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John's Action Figure Column 01/30/97


     In the words of Todd Rundgren, "'s me."  I've only
been gone for two months, but boy, does that seem like a long
time!  I guess some of that time-dilation effect ("'re at
nine chronometers, Mr. Gersten....push!") comes from the season
-- since the last time I wrote a col, we've had Christmas, New
Year's, and the resumption of the regular grind that follows.  On
top of that, we had our annual and inevitable cold January Toy
Drought.  Brrrrr...and <shudder>.  Last year, the JTD led me to
purchase (egads!) a bunch of clear plastic Star Wars ships. 
<Shudder again>.  It wasn't pretty....but at least there were
only four of them....

     Actually, Ninety-Six transubstantiating into Ninety-Seven
brought a bunch of changes to my so-called toy life.  Aside from
taking a much-needed vacation from rtaf, I took a companion
vacation from -- are you all sitting down? -- toys.  From
everything about 'em.  From toy shopping, toy gatherings, toy
magazines, even toy displays (I took most of mine down and put
them away).  Yep, I went "cold plastic turkey," for most intents
and purposes, for reasons that should not concern anyone (and
don't really matter, at least not in this context), and I have to
say, boy, how sweet it was!
     I think I was suffering from a complex melange of burnouts. 
Shopping burnout, aisle-jostling burnout, staring-at-bare shelves
burnout, rtaf-burnout, general toy burnout.  My batteries were
drained, my energies depleted, and I suddenly realized that
rather than shambling quarter-hearted through a realm that was
bringing me no joy, I could just....leave.
     And I did.  I stopped reading rtaf.  I stopped worrying
about toys.  I stopped dashing around trying to find them.  I
stopped _shopping_.
     And you know what?  It felt _great_.  Suddenly, it didn't
matter that I might not be the first one on my block to have
Figure X.  (Especially since Figure X seemed to stop shipping
just before Christmas, on the bizarro assumption that selling
lots of product would be bad for a company in the business of
selling product.  Like I said, "bizarro."  But that's another
story.)  And I didn't care how many auctions I was missing, how
much scintillating informational minutiae on the panchromatic
variance in the Cards from Company C might be passing me by.  Or
how many Tickle Me Elmos (really, shouldn't that toy have been
renamed "Ream Me, Elmo," once the frenzy set in?) I missed
snagging at "$400 chepe."

     Ahhhh, vacation.  I didn't actually _go_ anywhere, but
changing the entire pattern of my life, the toy warp and the hunt
woof, from bottom up, made an enormous difference.  In my soul, I
might as well have been on a beach in Kauai (my skin didn't see
it that way, but hey, at least I didn't get sunburned).  I  Purified.  At-peace.
     Now, what that's _really_ about is the ugly truth that I'd
become obsessive about toys, far out of proportion with the joy
they gave me.  I was doing things out of habit, out of
compulsion, but not out of a sense of _fun_.  This was not good. 
Kids, don't let this happen to you....
     I know that not everyone falls prey to this sort of
extremity.  And for those of you with better boundaries, better
senses of perspective, I say, "Hey -- you got something good
there; stop a second and appreciate it."
     It's different for everyone, I know.  But holding this world
of toys-and-figures at a Kung-Fu Grip arm's-length did wonders
for me.  A month after my self-imposed embargo on toys, I took a
deep breath and stepped into a TRU.  And you know what I saw?
     New toys.  Actual new, fun-looking, bright, beautiful toys. 
What a concept!  I realized something important:  much of the
mania that drove me to shop and shop without cease derived from
the regrettable realities of the marketplace -- that, especially
in a collector-supersaturated area like San Francisco, there just
was not going to be enough brand-new product to go around.
     Fair enough; reality is reality.  I could gripe about why
this shouldn't be until the cows came home (which, by the way, a
friend who grew up on a farm recently told me can be quite a
while...the dumb bovines'll wander around aimlessly in the
grazing grounds well beyond the time when they should be high-
tailing it home for shelter and warmth.  But then, if they were
that bright, we'd be the ones with vacuums on our teats and being
ground up for Manburgers at McBessie's Golden Arches...and while
that might actually be better for the world at large, it would
certainly get in the way of my completing a Marvel Superheroes
action figure collection....), but it wouldn't do anything but
raise my blood pressure.
     No, rather than gripe, I took another route.  I filled my
time with other pursuits, things like spending time with friends,
going to movies, reading, meditation, stuff like that.  And I
barely thought about toys at all.

