse Batmans with
spring-loaded neon codpieces.  Now, I know the facts tend to
indicate that Kenner reads the newsgroups about as often as a
Barger helps out a kid (another screaming irony, since a better
source of unbiased and well-intentioned opinions for Kenner about
their product couldn't be bought for all the Penguins in China),
but the last thing we want to convey to them is that it was a bad
idea to make villains like Ras and Bane the least bit available. 
Ohhhhh, no sirree!  That's the kind of thought train that leads
you to Harley Quinn figures arriving one per three cases.
     And I don't mean to come off as any kind of a censor.  Say
what you like, use all the words you fancy -- they'll always make
more.  But I think we lose sight sometimes of how close to the
"center of the action" (so to speak) we are.  Our internet matrix
gives us information months, even years ahead of "normal
mortals," and it astonishes me sometimes how quickly we become
jaded.  I catch myself doing this all the time -- folks on rtaf
inform me that x, y and z figures are out, I immediately start
prowling the aisles, six weeks later the figures actually _show_
_up_ in Northern California, I buy two dozen different wonderful
characters on the same day, and one week later I'm back in the
aisles complaining about the lack of new product!
     Anyway, my point is, I think it's *wonderful* that Ras al
Ghuls are actually available on retail pegs in most places (not
here, of course, but SF is not most places, sigh) for the asking. 
Let's remember, in this World of the Shortpack, the dream
objective of every collector should be a reality where *every*
figure is available at every store for every kid (any height, any
age).  It is *not* a bad thing for desirable figures to show up
in abundance!  It is in fact a *wonderful* thing!
     Sigh.  I guess collectors can be split into two groups,
those who'd like to see every figure available at every store all
the time, delighting children, parents and adult children alike,
and those who blather on as if anyone cared about how much fun it
is to cover the distance between the Earth and the Moon every
month in incessant toy runs "'cause I love the hunt."  Let's see,
I guess I fall into the first group.  And perish the thought that
I wouldn't want everyone to have their own opinion on the matter.
     So.  The bottom line is, I think we're better off with a few
too many figures than too few.  I mean, who do those "extra"
Banes or Ras al Ghul figures hurt?  Oh, gee, I guess they *would*
ruin your average scalper's perfectly good day.  And gosh, it
might just take all the fun out of the hobby for those stalwart
roadrunners who prefer to get every figure they own from a
different zip code.
     But hey, I can't take care of everyone.

THE GREAT PEG SHUFFLE
     Here's the scene:  you've heard the new SOTE figures are in. 
Your tip is hot, so you rush to the store, race to the action
figure aisle, skid to a screeching halt in front of the Star Wars
section.  Now, assuming you've beaten the scalpers, you see one
of two things.
     Either the figures are there in abundance...
     ...or, if your luck is holding, just not as vigorously,
you'll see a glorious *one* of each figure you want.
     Now, in the first scenario, I know lots of figure lovers who
will take, say, each and every Leia Boussh off the peg, lay them
out on the counter, and examine each one with the laser-like
focus of a 47th Street diamond merchant (hey, why don't they make
Loupes for *us*?), determined to find the perfect paint job, the
quintessential unmarred card, a pristine bubble with nary a dent. 
Having chosen, they carefully replace the other figures on the
peg and move on.
     In the second scenario, however, most collectors will leap
forward and pounce upon that lone Leia Boussh, gleeful to have
just *gotten* one, and bounce about joyfully in mild delirium at
their good fortune, not caring a whit about a smudge on the left
arm, a bumped bubble, or a Kenner-bend(TM) in the card (I'm
convinced Kenner has at least one employee whose only job it is
to bend the cards on fifteen out of every sixteen figures that
leave the factory).  Now I know some people have more faith than
others and will leave a less-than-perfectly-perfect figure on the
peg, waiting for that perfect version to come in the next
shipment, but most of us have to figure that a bird in the hand
is worth (wait for it) two in the Boussh.  And buy it without
hesitation.
     I'm told there is a tenet of the real estate business that
the most expensive plot in a development is never one of those
big beautiful ones that sell right from the start; in fact, what
ends up being the most expensive plot is the small, oddly-shaped
corner parcel that nobody wanted, only now it's the only one left
and provides the only entree to the now-established ritzy
neighborhood.
     I think there's an action figure peg parallel to this law. 
The last Leia on the peg is the most appreciated, the one most
lovingly snagged and triumphantly carted off.
     And that may not be a bad thing at all.
     Heck, if I ran the zoo, I might just take some time each day
and place a single shortpack on the pegs, behind a couple of
longpack figures, and stand back to wait for my next customer. 
Again, I'm no advocate of the "the more you have to hunt the
better" school of thought, but its baby cousin, the "look through
a few on the peg before you come across the cherished figure,"
definitely has its place.
     Think of it as the smile business.  I'd make a lot of people
extra-happy.
     And hey, that's what our friend the lowly peg does on a
daily basis, in thousands of retail establishments around the
world.  So the next time you grab a figure, stop a moment and
throw a smile to the little silver peg that patiently held your
bounty for you until you could make it to the store.  Maybe even
give it a little pat.
     There're worse ways to celebrate your happy discoveries, you
betcha.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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