Action Figures Posts

Cartoonist, Writer, Collaborator: What I Learned From Stan Lee

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The world of comics and pop culture in general lost a titan this week when Stan Lee, the biggest driving force behind Marvel Comics died at the age of 95. His impact on comic book fans can’t be measured. Neither can his impact on comics creators.

Lee started with a company called Timely Comics in 1939, working mostly with largely forgotten kids fare. The publisher struck gold with their Captain America stories, but didn’t do much to expand the concept. By the early 1960s, however, Timely rebranded as Marvel Comics and Lee was tapped to began crafting a new world of allies for Cap, as well as competitors for DC’s superheroes who had been off and running (and flying and teleporting) for a couple of decades.

stan lee spideyHis first creation was The Fantastic Four, which was an immediate hit with readers. Within a few years, Hulk, Iron Man, and of course, his biggest success, Spider-Man were spinning tales of adventure of their own.

As a cartoonist myself, (insert shameless plug here), Stan Lee surprisingly wasn’t an early influence on me. See, my Grandmother worked for Western Publishing, whose Gold Key comic books included titles from Disney, Looney Tunes, DePatie-Freling, and Walter Lantz. So that’s what I grew up on. They weren’t Marvel or DC comics, and aside from Super Goof, they didn’t include any superheroes. So I started drawing in the vein of those Gold Key titles. All by myself.

And there was Charles Schulz, whose “Peanuts” comic strip was in its creative heyday. Schulz famously said “If I were a better artist, I’d be a painter, and if I were a better writer, I’d write books — but I’m not, so I draw cartoons!” Made total sense to me. If I was ever going to make it in this business, I would probably have to go it alone. I gravitated towards becoming a newspaper comic strip artist, writing and drawing short, snappy jokes, often in the framework of a longer tale. But still a solo venture.

As I got a bit older and MAD magazine seemed less inappropriate (is MAD ever really appropriate at any age?), the idea of separate writers and artists began to appeal to me. But could someone really be a “cartoonist” if they only did one part of that equation? Did it matter if the end result was enjoyable to the reader?

stan lee marvel coversSo in a similar vein, I finally started to appreciate Stan Lee a bit later, in college, as I began collaborating with other creative types on class projects. Lee was primarily the writer of the ideas, but was still considered still a “cartoonist” in the fullest sense. Would Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko have ever drawn those dynamic action panels of The Thing if Lee didn’t feed them the idea, the character, the inspiration? Would those ideas sear such vivid memories without their action-packed art?

stan lee hulk thingSuddenly, for me, the Charles Schulz approach had some competition as a way to do comics. If a solo cartoonist could crank out 7 pages a week, a writer and artist could crank out 14 together. Same amount of work for each, just divvied up differently. And a lot less lonely.

Stan Lee was supposed to be the keynote guest at the 2013 Denver Comic Con, but had to withdraw at the last minute. Fans were disappointed, but for many, this felt kind of urgent. It seemed like he was getting up there in years and might not be able to make it to a future con, due to the inevitability of declining health or worse. We all wondered if we would ever get the chance to meet him.

But he came to Denver in 2016, and all was right with the world of superhero fandom.

I was at that Con, but didn’t get to meet him. As a cartoonist with a table full of books to sell, I couldn’t afford to step away for a few hours to stand in line for a photo, an autograph, and a brief word. As a cartoonist who was inspired by Lee, I regret missing the opportunity.

stan lee dccThese days, it almost feels like actual comic books are a by-product of the Marvel Entertainment machine. And yet comic book stores are full of fans and readers hotly debating the latest developments in new artists or writers being assigned to a particular title and whether a certain pairing worked well. Stan Lee probably would enjoy being there, watching comics being debated as such important fare.

“Marvelocity” Covers The Marvel-ous Career of Alex Ross

alex ross marvelocity

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

It’s been 15 years since the the publication of “Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross,” a hefty collection of his fine art approach to superhero storytelling. But in the last decade, it would seem that Marvel has overtaken DC, certainly in the cinematic world, so it’s a good time his work for Marvel to get the same treatment. “Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross” is the latest pean to his high art. (In between, there have been several other collections of Ross’ work as well as a 2018 art exhibit of his art inspired by ideas from Stan Lee, the Marvel legend who died this week at the age of 95.)

alex ross marvelocityFirst of all, this book is huge and heavy. Even the dust jacket contributes to the heft; once you open it, the cover unfolds again and again into a long gatefold tapestry of alternate covers of super portraits. It’s like a pre-credit honor roll before you even get into the actual book. There’s even a large poster of an alternate cover concept with Spider-Man as the focus instead of Captain America.

Instead of black lines filled with garish colors, Alex Ross’ work is more of a realist painting. While the traditional comics style is full of wonder and fantasy, his more photographic approach actually makes the characters seem more human and possibly vulnerable and relatable. The heroic nature of his style might play more effectively with heroes instead of villains. In fact, the vast majority of the book is devoted to the good guys.

alex ross marvelocityComics critics have always struggled to classify Ross’ art style. To say he’s a cartoonist seems to sell him a bit short, as he’s almost a portrait artist who happens to work with incredibly dynamic subjects. On the other hand saying he’s NOT a cartoonist is kind of an insult to him (and everyone else in the industry as well.) Let’s just say Ross is a fine portrait artist working in a different medium. For several years, his illustrations have been used only on the covers, although the almost photographic quality ensures that the drawings inside will be consistently designed and composed. Beyond the covers, he’s always been heavily involved in the development of the look and the storylines of his comics.

alex ross marvelocityNowhere is his talent better illustrated (literally) than a spread which shows the iconic cover of “Captain America” issue 1, where Cap punches Hitler while Nazis futilely fire back. Next to the original is Ross’ recreation of this cover for “Captain America: Sam Wilson” number 7 in 2016. The overall composition is the same, right down to the vintage look of his costume and the inset of “Captain America’s Young Ally BUCKY.” Except the distorted artistic license of comic characters gives way to a more physically real arrangement. And instead of speed lines and crosshatching and bursts, the rendering looks more like a photo of that historic moment.

alex ross marvelocityThere are several other side by side comparisons that also serve as appreciation for how Jack Kirby and countless other artists had to work with older printing technology that made all those black lines and bright colors necessary. Ross was particularly busy with this sort of homage around Marvel’s 75th Anniversary.

alex ross marvelocityThere are a lot of sketches included, which really helps you appreciate Ross’ talent as a panel composer. The dynamic poses that Kirby pioneered come to life bit by bit, side by side. It’s not just pretty pictures, of course. Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear spells the story behind the art with the knowledge that only comics insiders like them can tell. Add in some outsider perspective with an introduction by J. J. Abrams, as well as reflections by other comics dignitaries, and there’s a pretty broad base of tribute and expertise.

alex ross marvelocityRoss has always been deeply involved in the overall creation and writing of his comics characters and stories. And his talent for composing a panel has been put to good use not only in comics, but also in storyboards for some of Marvel’s movies. Anyone with an appreciation of the Marvel universe in any form – comics, action figures, movies – should appreciate this book.

Which Holiday Owns The Nightmare Before Christmas ?

nightmare before christmas

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

If you want to feel old this upcoming holiday season, here’s some good news. Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion movie The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 25 in 2018. But when we say “holiday season…” well, which holiday? Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?

nightmare before christmas pop

Awwww, look at those two, celebrating… which holiday, exactly?

Consider this list of films that folks watch in the spirit of October: GhostbustersNighmtare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th… What do they all have in common? They’re all kinda scary/spooky to some degree, and also… they technically don’t have anything at all to do with Halloween. In fact, aside from the Halloween movies, very few movies do. Heck, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial has more Halloween content than most horror films.

As far as Christmas movies, there are tons to choose from. Die Hard leads the list, of course (you disagree? bah humbug, I say!). And Lifetime/Hallmark have filled the broadcast waves with mushy romantic movies that have only the tiniest bearing on Christmas. It’s A Wonderful Life gets a lot of play, but really, it’s only kind of coincidentally related to Christmas.

nightmare before christmas santaThe Nightmare Before Christmas straddles a curious line between the two holidays. The main characters are ghosts and goblins and ghouls of all sorts who live in Halloweenland, preparing year round for their one special day. Sort of like elves making toys year round, right? Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, wishes his holiday could in fact be more like Christmas, so he decides to take over the Yuletide season. In fact, most of the movie takes place after Halloween, during the buildup to Christmas.

The monsters are generally more gothic and cute instead of creepy and scary, and act good-naturedly in most cases. Instead of a hostile takeover, the plot to take over Christmas involves a sincere desire to understand the Christmas spirit in order to embody the nature of the season. Does this all sound kind of like a Christmas movie? It does indeed.