     But when I _did_ finally return to the aisles, it was with a
surprising amount of joy.  Lookit all this new stuff!  Mars
Attacked, Spider-Man swung in, the X-Men assembled, and even if
Star Wars figures were still little more than a nasty rumor, it
felt great to see all kinds of new stuff on the shelves.  Sure,
just "dropping in once" meant that I wasn't going to find
anything shortpacked, or precious...or did it?  For there on the
shelves were several things that barely a month before had been
fairly hard to find:  Dr. Strange.  Hawkman.  Quicksilver.  The
Martian Spy Girl.
     I suddenly realized an important truth.  While there are
indeed some figures that hit the shelves once, and disappear
instantly, never to be seen again, these figures are generally
few and far between; for most figures, patience will always
afford you exactly what you want.  In fact, the only exceptions I
can think of are "doomed lines" that just don't get re-ordered,
and McFarlane toys.  As far as the former go, well, you _can_ end
up screwed by not having been maniacal right from the start. 
It's true.
     As far as McToys go, well, sigh, the company with what is
unarguably the single best, warmest, most informative on-line
presence nevertheless still torques some of their fans regularly. 
It is possible that in time, the Toy Club will solve this
problem, but I will have to withhold judgment until such time as
the flyers arrive -- which Chet Jacques has indicated should be
soon.  Until then, collectors still hoping for a Blood Queen, for
example, can do little more than that -- hope.
     But if Toy Biz or Kenner are your "suppliers" of choice,
then fear not!  Waiting patiently does _not_ mean you won't get
your figures; _quite_ the opposite.  My recent experience finding
all the Total Justice series 2 figures, and all the X-Spidey-Hulk
figures, attests to the rewards of kicking back and letting the
frenzy pass you by.  (And those "rewards" can be fairly large --
sales, discounts, etc.).
     Anyway, my lesson was half-taught in this once-a-month
shopping approach.  And well-learned it was.

     Well, there was another half to my withdrawal, and to my
learning process.  And that half centered on rtaf itself.  Back
in early December, I just wasn't enjoying the group.  Not at all. 
Look, I read the group for discussion, for information, and not
for sales, or even trades.  That's just me, but it is important. 
Because it seemed more than ever that the signal-to-noise ratio
in that light was dwindling at an alarming rate.
     So I "quit."  Stopped reading the group entirely.  Oh, I
didn't think it would be forever, but I definitely needed a
     But unlike my experience with toy shopping, a month-long
absence did not instantly transform rtaf into a paradise, at
least not for me.  When I peeked back in just after Christmas, it
seemed much as it had a month before.  So peeking in once a month
just wasn't going to be a viable solution to my newsgroup

     On the other hand, I _missed_ rtaf!  I missed the toy
reports, I missed the laughter, I missed the wit and wisdom of
our resident pundits, the tomfoolery of our tom fools, and even
the jerkings of our jerks.  But every time I sat down to cure
this sadness by reading the group, I ran smack into what seemed
like unending sales, offers of uneven trades, and bickerings
about what seemed to me to be disputes over details too
insignificant to even be called "trivial."
     Which was when inspiration struck.  Gee, John, said
inspiration as it clocked me one upside the head, You don't
_have_ to read it all.  And as the pain receded, the truth of
that information really sunk in.
     I know that may seem silly, or stupid, or even ridiculously
obvious, but for months and months before my cocooning I had
prided myself on not missing a word of the group.  And on the few
days where I couldn't read it, I'd just make it up thereafter,
even if it meant pushing through a thousand messages in a
marathon newsreading session.
     But I didn't _have_ to do that!  (Hey, that's what
inspiration had said, and inspiration packs a mean right hook!) 
So what if maybe I missed some witticism, some great jape or
unusual viewpoint.  If I couldn't _stand_ the practice of reading
the group, it didn't matter anyway.
     Instead, I started being selective.

     At first, I would scan my way through the subject lines,
picking and choosing what seemed likely to contain information
rather than mendacity, amusement rather than greed.  That worked,
but even that took considerable effort.
     Then I remember something Saint Marcia of Litterbox had
mentioned once about killfiles.  Of course!  Killfiles!  Well, I
dug up the old information, learned what I needed to know....and
went killfile-crazy.  I zapped out trades, sales, auctions, SLUs
(sorry, sports fans), a handful of nattering nabobs of negativity
(it's okay, Spiro's long dead, hallelujah), and _almost_ went so
far as to extend the blot to "Star Wars" (which really ought to
be written "Star Wares," these days), but decided to leave things
at that.
     And the result was a lovely, truncated, manageable rtaf, one
that goes down as easily and smoothly as a ten-year-old scotch. 
Mmmmmmm.  Heaven.
     So...I'm back.  For whatever that's worth.  And what's more,
I missed so many of you, and am so happy to see you all again....
and have been delighted to see some wonderful new "voices"
appearing as well.  As it should be.  Huzzah!

