Rinker on Collectibles: Will Articulated Comic Book Art Drive Up Action Figure Values?

The Deadpool Marvel Legends Series 6 action figure in question.

Will, who lives in Bristol, Tenn., is a regular caller into WHATCHA GOT?, my syndicated antiques and collectibles call-in radio show. He collects 1980s and 1990s toys, especially comic book action figures.

His April 21, 2013, call concerned the value of Deadpool, a character that was part of the Marvel Legends Series 6 set issued by Toy Biz in 2004. The series consisted of six characters: Cable (two variations: blue and brown costume); Deadpool with Doop pack-in; Juggernaut; Phoenix (two variants: green and red Dark Phoenix costumes); Punisher (movie version); and Wolverine (two variants: brown costume and unmasked). Will mentioned that asking prices for Deadpool in its period packaging ranged from $195 to $250 from Internet sellers. The asking price for other figures from the series in their period packaging ranged from $50 to $125.

Deadpool, a human (mutant) created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, first appeared in Marvel Comics’ New Mutants #98 (February 1991.) Wade Winston Wilson is his alter ago. Deadpool is a mercenary anti-hero who is disfigured and mentally unstable. Team affiliates, Deadpool’s universes, include Agency X, Deadpool Corps, Thunderbolts and X-Force.

Author Aside #1: How do you know when you are out of touch with the younger generation? The answer is when nothing in the above paragraph makes any sense. Does the fact that Deadpool was the character who was decapitated as he fell into the tower of the nuclear power plant at the end of the movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” help?

Not willing to pay $190 or more for Deadpool in his period packaging, Will purchased a used figure for $59. When I asked him if the figure came with all the accessories, he answered: “No. I hope to pick up the missing accessories on eBay.”

Author’s Aside #2: It is again necessary to pause and consider several questions. What makes a nine-year-old action figure sell for more than 10 times its initial purchase price? My first thought was Rinker’s 30 Year Rule: For the first 30 years of anything’s life, all its value is speculative. This rule applies only if collectors are behind the price speculation. Are collectors the driving force in this instance? Several years ago, I encountered an individual who was doing quite well financially selling action figure parts on eBay. Rather than sell figures in their period blister packs, he disassembled the packs and sold the contents individually, often doubling to quadrupling what he was able to obtain for the complete unit. Hearing nothing further about the practice, I mistakenly assumed it was a selling trend that came and went. I need to rethink my position.

Seeking to understand what motivated Will to pay $59 for an incomplete comic book action figure, I asked him: “If you have not heard of Articulated Comic Book Art (A.C.B.A.), you need to check it out.” He was correct. I had no idea what A.C.B.A. is. Raise your hand if you do.

Doc Ock: “What part of ‘dont touch’ do you not understand, Norman?” An A.C.B.A. diorama by Kane Grosvenor. A set-up like this shows the value of individual accessories to making a detailed tableau.

Articulated Comic Book Art, a term created by Kendel Gray, a.k.a. Boognice 10, is a product of the digital age. On June 15, 2009, a group of action figure collectors agreed to display on YouTube dioramas they created featuring comic book action figures. The concept quickly attracted a large community of followers. Within a year, the concept spread to comic book and toy conventions, comic book stores, hobby shops, and other venues.

The creation of dioramas has a long history. Although used to refer to a 19th century mobile theater device, common usage describes a three-dimensional scene, either full-size or miniature. Louise-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and Charles Marie Boulton created the first diorama in 1823. Museums, especially natural history museums, quickly adopted the presentation technique. Toy soldier collectors and other military hobbyists construct elaborate dioramas of battle scenes. Toy train platforms which replicate a historical location are considered dioramas.

In the early 2000s, I visited a Midwest salt and pepper shaker collector whose home was filled with dozens of salt and pepper dioramas based on themes, such as a Hawaiian beach and a map of the United States. She displayed her latest creations at the annual convention of the Salt & Pepper Novelty Shakers Club. Gideon Basker’s “Great Shakes: Salt and Pepper for All Tastes” (Abbeville, August 1989) is a pictorial presentation of salt and pepper dioramas.

The A.C.B.A. dioramas utilize action figures based upon super hero and other characters from DC, Marvel Book and independent comic universes. Universe is a key concept. A diorama must be true to the characters that appear in it, meaning that all the characters displayed must have appeared together in one or more comic books or comic book series. Inserting an outside character is frowned upon.

Builders of A.C.B.A. dioramas work in 1/12th (6-inch scale) or 1/18th (3¾-inch scale). Size can limit options. The dioramas range from simple to elaborate presentations. An elaborate diorama will have a constructed set, be lit to produce a desired effect, contain dozens of scale props, and be supported by dialogue balloons and appropriate music. The ideal is a diorama that recreates a panel from an actual comic book.

The A.C.B.A Flickr page notes: “Some of the criteria needed to produce excellent A.C.B.A. pieces include fluidity in posing, well placed stands and bases, the use of effects such as weapon and energy blast propos, backdrops, the insertion of comic book cut outs, imagination and creativity.” The latter two criteria allow diorama makers to take creative liberties with the more formal construction rules.

Batman takes down a couple of clowns in Randy Goodbye Horses’ A.C.B.A. diorama.

Why have these A.C.B.A. dioramas escaped the attention of the mainstream collecting community? The primary reason is these dioramas are viewed predominantly on Facebook and YouTube. They are another element in the move to digital collecting. Thus far, digital collecting has focused on individuals displaying their collections on personal websites, collectors’ club websites or websites devoted to social media interaction among collectors. Individuals wishing to display their A.C.B.A. have no interest in these traditional outlets. They want their own independent universe.

Contests and sharing are integral to A.C.B.A. A YouTube video for round two of a current contest describes the contest and offers suggestions to builders is done in rap and in an MTV format.

A Warning to Traditional Collectors: If you are not open to new ideas, do not watch this video.

The A.C.B.A. Facebook page lists 2,414 likes and 220 “talking about this” as of May 3, 2013. It’s YouTube page contains Super Sunday’s playlist of Articulated Comic Book Art.

Do not equate the builders of A.C.B.A. dioramas with the toy soldier or salt and pepper collector diorama builders. They are not even distant cousins. The A.C.B.A. collectors are an entirely new breed of individuals. They are not collectors in the true sense. Instead, they are artists who use collectibles to express themselves.

Although I found no indication that additional points are awarded when A.C.B.A. dioramas contain hard to find or scarce action figures, I strongly suspect that their appearance enhances a judge’s perception of the diorama. If true, this offers a plausible explanation for why these loose action figures sell at premium prices in the secondary market.

Two final questions come to mind: The first is what is the potential value of an A.C.B.A. display, especially one that wins a judged contest, when it appears on the secondary market, as some most surely will in the future? Second, since A.C.B.A. is less than five years old, does it have a long-term future or is it just a passing craze?

A.C.B.A. is a testament to how the digital age is impacting the secondary collecting marketplace. It is a phenomenon I intend to track in the years ahead.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2013

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