Confessions of a Funko Pop collector

Have you fallen for Funko Pops? Jamie has. And it all started with Breaking Bad...

My partner recently instructed her father to bring a drill to our house so we could put up some shelves for toys. She mentioned how excited a certain someone was to display his collection. As her father arrived in our house, drill in hand, naturally enough he went straight to our two-year-old son’s bedroom.

“Oh, no, no, no, Dad. In the living room,” she said.

“But why would the wee man want his toys up on a wall in the living room?”

“The shelves aren’t for his toys, Dad.”

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“For the millionth time,” I spluttered. “They are not toys, they are pop culture memorabilia!”

I could see a great sadness reflected in my future father-in-law’s eyes as he spied my horde of Funko Pop vinyl figures lined up along the bookcase in the living room. He was clearly in the midst of making a few mental notes regarding my worth as both man and son: “Doesn’t own a drill, doesn’t like football, collects toys…”

I helpfully added another item to his list by skulking away to the kitchen to spend the next ten minutes with my head in the fridge itemising comfort food.

“…doesn’t even put up the toy shelves himself,” he added telepathically.

As I pawed through the salad box counting out yoghurts (yoghurts are a kind of salad, right?) I tried to construct an explanation for why, at the grand old, half-way-to-the-grave age of 36, I was indeed amassing a formidable collection of (cough)… pop culture memorabilia. How did this happen?

In common with all stories about addiction, mine began with a single hit. I was browsing Amazon for second-hand books one day when a tiny 4-inches-tall Funko Pop Vinyl Heisenberg appeared in my recommendations. Little did I know that Walter White’s alter-ego was to be the siren-call of my mounting obsession, a little meth-manufacturing wizard come to magic away my disposable income. I had never heard of Funko; I had no idea of the vastness of their reach and range. All I knew was that I was a man who never drank, took drugs or gambled, so where was the harm in indulging my inner geek with the purchase of a quirky desk mascot? As indulgences go, at the very worst it was mildly frivolous.

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“Really Jamie?” my partner said a few weeks later, as she stared into the eyes of that tiny Heisenberg. “You bought a toy?”

I pointed at Heisenberg. “He perpetuated the drug trade. He choked a man to death. He dissolved bodies in acid. He poisoned a child. He turned an old man in a wheelchair into a bomb. In what universe would they make a toy out of him? No, my sweet lady, that little guy right there is quite clearly…” I fished for the appropriate words, and I think you can guess what they were, “… a piece of pop culture memorabilia.”

“Ok,” she said, not exactly convinced by my pitch. “But you’re not going to buy any more of these… things, are you?”

I laughed. “I’m 36 for Christ’s sake.”

Geordi La Forge came next. Then Hershel from The Walking Dead. Then Pinhead. Then Freddy Krueger. Not long after that, my partner’s sister gave my burgeoning addiction a leg-up with a birthday surprise of Oscar the Grouch, Ernie, and Jessie (of Breaking Bad, rather than Toy Story, fame). I had to face the truth. I was a collector. A collector of Pops. A collector of disapproving eye-rolls from my partner.

My curiosity running rampant, I went straight to source and visited Funko’s website, for the first time witnessing the sheer scale and scope of their business model. Funko has secured product licenses for just about every game and movie distributor, cable and network channel, and entertainment behemoth imaginable. To say that there’s something for everyone is an understatement. There are thousands of Pops on the market, from Bioshock to Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones to Golden Girls, Roger Rabbit to Robocop. If owning a miniaturised version of the most terrifying man on earth is your thing, there’s even a Donald Trump Pop. Be warned, though: he probably comes to life at night to build a Lego wall around your spice rack. Best not to put him next to Speedy Gonzales.

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The choice was staggering. Who to buy? Which lines to collect? My main problem was – and is, and forever shall be – that I like almost everything (with the possible exception of having my eyes sucked out by a vacuum cleaner, and Fear The Walking Dead). My love of TV and movies is deep and near boundless; my tastes dizzyingly eclectic. It’s a pity that Pringles beat Funko to its world-famous crisp-related tagline, because once I Funko Popped, I really, really couldn’t stop: these model-making zeitgeisters had me by the scruff of the balls, via the wallet, and I was happy to be held in their vice-like grip.

Behold: the vault!

At first I was content to eke out my collection, adding a new face to the rogue’s gallery once every couple of months. But that was before I learned of the existence of The Vault: the place where Pops go to die (or at least to sleep in a near-ceaseless stasis). When Funko vaults a Pop, it means it’s no longer being manufactured or distributed by them, either because stocks have run down, or the line has ceased to turn a profit (usually both). Post-vaulting, you will inevitably find yourself at the mercy of the cut-throat collectors’ market; a ruthless economic construct that makes Wall Street look like a game of poker for glory and matchsticks.

Case in point, if you want to own a complete set of 1980s-era Ghostbusters, you can no longer count on Egon, whose bespectacled bonce has been languishing in the vault – like a ghost in the Ecto-Containment unit – for quite some time now. I would imagine that Egon’s stocks were depleted in the wake of Harold Ramis’ untimely death, when everyone in Pop-dom clamoured to pay tribute to the actor and his most famous character. It’s also perfectly possible – nay probable – that galaxies of unscrupulous Pop-selling consortiums scooped up every available Egon on earth with the express purpose of selling them on at the kinds of grossly over-inflated prices hitherto unseen since the bread queues of 1920s Germany.

