Comic Book Men star Ming Chen talks rediscovering one of his favorite childhood toys, a day in the life at the store, and the weirdest thing he’s seen come through the Stash this year.
Q: In this episode, a customer brings a Pac-Man mini console into the store, which really seems to bring you down memory lane. What’s it like to work in an environment where you get to see such emotionally charged items like that all the time?
A: I love it. I truly love toys, comics and pop culture. I love being surrounded by it and coming here every day. It’s one of those things where you didn’t think it could get any better, and then one day someone brings in a cool item that you haven’t seen in years, something you owned as a kid and that toy that would be the last thing you thought of when you went to bed and the first thing you thought of when you woke up. That mini Pac-Man game from Namco was definitely one of them.
Q: Were you a big gamer when you were young?
A: At the time I was like 6, 7, 8 years old, I was obsessed with video games. I didn’t get to play them all that much — my parents wouldn’t give me the money to play them — but I was fascinated. I would go to the bookstore and buy used copies of video game strategy guides. I became obsessed with Pac-Man and Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong. So that little miniature Pac-Man was one I could take home and I played that thing for hours.
Q: Have there been other items that you get sentimental about that haven’t made it into the show?
A: A lot of it does make it onto the show, actually. But I’m a big sucker for G.I. Joe. When I was a kid, I didn’t get that much; my parents were pretty selective and money-conscious. They wanted to teach me the value of the dollar and to appreciate things, so whether it be getting just one toy at a time or saving the big stuff only for the holidays. As I got older, I would binge buy things in sets of five or six at a time, and I realized they were right and getting just one thing at a time was a great lesson. Seeing some of those few things I had evokes that sense of joy. They’re like little items from a time capsule. But that being said, if you see all five of us on the show, it’s pretty obvious that none of us ever really grew up. We’re still those little kids and I think that’s why the show works so well. Everyone has a chance to see those things they once owned, and they never really lost that passion for it.
Q: Why do you think you and the guys, and so many of the people who come through the Stash, respond to old toys with such passion?
A: When you boil it down, it’s such a simple thing. Life gets so much more complicated. When you’re a kid, you’re just saving pennies to save up to that next action figure or video game or comic. Even kids now have it a lot more complicated than we did. All these video game consoles cost hundreds of dollars. I have a couple kids myself, but their toys don’t seem as fun — but maybe that’s the old man in me talking. I would play with my old games for weeks, and now they get bored with them in a day. Ugh, I sound so old. “Back in my day!” [Laughs] But when I had a video game, it was just a few buttons, but now you have to master a controller with 16 buttons and force feedback and there’s little built-in screens on the controller and touchpads. It’s probably easier launching a nuclear weapon than it is to do a lay-up in a basketball game now.
Q: In this episode, you play the Pac-Man game with a customer, and there have been a few other instances where you get to play with the games and figures in the store. Is it all fun and games at the Stash, even when the cameras aren’t rolling?
A: There’s a lot of expensive display items here, and all you want to do is pose them. What good is a toy if you don’t play with it? But we don’t have a console in here. Walt would probably frown against that because no one would get any work done.
Q: What does a day in the life at the Stash look like?
A: People say all the time that they’re surprised we’re actually here. Besides having bills to pay and mortgages, kids, and I think all of us are pet owners now, so we have those mouths to feed, we need to work for that paycheck and make sure the store is running. Typically it’s coming in and stocking. Wednesday is new comic book day so that’s a big day. We still record our podcast in here. Stocking shelves, the daily in and outs of a regular comic book store is what we do. But then as an added bonus, since we’re on TV and people watch us and like us, fans will come in from all over the world and want selfies and autographs and we’re happy to oblige them. So if you’re in the area and around the store, definitely come in and stop by. We’re here!
Q: When you first started working in Comic Book Men over six years ago, did you imagine it would take off as it did, and that you’d find yourself travelling all over to different conventions?
A: No, never, I didn’t even consider that element. To me, fandom meant something outside of what you normally do, or something extraordinary — like you’re a sports star or an actor, or something like that — I never thought that being a fan of pop culture and liking comics and toys would garner me any fans, so it’s pretty incredible. Not only that, but I love that people appreciate what we do. For me, it’s more meeting people who like the same things I do. When I was in high school, in a class of like 400, there were only two or three other people who liked comics and I could talk to about the X-Men. Now when I go to a convention, there’s like 100,000 people I could talk to about it.
Q: Are there any comic titles out now that you’re really excited about?
A: I’m a big fan of the writer Brian K. Vaughn, who writes Saga and a bunch of other things. Saga is pretty much one of the biggest titles right now. He’s working on a title called Paper Girls, which is about paper delivery girls in Cleveland who get caught up in some time travel shenanigans. It was described to me as “Goonies with girls” and I was like, “I’m in.” I can’t wait until the movie or Netflix series comes out of that one day.
Q: Every year, we always ask you what’s the coolest thing someone has brought into the Stash, but this year we want to know, what’s the weirdest thing someone has brought into the Stash?
A: It’s actually going to be on the show in next Sunday’s episode! Someone brought an anatomically correct baby doll from All in the Family. It was called the Joey Stivic doll — the world’s first anatomically correct baby doll. It was a little before my time, so even seeing it now kind of shocked me, but imagine seeing it then, when it was introduced in a simpler time. I don’t know if there were protests, but there were some strongly worded letters and outcries over this anatomically correct male baby doll. It was weird. I was wondering what their target market was. I imagine it was for little girls, but which little girls were watching All in the Family? But you only had like three channels back then so who knows. That was definitely one of the weirdest things to come in this year.
Comic Book Men airs Sundays at Midnight/11c.Read More