Variety is a crucial element to a collectibles show. If the dealer base is not constantly evolving or their inventory is not turning over to make way for new merchandise, collectors will quickly tire of paying admission. Variety has always been a strong point of the Florida Extravaganza (FX) show and this year it was more diverse than ever. There appeared to be a shift in both dealers and merchandise that may not necessarily be for the better in the long run if it continues in this direction, but it made for a very interesting event this year.
Continuing the tradition started last year when the show expanded to three days, my friend Jim Fowler and I headed out early Friday morning for Orlando. This year we were joined on our expedition by Brandon“The Trivia Man” Tomasello, who was attending FX for the first time. Perhaps it was the years of experience under our belts or maybe just the gods of collectors smiling upon us, but we made it to the show in plenty of time and with almost no hitches. I had somehow come upon information indicating that, like last year, the show would be in the new section of the Orange County Convention Center. As we approached the parking attendant on that side and asked where the best place to park for FX was, we were quickly directed across the street to the old section! Once we reached the correct concourse, we gladly paid the $6.00 parking fee (it could have been as much as $10-$15 based on the signs) and eagerly headed inside.
Admission to this show has remained constant for the last few years and comparable to events of a similar size. Friday and Saturday regular admission was $20.00 and Sunday was $15.00. To anyone other than the casual collector, I always recommend the $50.00 three day pass that gets you in early on Friday and Saturday. As we got in line for the early admission on Friday, it was obvious that we were in the midst of hardcore collectors and dealers looking for premium merchandise to resell. This crowd was anything but casual; they had their checklists ready, cash in hand, and were primed to do some business!
This year the show was in a very spacious room that made navigating a pleasure and there were seldom any pile ups at vendor tables. The dealers were grouped as logically as they can be at a show like this with comics, artwork, DVDs (mainly bootlegs), and broader merchandise all segregated into their own areas. This made comparison shopping much easier than it has been in the past.
In the best interests of not missing anything in this massive treasure trove, my group of antique adventurers and I headed to one end of the hall to begin our perusal. This just happened to be the fine art section of the show and at the far end of the isle was none other than artist Ken Kelly selling signed limited editions of some of his work. For those unfamiliar, Kelly is a protégé of Frank Frazzetta who spent a very memorable time working for Warren Publications doing the cover art for magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. One of these covers was for FM issue #114, the legendary Japanese monsters issue that was also the first issue I ever bought off the newsstand way back in 1975. That issue holds a whole world of great memories for me and I couldn’t resist getting a print of the Godzilla artwork that is indelibly etched in my brain!
Artists Alley was located right next to the artwork isle so we wandered through to check out the guests there. It was here that I met the lovely and talented Debi Storm who played Cora, the sheriff’s daughter, in Bert I. Gordon’s hippie take off of Food of the Gods, Village of the Giants. Ms. Storm was a delight to visit with and graciously signed my one sheet poster for Village after we discussed the great cast that film had in addition to her (Tommy Kirk, Beau Bridges, Ron Howard, Johnny Crawford). Later in the day I returned to this area to visit with filmmaker Joel Wynkoop and Lauren Chapin who played youngest daughter Kathy on Father Knows Best. There definitely seemed to be an increased emphasis on the artist’s area this year and it helped to improve the diversity of the show.
We finally headed into my favorite area of FX and the main reason I have been attending for close to twenty years – vintage toys! Wandering down these rows is like reliving every Christmas morning you experienced for the first ten to fifteen years of your life. While FX has always had a good selection and mix of old and new merchandise, this was the first year that I truly felt the modern items taking the lead. Byron made the astute observation that, while there was a decent selection of pre-60’s merchandise and plenty from the late 80’s on, there was a noticeable decrease in items from the era we grew up in, the 60’s and 70’s. Also nearly absent this year were vintage G.I. Joe toys. There was really only one dealer with any quantity of this merchandise and most of it was the more common Adventure Team pieces. The last few years has brought a slew of reproduction Joe merchandise on the market and more and more of this is being intermingled with vintage pieces. Collectors have to be extremely careful these days when the color of a supposed vintage figure’s hands doesn’t match the rest of the body or a dog tag just looks too new.
The vintage toy selection may have been down this year but it was by no means out, it just took a little more time to ferret out the bargains. On Friday, I walked away with a huge haul of Mattel Big Jim merchandise, including the PACK Beast truck, two PACK figures, a black panther from the Tarzan line, and best of all, a PACK Whip Buggy (this black dune buggy was a Sears Christmas catalog exclusive and is by no means easy to find). From the same dealer, I also purchased a bag of Mego Star Trek figures and accessories and a pair of working Mego Star Trek communicators (walkie talkies made to look like the flip top devices the Enterprise crew used). My other big score for the day was five volumes of the DC All Star Comics Archives. These hardcover books retail for $50.00 each and can seldom be found even used for less than $35.00 but a company called Famous Faces had these and lots of other comic treasuries for 50% off!
The celebrity guests this year were as varied a lot as the merchandise on display. Organizer Mike Herz is clearly sticking to his policy of getting guests from the current hot programs and older ones that have not done shows but there were still a fair bit of repeat offenders. There were strong lines Saturday for guests from shows like Firefly, Smallville, and Heroes and even older celebrities like Adam West were doing good business. My personal favorite this year was a mini-reunion of some of the cast of Walter Hill’s 1979 street gang classic The Warriors. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get a signature from Deborah Van Valkenburgh who played Mercy and was also in The Devil’s Rejects as one of Ken Foree’s working girls!
Tired and hungry, we decided to call it quits around 2:30 and head for a nearby Chinese buffet to recuperate and review our loot. Jim found a Winner’s Circle Dale Ernhardt, Jr. car he had been unable to locate elsewhere and Brandon bought some comic trade paperbacks.Brandon admitted that the show was everything I described it as and he’s planning to come back next year with more money! About an hour later we vacated the restaurant and began the journey back to Jacksonville but this was only the first leg of my adventurous weekend. Around St. Augustine, I parted company with Jim, transferred vehicles and headed back to Orlando with Byron to begin phase two!
Like me, Byron is an old pro at these conventions but his work schedule makes it difficult for him to take Fridays off. Since I can never get enough of collectibles it was no problem for me to do two consecutive days, especially with a show of this size. This also gave us an opportunity to see our college friend John Thrailkill and his wife Amy and enjoy a leisurely evening in Orlando before hitting the show again.
On Saturday morning I made my second trip to the convention center in two days. Thanks to the previous day’s reconnaissance, we made it in with no problems and arrived just as the 9AM preview was beginning. Surprisingly, there seemed to be fewer people at the Saturday preview than had been there on Friday but there was a crowd of about 100+ people already lined up for the 10AM general admission. I also noticed that many dealers were closed during the preview and left their tables covered. We took advantage of the lull and I gave Byron and John the rundown on the vendors so they could maximize their shopping time.
For day two, I did a quick review of my favorite dealers from Friday but did not notice any change in merchandise. I decided to stick close to Byron and John and help them find what they were looking for. I did plunder through some of the many discount comic dealers (there were lots of dollar boxes at this event) and even found a handful of cheap issues for my collection. It took longer than I would have expected but the room did eventually start to fill up with attendees and reliable reports say the show was busy all day. We were starting to wind down around 11AM when my phone rang with a most welcome but unexpected caller.
When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with mars, it is said that peace will rule the planets and Andy Lalino will actually show up at a convention in time to do lunch! After who knows how many tries at many different events in Orlando, Andy finally made it in time to hook up with my group before we blew town! I immediately announced Andy’s eminent arrival to John and Byron and we wrapped up business and headed outside to meet him. Once again we hit the Chinese buffet (why mess with success?) and spent a good hour dissecting the convention and catching up on Fanboy news.
After we had our fill of oriental cuisine and fatigue was starting to set in, we dropped Andy back off at the convention center and John at his house. Byron made one stop at Acme Comics on the way out of town to stock up on gaming supplies that he said FX was lacking in this year. He did buy a T-shirt and a window decal at the show and John procured a nice stack of budget comics so it wasn’t a total wash for Saturday purchases.
I would not rate 2008 the best FX ever but it was a very solid show and a great deal of fun. Several of the dealers I regularly patronize were not present but new blood was ready to fill the void. As a vintage collector, I am personally hoping that this year’s merchandise trends were an aberration and that more baby boomer era material will resurface next year. This is still, by far, the best bang for your collectible buck in Florida and the hard work the promoters do to make this a quality event is readily apparent and appreciated.