Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Inducing Collectibility

As a comics collector, one of the things that really peeved me was the practice of some comics to ship variants in different ratios to the regular edition of a comic book. The most common variant is the variant cover, but sometimes they would do variant black-and-white cover and interior books. Naturally, because the stores would have a hard time acquiring these things because they would have to order more, they end up charging more, and as a result I have never been able to afford a single variant since Marvel reintroduced the 1:x ratio of variants.

Now that I am venturing into the world of collectible toy cars, I've noticed something rather irritating, at least in the local collectible store scene. It's one thing for a toy to come out in toy stores, sell out, and then reappear in collectible stores at a premium because they're so damned popular. What appears to happen here, though, is that before a 'hot' toy ever even hits the shelves of Toy Kingdom or even the new Toys 'R' Us, they've been snapped up by collectible stores and marked up quite ridiculously.

The single best (worst?) example of this practice is the 1:64 Ferrari F430 by Hot Wheels, which came out in September this year. As early as May I found myself watching out for it. When Toys 'R' Us opened I spotted their Hot Wheels poster which advertised their upcoming products, and the F430 figured quite prominently.

That toy never hit the shelves, but apparently went straight to the collectible stores. Whether this is because the collectible stores intercepted these products at the Harbor, or went to the toy stores and bought them all out on the first day they came out, I really don't know, but I hated having to pay almost three times the price of a normal Hot Wheels car for a replica that isn't even that well done. I much prefer my Mercedes SLR Mclaren by Maisto and my Ford GT by Dub City, both in 1:64, both done with spectacular attention to detail (though their doors still won't open, something which is apparently a thing of the past in small cars, sadly).

I recently found out that the going rate for a normal 1BaddRide car, which is apparently a brand new product in the Philippines, is P199.75, the same rate that Dub City 1:64s go for, and that the two cars I bought that started my whole collector frenzy were marked up by P100 each. The store where I bought them had that luxury, considering that the damned things weren't available anywhere else. The collectible store strikes again.

I don't know if this an arrangement between the toy distributor and the collectible stores or the toy stores, but I wish they wouldn't do it either way. If a toy is likely to be "hot" then let it sell out, like the "Cars" toys did earlier this year and then jack up its price on the back market, like a lot of internet peddlers are.

I do know that some really nice items have turned up on the toy store shelves to get sold out in a twinkling, like the SLR McLaren 1:64, as well as the Ford GT 1:64, both of which I acquired at the going rate, and neither of which I have seen since (especially the Ford GT). If these items turn up in collectible stores sometime in the future at marked up prices, then I'll at least know that regular joes at least had a fighting chance to buy them.

Given that this practice of the collectibles people isn't exactly illegal, there isn't actually any stopping it, but what I am hoping is that rich collector types take their business elsewhere, getting their toys from Hong Kong or online or something. It's time collectors did something to really screw these bastards selling their P300 F430s, who, rather than wait for items to sell out and truly become rare collectibles, are trying to buy them out outright and induce a sense of "collectibility."

Well here's the thing: just about every collectible store, even that anime/manga store which sells collectibles on the side, has these P300/P250 Ferraris, so really, they aren't rare at all. AND they go for less than a dollar online, without shipping costs. However, if, as collectors are wont to do, they buy SEVERAL Hot Wheels/collectible cars online for a dollar or so each and pay shipping, they'll effectively still save money! Just a thought, really.

On Exploding Extremities

I went through a firecracker phase when I was a kid. To put it simply, I viewed it as a rite of passage. I was convinced that learning how to blow up firecrackers was part of growing up: that I wouldn't be a proper Filipino male without it. One of my grade school classmates had blown off his middle finger playing with firecrackers, but I just wrote that little unpleasant detail off, for some reason. I exploded firecrackers for maybe about two or three years, after which it quickly lost its appeal.

I'll admit there was something thrilling about blowing things up, but nobody had to scare me away from it with images of bloody stumps where fingers or hands used to be. I just really got bored with it, especially after firecracker prices climbed. Essentially, you're just watching your money blow up with that crap.

