A Geek’s Guide to Collecting

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Everybody should collect something. Collecting is fun, exciting, and rewarding. A friend of mine recently suggested I make a guide to collecting, for use as a reference to new collectors and a refresher to veteran collectors. The following is that guide, a simple set of rules and suggestions to consider when beginning or continuing to collect.

1) Know Why.

First and foremost, why are you collecting this specific item? Are you collecting rare books because you are an avid reader, or because they may have high market value in the future? Either of these reasons are valid. Do you collect Beatles’ memorabilia because you’re a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast, or because you met John Lennon once? Again, either reason is valid. It’s just important to understand why you’re interested in something, so as to give yourself a baseline. In my case, I have loved Spider-Man for years. His comics have always been my favorite, and the 90s TV show is, to this day, my favorite animated series. With that in mind…

2) Narrow is Often Better.

I like Spider-Man. Specifically him, specifically his comics and toys from the 90s and beyond. It is much easier to collect in this narrow realm, than to collect, say, Marvel Comics in general. That would encompass Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, etc., and would include some 50+ years of comics history. This is a tall order, needless to say. Moreover, if you’re collecting Marvel, are you including toys? Original artwork? Animation cells from their TV shows? Fast food promotional items? Try to find a smallish niche to collect, at least when you’re first starting. You can always expand beyond this, but quality is better than quantity in most cases, especially on a budget.

3) Know Your Market.

I can’t stress this enough. I truly believe that every collection has someone, somewhere, who would be willing to pony up some cash for items, despite how obscure they may seem. I watch a lot of Antiques Roadshow, and I remember one episode where the appraisers went to this guy’s estate, because his collection was too big to bring to them. What did he collect? Tractor seats. I couldn’t believe someone collected tractor seats, but I was even more surprised to learn that many people did, and there was actually a market for them. A similar feature on the Roadshow had someone who had collected corn things their entire life. Corn Flakes, corn toys (they exist), corn this, corn that. I must say, the collection was phenomenal. The fact that the collection was appraised for a large sum of money suggests that some (insert adjective here) person would drop some cash on this corny bonanza of a collection. Just about any item you could want to collect has a market. You just may not know it yet.

4) Keep Up With Current Prices.

I’ll get this out of the way right now: collecting costs money. The good news, though, is that you can collect at any level of intensity that you want. A collection of 4 or 5 shot glasses picked up from a road trip in 1987 is just as valid as a 10,000 piece stamp collection, valued at a million bucks. What’s right for you is right for you. That being said, it is a good idea to go on sites like eBay, Amazon, and even craigslist, just to get a sense of what certain items are selling for. So-called “market value” is determined by nothing more than what someone is willing to pay for an item. Baseball cards (*sigh,*  yes, I collect those, too) are nothing more than pieces of color-printed cardstock. Why, then, does a Honus Wagner T-206 sell for seven digits? Because it has a market value that is off the proverbial chain. Yes, it has to do with condition, scarcity and availability, age, and a hundred other factors, but, at the end of the day, if no one wants to buy something, it’s market value is $0. Keeping up-to-date with market values will also help you not over-pay for a collectible when you see it for sale, and, by extension, help you know when you’re getting a good deal. On that note…

5) Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em.

A huge part of collecting is knowing when to buy, when to not buy, when to sell, and when to not sell. Some of this comes down to luck, but most of it goes along with #4. In my home state of Arizona, there is a chain of entertainment exchange stores called Bookmans, that is essentially the buy-sell-trade Disneyland of nerdy impulse purchasing. It’s wonderful. Every so often, I strike gold at Bookmans, but I need to be careful! For every one time I strike gold, there are a dozen times I leave with nothing, either because nothing caught my eye, or everything was too pricy. As a collector, I know well the thrill of walking into Goodwill and seeing that (fill in the blank item) that has eluded you for all these years, priced at a mere $5. This is a time when you need to drop some cash, knowing that you may not be this lucky twice. But be wary! Stores also knows how to grossly over-charge for products. Bookmans currently has a used copy of the popular board game “7 Wonders,” which I have seen sell new for about $35, including shipping, priced at $40. Good luck, Bookmans. Someone would have to be a sucker to buy that. Don’t let the thrill of seeing that one missing piece of your collection cause you to over-pay. Sleep on it, do your research, ask if the vendor can put it on hold for a day or two, and think before you buy.

