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Comic Book Men Q&A – Rob Bruce

Comic Book Men producer and friend of the StashRob Bruce, talks about the daily life of being a professional collector, his formula for knowing what toys will be the most valuable at any time, and how the internet has changed collecting.

Q: How have you created and maintained your own collection?
A: I have about 200,000 toys in my own collection, which can give you a headache. So I have this warehouse, and then I have an office — that some would say is a storage unit — but it’s an office and it has a kitchen and is just filled to the brim with things. I’m a collector first and foremost. That’s always what’s driven me, finding rare items and discovering what things are. That’s kind of why I’ve become the pop culturist I am — it’s not just because I’m interested in the item and the value, but also in how it’s sort of meshed with society in certain time periods. One of my collections is marbles, and right now your average marble collector is probably 80 years old because they played with marbles when they were young. I never played with marbles, but I’m fascinated with the manufacturing, with the structure of the glass, trying to figure out what they are based on labels and chemicals and metal content, and how they paved the way for the chemistry recipes for modern marbles.

Q: How do you know what kind of toys are going to be valuable and when?
A: I have an economic theory for what kind of toys are going to be hot and when. For example, if you were 10 years old in 1996 and you were playing with Power Rangers, then today you’re 30 years old and you have greater disposable income. Likewise, Power Rangers have become more popular and valuable because people who are buying back their childhood can afford to pay $200 or $300 for a Mega Morpher and other Power Ranger pieces. It’s a sliding scale and it changes through the decades. When I first started collecting, I was in my early 20s, but still buying 1960s Batman toys  because that’s what I grew up on. Now, there’s not as many people necessarily buying the 1960s toys. Of course, that’s not to say that those same Batman toys aren’t significant and rare, because Batman has transcended generations, so that’s able to maintain itself in the zeitgeist of our society. If you look at a toy like Major Bat Mason, which was Mattel toy in 1969, not so much. It’s the 30-year-olds or the late twenty-somethings who are buying all the toys, so you look back on when that generation was young and you’ll see what’s popular.

Q: When we interviewed you three seasons ago, you mentioned you were doing behind-the-scenes work for the show. How has that changed since then?
A: Now, I’m actually a credited producer. I had been working in the research department and I work with the transactional people. I’m one of the people that oversees everything that comes in and puts it together for all of those shoots. It’s been a great experience. And a lot of the guests that come on the show, a lot of the celebrities, are people I’ve known for years. But working on the show and being able to evolve, and being given more responsibility has been a great experience.

Q: What’s a “day in the life” of a professional pop culture collector?
A: Well for one, our weekends tend to be our weeks because all of the shows and conventions are scheduled on the weekends. So I pretty much do a show every weekend — 45 or 48 a year. And when I’m not doing that, I’m usually going to flea markets to shop, so I’m usually up at 5AM in the morning. I get up early – I have a mantra of “If the sun’s up, you’re already late” — and I’m at the flea markets at least an hour before the sun comes up. Then on other days I travel, so I get up at six to drive, so the days are late — and then I watch Comic Book Men at midnight, so my Sunday’s go for about 20 hours. But it’s a lot of fun.

Q: How has collecting changed in the age of technology? Would you say it’s made collecting easier or harder?
A: It’s a weird thing. In the 80s, especially the late 80s, everything was newspaper driven, and a lot of people don’t remember that. There was a very big newspaper called Toy Shop Magazine and it would come out once a month, and you’d get it express mailed and you’d order and buy things from it. It was just like the internet in that way, but just on paper. At one point, that magazine was about 400 pages. And then it just disappeared — the internet took over. Everyone can sit in their bathrobes and go on Ebay everyday and go on Amazon, find things through Craigslist, anything. What happened, though, was a lot of the things people thought were rare were no longer rare. So if you had a Fortress Maximus mint in the box — which is the biggest G1 Transformer that was produced — if it was in Toy Shop Magazine, it would be $1,200 or $1,300 because it was hard to find what was in there. Now you go on Ebay and it sells for half that price. The market has just expanded. On the flip side, if you’ve got something extremely rare, you can sell it for more money than you ever thought you could. I think it’s a double-edged sword. You used to not be able to find everything, but now with the internet you can find anything. If you wait long enough, you can find the rarest toy.

Q: You’ve mentioned your love of the hunt in tracking down vintage toys. Are there any items in your collection that were a particular triumph to add to your collection because of they were so difficult to find?
A: I have a Gamera figure that I had a lot of trouble looking for, but it was a good example of how the internet works with collecting now. I started chasing this toy online and it only comes up once every three years — it’s very hard to find. And each time, I was getting outbid and I think I even went up as high as bidding $300 for it. So I took a step back and said, “This is ridiculous.” Another one popped up, and they listed it as $300 for a Buy It Now, and I didn’t buy it. It went the route, they relisted it for $150, then it went the route, then they relisted it for $70, it went the route, and then they listed it for $39. Now, I realized that the last times I was chasing this piece, those people now owned the piece and weren’t looking for it anymore, so I bought the piece for $39. It reminds you that we live in this spread out internet world, but it’s still like going to the flea market — it’s just the way you pursue it. That one was one of my crowning achievements because it taught me a lesson that I now use all the time. Now, I go online and I sit back and I wait. I’m very patient.

Comic Book Men airs Sundays at Midnight/11c.

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