Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mass Production Killed The Wrestling Figure?

People often claim that nostalgia is clouded by, for lack of a better term, rose-colored glasses. The idea is that things and ideas which we remember from the past were not actually quite as nice as our memories would portray. Usually I go against this train of thought, as I'm someone who nearly always believes that what came before just HAD to have been better than what passes in today's society. You name it. Movies. Music. Television. Even food. It was all better in the past.

But we really don't tackle movies, music, television or food on this blog. Our subject is wrestling memorabilia. There's one section of wrestling memorabilia that I do think is being clouded by rubber and plastic memories. That would be wrestling action figures.

90% of the people reading this blog have fond memories of growing up with the WWF LJN and Hasbro figure lines. The LJN line is somewhat iconic in all sections of toy collecting, as I've known of many toy collectors who weren't even necessarily wrestling fans who owned some of the figures. If you grew up in the era when the line was first introduced, you really would've had to have tried to hard to avoid them. The roughly 8 inch tall rubber figures were a staple in toy and department stores. The characters were names that were known the world over thanks to the "Rock N Wrestling" connection all over MTV, NBC, and Saturday morning not to mention the ubiquitous "WWF television network" constantly touted by Gorilla Monsoon, Gene Okerlund, and the rest of the WWF announce crew.

Hasbro came along next filling toy stores for roughly five years beginning in 1990. The figures were smaller yet poseable and each with a "Real Wrestling Action." Playing right off of the then-colorful WWF world, the roster at the time was perfect for action figures. Wrestlers like Akeem, Brutus Beefcake, Demolition, and The Ultimate Warrior were living, breathing, superheroes. It's no wonder the figures took off the way that they did.

Next we come to where the controversy begins. In late 1996, a relatively unknown company known as Jakks introduced their first line of WWF figures. Beginning with a modest offering of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Goldust, Razor Ramon, and Diesel (of which the latter two had already departed for WCW) the company started off small enough. Production problems such as loose joints and likenesses that could have used more work initially plagued the line. By the fall of 1997, more characters ushered in by the "Attitude Era" such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Faarooq, and Ken Shamrock were introduced. Things seemed all well and good until more and more different series and store-exclusive sets were introduced. More repaints of stars like The Undertaker, Austin, and Triple H also began to arrive on shelves. While the figures sold due to the wrestling industry being in a particularly fruitful boom period, the success of over a decade ago has now left collectors speculating over the future value of those attitude-packed toys.

First, we must keep in mind what I always try to remind collectors: you should never collect something for profit. Collect things because you like them. As with every toy line and many other collectibles in the world, in the past twenty years items have been made with collectibility in mind. 25, 30, and 40 years ago toys, cards, and comics were produced to be just that. For the most part, people did not save them for future value and really had no idea that there would be ever be a market for such things. When the demand began to surge for the items they suddenly became collectible. People then had the idea to buy up all of the then-current items and set them aside for the future. We all know what happened there. The truth of the matter is that aside from specifically limited production items the majority of "collectibles" produced in the past two decades will never see the high demand or prices that those of years before have achieved. This, sadly, is where most of the post-1995 wrestling toys fall.

On the other hand, a lot of collectors fail to remember that LJN WWF figures could be found in toy clearance aisles into the early '90s while the Hasbro WWF product had a similar fate. When the wrestling "boom" period hit, suddenly prices began to go up for the items. Also while countless repaints and re-releases weren't the practice of the day, many youngsters went into stores such as Hills and Toys "R" Us looking for new LJN releases only to find peg after peg full of Hogan, Hillbilly Jim, and Freddie Blassie. The styles and names may change, but some characters will always fill the pegs due either to overproduction or general disinterest.

My view is to hold onto those Jakks figures. Yes, even the early Austin and Undertaker figures. Thanks to a huge current love fest for the WWE Mattel line (talk about rose-colored glasses!) the value of the Jakks line has largely fallen. When the kids who grew up with the early Jakks product suddenly have large disposable incomes and want their "WWF Attitude toys" back, the prices will follow suit. When figure collectors wise up and realize that the post-2002 Jakks product "wrestles" circles around Mattel's Rey Mysterio and Jack Swagger pea-sized head figures, the same change in interest and value should occur.

Just like the wrestling business as a whole, it's all one huge cycle. My advice as always: if you like it, buy it now. Prices are great and you never know when another boom will hit. While the business is fairly popular right now, the current business model does nothing to appeal to fans who stopped caring five or ten years ago. When that changes, so will the interest in the memorabilia. When that happens, the rose-colored glasses will be stepped on.


Halpernia said...

I AM THE 10%

Michael Joy said...

Dude, I remember when I was a kid before Hulkamania - I would have killed for there to be wrestling figures. I was forced to re-name my Star Wars action figures as pro wrestlers. Bob Backlund was Luke Skywalker. That type of thing.