     Which leads me, naturally enough, to the somewhat-muted
question that was apparently raised recently regarding the
creation of an action figures marketplace group.  And just for
completeness' sake, I figured I'd include my opinion on that
worthwhile topic.
     An action figure marketplace group?  I'm all for it.  100%. 
I can't think of a single reason _not_ to have one.  Harumph.
     Now, that said, I do think it'll be a long, tedious battle. 
And for the reasons described above, I won't be too upset if it
doesn't go through, because _I_ won't be seeing the forest of
sale/trade/auction posts anymore anyway.  But I know that many
newsreaders (AOL, paging AOL...oh, sorry, can't get through, the
lines are all busy....) don't afford the option of filtering.  So
for those people, as well as on general principles, I do hope
that the marketplace gets created, the sooner the better.
     Of course, you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make
her think (hey, how 'bout a Dorothy Parker action figure?  Heck,
the entire Algonquin Round Table!  What's that?  Because they
wouldn't _sell_?!?  Well, heck, _I'd_ buy a, maybe....)
...which is to say, there's nothing to stop vend-spammers from
abusing a discussion group with mercantile posts even if there
exists a separate, proper place for same.  Sigh.
     But I'll do all I can to help create a marketplace anyway. 
Because it's right, because it should exist, and because it would
be a delight indeed to end up with an action figures group that
exists for people who love the crazy things to be able to share
their loves, their losses, their triumphs and their tragedies,
without interruption from the world of advertising.
     Hell, we get enough of _that_ everywhere else....

     On a final note, I was thinking lately about that stripe of
collectors who practice toy-hiding.  You may or may not see this
in your own travels, but there exist collectors who, for a
variety of reasons (spreading the wealth among the worthy,
waiting for sales, or just sheer hyper-exuberance) make a
practice of _hiding_ figures in the toy stores.  Honest -- I kid-
you-not.  (Hey, that reminds me:  I gotta snag a bouquet of kid-
me-nots for the wife for Valentine's Day).
     If you haven't seen it, the basic form of the caching-
meditation is this:  you spot a figure that is in high demand,
and for better or for worse, you grab it, hike up the nearest (or
even farthest, depending on your commitment to the zen of hiding)
shelf, and tuck the figure-on-card away, then let the shelf come
back to rest in its place.
     Now, I'm not saying I favor this practice.  There are lots
of arguments to be made either way, and I have neither the space,
time, nor inclination to trot them all out.  It's an individual
thing, and maybe it helps other true-collectors get figures,
maybe it doesn't.  But the practice does occur.
     But I was talking to a fellow collector this morning, and we
were airing some now-familiar worries about Kenner and Bat-
villains.  You know, we beg and beg for them not to shortpack the
baddies, and when they finally bring out the Joker, Bane and Ras
al Ghul in near-equal numbers, wham!  They clog the pegs like
male Mighty Ducks, or male Hercules figures, or male...well, you
get the idea.  The real horror-prospect is that Kenner will
decide (again) that they were right to shortpack the bad guys all
along...just in time for the single most-anticipated figure of
recent memory to come along -- femme fatale Harley Quinn.
     Well, I think I can speak for every BTAS lover in saying
that a shortpacked Harley would be categorically bad.  Bad, bad,
     So what can we do about it?

     Well, there is one thing, if it isn't already too late.
     You know all those Jokers, Banes and Ras al Ghuls to be
found peg-sitting in every TRU across this great (or grating,
depending on your point of view) land?  The prime exemplars of
the Kenner-side "see, we have to shortpack these things" view? 
Well, go to your TRU, your Target, your Wal-Mart.  Locate these
figures.  Fix them in your sights.
     And then hide 'em.
     That's what I said, hide 'em.  Gather yon Jokers, while ye
may, amass Bane upon Bane, stockpile les Ghuls, and dump 'em all
into the waiting stasis bins below the bottom shelves.  Clear the
racks of these guys!  Lay the pegs bare of bedevilers, strip away
the fiends and felons!  Tuck 'em all into the netherland of the
undershelves, and thus send the _right_ message to Kenner -- that
we must have our Harleys, and in abundance!
     You have nothing to lose but your...well, your shopping
privileges at TRU.  But that's only if you're sloppy!  Take care,
be the slightest bit sneaky, and bury those baddies for the
duration.  You'll be doing yourself and everyone else a big
     Besides, if you get "caught," just act peremptory and
explain that you were _removing_ the figures from where some
other miscreant had wantonly and maliciously stashed them! 
Demand to have the manager weld the shelves to the floor, and
strut out like the hero you are.
     Hell, it's only an idea....

     Well, kids and capes, this brings us to the end of another
Action Figure Column.  I can't promise a new one every week (was
that a great sigh of relief I just heard?), and in fact will
begin next week by re-posting a "golden oldie" (or "molden
oldie," depending on your opinion) for those who may not have
been around a year ago when the columns first appeared.  (Yeah,
they're all archived on my web page, but not everyone has web
access, or chooses to use their time to surf).  Hey, you don't
like it?  Just move on to the next post...yeah, that auction one,
and then the scalp shop plug thereafter...skip all you want,
they'll make more...and more...and more....

Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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