On the private market, you can now expect to pay anything upwards of £200 for the privilege of owning an Egon (the average retail price of a Pop in this country is £7). I could never justify such an outlay – not without eating into my son’s food budget, or running the risk of a black eye and a dislocated face from my partner – but it’s taught me a hard lesson. Once the doors of the vault open to swallow up a much-loved Pop, its price is inevitably going to rise and rise like Riker at a Miss Risa Pageant. It may take days, weeks or months, but that price is going up, up, up, so hesitate at your peril.

Depending upon how you look at it, the existence of the vault is either a stroke of genius from Funko, or one of pure, undiluted evil.

It must be love

So why have they got such a hold over me, these stylised, semi-chibi, black-eyed little guys? Why are they so important to me all of a sudden? How can I explain myself to my partner and her dad – and indeed the world at large – without the words ‘giant man-child with an addictive personality’ creeping into the dialogue? It’s perhaps useful to start with what the Pops definitely don’t mean to me, and whittle it down from there.

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For a kick off, I’m not looking for a return on an investment. A Pop’s worth in the far-future is of zero interest to me. I’ve no desire to become one of those Funko fanatics who has hundreds of sealed boxes lined along their walls – people who like they’re either about to open a branch of Walmart in their bedroom, or else are being paid by SHIELD to oversee a prison facility for the tiniest criminals on earth. As soon as a Pop hits my shelf, its box is immediately sent off to join its paper-based brothers and sisters at the bottom of my recycling bin.

I don’t value them for their utility either. It goes without saying that I’m not ‘playing’ with them, despite what my partner’s father might imagine. I don’t while away my evenings setting up ‘goody’ and ‘baddie’ bases all around the living room, assembling an improvised Avengers team of Bob Belcher, Gizmo, Peter Venkman and Helena from Orphan Black, and nightly sending it into battle against the four-inch forces of evil led by Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and the old guy from Disney’s Up.

So what does that leave? That I like looking at them? That I like them being on display for others to see? Yes, of course. But why? There’s definitely a strong element of nostalgia.

One of my rows of Pops represents the horror and action movies I gorged on as a child and a teen; the iconic characters that first caught my eye as they beamed down or growled out from super-sized posters lined along the walls of my local Blockbuster. Glancing along that row brings back memories of watching Hellraiser with my big cousin; being exposed to the visually delicious and wonderfully warped imagination of HR Geiger for the first time; being huddled in the dark of my bedroom with a thumping heart – way past bedtime and without parental consent – watching all manner of claws, blades and chainsaws tearing across the screen; and, of course, memories of my first tentative steps into the world of Arnie impersonations (something everyone alive in the 80s was required by law to perfect): “Get down! Get to the choppa!”

There’s another row that speaks to my love of TV fantasy and sci-fi: an assemblage of comic book heroes, a gaggle of Doctor Whos, a smattering of the USS Enterprise crew; all of them a testament to the still-abiding passions of my youth, the people and beings that fired my imagination, broadened my horizons and probably set back the loss of my virginity by a good four years.

OCD and a sense of social justice have begun to creep into my decision-making. I ordered Arrow and Daredevil Pops because there wasn’t enough red and green in my collection’s colour-scheme. I found myself ashamed that there weren’t enough women or minorities being represented, so I checked my male white privilege and set about re-dressing the balance. Too human-centric? Time for some cartoons and cybernetic life-forms! Not enough gingers? Blast, I forgot about the gingers. Over time, these models have arranged themselves into an extension of me. In a funny sort of way, I’ve come to regard them as portable plastic tattoos; little parcels of different parts of my history and personality filtered through the prism of pop culture. Markers. Memories. Testaments.

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I must confess that I still find it moderately embarrassing when my son points up at the shelves and shouts to his mother: “They Daddy’s toys, you no touch!” I did once allow him to play with a handful of Pops, only to have my misguided benevolence rewarded with a decapitation. I mightn’t have minded had the victim been Ned Stark, but… Poor Buzz. He didn’t deserve to go out like that.

But, in a strange way, although he’s forbidden from ‘playing’ with them, the Pops are as much for my little boy as they are for me. He can name almost all of them, even if he’s never seen the show or movie in which they appear (rest assured I haven’t introduced him to American Horror Story or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – that can be a treat for his fifth birthday). He could identify Riker and Geordi long before he’d ever seen them on screen, and when he did see them for the first time he greeted them with the sort of fevered exclamations usually reserved for Gods and rock-stars. His intense love of Batman and Superman cartoons can be traced directly to the presence of the diminutive versions of them he sees peering out at him from the shelves every morning.

My Pops have become a bridge between me and my son, between one generation and the next. I see my hobby as a way of passing down a plastic pop-culture alphabet for him to read and understand, so he can better understand the cultural world in which I was raised. I’m infecting him with the wide-eyed wonder and passions of my youth; rebooting my own childhood with him in the starring role and me in the director’s chair.

Simply put, I’m a giant man-child with an addictive personality who is also hopelessly nostalgic and sentimental.

In years to come, after I’m long gone, I can see him holding the Pops, one by one, studying them intently, turning them over in his hands, and saying to his wife: ‘You know, I’ve no idea who any of these models are meant to be,’ and his wife turning to him and saying, ‘I don’t want your dad’s stupid bloody toys cluttering up the house. Let’s take them to the landfill.’

Yes, I’ll finally admit it. My name is Jamie Andrew. And I collect toys.

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