I don't know if it's because of callousness or just out of disgust with the Filipino's borderline irrational need to make loud noises, but sometime ago I found myself feeling absolutely no sympathy for the young (and sometimes not so young) men who would turn up on the front page of the New Year's Day edition of the newspaper with their hands or fingers blown off. I mean,as far back I think as the Ramos administration, the government has tried to ban firecrackers every year, especially considering that the triangular ones are made by kids in sweatshops in Bulacan. EVERY year they do this, and yet EVERY year a segment of our population feels the need to defy the ban.

So no, I really don't give a shit whenever I find out that someone who patently ignored the authorities' admonition not to use something that could potentially maim or kill them has used that something and has in fact been maimed. My sympathy goes much more to those who are hit by stray bullets, especially considering a lot of them are young children minding their own business.

There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate the New Year. A nice dinner, a party, or time with the family. Heck, why not just give Christmas gifts all over again? It would probably cost just as much as stocking up on those ludicrous firecrackers.

This afternoon, my family and I hope to escape the idiocy of the noise and the smoke, so I am whisking them off somewhere I hope we won't really be affected by it.

Yeah, so I may be a wimp, but at least you won't ever see me on the front page on New Year's day with a maimed hand. A bullet in my head, maybe, but...well...

Happy New Year anyway.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Confessions of a Diecast Toy Car Lover Coming Out of the Closet

It all started about three years ago, when on a stopover on the way either to or from (I forget which) my in-laws' house in Cavite, in a town some 55 kilometers from our house in Quezon City, my wife and I spent some time in Alabang's Festival Mall.

A comic book collector, I knew that there was a Comic Quest there and I determined to find it. As anyone who has been there would know, Festival Mall is one of the bigger malls around, so finding a store on the topmost floor took some doing for someone who had never been there before.

When I found Comic Quest, I was surprised to find it tucked in the middle of three other stores, none of which carried comic books as their stock-in-trade but instead collectibles of all sorts: action figures, statues, and die-cast collectible cars.

That Comic Quest never became one of my staples: I only ever bought two or three issues. But from then on I always enjoyed going back to those collectibles stores. I liked looking at the Marvel Legends figures and their variants. I liked looking at the McFarlane toys, especially the ones based on movie scenes. I also liked the Neca toys with remarkably well-sculpted likenesses of the movie stars they were modeled after.

But nothing enchanted me the way the way the diecast toy cars did. I didn't much care for the 1:64 Hot Wheels that were practically littered throughout one of the stores (RAM collectibles, for anyone that's curious), because they weren't really big on detail, but I was particularly enchanted by the more detailed cars made in larger scales. Of course, the best to look at were the 1:18 cars, especially the Ferraris. I loved looking at all of the gorgeous replicas of both Formula One Ferraris as well as the various production cars as new as the Enzo and as old as the 250 GTO.

But there were cars in some smaller scales, namely 1:24 and 1:43, which were also quite easy on the eyes.

I am proud to say I found a way to truly and sincerely motivate myself to haul ass all the way to my in-law's every few weeks.

I also found myself heading to Uncle Johnny's Hobby Shop (those little toy car kiosks in SM North EDSA and Megamall), even though I never really gave them any business. Just looking at the things scratched my itch. I wasn't a collector yet.

However, I found myself wading into collector territory earlier this year. With some of the first paycheck from my new job last May, I bought myself a 1:18 replica, made by Maisto, of a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a car I instantly fell in love with when its commercials played during the 2004 Formula One season. Shortly thereafter, I bought a Maisto 1:64 SLR McLaren.

Still, I was not a collector.

The itch became stronger earlier this year, when my sister-in-law popped up at our house and invited my son out for an afternoon. When they came back, it turned out she had bought him two little "Hot Wheels" toys, specifically, a yellow Corvette and a silver Ford GR-1 Shelby Concept Car.

The 'Vette was generic enough, but my curiosity was piqued by the Shelby Concept Car, the like of which I had never seen before. I Googled the thing like crazy and loved what I saw. I immediately felt that Mattel had not done the car justice; it was a thing of beauty.

In the course of Googling, I happened upon the Ford GT, another beauty of a car, and before I knew it I bought myself a 1:64 toy made by DUB City, which left a little to be desired but which was quite attractive nonetheless.

