Why I’ll Never Buy a Funko Pop Vinyl Figure (By A Compulsive Collector)
On the weekend we went to a collector’s fair. My primary goal was to buy Lego characters, but we put aside a couple of hours to browse through all the stalls, checking out the retro action figures, the collectable merchandise, the indie games and art stalls, looking for anything that fits one of my collections or had enough nostalgic value to put on display in my theatre. I got an old Usagi Yojimbo action figure for $5, that was cool. One thing we absolutely did not do, however, was stop at the Funko Pop Vinyl figure stalls.
It wasn’t a huge market, it took up the space of two indoor basketball courts. That’s pretty good for a city this size. There were, at a rough estimate, about 50 stalls set up. And at least five or six of those were completely dedicated to Pop Vinyls. So they accounted for at least 10% of stalls at the fair, and those are just the ones dedicated to the product – not the ones that included them with their other stock.
I love collecting things. I always have a number of different collections going at one time. Right now it’s Arkham villain actions figures, Lego collectible Mini-Figs, Harley Quinn statues, autographs, expansion packs for the Marvel Legendary board game and Discworld books. It’s almost irrelevant what the collection it is, I just enjoy the ‘game’ of collecting. Sometimes I’ll get bored with a collection and sell it, putting the money towards a new collection. You’d think something like Funko Pop Vinyl figures would be my jam. But I won’t touch them.
If It’s Marketed as a Collectable, It Isn’t
What makes something worth collecting? There’s a range of reasons. It’s of personal interest to you, it’s part of a set, you’re a completist, it’s an investment…but I don’t consider something to be a collectable because it has ‘collectable’ written on the box. To take an example, let’s look at Marvel comics in the early 1990s. Every time they launched a new title, series or spin-off they’d put in it a polybag or put some shiny ink on the front cover. It did nothing to enhance the product content, but the market research had shown that such packaging attracted attention on the newsstand leading to more sales. So they’d pump out extra copies, jack up the price and market them as ‘collectable special editions’, the implication being that they’d carry more resale value and be harder to get. The opposite was true – the market was saturated and everyone had a copy. With only a small number of collectors available there was no market for reselling them. Their initial forays into this scheme was Spider-Man #1 and X-Force #1, which were the biggest selling comics at the time. It was reported that copies were still on the shelves months after the release because they’d been overstocked. Marvel, being more interested in the bottom line, turned this trick time and time again over the next decade or two with ‘collector’ cards, hologram covers, extra covers and whatever else being slapped on every second issue.
Pop Vinyl does the same thing, claiming that every product is a ‘collectable’ and citing limited copies and special editions. Aside from the conventions exclusives, the implication is again that they ship in limited numbers. The reality is that they get shipped to retailers in lots of 36, so that each of the thousands and thousands of stores stocking these damned things are going to have a decent number of each available. Why do you think there are always a whole wall of them?
Ah, but there’s the ‘chase’ copy. In every lot of 36 is one slightly different one, possibly with a different paint on them. How can you identify them? Easy. There’s a big sticker on the front telling you it’s the ‘chase’ version. Well, that makes for an exciting game doesn’t it? You can all rush down to the store and be the first to find the ‘chase’ version! Except you won’t, because most retailers buy it themselves for their own collection or chuck it on ebay at a huge mark up. As one online guide put it, “seeing them in the wild is very rare”.
These items are only considered collectable because they get marketed that way, and some are harder to find by design. To most collectors the rare items are rare because of an accident in production or an external factor. The hardest to find Star Wars figures, a popular collectable, are rare because of changes to the design early in production such as the Jawa with a vinyl cloak rather than cloth, or it was produced for a small market such as the 1988 figure ‘Vlix’ that was only released in Brazil. These are more interesting rarities than something that the producer has limited numbers of simply to artificially inflate the value.
In short, Funko takes the fun out of collecting by creating a fake collectors market for profit. They’re not making these out of passion for the medium or for the artistry of creation, it’s only about the bank balance.
There’s No End to the Set
I like to complete a set. It’s the most satisfying part of collecting. You get the last, rare item, add it to the display and look for the next challenge. But you will never be able to complete a set of Pop Vinyls because they are endless. They release more and more every month. So maybe you don’t want every single one, maybe just the one type like DC characters. That’s a smaller amount but you’re still looking at a lot of variations of the same characters. There are, at the time of writing, 17 different versions of Stan Lee.
There’s No Resell Value
Sure, you can find expensive, ‘rare’ Pop Vinyls on ebay. And maybe you’ve got one that might fetch you $30 if you sold it. But don’t believe the myth that buying them is going to be an investment. They’re not going to increase in value as time goes on and the number of buyers is going to go down. That’s because they are going to keep making more and more sets every year and everyone is going to get bored.
We know this is going to happen because it happened 20 years ago with Beanie Babies. People, some smart people with a history of making good investments, bought them up as they were marketed as ‘collectables’. Suddenly the bubble burst, interest dried up and nobody would buy them. Some could argue that they’re still rare and worth something for that, but you’d be pressed to find a buyer. At best you’ll end up an online joke like the divorcing couple who had to be supervised by a judge while they sat on the courtroom floor and divided up their Beanie Baby collection.
When you grow bored with your collectable misshapen figures you’re going to have two options: pack them up in a box and let them gather dust dreaming of the day they’re worth selling again, or chucking them into the bin where they will add to the ever-increasing landfills of the world.
They Have No Secondary Use
Call me crazy, but I prefer collectables that do something. I have a huge collection of cards for Marvel Legendary but they make up a really awesome deck-building board game I play with friends. Lego bought for a collection of Lego Dimension figurines can be passed on the younger generation to add to their Lego cities. Even those ‘collectable’ Marvel comics we mentioned earlier can be read, or carries some artistic merit (not X-Force #1, obviously – it’s drawn by Rob Liefeld). Pop Vinyls do less than nothing. They take up shelf space and gather dust. I’m not going to argue that my Arkham action figures do much more, but at least they’re posable or could be played with. Pop Vinyls aren’t in any way articulate. I also have a couple of statuettes of Harley Quinn, my favourite villain, that just sit on the shelf and gather dust, but there’s something that separates them from Pop Vinyls…
They Don’t Look Good
Now this is going to be subject to personal opinion – but they are damned ugly. They’re squat, misshapen, expressionless dead-eyed lumps of plastic. The assumption is that the giant head and big eyes make them cute, but they’re not. The limited appeal might be seeing certain characters like Walter White or Superman reduced to this state, but the novelty wears off after a billion iterations of the same thing. Comparing the Harley Quinn version of the series, which features the same interchangeable faceless design of the entirety of the series…
…to one of the aforementioned and poorly photographed Harley Quinn statues, which is an artistically designed figure made in porcelain that captures the personality of the character.
It may cost more, but it stands out because there aren’t tens of thousands of copies in homes and shops across the world. And it looks good. If I’m going to have something that sits next to my comic collection and does nothing, I’d much rather this. It’s been on display in this house for years, and will continue to be here whilst Pop Vinyls all end up like this: