A Chat with Media Sponsor – Go Figure News’ TJ Norris

Go Figure News was one of the first places to take notice of AFWD, and we’ve always loved working with them. Go Figure News is an excellent source for all things action figure. TJ was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his hobby, AFWD and Go Figure:

1. When did you start collecting action figures?

I started collecting action figures, like most typical boys, at about age ten. It was the mid 1970’s and my first collection was the entire Planet of the Apes Mego playset with figures and every accessory we could find from Child World, remember them? That was what catapulted me into today really. There wasn’t much in between then and in 2013 when I picked this back up again. And, of course, my first mission was to find those figures all over again, except when locating such things forty years hence via eBay most are upwards of $250 for a solid condition figure from the era. Though when I learned that Diamond Select Toys re-ran the series, and with great attention to detail I may add, I managed to find them before they went scarce (now even these are defunct and going for higher prices).

What I collected in between was another form of plastic, records, and eventually cds. Admittedly, I do not have a clean carbon footprint though music was my addiction rather than drugs or alcohol. I sold my vinyl collection as a lot to a respected dealer back in Cambridge (MA) before I relocated to the Pacific Northwest around the end of the 90’s. The move led me down two separate paths simultaneously. I opened an art gallery and started my own studio practice when I was not maintaining exhibitions for other artists. And I started writing music reviews and journalism for several glossy magazines and papers like ‘Signal to Noise’, ‘e/i Magazine’, ‘Leonardo’ and others. Eventually I developed relationships with some interesting people and helped develop online sites for Oregonlive.com/The Oregonian and ‘Enzyme’ (defunct) for a former senior editor of the NY Times — all while working part time days in a busy newsroom at a teaching hospital (OHSU). After that I fell in love with teaching contemporary photography critique with Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, OR and did that for nearly seven years on and off. After a short stint as a museum director in rural Washington state I made the big move to Dallas where I reside here and now.

2. What is Go Figure News, and how did it get started?

In 2014, when I moved to Texas I spent some time considering employment options, applied for a few handfuls of opportunities and then realized, with the support of my partner Jon, that figuring a way for me to focus as full-time as possible on my studio work, and gallery representation may be one road to take. Though to try and make ends meet to some minimal degree I would develop something that I was passionate about – so I went back to writing and developed a toy blog at first. It was based mainly on widely available designer vinyl. It was quite popular and led to a big social media following. Though I wanted it to be more than pretty pictures and simple statistics – so I developed gofigurenews.com in mid 2014 as an outlet not only for me, but to create a community of writers, many having their first opportunities as writers, editors and videomakers. Since our inception the “GO-Team” has consisted of nearly sixty international individuals (US, UK, Australia, Canada, Phillippines, South Africa, China) who have developed content for the site. In some ways we are not unlike the boy band Menudo that thrives on constant change as we continue recruiting new contributors regularly here: http://www.gofigurenews.com/#!join-us/c20y0

Go Figure News is an independent community-based cultural site – created by collectors for collectors. The site offers the latest geeky pop culture news + reviews featuring innovative vinyl and action figures. We are a resource for serious collectors and those just kickstarting a new hobby. We focus on independent toymakers, vintage toys, collection spotlights, contests/giveaways, rare exclusives, interviews, early pre-order information, events and so much more.

3. Action figures have come a long way since Kenner introduced the first Star Wars line in 1977. What do you think is the appeal?

Hmmmm. Ask 100 people and get 100 different reasons. People are passionate about their fandoms, about owning something that links them to a history, a franchise or a memory. Action figures, back in the day, were made for kids. They played with them, created their own little dramas, wore them out, broke them, and they eventually became plastic waste. That was until a handful of years later when a generation of adult collectors who really wanted them again and deified their worth (like comic books before them) with grading systems and all. That led certain carded figures from toy superstore racks to smaller comic shop glass cases. Once something is behind glass it becomes that which you can see through to but now one has to ask for the price, like fine jewelry.

Star Wars figures are a bit of an anomaly in the whole picture. Of course there were action figures before, and umpteen after, but these really did kickstart the heavy development and marketing of the industry as it were. Before this time, toys were really strictly for kids, but how that has changed. Now much of what you see is catered to a more broad-based collector community, and much towards adults, and a big part of that has really come in the wake of Comic Con, et al. In the past few years we’ve seen the enormous impact of Marvel and DC-based films and television shows, which feeds directly into the fanbase that would want a figure based on a particular actor or obscure character. And then there are the chase and exclusive figures that pop up on a frequent basis. That and the advent of 1/6th scale figures (Hot Toys, McFarlane, Mezco, Dark Horse, Sideshow, etc.). But now we have very earmarked franchise-based shows like Star Wars Celebration as well as the alternative that you might see in, say, Designer Con. So, there’s a place for everyone nowadays.