But I still didn't consider myself a collector, even though I went absolutely green with envy when some collector proudly put on display in a glass case over at SM Toy Kingdom, his complete collection of DUB City Ford GTs, in both 1:24 and 1:64 scale.

Then, life caught up with me. All kinds of things happened which kind of made me forget about collecting or even just ogling toy cars.

Things settled down not too long afterwards, and I soon found myself on the brink of giving in to a long pent-up desire...I just didn't realize it yet.

It started just before Christmas came around. For some reason, I felt I just HAD to have a small Ferrari F430. Unfortunately, because Hot Wheels apparently has exclusive rights to make Ferrari toys, I had to content myself with buying their version, which, incidentally, is unavailable in most toy stores, and only available in these specialty stores like the ones I love to visit in Festival mall, at two or three times the price of a regular Hot Wheels car. I bit the bullet and paid the premium for the little thing. In the course of my searching for that Ferrari (which proved surprisingly rare in Greenhills that day), I stumbled upon a charcoal black Hot Wheels Shelby GR-1 concept (as opposed to the now beat-up silver one my son owned). It was marked up, but not as much a Ferrari, and the saleslady confirmed it was hard to find. I know I had never seen it anywhere else. Despite its rarity, however, I passed on buying it.

I still did not consider myself a collector. I had been Googling off and on for diecast replicas of Shelby GR-1s, but unable to find anything other than the Hot Wheels model, or a yet-to-be-released 1:18 model by high-end toymaker AutoArt, I just didn't have the heart to buy anything that didn't truly capture the GR's unique blend of beauty and ferocity.

Then, Christmas season rolled around, and suddenly, my son was swimming in Hot Wheels cars. His godmother, my former law school classmate, gave him two, one of them a Shelby Cobra Daytona (and it was thus that I discovered the roots of the Shelby GR-1 Concept). His godfather, upon learning that he wanted Hot Wheels for Christmas, funded a little shopping expedition that I carried out, picking out what I hoped would be some durable Hot Wheels cars. I also took the chance to shop for about four other kids between the ages of three to six, and it was thus that I really, truly immersed myself in both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars again for the first time in my entire adult life.

I found myself impressed by the way Matchbox had maintained their quality, even after having been bought out twice, first by Tyco, then indirectly as Mattel purchased Tyco. In the midst of my shopping I ended up buying a Matchbox Porsche 911, the only one in the store. I finished shopping, and not long afterwards my son's cars were wrapped and ready to go.

This time I was truly smitten. I was about to cross over from toy car ogler and occasional buyer into full-blown nascent collector.

I ordered two Hot Wheels "Dropstars" Ferrari 360s online, which should arrive sometime next month. After trawling the internet, I also found a number of Matchboxes that I really wanted to to buy, but I decided to go up close and personal and buy them at one of my favorite haunts.

On Christmas day, after the visit to my in-laws, I made a beeline that evening for my favorite row of stores, determined to start my collection in earnest. I wouldn't even know just how earnest until I set foot in RAM's collectibles.

Having been to something like two dozen stores in Greenhills, the store in Megamall and a number of other, smaller stores in a couple of other malls in the Metro Manila area, I can say with certainty that RAM Collectibles, which sits right beside Comic Quest in Festival Mall, has the widest car collection of any specialty store I have ever seen.

And so I searched the store's huge collection of 1:64 toy cars of several different models and manufacturers (mostly Hot Wheels) in search of some rare Matchbox cars, only to be disappointed. I had also hoped to find the rare black Hot Wheels Shelby GR-1 I had passed up in Greenhills only days before (and which had been promptly snapped up by some other eagle-eyed collector shortly thereafter), but to no avail.

I was about to content myself with an old Jaguar XJ220 which went for a measly PhP 70, together with a much pricier Ferrari 360 I had spotted sitting in a glass case, when I found a much greater treasure. As I handed both the toy cars and my cash to the saleslady, I looked around one last time, my eyes eventually falling on a rather low shelf with some unobtrusively placed toy cars made by a relatively obscure manufacturer, an Arkansas-based company called 1BaddRide.