In fact, the stop-motion animation technique gives the whole thing a toy-like feel reminiscent of those classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials. (In an ironic twist, Rankin-Bass gave us an Easter special with the scariest stop-motion villain of all, Iron Tail.)

Since this is hobbyDB, let’s try to settle the issue by looking at some of the collectibles from the film…

nightmare before christmas hot wheelsnightmare before christmas snow globe

Well, Santa Claus does get a lot of screen time in the movie. Not as much as Jack, but he’s pretty pivotal to the action. And when the chips are down, he gets pretty vengeful, kind of like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard, which we have already declared the greatest Christmas move of all time. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Zero the ghost dog has a glowing nose sort of like Rudolph. And he files. Very Christmas. On closer inspection, that nose is a tiny pumpkin. So Halloween.

Consider this Jack Skellington snow globe (right). Okay, stop right there for a second. Snow globes belong to winter, not any other season. Totally Christmas, right? Now look at the base of the sculpture. Sure, people give away candy for Halloween, but those peppermint sticks are a bit too much. In fact, there’s an entire series of these snow globes, all leaning heavily on the yuletide spirit. Christmas all the way.

nightmare before christmas jack skellingtonLet’s take a closer look at Jack himself. He is, by title, The Pumpkin King, which is about as Halloween as you can get. And he’s quite comfortable in the role, in fact, darn good at it. But he longs to be something, not different, but more. He wants to be Santa.

The list just goes on… Socks? These are decidedly Christmas themed. Or this sculpture? Well, if everyone in Halloweenland is on the naughty list, that means Santa has them on his radar. Or how about this video game? When did you get a copy of it? Your birthday, perhaps? Or as a Christmas present?

nightmare before christmas misc

nightmare before christmas ornamentHow about this collectible? It’s Jack, who is a skeleton, rising from a jack-0’lantern. What could possibly be more Halloween than that? Well, technically, this object is in fact… a Christmas ornament. So there ya go.

Despite the overriding gothic tones, the dark color palette, the fact that it takes place in Halloweenland… well, The Nightmare Before Christmas is really more of a Christmas movie than a Halloween movie. But since it covers both bases so well, the solution is to cue it up sometime in early October and watch it several times through the end of the year. Really, it’s that good.

In the spirit of both holidays, Jack Skellington lives inside all of us… like, say, a skeleton. Which is what he is, of course.

Do you have an opinion regarding which holiday this classic movie belongs to? Let us know in the comments!

Double Telescoping, Rocket Launching, Solid Gold Collectibles: 13 Rare Star Wars Toys

expensive star wars toys

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

As the individual “Solo” movie hits theaters this week, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most expensive and/or valuable collectibles from the movies. Folks are going to drop a ton of money on movie tickets, so why not also on toys?

In this rundown, we’re not at all suggesting that you can retire if you find one of these in your attic. Instead you’ll  more likely kicking yourself because 12-year-old you didn’t bother to collect them all and store them safely in 1977. And you certainly shouldn’t have buried them in the sandbox with all those fireworks. What was I thinking? So the prices are based on what someone paid or might be expected to pay for one of these rare Star Wars toys as opposed to those sky-high, unfulfilled asking prices on eBay.

Action Figures

star wars small head han soloSmall head Han Solo. Han Solo’s appeal comes from his roguish charm, dashing good looks, and well-proportioned head. Wait, what? The early version of the 1980 Empire Strikes Back Han Solo figure from Kenner had, well, a tiny head. He just didn’t look right. So they changed it to a bigger noggin that restored those perfect proportions to his handsome self.  Supposed value: Maybe $2,000-2,500 for a mint, carded version. But don’t get cocky, kid.

double telescoping darth vaderDouble Telescoping Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker. Early action figures of these characters came with a retractable light saber. The main part hid in the arm and slid out, and then a thinner center piece pulled out from there. Unfortunately, that thinner piece was prone to getting bendy, looking like the uninflated part of a balloon animal. Later models included a better saber solution. Supposed Value: Carded versions of these old ones can fall in the $2,000 range.

star wars rocket launching boba fett

Rocket Launching “21 Back” Boba FettIf that all sounds pretty specific, yeah. Very early versions of the “Empire Strikes Back” bounty hunter featured a back pack that could fire a plastic missile. Rumors of kids choking on the projectiles or shooting their eyes out led to that kind of toy disappearing. As for the packaging, Boba was number 21 out of 20 figures made at the time. Previous card backs showed a nice array of 20 different figures, but the card was hastily redesigned to squeeze in one more, making the whole back look unbalanced and odd. Supposed value: $2,500-3,000.