6) Create a Network.

A lot of my friends collect a lot of things. I have a rough idea of what they want, and they know that anything with Spider-Man’s face on it is a good guess for me. This way, you can have extra sets of eyes looking out for collection pieces for you. I was at a secondhand store not too long ago, and I saw a huge case of Warhammer 40K (a nerdy tabletop game, for you n00bs) for a very decent price. I personally don’t play Warhammer, but my friend John is an avid fan. When I saw it, I called him up to let him know about the find, and ask if he wanted me to pick it up for him. I can think of many times someone else has found something of interest to me, and done the same. A system like this creates a great “I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-my-back” relationship, beneficial for all involved. Get to know store employees, too. My local comic shop knows I’m “the Spider-Man guy.” When they get something in that they think I might want, they often contact me before putting it on the shelves, as a “thank you” for being a loyal customer.

7) Bank on People’s Stupidity.

Collecting only has to be as expensive as you make it. Perhaps you found a sweet deal on a brand new, poorly-labelled “ipdo touch” on eBay. The $16.43 you spent on it might go a long way. You might turn around and sell it, properly spelled, for $100. Nicely done. Go buy yourself that Magic: The Gathering card you’ve been lusting after.

8) Enjoy What You’re Collecting.

More than anything else, this rule is the most important. If you really have fun with and enjoy what you’re collecting, it’s all worth it. The whole idea of “buy low, sell high” isn’t as important as your own enjoyment, unless you’re in it strictly for the money. I love organizing boxes of comic books into numerical order, and admiring my finished work. I love seeing a specific action figure and remember how and where I got it. I love finding old video games at Savers that I haven’t played in years, and popping them in my console for a nostalgia-fueled blast from the past. Some might see collecting as a waste of time and money. I see it as a recreational, conversation-starting, lifelong hobby.

If you don’t already collect something (or 10 somethings), start now. Think critically about what you want to collect, and why you want to collect it. Then, get out there and do it!

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Canon Review (Minor Spoilers)

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It was amazing. It was spectacular. It was sensational.

It was perfect.

I could not have asked for a better movie. But, if you’re looking for people to rant and/or rave about “The Amazing Spider-Man,” look elsewhere. I’m here merely to discuss the major differences and deviations from the canon of the Spider-Man comics and 2000s trilogy. Since its 3:12 AM, I will make this fairly brief.

– The story of Uncle Ben’s death, though more or less true to the comic and trilogy canon (wrestling match, Peter is cheated, lets a burglar go), a minor difference was that the initial encounter with the burglar took place in a convenience store. As per the comic canon, the burglar is as yet unnamed. (I hope he stays that way.)

– Gwen Stacy is a brilliant scientist. Though she was never depicted as a bad student in the comics, she was never really shown as a bookworm. In the 2012 film, she is one of Dr. Connors’ top interns. This deviates a bit from the canon of 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” in which Gwen expresses having difficulty in science.

– Captain Stacy is killed by the Lizard. In the comic book “Amazing Spider-Man” #90, he is killed by being crushed under falling debris, dropped by an out-of-control Doctor Octopus. The comic story has him heroically pushing a little boy out of harm’s way, thereby sacrificing his life. Captain Stacy’s death haunts Peter Parker, as he feels partially responsible. (He was the cause of Doctor Octopus losing control of his mechanical arms, thereby knocking the debris.) Obviously, Doctor Octopus does not appear in the 2012 film, so the comic canon is broken, but by necessity. Captain Stacy is killed by the Lizard, but Peter feels the same overtone of responsibility. (Captain Stacy did not play an important role in the 2007 film, so there is no analysis to be had.)