One could say it was destiny as upon going through these cars, I finally, after months of searching, found not just one but TWO stunningly-rendered replicas of a Ford Shelby GR-1, one in silver and one in blue, supposedly done in 1:64 scale but which look a lot more like 1:55 or even 1:50. I ended up shelving the Ferrari 360 (which was not rendered anywhere near as well as the two other cars) and buying both Shelby GRs, spending PhP300 on each one. As pricey as they were, I didn't feel the slightest tinge of regret, especially after a quick online search showed me that each of them went for as much as $7, without shipping. The euphoria I felt upon fulfilling a quest that had been going on for the better part of a year was...incomparable!

NOW I am a collector.

This time, I know it's for real, as I am now on the verge of giving up collecting monthly comic books altogether, as I explained in another post. I hope to complete all four Shelby GR variants made by 1BaddRide. After that, maybe I'll save up for the AutoArt edition, or complete the 1BaddRide collection of sports cars, which includes C6 Corvettes and Mustang GTs. I don't know yet when I'll buy my next car, or how often I'll buy them. I don't even really know what my collecting style/trend will be, whether it will be by toy manufacturer (e.g. Hot Wheels, Dub City, 1BaddRide, etc.), or by car manufacturer (all things Ford, all things Ferrari, etc.). I DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!

All I know is that if I had my way right now, I would be the 40-year-old virgin of the diecast sports cars set (anyone who's seen that movie would know what I mean).

I don't think I could have gotten into this any earlier than just recently, considering that the Shelby GR-1 only just came out, but now that it's started I can see this going on for awhile.

I don't see myself ever collecting real-life supercars, but I will certainly be content to buy these babies. At least they don't poison the air my children breathe, and--who knows?--maybe they can even make a mint selling them on e-bay some day in the future (but only after I'm dead).

Oh, to get in touch with my inner child/diecast geek again!!! Ooooooohhhh...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Anyone who knows me, as well as anyone who reads this blog, knows that I am a comics collector. I am more avid than some, and less avid than others, but the point is that to a certain extent, I have, for nearly the last twenty years (off and on) needed my monthly comic book fix, even to the extent that I'd buy them even if I couldn't necessarily afford them.

2006, though, has been a strange year for me as a collector. There's a lot of stuff I've liked, but just the same, as the year grows to a close I find myself leaning more and more towards retiring from collecting comics, at least as monthlies.

The first reason for this is as collectibles, comic books just don't have the same appeal as they used to, particularly with idiotic concepts like "graded" comics emerging, and the return of the variant cover, which stores automatically price at as much as five times as much as a regular comic book even when they just come out. Another good thing about not rushing to buy monthlies is that I no longer have to worry about an issue getting sold out. Even bookstores carry trade paperbacks, so I won't have to trawl comic stores to find an issue that I missed.

There's also the problem of storage, given how inherently flimsy comics are (even the cardstock ones), it's not as if I can just shove them into a bookshelf as I can the trade paperbacks (of which I have about six or seven by now), and I'm quite simply running out of space, not only in my long boxes but in my house as well. I'm running out safe places to put the darned things (and when one has a one-and-a-half year in the house, that is quite important).

Third, as much as I love good stories and art, I hate late comics. I'm not a fill-in advocate, but I'd still rather read a story without long intervals in-between issues. People who bought the hardcover of Joe Quesada's Daredevil:Father for example had a much more coherent and pleasant reading experience than the poor schmucks like me who waited the two and a half years for him to finish the six issue miniseries. I don't really travel in comics-reading circles except for two or three friends tops, so it's not as though anyone will spoil crucial story points for me.

Finally, and this is something I've come to discover lately, I really don't like being disappointed by a storyline mid-arc. It happened with Civil War, and even more recently, in a title I was sincerely enjoying, namely Ed Brubaker's Criminal. Without giving away any crucial plot-points, let me just say that what started out as a very engaging heist story is playing out in an extremely by-the-numbers fashion, with a crook with a heart of gold getting in trouble, running from the bad guys, and sharing the obligatory sex scene with the only female in the story's landscape. If I were to peruse this in the book store, I wouldn't have bought it.