star wars yak faceYak FaceYou remember Yak Face, right? He was the lovable but feisty Yakora who… no, you don’t. No one remembers Yak Face. The history of which and how many action figures to produce from the original films is fascinating. At first, Kenner only did a few main characters, and they flew off the shelves so fast that they added a ton more. Then suddenly, after the third and seemingly final film, the craze was over (for the time being, anyway) and the last few were overkill. Yak Face was the last of the obscure first generation action figures. He was only released in Canada, the U.K., and Australia, so in the U.S., he’s hard to find. Supposed value: A carded one might fetch about $1,500.

kenner star wars jawaJawa with Vinyl CapeAnd of course, the most famous rare figure… Early versions of the Jawa figure had a brown vinyl cape, which was stiff and didn’t look right. So Kenner quickly replaced the cape with a cloth version and sold tons of those. Which means the vinyl version must be worth a fortune, even in played with condition, right? Well… Supposed value: Quite a few of them pop up online, so they aren’t exceedingly rare. In the package, about $1,500 to $3,000. Out of the package… basically worthless. The cape is easy to fake, as it was identical to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s cape, just shorter, so it needs to be in the package.

Comic Books

star wars marvle comic issue 1Marvel Star Wars Issue 1Of course that’s gotta be worth a fortune, right? In some cases, yes. Merchandising was surprisingly sparse when the original “Star Wars” hit theaters in 1977. But Marvel had been working on a comic book adaptation, and first issue sales were out of this galaxy. So it’s not that rare… unless you paid 35 cents for it. See, Marvel’s typical cover price for a comic book at the time was 30 cents, but they wanted to test the waters on a nickel price hike, so for just a few markets in the U.S., the cover said 35 cents. That variant is significantly rarer. Supposed value: Someone recently paid around $24,000 for a mint rare variant, as opposed to usual $1,250 or so for the common version. So that extra nickel was a good investment, even if it seemed like a ripoff at the time.

By the way, the value of later issues drops rapidly, as print runs increased and more people bought and saved them. The cover price would stay at 30 cents until issue 5, when it finally made the hyperspace leap to 35 cents.

Lunchboxes

star wars r2d2 lunchboxR2-D2 LunchboxEveryone remembers the classic 1977 lunchbox with the X-Wing Fighter on one side and the Land Speeder on the other. And those are sort of valuable at $500 or more for a nice one. But there’s a much rarer Star Wars lunchbox. The shape of R2-D2 is easy to adapt for many purposes including soft drink displays and mailboxes. It’s kind of an odd choice for a lunchbox, however, which may be why this one is so rare. King-Seeley (aka Thermos) made a dozen or so preproduction models in 1977, but it never made it to stores. Supposed value: If you find one with the label, you might pay around $3,000 for it.

Lego Items

star wars lego millennium falconMillennium FalconLego has made several versions of Han Solo’s ship including a tiny 92 piece Microfighter as well as the new Kessel Run version, which clocks in at 1,414 pieces. But in 2015, Lego unleashed the 7,541 piece Ultimate Collectors Series Falcon, priced at around $800, and selling in the aftermarket for more like $1,200. The detail is astonishing and the ship is huge, scaled properly to a Minifig being 6 feet tall. Supposed value: It has sold out out a couple of times and has been reintroduced, so you should be able to find one at close to retail price if you’re patient.

Speaking of Minifigs…

star wars bronze c-3poLimited Edition C-3POAt the 2007 San Diego Comic Con, Lego held a drawing for a rare C-3PO Minifig, the special limited edition bronze edition. As in, made of solid bronze. As in, limited to exactly ONE. No word on who won that figure, but hopefully it has been cherished either in a highly protected throne space on a climate controlled shelf, or by letting a kid enjoy playing with it. Supposed value: Priceless, really.

star wars boba fett minifigLimited Edition Boba FettNot to be outdone, in 2010, Lego released a special all-white plastic Boba Fett Minifig, limited to 10,000 pieces. And a pair of solid gold ones and a pair of sterling silver ones. There are exactly two complete sets of these in existence. Supposed value: Since there are twice as many as the C-3PO model, then, half of priceless?

star wars george lucas minifigGeorge Lucas PrototypeUnlike Stan Lee or Alfred Hitchcock, Lucas isn’t known for making cameo appearances in his movies. But a Minifig version of him appeared in some of the Lego animated Star Wars projects. Lego designed a figure, complete with clapboard, and produced a few, but it was never released to the public. Supposed value: One recently sold for nearly $5,000 on eBay in 2013.