Of course we are still watching the effects of ‘The Force Awakes’ on the market. There was no Target, Toys R’ Us, Hot Topic or most any other chain store without a massive cadre of collectible items for sale, but I am not too interested in market projections and the way all that functions, I’m more interested in the individual experience of (perpetual) collection. Oh, and Go Figure News most certainly did our fair share of coverage on the subject: http://www.gofigurenews.com/#!news/cl9b/Tag/StarWars

4. Along with the advances in sculpt and articulation, there has also been an exponential increase in price for some of your better figures. What do you think of the current market and it’s price points?

Honestly, if you are a company that chooses to put out a small run of premium format figures like Go Hero, Tweeterhead, Hot Toys or Gecco let’s say, and you are looking for ultimate craftmanship, it’s worth every penny to the collector. Part of that is due to limited run, cost of production, painters and sculptors involved. As long as these companies are paying their expert staff wages that equate it seems to make sense. That said, when I look at the current lines by NECA, Diamond Select Toys and DC Collectibles I am impressed by their price points for such design quality in a smaller package. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part the the market and pricing seem to be mostly on par. When you decide to purchase a Sideshow Collectibles figure you probably know that grabbing one sooner than later might be wise given that when they sell out or phase out a certain item the price shoots sky-high on the secondary market (Amazon, eBay).

Personally, I’m one of those people who cannot afford a $250 figure no matter what. Nothing will convince me, not even my favorite characters, even if the sculpt was excessively “blood/sweat/tears” detailed. I understand when price trumps your ability to collect. There are so many figures out there that I would love to call my own, but are cost prohibitive for sure. I still pray to the goddesses of space that one day somehow magically I will have bestowed upon me those three Hot Toys’ Planet of the Apes figures from 2009 that I missed! Those are what you call my holy grail. And back then you could have gotten the entire trio for under $200 I believe. Now each one is, at minimum, $500 a piece. That’s way out of my league. But one can hope…..

5. How did you hear about Take Your Action Figure To Work Day?

Of all things, for a curatorial effort I was working on called ‘Spread Ego’ (http://www.oregonlive.com/art/index.ssf/2010/12/pioneer_place_malls_art_galler.html) I was researching the ability to have an action figure done in one’s own image. That eventually led to locating a service called MyFaceOnAFigure.com and I did a story on them (http://www.gofigurenews.com/#!Ive-Been-Figured-Out/cmfg/54f78aea0cf27b8ab22bd5c5). They are a splinter company of Figures Toy Company. I found “Take Your Action Figure To Work Day” and was immediately amused and thought to myself “THIS is what needs to be happening in the world right now”. It just seemed to weird and fun to be real. That was when I reached out and thrilled to continue being a media sponsor. I absolutely love the idea that people could come together around an activity like this. It’s not unlike an online flash mob. #LOVE

6. Do you have a favorite figure or line?

Anything Planet of the Apes related always gets my full attention as pre-stated. But I honestly think that the two most consistent these days are 3A, NECA and Sideshow. I am as interested in several designer toy lines by independents though. I give a huge huzzah to: Munky King (!!!), Gecco, Suckadelic, Zoloworld, Mighty Jaxx, and of course lovely things from the studios of artists Patrick Wong, Doktor A, Frank Kozik, Luke Chueh, Jason Freeny, Ron English/Popaganda and Sket-One. They all put out quality objects that get you thinking. Oh, and I’d say to keep a keen eye on what is coming out from Martian Toys out of New Mexico – their ‘Abominable Snowcone’ by Jason Limon absolutely blew me away!

I wish I had more access to the likes of Medicom, Kotobukiya and other asian brands, but the price of importation sometimes makes it difficult to explore these in greater detail. Plus I am becoming more aware of the lack of green practices in the world of the average toymaker, so that gives me reason to pause lately as well.

7. New York Toy Fair recently wrapped up. Was there anything specific that caught your eye?

I always love what Tenacious Toys does. They really pulled together “The Block” this year – a cluster of like-minded toymakers and artisans into a fun area of NYCC. It was truly the highlight as far as I was concerned.

8. DC or Marvel?

No, I’m not going to conquer or divide. As a Libra, born in the Year of the Snake, I must say I have no allegiance to one or the other – they dually impress and disappoint. I loved Deadpool though, but am not fully aboard the whole potential Disney-ization of some of our fave properties.

9. Where do you acquire most of your figures?

It’s a melange of some that have been gifted to me, some I find in cool local shops, mostly online purchases…I do not often shop in big box stores.

10. Any tips for new collectors?

Only to follow your passion about what you like – but really look into the wide abyss of what’s available before collecting randomly en masse. Do not become a hoarder and do not buy for purposes of profit-flipping! Things change quickly, people’s interests are fickle, so even though ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘Frozen’ may be super huge at the box office doesn’t mean you need to have every last blobby white figure you can get yer hands on. If you are into the quality of sculpts and intricate paint jobs, take a long look at something before you buy it, ask your local retailer/comic shop if they have a loose figure available to have a closer look. If you are into articulation and the ability to create poseable dioramas or customizing your own, make sure that the figure fits your needs. In the sage words of the SOS Band “Take your time, do it right”!

Posted in AFWD Day

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