I'm finishing the comics I started this year even as they spill into next year, but for the first time in nearly two decades of collecting, I'm starting to re-think my collecting habits. I won't be so pompous as to say that I've outgrown comics, because really, I still enjoy good stories, but picking up new "floppies" every month is just losing its allure, really.

Besides, and by way of an epilogue, after months and months of walking into hobby/collectibles stores and ogling the several different brands, makes and scales of diecast vehicles, I finally got it into my head to buy a couple, and the rush I felt upon buying a toy car I'd been tracking down for months was something totally new to me, even after years of collecting. I'm still giving the matter a lot of thought, but I'm seriously considering shifting hobbies...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thing to Be Grateful For.

I won't lie; it's nice to receive presents. As a gainfully employed, married thirtysomething, I have come to expect to receive fewer and fewer gifts other than a couple of tokens from my officemates and family (I don't exactly go slinking to my godparents anymore), and part of me misses that. I loved getting toys when I was a kid, particularly because they were bright and colorful and came in big, lovely boxes (for which I am grateful considering that if I were a kid now most of them would probably come in considerably less enchanting clamshell cases). Maybe to satisfy my jones for big and colorful I'll start asking for coffee-table books.

Still, I have to admit that my appreciation of the intangible, not-so-obvious blessings in my life seems to have developed over the years, more in spite of my personality quirks than because of any growth I may pretend to have achieved.

I am grateful this year for so many things that went right. I'm grateful for my wife and her loving support, for my two beautiful children, and for so many other things as well. I'm grateful that, when my daughter was sick, I had the money for her medical needs. I'm grateful that when I wanted to send my son to school, and pay for his field trips, I was able to do that, too. I'm grateful that when the typhoons milenyo and reming hit, my family was safe and sound.

I am grateful that my family, meaning my wife, son and daughter, love me as much as they do, even when I'm not necessarily lovable.

Most of all, I am grateful for the singular knowledge that no matter how bad things got for me (and this year was pretty trying in some ways) there was always something I could be grateful for. Even when I absolutely refused to acknowledge it, there was always palpable, irrefutable proof right smack in my life that God still loved me.

I know it may sound all born-again-charismatic-fundamentalist to those who know me, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't have made it through this year with my sanity intact if it weren't for the fact that God walked me through every single trial (and I don't just mean the kind that lawyers attend) I faced.

It's so easy to measure a year's success by one's achievements, whether it's an exam passed (like the bar), a debt paid, an amount of income earned or some material possession (like a house) acquired, but even without any of these things one can have had a full, and fulfilling year that doesn't depend on any of the more traditional parameters of success. It's kind of hard to see that sometimes when things don't necessarily go as one plans, but when one acquires a better perspective of things, everything can really fall into place. It's just a matter of being willing to embrace the good one has instead of pining for the good one wants.

This Christmas, I'd like to offer a prayer for the people who aren't able to take solace in that knowledge that they are loved by God. Whether it's because they're materially, spiritually or emotionally impoverished, these are people who need God more than anyone else, and I pray that they find God in one form or another. We all deserve some happiness this time of year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fill-In Artists

It can be hard to publish comic books on a monthly basis when the artist involved is extremely meticulous about his work. When confronted with this kind of problem the publisher has either two options: delay the release of the latest issue, or replace the artist with someone else.

Much ado is being made of the fact that comic books these days are late, whether by a week or by six months, more often than not on account of the artist taking a long time to draw the book.

I, for one, am grateful to Joe Quesada for deciding not to go with fill-in artists, even if it means making the fans wait and possibly risking sales dropoffs. This is not me talking as a Marvel Zombie, but rather as someone who has been burned a few times in my collecting "career" by stories not finished by the artists who started them.

I'm not really peeved by the notion of one artist finishing the art that another one started. I'm not a purist like Jeph Loeb who declares he wouldn't enjoy Civil War if Marvel replaced Steve McNiven with an equally high-profile artist such as Mike Turner. What bothers me is the fact that fill-in artists are almost invariably inferior to those they replace. One never sees an A-lister pinch-hitting for another A-lister. You will never see Jim Lee stand in for Joe Quesada, or Lienil Francis Yu step up for Bryan Hitch. Why should they, when the company would be so much better off having them work full-time on their own titles?