As with any of these lists, take the values with a grain of salt. But if you do get a chance to snag that vinyl cape Jawa for under a grand, use any force necessary to grab it!

If these items are a bit out of your collecting budget, check out the Star Wars stuff on the hobbyDB Marketplace! And if you have any other rare, valuable Star Wars toys, let us know in the comments!

Making the Grade: The Ins and Outs of Collectibles Grading Services

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The condition of a collectible is one of the most hotly debated and important factors in determining its value. What constitutes “mint” versus “near mint” and everything below is a matter of opinion, but your opinion might be vastly influenced by whether you are buying or selling. What one person considers “mint” may have many very tiny, but still important imperfections that would upset a buyer who paid full price. The opinion of an impartial third party can be very useful in such cases. Of course, you may also want to have high-ticket items in your collection graded for insurance purposes.

skating judgesThe tough part comes with newer items that are designated as collectible right from the factory. Collectors should expect a perfect item in these cases, but even in a perfect world, a tiny bit of wear and imperfection is normal. How much and what kind of wear is acceptable becomes the sticking point.

Collectibles grading services can take some of the conflict out of the mix by attaching their unbiased expert opinion to an item.

We did a recent article outlining some of the terms people use to list specifiic imperfections on packaging, but that’s only part of the package in grading. An honest accounting of flaws big or little is crucial for the buyer to determine how much they are willing to spend. For high end items such as vintage comic books or extremely rare variants of action figures or diecast cars, it can make sense to have a professional grading service chime in with their opinion.

In most cases, you will need to send the item to the company, so there is a tiny bit of risk, although the packages should be insured both ways. Some companies may offer on the spot appraisals as well, even setting up at collector conventions and such.

Authenticity is part of the game in collectible appraisals. For an item that is no longer sealed, there’s all kind of possibility for fraud, including faked variants, repairs, or reproduction elements. Some grading services won’t offer grades on such things because the company’s reputation is on the line with each assessment they perform. With a grade from a reputable service and a price guide in hand, a collector should have a good sense of an item’s value.

grading diecast

CGA offers several different grading services including diecast.

CGA, Collectible Grading Authority, is one of the most prominent services in the business. CGA actually has four separate divisions, for grading Action figures, collectible dolls, video game equipment, and diecast. For each of these services, you ship the item to them, insured, and they will grade it in the flesh.

As you may have figured out, this is not free, so this kind of service is not for $5 Hot Wheels cars or $10 action figures. CGA does offer different types of authentication and grading, such as for new items that are easily documented, or vintage items that may have some provenance. CGA can also assess hand-buillt prototypes, pre-production loose toys, and other oddities.

grey flannel auctions grading

Grey Flannel Auctions offers a free valuation service for sports memorabilia.

For vintage sports equipment and uniforms, Grey Flannel Auctions offers an interesting new service. GFA  is a leading consignment auction house for such items and have earned a reputation for their honest assessment of items up for sale. They recently teamed up with Uni-Watch.com, a daily blog about sports uniforms, to offer an appraisal service for sports memorabilia. It’s not technically a grading service, but instead an overall assessment of the value in their expert opinion. Sports gear is a collectible corner where wear and tear and repairs can actually make a game-used item more interesting and/or valuable if it’s an important piece. Best of all, there’s no charge or obligation, although if the item is perceived to be worth less than $250, they will not do an appraisal. You can learn more here.

grading comics

CGC, Certified Guaranty Company can grade your vintage comics or magazines.

For other specific collectibles, there are dedicated services available (if we are missing a service let us know and we will add it!).

Autographs

 

Coins

Comic Books


Stamps
(Where “F,” Fine, outranks “A,” Average!)


Toys


Trading Cards

 

https://www.psacard.com

In each case, you’ll want to do some research to make sure these companies have a reputation for honest respected grading, and also for taking care of your valuable collectibles while in their possessions. In other words, make sure your grading service makes the grade as well.

If you’ve used any another collectibles grading companies, let us know in the comments.