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Fellow Geeks #1: Michael Crawford
photographreak
Get ready, folks!

There's a new feature here at Geek Creek:



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OR:


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Let's begin, shall we?


If you're a toy enthusiast, then chances are, you are quite familiar with the following logo:

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With perhaps the inevitable exception of LiveJournal, Michael Crawford's Review of the Week has had a bigger impact on my life than any other website.

Ever.

And it's all because of this review of a lone action figure from a largely reviled, wildly misunderstood and quickly canceled toyline.




"This is some of the best packaging I've seen in years. If I could give it more than four stars, I would... He really can hold an amazing number of poses, and the joints are much tighter and sturdy than something like Marvel Legends... If you're looking for a figure that's a throw back to 40 years ago, and what it meant to get accessories with an action figure back in the day, then this figure is for you...

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With one review, Michael Crawford unwittingly derailed the toy collecting path I'd followed for well over a decade. By persuading me that Sigma 6 figures were worth a closer look, thereby leading me to purchase Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (and at a combined $30, they felt like an insanely short-sighted and reckless purchase), Crawford created an obsession in me that has already outlived the toys in question by nearly a year.

All the Buffy toys and Simpsons toys and rock n' roll-themed toys and He-Man toys and everything else I'd carefully amassed over the years have long since been sold or traded or given away.

That's because of Michael Crawford's Review of the Week.

I started photographing my toys outdoors. That's because of Michael Crawford's Review of the Week.

I created this weblog and applied for jobs at Toyfare and Hasbro (unsuccessfully, alas), and that, too, is because of Michael Crawford's Review of the Week.

I create photos and comics with my toys, and I was featured in my local newspaper and someone wants to make a documentary about me and a representative from the local arts council wants to discuss the possibility of a gallery of my photos, and it's all because of Michael Crawford's Review of the Week.

I *heart* Michael Crawford's Review of the Week.







Michael Crawford has often struck me as the Roger Ebert of action figure criticism, in that while I do not always necessarily agree with his assessments (and this is more often the case with Ebert than Crawford; the man rated Fight Club two measly stars!), his thoroughness and attention to detail always help me to at least understand his perspective.

Michael Crawford's reviews aren't the empty hype you find on too many toy-themed websites; he dissects a given action figure on a number of levels: its articulation and sculpt and paint apps, and even vital but typically ignored considerations such as how poseable a figure is (I was recently dissuaded from tracking down the 12" Killer Croc because Crawford 's review revealed that the admittedly beautifully sculpted/painted toy in question is practically incapable of standing on its own.)






I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Michael Crawford some time ago, and as circumstances would have it, I was unable to share his answers with my audience at that time. Having since developed, here at Geek Creek, something of a small following of sad, strange people who should really know better than to encourage me, I'd like to share the interview with you now.

It's a testament to Michael's answers (or perhaps my startlingly provocative and disarmingly brilliant questions) that the interview remains timely even now:

What does toy collecting provide for you? Does it offer some form of social, emotional, intellectual or creative satisfaction? Or is it simply a hobby, fun but fairly meaningless?

Toy collecting started out as merely another hobby for me. I’ve been a collector all my life, always rat packing something – stamps, coins, antique advertising, beer cans, rocks – it’s always been something. But over time I got to know the folks inside the industry better and better, and got a larger and larger base of friends that were either collectors or worked in the industry, and the collecting itself became a much larger part of my social life.

The toy collecting and my reviewing of toys ties in with other passions as well, such as writing and photography. Having a situation where a number of hobbies dovetail like that, each one lends support to the other, instead of one crowding out the others.




How long have you been a toy collector? Did you give up toys after childhood only to return to them later? If so, what pulled you away, and what brought you back?

Obviously, I loved action figures as a kid, but I never collected them. I didn’t start that until the mid-'80s, when I got interested in the common ‘gateway drug’ for toy collectors – Happy Meal toys. During the late '80s, I started reading comics again, and that led me to action figures based on comics, like Super Powers and, a short while later, Batman the Animated Series. I consider the beginning of my true toy collecting days to be in the very early '90s, because that’s the point I went from being someone who occasionally bought a toy they happened to see, to someone that went out looking for toys specifically.

