I’d like to think that MUReview and its readers are no strangers to collecting things. At the very least, Marvel Universe figures. It is my love of the Marvel Universe line that inspired this web site, and I hope it is that same love that brings you here. I know what it is to collect my figures. For the most part it’s going to store after store leaving in disappointment, then over-paying on eBay. I know that isn’t the general experience. I do that because I want to make sure that I can get our readers the latest info on figures as soon as I possibly can, but I digress. I know what it’s like to look for figures on Long Island in New York. I’d like to think it’s very likely the epicenter of people scalping or scamming figures out of back rooms long before they ever hit the self. That’s my opinion of it at least. There must be a reason that when I go to Target I see literally 6 pegs of nothing but Gladiator.
Other places though, collecting works differently. Or does it? Let’s find out in this new segment that I hope gets a nice long run, collecting abroad. Let’s start with our friend Jab Along from Hong Kong.
Firstly, we’d like to thank Jab for blessing MUReview with Marvel Universe Wave 18 case fresh from the shores of the Far East. Now, to the questions…
DJ – Where are you from originally?
Jab – I’m Canadian, grew up in Ottawa and Toronto. Pushing thirty, I got itchy feet, put all my stuff in storage and set off with a bag in hand. Wandered around Asia for a while, then stopped in Hong Kong to work for six weeks. That was 10 years ago and I’ve been living in Hong Kong ever since.
DJ – How long have you been collecting?
Jab – Well I think there are probably two kinds of people – those who are drawn to collecting things and those who don’t feel any compulsion to do so. I’ve always had the bug and have collecting all kinds of things at one time or another: toys, stamps, coins, coke cans, comic books, baseball cards and probably various other things along the way.
Toys of course go back to when I was a kid and I don’t know then if I thought of them so much in terms of collecting – I just wanted them so I had more to play with. But I was the kind of kid that held on to things, so toys only went in one direction – they came and rarely left. I still actually have most of my toys in storage.
As a kid of the late 70s and early 80s, my toys broadly fell into three groups – Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars, action figures and Atari 2600 video games. Kenner Star Wars and GI Joe were the lion’s share of my action figures, and I was pretty diligent about getting them all. They were the two great collections of my childhood.
It’s because I grew up in those years with those toylines that 3.75” figures have been the only size for me. In those days it was everything at that size – Battlestar Galactica, Micronauts, Black Hole and so on. Anything bigger tended to fall into the category of “dolls”, lol. Maybe MOTU was the first 6” line I can remember, but I never got into those.
DJ – What started you collecting?
Jab – If we’re talking Marvel, I first started reading comics in the mid-80s. I’d read a few here and there before that as kids do, but it was about 25 years ago that I discovered comic book shops and became a regular for a while. I’d read anything that looked good, whether Marvel, DC or independents, with Mutant Massacre being a favorite storyline.
But my love of comics never extended into toys. Partly that’s because I was on a toy hiatus there for a while in my teens and university years – it didn’t seem compatible with picking up girls! But also nothing really attracted me, as the Marvel toys seemed to be in the 6” range, which as I said have never felt right to me.
So like many people who buy MU, whether I knew it or not, I was waiting for someone to come along and make some Marvel toys in the 3.75” scale of a quality to say rival GI Joes. That said I was a bit slow to jump into Marvel Universe, only starting up a year ago in May – dipping my toes in at first, then ramping up fast.
DJ – What is your routine for grabbing new figures? What stores do you hit? How frequently?
Jab – MU and every other toy pretty much is made just over the border from us here in Hong Kong, literally an hour or two up the Pearl River Delta in China’s Guangdong Province. And with much of these toys being made by Hong Kong-owned companies and, at one time anyway, shipping through here, if it’s not the toy epicenter, we’re pretty close.
So people tend to think it’s a toy-buying paradise. One advantage of course is that toys often come out here first – with MU it’s typically a month ahead of North America, though occasionally it’s flipped around and we get the toys last for some reason. But generally, we’re ahead of the game, so that’s a definite plus.
