Action Figures, Soda, and the Time Capsule Theory

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I collect collections. As I have discussed before, collecting is fun and rewarding. If you don’t do it, you should. But I won’t re-hash that post again.

Today, I want to discuss what I call the “Time Capsule Theory.” As San Diego Comic-Con 2014 comes to a close, attendees are preparing to leave, their suitcases chock-full of new collectibles, promotional items, SDCC-exclusive comics, and sweaty cosplay outfits (I am jealous of three of those things). If I know anything about toy collecting, I know that many or most of these SDCC acquisitions will be kept in their boxes forever. Collectors love things in mint condition. Think about it. Stamp collectors want uncirculated stamps. Comic collectors want CGC-graded, hard-cased, pristine comics. Coin collectors want uncirculated proof coins. Toy collectors want mint-in-box toys. And this is all well and good. After all, who can blame someone for preferring a new item to a used item?

However, in many cases, the things that we love to keep in mint condition are, by design, intended to be used and inevitably worn down. If I buy a video game, I probably want to, oh, I don’t know, play it. If I buy a car, I want to, like, drive it and stuff. No one would ever buy a lawn mower and put it in a glass display case, because it is meant to be used for cutting grass. Most things have some specific, intended use. Why, then, do collectors buy and save things like toys, that they will never touch or play with? What is the point of spending money on something, only to never touch it?

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you have probably seen the episode where Leonard and Sheldon get vintage Star Trek transporter room toys, and are torn between the desire to play with the contents inside and the desire to keep them in mint condition, in their original, unopened state. This is the eternal woe of the toy collector. As a Spider-Man collector, it is hard to resist the urge to open my mint condition action figures and wage an epic battle on my desk.

Toys are meant to be played with, right? Thus, by keeping my 12″ Maximum Carnage toy in the box and never opening it, touching it, or playing with it, am I defeating the purpose of having it in the first place? Recently, I have been studying the collector market for vintage soda (No, I’m not making this up). Believe it or not, there is a vibrant after-market for old, discontinued drinks, limited edition cans, etc. This raises a similar question: sodas are meant to be consumed and enjoyed. If someone keeps an unopened can of Crystal Pepsi until the present day, did they miss the point of having it in the first place? They never got the intended enjoyment out of the product, and now it’s long expired and taking up space. After all, sodas are meant to be drunk and toys are meant to be played with. I feel that collecting is a nostalgia-fueled activity, all about preserving a historical record. Enter, Time Capsule Theory.

I believe that by keeping items like toys, sodas, and cards in their original packaging, it’s like we are keeping a time capsule. In the most romanticized sense, that unopened can of Crystal Pepsi is a tangible connection to the 1980s. Inside, it contains a quintessential, physical record of yesteryear. Seeing it brings to mind memories one might have of buying it in the store, or drinking it while playing Top Gun on original Nintendo. There is something bittersweet about being so close to the past, but so far. Each time you see this Crystal Pepsi, you know that you could open it (though drinking it might kill you), and experience for a moment the long-forgotten feelings and memories associated with it, but it is perhaps better to let it remain untouched, and allow the past to live on inside.

In an equally romanticized view, my unopened 1994 Spider-Man action figures are time capsules. Inside that blister packaging is a physical link to a more innocent time. It would be so easy to open one up and play with it, but I know that if I did, it wouldn’t make me feel the same as it did when I was 5, because I have changed and grown older. However, this transcendental desire to revisit my youth keeps me yearning for what lies inside.

This might sound like a bunch of hooey, since I am literally talking about plastic children’s toys and junk beverages, but this is real to me, and to many collectors. It seems that collectors often disregard the intended use of an item, in favor of preserving it as a piece of history. What is a stamp besides a tiny piece of paper? Stamps were never originally intended to be saved. They were supposed to be licked, stuck on a letter, and thrown away once they served their purpose. To some people, though, stamps represent a physical record of a important era in history. They are symbolic of bygone days, and preserving them provides an avenue to revisit history.

Some people won’t understand these concepts. They might think that toy collectors are just overgrown man-children who can’t let go of the 1980s. I, however, am a proponent of the belief that there is more to 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 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!