– Richard and Mary Parker were not presented as government agents, as revealed in the 1990s Spider-Man comic story arcs. This is not revealed in the 2012 film, but the scene during the credits suggests this backstory in a sequel.

And who was that at the end? Norman Osborn? Chameleon? Mysterio?

At Long Last… Why I Love Spider-Man.

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I have the comics. I have the toys. I have the movies. I have the shirts. I have the bed sheets. I have the trading cards. I have the lunch boxes. I have the Slurpee cups. I have the Mary Jane limited edition fashion Barbie. Mint in box. Suffice it to say, I like Spider-Man. And when I say I like Spider-Man, what I mean is, I love Spider-Man. And when I say I love Spider-Man, I mean I humbly consider myself to be the biggest Spider-Man fanatic in the history of ever. Anyone who has ever met me knows this. But for over a decade, I have been asked this question:

Why do you love Spider-Man?

After years of wanting to write this, I felt it was appropriate, given the time. If you weren’t aware, 2012 is a big year for the Wall-Crawler. There are some major events happening in his life these days, including, as I’m sure you all know, the new summer blockbuster “The Amazing Spider-Man.” 2012 also marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic “Amazing Fantasy #15,” the first-ever Spider-Man comic book. On top of that, “Amazing Spider-Man” (the comic series, not the movie) #700 is just around the corner. What a year.

To begin, it’s important to know a bit of (very) basic Spidey history. I’ll try not to bore you.

By the early 1960s, comic books had established themselves as big business. Hundreds of colorful publications were released each month, so it was no surprise that companies were trying to cash in on the extreme popularity of the genre. Enter Stan Lee. He and a partner had created the idea for a superhero that would break the traditional mold. What if, instead of being a handsome, successful adult, if he was just a geeky high school kid? This idea appealed to the younger audience, and Spider-Man became an overnight sensation.

For almost half a century, Spider-Man has been the flagship character of Marvel Comics. He is arguably the most popular superhero of all time, and has been seen in everything from comics to vinyl records.

So why do I love him? Why is it that, some 50 years later, he is still recognized and adored all across the world?

It’s hard for me to be unbiased, but I’ll do my best. I think Spider-Man is so popular because he is so relatable. In high school, he was picked on relentlessly. He has relationship problems. He is no stranger to death, betrayal, and psychological torment. He has been shot. He has had friends struggle with drug addiction. He has been fired from jobs. He has difficulty balancing his personal and vigilante lives. He catches colds. He misses rent payments. In other words, he is human.

Can’t you relate? Don’t we all feel like we have this “Parker luck” sometimes? Spider-Man is a wonderful character because we all have a bit of him in us. When Peter Parker dons his costume, he is no longer Peter Parker. He is you and he is me. The person under that mask could be male, female, black, white, gay, straight… he is all of us. Despite his best efforts to use his great power responsibly, he is constantly criticized. Tell me you can’t relate to that.

There is more to it, though. Spider-Man is clearly a tortured soul, but he is also just a great character. If you’ve never read his comics, I strongly encourage it. The writing is top notch, if not a little on the campy side. Spider-Man’s adventures take us deep into his complex psyche. He is constantly struggling to do what is right, but when justice is not black and white, we get a window into his inner self. He often finds himself questioning spirituality, and questioning his own purpose. How real.

Furthermore, Spider-Man doesn’t always win. He fails, and how powerful it is to see him fail. No matter how hard he tries, sometimes he just doesn’t win. We all love to root for the underdog, but what an interesting juxtaposition it is to have the superhero often be the underdog. It definitely makes for some great stories.

As with any superhero, Spider-Man serves as a sort of escape from the harsh realities of life. We like to imagine selfless heroes who exist to keep us safe. Spider-Man should not be dismissed as childish for his family friendliness, or the nature of his comic literature. He is a developed character to whom we can all relate. If you’re unfamiliar with the character, I suggest picking up a comic or ten. You might be surprised.

