Comic Book Men‘s pop-culture merchandise expert Rob Bruce talks about being the Stash’s resident authoriuty on obscure items and his own most treasured collectibles.
Q: How did you become such an expert on pop culture merchandise?
A: In my late 20s, I started doing some work for Sotheby’s, dealing with mid-century furniture and pottery. I’ve always been into trying to figure out what something is and where it’s from. I’ve built up certain collections over the years. I was really into things like Pez, before anyone even knew what Pez were. I remember seeing the original psychedelic eyeball Pez from the ’60s — this was in the late ’80s — and thinking, “Wow, this is really cool. They don’t make things like this anymore.” So it’s always been a hunt. I always look at it like an archaeological, sociological fixation of “Why is this popular?” Through that, I can figure out the trends and know what’s hot and what’s not and manage to find some really cool things.
Q: For really obscure items that may not have a market value, do you have a formula for coming up with a price?
A: I can figure out the value of pretty much anything to a certain degree. I have an eidetic memory, so I tend not to forget things, and I have a pretty varied background. I can put pieces of the puzzle together. A lot of selling and collecting of pop culture items is really based on demography. You have a pool of collectors, the average age being 28 years old, so you look at a 28-year-old and see what it was that they were playing with as kids. Power Rangers are really big right now.
Q: How did you get hooked up with the guys at the Stash?
A: I’ve been going to the store since Bryan was running it, when it was Comicology. God, that was 17 years ago. I had a shop almost diagonally across from them. Bryan and I became friends, then Walt took over, and we’ve just kept up ever since. It’s funny, people would say I’m in there all the time, but really I would park my car behind the store and just walk through to go get coffee. I go get coffee at least three times a day, and there’s always parking spots available at the Stash. It would drive Mike crazy because the alarm would go off when I opened the back door to the shop. You’d just hear Mike screaming, “Rob Bruce! Don’t come through there!”
Q: How did you become Comic Book Men‘s resident expert?
A: Well, things would come in the shop from time to time and they started asking my advice. I guess that was ten or twelve years ago, and then it just kind of grew from there. Then when AMC approached the guys about the show, Walt called me up one morning, really excited, saying, “You’ve got to come down! You gotta do this!” It’s just kind of fate that I live in Red Bank, they have a comic book shop in Red Bank, we’re all friends, and I’m this guy who travels around the country doing this.
Q: How has your role on the show evolved over the last three seasons?
A: I work as an expert on the show, but now I also do some of the behind-the-scenes stuff… So my role has expanded and I really like that… I talk about toys all day long in real-life, now I get paid to do it on TV [Laughs]. It’s been a real blessing.
Q: What’s your most treasured collectible that you own?
A: I have a huge collection, over 2,000 items, but there’s two I treasure the most. One is a 1930s Arcade dump truck — it’s only about four inches long — that I played with at my grandmother’s house. It was my father’s growing up. The other one is a three-inch Gamera figure. It was the first one ever produced in ’67. It took me a year to find one on the internet, it’s really obscure. It’s the keystone in my Japanese vinyl collection. I may own something rarer, but for me, the most valuable pieces aren’t necessarily valuable in terms of dollars.
Q: In Episode 6, you meet Walt, Ming, Mike and Bryan at a storage locker auction. What’s the biggest find you’ve ever made at a storage auction?
A: I did make a score in the mid-’90s finding some rare toys, but honestly, I’m more of a flea market-centric guy. Also, there’s a reason they’ve abandoned the locker: Either they’ve died or they can’t afford it or they lost their job. There’s a lot of energy that goes with that and a lot of karma that starts getting pushed around. That’s probably why so many times people get skunked.