What is Art?

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Possibly the most loaded question of all time: What is art? Does anyone really have the answer to this age-old question? In the various Art History classes I have taken in college, my professors often begin the semester by asking this question. I have yet to find an answer, or anything even remotely close.

Perhaps the best way to begin is to attempt narrow this question down a bit. I believe that when the average person hears the term “art,” they think of the Mona Lisa or some other stuffy, gaudy painting hanging on a museum wall, something that rich, snobby wine-tasters like to discuss while eating gouda and smoking a corn pipe. Others say it’s “something that I can’t do.” Still others classify art as overpriced, high-brow filling for an empty wall.

Visual art–Does this define what art is? A painting on a wall? Classical music buffs would likely be inclined to say no, that art is more than that. “Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, these are artists,” they would say. Further still, what about philosophers? Actors? Is it even fair to classify art as being something outwardly experienced? I’m hesitant to say so. Could thinking be an art? Arguably, yes. Could athletics be considered art? Probably. Thus, it even becomes difficult to identify an overarching, general definition of what art is. Marcel Duchamp, the great Dada artist of the early 1900’s stirred up quite a ruckus with his piece “The Fountain,” a readymade piece employing an inverted men’s urinal placed on a pedestal in a museum.

How dare he defame art? How could Duchamp justify this crime of aesthetics? Simple. He was arguing then what I am arguing now: art cannot be defined. Does it have to be pretty? Duchamp’s “Fountain” seems to suggest that it doesn’t. Many people look at a piece by Jackson Pollock, the famous splatter painter (or, for that matter, seemingly any Abstract Expressionist piece), and scoff. “My 3 year-old could do that.” Well then, mom, your 3 year-old is an artist! Encourage him to express himself!

What is art? You tell me. I don’t know, nor do I believe anyone does. Art is a supernatural experience. Perhaps that is the best way to define it: an experience. Is it outward? Maybe. Is it visual? Perhaps. Is it pretty? Could be. Is it tangible? Possibly. If you think you know what art is, please, tell me, because even after the many classes, tests, textbooks, and papers, I’m still unsure.

Okay, I know that this blog is about the relationship of Art and Nerd Culture, but I had to get that out of the way. Obviously, the above is by no means an in-depth analysis, nor do I claim it to be infallible fact; remember, this is an opinion blog. If you want to argue about what art is and what art is not, visit any number of other websites. I’m sure there will be plenty of people there who would love to debate for hours.

Anyway, upon asking the question of the relationship to art and all things nerdy, as mentioned in the last post, there are many differing views on the subject. Can comic books be considered art? I myself am an avid Spider-Man fan, probably one of the nerdiest people around when it comes to the topic of the Web-Slinging Wonder, but in various conversations with friends and classmates, I have heard yay’s and nay’s in reference to comic books’ as an art form. When someone says comic books are merely child’s play, or the kind of thing that creepy, single, 40 year-old men read, I’m hesitant to agree. Maybe it’s because I read them and I don’t wish to be classified as childlike or old and creepy? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I would argue that there is truly artistic merit to be found in comic books.

Visual artists of the Pop Art movement produced countless works that seem to support my hypothesis. Mel Ramos and Roy Lichtenstein had huge influence on the popularizing of comic book art, just to name a few. Ramos painted portrait-like images of recognizable comic book characters like the famous Batman.  Lichtenstein can be considered the father of modern comic book art, with his extensive use of dot-matrix coloring, and cartoonesque quality of his figures, often employing words or sound effects not dissimilar from those found in comic books then and now. If these Pop masters can produce museum-quality images of “child’s play,” can it not still be considered art if it similar imagery is mass-produced and put into the hands of comic enthusiasts? Think of 18th Century French Rococo art. The many breathtaking works of Antoine Watteau and a plethora of others were mass produced and sold in print shops for very little, making art collecting a common practice, something available to even the bourgeoisie class.

What is art? I don’t know. The best definition that I can muster is that it is an experience. This is just a bit of what this blog will explore. I hope to delve deeply into the culture of the nerdy, exploring how comic books, gaming of all sorts, and other such of geeky, under-the-table pastimes are truly art.

Whatever that is.