I also can lay some of the blame for my ‘addiction’ at my wife’s feet. In those early days, she would buy action figures of shows and movies I liked for various holidays and presents, not knowing just what she was getting herself in for.




How in your opinion has the toy industry changed in recent years?

I could write a book on the changes we’ve seen in the industry over the last decade. The big story is that the companies in the market place have gone through a real boom/bust scenario, especially over the last three or four years. The specialty action figure and collectible market really took off about four years ago, with specialty retailers like Media Play, Tower Records, Electronics Boutique, Gamestop, Sam Goody, Hot Topic, Spencer’s, and others getting into selling ‘toys’. These were generally action figures that were designed to sell to adult collectors, based on odd and unique licenses that were either edgy (like South Park or Family Guy), or nostalgic, like Scarface or The Warriors. Lots of small manufacturing companies sprung up, but in the end many of the lines didn’t have the fan base to support them. Retailers started drying up left and right as well, not because action figures didn’t sell, but because Wal-mart and other large chains were destroying them on the general retail front. Stores like Media Play, Tower Records, or Sam Goody filed bankruptcy, and others like Gamestop dropped toys altogether. The big retail crunch filtered down to the manufacturers, and in the last year we’ve seen a huge thinning of the herd. This thinning will likely continue through this year, with every company fighting for their small piece of the pie.

One area though that has continued to be strong is the high-end collectibles market. Smaller companies have learned the hard lesson that they can’t attract enough customers to buy a 6" action figure at $10 or $15 to make enough profit, but they can attract the few thousand necessary to make $40-and-up action figures, statues and busts a viable business. I expect we’ll see this market continue to do well for quite some time.





How in your opinion have toy collectors changed in recent years?

When I first started collecting, toy collectors were largely folks that bought trains and vintage items. Now, the concept of toy collecting has moved much more from the nostalgia factor only to more of a pop culture aspect. Collectors want action figures of their current favorite shows, movies and comics, not necessarily only items that are nostalgic.





What is the public’s perception of toy collectors? Is it accurate? What’s one misconception the public has about toy collectors?

I think most people see them as the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. And this is not largely inaccurate – stereotypes don’t get created without some initial basis in fact. The reason for this stereotype is that many of the current collectors came out of the comic book world, and that stereotype came with them.

Of course, like most stereotypes, it’s inaccurate a large percentage of the time. Geeks in general continue to be labeled as living in their parent’s basement, playing video games and unable to get a date. In reality, the number of geeks in the world is rapidly growing, and we certainly outnumber the ‘beautiful people’. We must be getting some somewhere.




What is the Holy Grail of your collection? Which is the toy that has always remained The One That Got Away?

One of my passions is western-themed action figures. In fact, I wrote a section on that very subject for the book titled The Mythical West, back in 2001. It’s no surprise, then, that both of my Holy Grails are vintage western figures.

One is Jed Gibson. As a kid, I had tons of Best of the West action figures from Marx, but never got Jed. He was one of the first black action figures, and was a scout for the Calvary. Very few were produced, and they are extremely hard to come by these days in nice shape.

Another vintage line I love is the Lone Ranger series of 9" figures from Gabriel. In this series was a sheriff named Tex Dawson, who was also produced in very low numbers and only sold in the U.K. I’d love to get a pristine version one of these days.




Is there anything else you’d like to add about toys?

Toys are like anything else people collect, from sewing machines to pencils to sports cars – if they speak to you personally, then enjoy them. Don’t let others tell you that you should or shouldn’t collect them, and don’t let them tell you the right way to collect them. It’s a personal thing, and you shouldn’t worry too much about what others think about it.

And just like other forms of collecting, this hobby is a wonderful way to meet other like-minded folks, and have some terrific fun. Enjoy!








I hope you have enjoyed Geek Creek's debut installment of Fellow Geeks! OR: Things Monte Likes To Read. Stay tuned for future installments covering such esteemed colleagues in geekery as Toybender and Poe Ghostal.

Good stuff, Monte! MWC is always a good read.

Thanks, man!

Well done. Those were some great questions!

Well done. Those were some great questions!

Thanks! I'd originally hoped to weave them into this piece:

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/31358/toys-n-the-addict/

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