The Genius of Pokémon

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If you were between the ages of 5 and 18 in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, you probably made an effort to catch ’em all. The trend of Pokémon took the world by storm, as children of all ages began obsessing over being the best there ever was.

What made Pokémon so popular, to the point that most elementary schools, including mine, outlawed Pokémon cards, usually citing anti-gambling rules to justify it? What about catching and battling little creatures was so appealing that parents would wait in hour-long lines for a few booster packs? I have a few theories.

1) Marketing – This seems to be most obvious reason Pokémon dominated the youth market. The marketing scheme of this entire franchise was just brilliant: to absolutely saturate the industry, hitting all major ancillary markets like TV, toys, cards, clothes, and video games. Simulation rarity of the cards made children everywhere willing to sell their souls for a Charizard. Everywhere we turned, we saw Ash and Pikachu.

2) Association with Nintendo – Pokémon became popular amidst a sort of video game Renaissance. While the N64 was changing the face of the gaming industry,Pokémon was at its forefront. With titles like “Pokémon Snap,” “Pokémon Stadium,” and the interactive “Hey, You! Pikachu!” children could not only watch the action, they could control the action. The ability to transfer data from a Game Boy Color copy of the quest game to “Pokémon Stadium” made it even more appealing to youth, as they could now customize their team’s lineup, utilizing moves acquired on the handheld.

3) Individuality Through Conformity – I know, it seems paradoxical. But think about it. Perhaps what really made Pokémon the business giant that it was was the quest for individuality. The target market, obviously, was children and young adults, an age group in which members are trying to find their own identities within the culture of their peers. The idea of conformity in Pokémon is a given: basically, if you didn’t collect cards, you were weird and probably no one talked to you. However, I believe that Pokémon also helped its audience establish a sense of individuality, as the game was fairly customizable. I was always a fan of Psychic and Fire types, but someone else might have been a collector primarily of Fighting and Electric types. Further, maybe I wanted only 1st Edition, holographics, or I sought the entire Jungle set. Maybe I actually played the game and had a lot of Energy and Trainer cards… wait, no one ever actually played the card game. Regardless, within the broader context of conformity, Pokéfans were able to mold a greater fad into something that suited them personally.

4) Quality – Obviously, any marketing ploy ever wants the same results as Pokémon. They strive to be on top of the market, toppling competitors left and right. But the reason some other potential fads and trends may have failed is because they lacked simple, plain quality. Pokémon is hokey, there’s no doubt about it. The show is laughable, some of the video games were downright awful, but it has that magical, epileptic seizure-inducing (look it up) quality that cannot be matched. It’s timeless. As a staple of my generation’s childhood, it will always be remembered and loved.

You know you still have your Ancient Mew in a case.

E3: Excitement 2011

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One Twitter user wrote: “Only today would the words ‘Tanooki Suit’ be trending on Twitter.” It’s that time again, ladies and gentlemen, the yearly celebration of all video gaming goodness, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

Halo fans rejoice! #4 is on its way. Check out the new trailer! Microsoft mentioned the upcoming usage of voice control technology for the XBox dashboard and cloud interfacing! Not bad. They also spoke about the future of the Kinect, including games such as “Kinect Sports: Season Two,” “Dance Central 2,” and “Star Wars Kinect.”

Nintendo confirmed that its next home console, tentatively titled “Wii-U,” will be released in 2012, despite rumors that it might be released in time for Christmas of thisyear. Very little has yet been disclosed about the specifics of the system itself, but it has been verified that the controller will include a 6.2 inch touch screen, usable as a secondary screen to supplement the television, or even as a primary screen, seemingly blurring the lines between consoles and handhelds. The company also discussed its upcoming software updates and game titles for the new 3DS, including “Mario Kart” and “Luigi’s Mansion 2,” since the first was such a smashing success (that was sarcasm).