But actually buying toys here isn’t easy. For starters, there just isn’t much in terms of “retail”, by that I mean stores that sell at the suggested retail price. In the case of MU, the retail price now here seems to be about USD13. So it isn’t cheap, but fortunately there is no sales tax here, so that’s something.
The thing is you’re hard-pressed to actually find these at “retail”. There is really only Toys R Us, with maybe 10 locations, then a couple of department stores and that’s it. We don’t have Target, Walmart or those kinds of stores here really – there’s no room! Most of the Toys R Us locations here are tiny compared to what they are in the States.
Beyond this first level of retail, you’ve got all kinds of little shops. Some of these are just little toys stores, and a few do sell close to retail, but often the prices vary depending what they think they can get for a given figure. And then you’ve got the hobby shops, many of whom raid the TRU stores and other, and most of them scalp mercilessly.
Fortunately, we’re very lucky here to have one store, Hobbybase (www.hobbybase.com), that while charging usually a bit more than retail, sells everything for the same price, so no scalping. It’s a great shop that cares about its customers, and has that kind of vibe you get at a good local comic shop, without the price mark-ups.
So ever since I discovered them, I just keep an eye on their Facebook page, show up on the first day that new MU comes out and score it pretty painlessly. There are two caveats though. The first is that they initially only sell each wave as a set, though fortunately without asking you to buy the repacks of older figures.
Though I’m a cherrypicker and non-completist, I’ve pretty much started picking up all of the single-carded figures since it’s easier that way and the waves have been pretty good. The other thing though is that here you’ve got to act fast, as if you don’t buy right when the figures come out, you often don’t get a second chance.
So fortunately I don’t have to keep going out on fruitless hunts, I just keep checking Hobbybase’s Facebook page a few times a week. That said, I still like to pop in to TRUs and some of the other shops when I’m passing by. And I’ll do that every week or two, especially since I’ve got a TRU a block away from my house. But I rarely buy there now.
DJ – What would you say is your awesome new figure success rate?
Well, as I said, my success rate on new, single-carded figures is pretty much 100% now, so can usually easily score the new waves as soon as they come out, assuming I’m in town when they hit. But comic packs are a different story, as they can be hard to get here. Team packs seem easier, but I find them to be overpriced here.
As far as successful hunts go here, there’s not a whole lot of good hunting beyond the new waves as the stores don’t stock much. But I did have one incredible hunt early on. It was May 2011 and I’d literally just picked up my first MU figures the week before – a combination of some of the new Cable wave and some old ones from hobby shops.
I walk into the largest TRU we’ve got here and found a handful of overstuffed pegs. I see Sunfire, but I’d just got him. There’s the crappy Xavier-school Wolverine, Jean Greys and then a couple of solid Visions and X-Force Warpath. Ho-hum. I’m new to MU, had just bought eight figures the week before and none of these were on my radar.
So I walked out. But as I’m going through the mall, something’s nagging at me. I had a notion that there were some valuable Visions and Warpaths, but surely these weren’t the hard-to-find versions, were they? So I stop, pull up eBay on my wife’s phone and my eyes pop out. Quick scramble back and I pick up two of each Vision and Warpath.
Back then these were already going for up to $40 and $60 each, so not bad at all for $11 a pop then. I’m no scalper though so I didn’t sell them or anything, but I did parlay them into some nice hard-to-find figures at the time like classic Havoc and green Mandarin. So my MU toy hunting started off with a real bang, which I’ll probably never top.
DJ – How often are you mobbed on message boards by people asking you to send them stuff?
Jab – Since I’ve gotten into MU, I’ve been quite active on forums (MarvelousNews, TheRumourBuster) and Marvel Facebook groups (notably Make Mine Marvel). People will definitely ask me about what’s on offer in Hong Kong, particularly when waves come out before North America, and sometimes people will ask me to get them stuff.
Generally, I hesitate to, as don’t want to open the floodgates every time new waves come out. It’s a bit of a catch-22. I don’t scalp toys so I refuse to charge people more than I pay for stuff. But as result, since there’s no money in it for me, it’s not really something I have the time to be doing for a lot of people on a regular basis.
So basically, I’ve got a couple of people I’ve become friendly with online, who I’ll help out sometimes, especially guys over in Ireland/UK, where they have a real hard time getting stuff and it will cost them much more to get it. And sometimes if I spot an older figure that someone on a toy group has requested, I’m happy to help out.
One of the great things about getting back into toy collecting nowadays is the internet and toy trading. I’ve been pretty active, trading with people in a few countries. I’ve met some great people who’ve helped me out by picking up an exclusive for me or forwarding me stuff I’ve had sent to them.
One drawback about Hong Kong, well really about collecting outside the United States, is that most American eBay sellers won’t ship internationally. And those that do tend to charge ridiculous shipping prices. Fortunately, I’ve got family in the States, so I’ll regularly order and send stuff to them, then get one big pile of loot when I go over.
DJ – You have certainly been gracious to us here and we will exercise every opportunity to return the favor, but I’m sure you have probably had bad experiences mixed with the good. Anyone unappreciative?
Jab – Well I haven’t had any bad trading experience yet (knock on wood), which is a testimony to some good groups of people I’ve met – chiefly on the Make Mine Marvel Facebook page and over at TheRumorBuster.
The only thing that’s kind of annoying is people that message you out of the blue with help with toys, but if I message back saying I can’t help, I don’t get any reply. To me that’s kind of bad etiquette. To me toy trading ought to be part of a community of fans, and ideally you ought to make an effort to get to know people, not just try get stuff off them.
So personally I find that the people I’ll trade with most are those I’ve built relationships with, that we’ll chit chat with and it’s not just about doing a hit-and-run deal. And since I can’t really help everyone all the time, then I prefer to focus on helping people I’ve got some relationship with or have a particular need and I know will appreciate the help.
As an aside, I’ve seen some people online shying away from Hong Kong figures, saying they didn’t want Chinese cards. Actually the figure cards/packaging is exactly the same here. The only difference is Hasbro adds two small stickers with local information. These peel off really easily and very rarely do they leave any kind of mark.
On the other hand, TRU has taken to adding its own security “Hasbro” sticker, which is terrible for MOC collectors. It’s got those magnesium strips in it and is designed not to come off without a big fight. Maybe it’s to fight shoplifting, not sure. So if you’re a MOC collector, better not to get any figures that have been bought from a TRU over here.
DJ – Americans are fairly sheltered and we don’t have a ton of insight as to the other side of the fence, or ocean as the case may be. We see an eBay auction for a figure that is a month away here and the price is jacked up 1000%. Many first instincts are “wow what a jerk” when we see something like that. Are they really jerks? Or is it really costing them that much to obtain the figure in the first place?
Jab – No, they are just jerks! A scalper is a scalper the world over I’d think. Many of the little stores that sell at inflated prices are ordering direct from the Hasbro distributor, so they’re getting them at wholesale. And even those that raid the TRU pegs to stock their stores are only paying the $13 retail price. So the figures themselves aren’t costing much.
Now mind you, I don’t know that these guys are getting rich off these. Most of the hobby shops here are tiny, little cubby holes with spaces rented by guys who usually have day jobs. So when you’re going hobby-shop toy-hunting here, there’s no point going before 5-6pm, as most of the little shops are closed as the owners are still at work.
I don’t know what these guys pay in rent, but one thing Hong Kong is infamous for is outrageous rental costs. And also while Hong Kong is also known for luxury living (you see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc, all the time), most people here don’t make a lot of money. Does this justify scalping toys? Maybe not, but it’s just some context.
Because of the staggered releases in different markets, the temptation to scalp is really big here. A new wave of MU comes and you have a month to make money off it on eBay before it gets released in North America. Even at $13 a pop for figures here, you can easily double your money, if not almost triple it. So a lot of people get in on that here.
