On Saturday, January 10, I attended FX 2004, the 15th annual Florida Extravaganza collectibles show in Orlando, Florida. The first FX I attended was in 1991 and my mind was immediately blown the moment I set foot inside the show and was overwhelmed by the feeling that someone had literally captured my childhood in that room. I have loyally attended this show every year since then and have watched it grow from hotel ballrooms to the Orange County Convention Center. In 1997, I even ponied up the considerable funds to be a dealer there at what may have been the peak of the show’s success. During these years, the show was frequented by dealers from all over the world and the crowds were so dense in the opening hours that you could barely get through the isles. Unfortunately I have also had to watch its decline over the last five or so years as online sales, decreased attendance, and dealers jumping ship faster than rats on the Titanic have caused a steady drop in quality. I was joined at this year’s event by my friends Byron Rocher and Donovan “The Movie Poster Man” Johnson; so some of what you read here was inspired by their comments and observations (including the title of this article, which Byron suggested because, in his words, this show sure isn’t what it used to be).
The admission price for this years show was $10 per day or $15 for the weekend, which is comparable to similar sized shows. The convention center still charges their outrageous $10 for parking and that is per day with no re-entry! We noted almost immediately that the dealer turn out this year was the worst we had ever seen it. I am sure that online sales have taken their toll over the past few years but the steep table prices here haven’t helped any either. One dealer, who owns his own store, told me earlier in the year that he specifically would not be working the 2004 show because of the table prices. He told me that in order to make his money back for the tables he was forced to raise his prices at past shows. This alienated his regular customers who knew they could buy the items cheaper at his store. I can’t help but feel that many other dealers may share his opinion and demonstrated this by their lack of participation. I also noted several items I have shopped for online during the previous year that were priced considerably higher from dealers at the show, so this may prove his point.
The one thing that has always impressed me the most about the FX is its mix of both new and vintage collectibles. In this day and age it is far easier for vendors to stock up on modern and easily obtainable collectibles, so seeing quality vintage dealers is always a treat. This year the mix was somewhat different than usual with a much heavier emphasis on comic books and, especially, musical memorabilia than I have noted in the past. The 2004 show also marked a disturbing addition that I hope won’t be carried over, gaming. While I have nothing against gaming, be it role playing, figures, or board games, I do not like to see it incorporated into collectibles shows. I have always felt that a dangerous precedent was set with Magic Cards when you could no longer just go out and buy a game but rather had to “collect” the pieces in order to be able to play it. If the FX promoters want to purchase additional space for gamers to set up and play, I think that is fine, but I also think this should be a separate event and not take up what could be potential dealers space as it did this year.
The decrease in dealers made for widely spaced isle in the half of the room that actually was set up for dealers. Unfortunately the center section was composed almost entirely of companies carrying high-end reproduction weapons or comic items like Iron Man’s helmet or Captain America’s shield. As Donovan astutely pointed out when he saw a modern Japanese model of the creature from Aliens, you could purchase the original Kenner action figure from the 70’s for what they want for the new one. Fortunately the side isles had a decent selection of vintage items to plunder through including lunch boxes, movie posters (watch out for reproductions per Donovan), action figures, die cast vehicles, dolls, and playsets.
The major reason behind the shift to musical merchandise this year may have been caused by one off their guest selections, original Beatles drummer Pete Best. I consider myself to be a die hard Beatles fan but, having already met Mr. Best at a similar show in Orlando several years ago and having him sign my Piss Off Pete Beatles’ album, I felt I had spent all the money with him that I cared to. The remaining guests were James Bond actresses and Richard Kiel, who portrayed the villain Jaws. Maud Adams (Octopussy) and Tanya Roberts (A View to a Kill) are both still as lovely as ever, but Blanche Ravalec is hardly recognizable from her days as Jaws’ girlfriend Dolly in Moonraker. The highlight of the “celebrities” for me was Richard Kiel who, while I have found memories of watching him in Moonraker, I will always remember for one of his earliest roles as the lovesick caveman in the Kiddie Matinee staple, Eegah! I was proud to get to meet him in the flesh and have him sign my Eegah! poster in person, even though I had to endure his assistant trying to sell me everything on his table in the process! At $15 to sign anything or $20 for a signed color photo, that wasn’t going to be very much and this seemed to be most people’s opinions as the lines were never very long at any of the guests tables. On a related note, I highly recommend Mr. Kiel’s autobiography “Making it Big in Hollywood”. You can order this from his website http://www.richardkiel.com. It is an entertaining and honest, look inside the Hollywood system from the perspective of someone who would always remain on the fringes due to his size and appearance. For reasons I cannot explain, the book and autographed photos are cheaper through the site than they were in person at the show, even when you factor in shipping.
In previous years I could barely fit all my purchases in the car for the trip home but as the dealers have declined, particularly the European ones I used to stock up on vintage Action Man items from, so have my purchases. My finds this year included some vintage G.I. Joe bits and pieces, there was a good deal to choose from but you had to search hard for favorable prices, and a Big Jim Kung Fu Studio that was still in it’s original cardboard packaging (for $10 no less, how’s that for favorable). My favorite item though was a large green rubber monster figure called The Krusher. This toy probably holds some record for the most limited play value of any toy from the 70’s, even worse than Stretch Armstrong! The Krusher’s sole claim to fame was that you could squeeze the air out of him and lock him into a “crushed” state with a valve on his belt. When the valve is released he pops back into shape, end of story. Even though I wanted one as a kid, my mother knew The Krusher would be headed for firecracker city after about 15 minutes of play and wisely refused my request. For the paltry sum of $5 though I couldn’t pass up the chance to correct this omission from my childhood and I think I have some M-80’s left over from July 4th!
FX is still one of the largest collectible shows in Florida and, while they are fewer and further apart, there are still good deals to be had. I have to tip my hat to any show of this type that can survive for fifteen years, especially with the radically changing parameters of the hobby. Some of the pitfalls that have weakened the show are industry wide and unavoidable but some have just been questionable business decisions and top end pricing. According to its program, this was the last year for FX at the Orange County Convention Center. The 2005 show will be held at the Orlando Expo Center downtown, which marks a return to a smaller venue with more reasonably priced parking (if paying to park one’s car at an event can ever be referred to as reasonable). Hopefully, the price of the dealers tables will reflect the more modest accommodations and it is not too late to lure some of the smaller ones back. These vendors, who used to spend most of the year stocking up just to sell at one or two big events, were really the lifeblood of the show. I would much rather see overhead items like the gaming areas and “celebrity” guests eliminated altogether and the savings put into lower table and possibly even admission prices. The 2005 show will be one of transition and it is anyone’s guess how well or even if the FX show will survive it. I highly recommend that you give it shot, both to support it if it can succeed and to be able to say you attended one, even on the downslide, if it doesn’t. My friends and I had a good time this year and it is always nice to have an excuse to go on a road trip, but Byron summed up the 2004 show perfectly when he said FX sure isn’t what it used to be.