Sony handled itself very well, despite the elephant in the room that is the recent hack of the PSN and theft of the information of some 90 million users. Jack Tretton, head of PlayStation America proudly announced the upcoming PlayStation Vita, the newest handheld system from Sony. Featuring a 5-inch screen and Wi-Fi/3G capability, the new handheld will feature touch technology and even cameras for interactive games.

Sounds like the industry is taking some sweet steps! Modern Warfare 3, Ninja Gaiden 3, various new systems and technologies… What are your predictions for the future of gaming?

Keep yourself up to date at www.e3expo.com!!!

The Geek Test (What Kind of Geek Are You?)

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I’ve always heard about it, but I had never taken it, probably out of fear of the results. But today, I caved. I took The Geek Test, and I must say, it was a lot of fun. Give it a try. Here’s my score:

(I have never been much of a computer/tech geek or a literature fanatic, so those categories were a large part of the reason my score wasn't higher.)

While this is a good starting place to determine your LEVEL of geek, sometimes, it can be hard to tell your TYPE of geek. As such, I have included the following image to help you. By no means is it a comprehensive list, but it a good starting point.

Keep in mind that it is very possible that you fall into more than one of these categories! I know I do. I fall into more categories here than I have fingers and toes! The whole point of this blog is to encourage people to embrace their inner geek, so own up to yours! Which of these categories do YOU fall into? Post it in the comment box if you’re brave enough, and wear it with pride!

Cartridges vs. CDs

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I realized something today. I was sitting in my room playing “Double Dragon” on my NES, and I had an epiphany.

In recent years, I have developed a knack for repairing old, cartridge-based video game systems when they start to deteriorate, usually due to years in the garage (It’s amazing what rubbing alcohol and brass polish will do for you!).

One of my friends had recently informedme that his X-Box 360 had just gotten the dreaded “Red Ring of Death,” a symptom of a dying console. He asked me if I knew any solutions to this problem, but I told him that I have no experience fixing CD-based systems, and I wouldn’t want to worsen the system’s malfunction by trying to fix it.

And here I was, playing my NES, the primitive, grey box from 1985. I realized that I had never once had any serious trouble with my NES, despite playing it extensively and maybe not even taking the best care of it! Why, I wondered, was the old grey box lasting more than a quarter of a century, but the height of current game technology was already dying, only several years after its release?

I really don’t have an answer. I guess the question was rhetorical. Regardless, it seems to be quite the paradox. Maybe it’s because cartridges tend to keep well and are relatively difficult to damage, whereas CDs can be rendered useless by a scratch from a sibling who accidentally stepped on your copy of “Halo” that you left lying around. Maybe it’s due to the nature of the systems themselves: analog vs. digital. Maybe it’s because X-Box can’t handle the awesomeness of certain games, so its processor fries. Who knows?

I guess this is why I love my NES. One of my favorite parts about the system itself is how it never works the first time. Usually, it’s along these lines:

  1. Insert cartridge. Turn on console. Screen blinks red.
  2. Turn off console. Remove game. Blow on cartridge.
  3. Reinsert cartridge. Power system on. Screen blinks red.
  4. Power off. Remove game, blow in system itself.
  5. Insert a different game. Game works fine.
  6. Remove game. Reinsert first game. Screen blinks blue.
  7. Get baseball bat. Beat hell out of system.
  8. Game plays fine.

Wonderful, isn’t it? It’s funny, every time I think my NES has finally died, it boots up for another round of “Rad Racer II.” I swear, that grey box makes the “Little Engine That Could” look bad.

In the same way that vinyl records produce the best sound quality available, I think cartridge-based game systems produce the best games. They are reliable, trusty, and lovable in that weird, idiosyncratic way. They usually require some patience, but the end result is well worth the trouble.

(Just be sure you don’t touch the NES system while you’re playing, or else you’ll have to repeat steps 1-8!)

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