I guess the best way to illustrate (pardon the pun) my point would be to cite the two most irritating examples of how my enjoying a story is utterly ruined by a fill-in artist:

1. From 1999 to 2001, Joe Quesada trudged through his final six issue story arc on Daredevil. The book shipped late on a regular basis, and at one point he had to put in a fill-in issue which wasn't really part of the story but rather a parallel to the main story going on. One would think that this meant that, by hook or by crook, Quesada intended to finish this story. Alas, it was not to be, as Quesada was appointed Editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and the resulting workload just proved too much for him to cope with at the time. He handed the artistic reins over to the extremely mediocre David Ross, whose work I have not seen since and am none the worse for it. Although David Mack's "Echo" storyline wasn't what I would call groundbreaking, it was certainly enjoyable and did boast some impressive action sequences, which Joe rendered with a lot of flair. Ross, who was so obviously a last-minute replacement for Joey Q, captured none of it in the one-and-a-half issues he drew. To Marvel's credit, they had the same inker and colorist work over Ross' pencils to try to ensure some sense of continuity in the art, but they just couldn't save an inferior product. It gratified me, years later, when Joe Quesada did his Daredevil: Father series from start to finish, even though it took him over two years to finish six issues.

2. Easily the worst, most insulting fill-in, that I have ever seen in my nearly twenty years as a comic book collector, is the replacement of one of my one-time favorite artists, Arthur Adams, on Mark Millar's final story arc of The Authority, back in 2001. Back then, I did not know much about Millar, much less that he would pretty soon write some of my favorite Marvel stories ever. I only picked up issues #27 and #28 of The Authority for one reason: Art Adams' pencils. The guy had been a favorite of mine since childhood, and I figured that, given Wildstorm's track record of letting artists take their time with their pencils, I was in for a real treat. Sure enough, these issues did not disappoint, and I daresay that Adams turned in some of his best work since 1985's Longshot, especially with the able assistance of inkers like Tim Townsend. Disaster struck, however, when for one reason or another Adams did not complete the three-issue storyarc, which instead was finished off by a British artist named Gary Erskine, whose art seems like that of a poor man's Steve Dillon. Now, I understand there are people out there who appreciate the guy's art, but it felt like an affront to tail-end what was shaping up to be some of Art Adams' best work ever with the work of someone who was nowhere near where he was in terms of sheer talent. It affected the story, too, which essentially touched on how G7 took down the Authority for questioning the way they ran the world, and how the Authority fought back. Swift, the winged member of the Authority, was brainwashed and then humiliated and paraded around as the trophy wife of a really evil G7 autocrat. Adams' rendition of this thoroughly evil character, while somewhat caricatured (like Millar's writing) was nonetheless wonderfully effective. I wanted this guy to die, and I got the hint that he would from a look on Swift's face towards the end of issue #28. In issue #29, however, when Swift chucked the guy's severed head on the floor, he basically didn't look anything like the villain Adams drew. Imagine the makers of Die Hard replacing the pitch-perfect Alan Rickman with another, inferior actor during the close-up scene where he's plummeting from the L.A. skyscraper to his death, and you will have some idea of how cheated I felt. Suffice it to say, I didn't buy this piece of shit, and to this day, I only have parts 1 and 2 of Mark Millar's final work for Wildstorm.

There are some other annoying examples, like Ron Lim replacing George Perez on Infinity Gauntlet, and Tom Raney replacing Steve McNiven on Ultimate Secret (from which Marvel has apparently learned its lesson: what Steve starts, he must finish), but the bottom line remains the same: fill-ins suck. Having two A-listers collaborate on a book from the beginning is not a bad idea, but it almost never works out that way, and I, for one, would really rather wait for the complete work of the artist I paid to see rather than an invariably lesser artist just tying up loose ends.

So whether it's Civil War or this Batman miniseries Art Adams is supposedly drawing for Jeph Loeb, or the sequel to Marvels that Jay Anacleto is drawing, I say to Marvel and DC, let these guys work at the pace they're comfortable with, don't breathe down their necks, and most importantly, don't replace them, because ultimately it's the work, and the fans who read it, that suffer the most.