I really wish that companies like Hasbro would do global releases of toys – ship them globally and specify a global do-not-sell-before date. As it stands now, it’s bad for collectors everywhere. Pegs here get quickly stripped of figures by scalpers looking to cash in, while collectors elsewhere get frustrated at how much longer it takes to get the toys.
There’s a very strong notion here is that it’s fair to charge whatever the market will bear. So if some guy in the States wants to pay $50 on eBay for new MU figure, then so be it. Note that some of these eBay auctions are just feelers for suckers. RunRunToys here had a 25-day listing on a figure for $50, but actually was selling it for half that in his store.
I remember once I saw an Astral Strange at his store on a Friday night, went back Saturday afternoon and the price had doubled! Fortunately, when I pointed out that I’d just seen it the night before, he gave me the earlier price. So these guys are always just testing the waters with their prices and there can be room to reason/bargain with them.
Some of them can be real jerks though. RobotKingdom, an online seller here (aka OceanKingToy on eBay), had an old team pack I agreed to buy and just as we were finalizing the order, they jacked up the price by 60%! Obviously, my interest got them curious, they saw they had it cheap and to hell with me. So buyer beware on these guys!
While I much prefer fixed prices (and why I shop mostly at Hobbybase), there is also some upside to variable pricing. Space is at a premium here and many shops want to keep stock moving. So you also get figures sold after a while at a discount. The other day I saw Beta Ray Bill and the Avengers Skrull figure selling for 40% less than the retail I paid.
The trouble is that I’ve usually already bought all the figures, so can’t take advantage. If I passed on buying a wave as a set, I might only find a couple of the figures later. And for each one that’s available cheaper, maybe I wouldn’t find the others or would have to pay an inflated price. So it’s not really worth it and I opt for getting the whole wave.
DJ – More about your collection – do you collect more than MU, or only MU?
Jab – I haven’t really been collecting much in recent years as there’s just no space. Up until this year, I spent my first decade in Hong Kong living in something like a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment with no closets. It might be the size of some people’s garages in North America, but here it was average size and might fit a whole family.
So with a couple of small shelves to spare, I bought just a few things. I like toys of evening cartoons. So while they were going strong, I was into Mezco’s Family Guy and South Park lines, as well as Toynami’s Futurama. And recently I picked up Kidrobot’s Futurama and South Park lines. (If anyone’s got any of this stuff, I might trade MUs.)
But with these lines pretty much over now, MUs are all I buy. Basically, I’m interested in any of Hasbro’s 3.75” Marvel stuff. But while the Iron Man 2 line was great and I continue to pick up stuff from it, I bought precious little of the Captain America, Thor and Avengers toylines. I’m only really into the “comic series” stuff.
DJ – How large is your collection?
Jab = Well after starting off slowly about a year and half ago, I now seem to have about 250 MU and related figures. My cherry-picking seems to have become bushel-gathering. With a couple of long droughts in releases, especially this year, I got bored and ended up picking up a lot of older figures that I hadn’t intended to. But that’s collecting!
DJ – Any holes in your collection that you haven’t been able to grab? Maybe MU can inspire a trade connection to get your set complete.
Jab – I’ve done really well, thanks to eBay as well as good people I’ve met online, including yourself who was good enough to pick me up a Compound Hulk at NYCC last year when we at that time had only just met. Thanks again! As for holes, no big ones at the moment, but I might come knocking on your door again come NYCC this year. 😉
And if anyone wants to wheel and deal, I keep a wants/haves list over at TheRumorBuster. If you want to connect with me on the trading pages, you can also look me up on my Facebook page. And if anyone’s ever passing through Hong Kong, I’ll be happy to give them the full scoop on all the shops and where they are. Happy hunting!
Jab, thanks so much for your time and continued support of our site. We can’t wait to hear more from you. For now, you can reach out to Jab through the Make Mine Marvel Facebook group. Head over there and say hello to a fellow great collector!