The twenty year mark is a major milestone for just about anything these days. With the turbulent times collectibles shows have experienced, it is especially impressive for them and not many have survived to claim the honor. The 2009 Florida Extravaganza Collectibles Show (FX) was the twentieth one since it started in 1989. For nineteen of those twenty years, FX was always the first major collectibles show of the year in Florida, being held the last weekend in January. Its closest competitor, Megacon, always followed it by anywhere from a few weeks to two months. This year, FX was moved to mid-April, the weekend following tax day when many people are at their most financially vulnerable for the entire year. While this change may not have been one for the better, this year’s show was still filled with some nice, and not so nice, surprises.
My busy weekend began when my friend Jim Fowler and I headed out of Jacksonville a little before 8AM on Friday morning. We were men on a mission to get to the Orange County Convention Center before the FX 2009 preview started. This is always the best time to get photos of the impressive displays of merchandise before too many people start wandering around the show. We made great time and pulled into the Convention Center at about 10:30.
Parking this year had been increased to $8.00 from $6.00 the last few years. I always enjoy paying for a supposed service and then being given a receipt that basically says the people I just paid are not responsible for doing anything. Obviously the Convention Center would have to shut down if they didn’t rent out their parking lot every day to skim people attending events there and the price of asphalt, like almost everything else, is going up. Parking wasn’t the only thing that increased in price this year. One day passes for FX were up from $20.00 to $25.00 but the weekend pass was still $50.00.
When Jim and I reached the FX hall, we were immediately surprised by how few people there were in comparison to previous years. There were no long lines to wait in for admission bands or even to get in the door when the preview started in about thirty minutes. As we entered the dealer’s area, we noticed that the tables were more spread out than usual and the creator’s area had an entire aisle of unused tables at the far end.
We dutifully took photos and chatted with the dealers prior to the preview starting. As a few early bird buyers trickled in, we began to peruse the merchandise in earnest. This year there seemed to be an increase in both the quality and quantity of vintage merchandise but modern items were still well represented. Comic book dealers were down but this may be attributable to Megacon having come first this year. There were a number of empty tables in the general sales area on Friday so it was hard to gauge everything at this point. As in recent years, one of the main toys I collect, vintage G.I. Joe items, were few and far between. I did find one dealer with a very nice selection of my preferred Adventure Team era pieces and I purchased one figure and some accessories from him. He also had what I consider to be one of the show highlights for me, a loose 1965 Remco Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea playset that included the Seaview submarine. These are very hard to find, especially nearly complete like this one was, but the $300.00 price tag was too deep a dive for my pockets! I did pick up a few comic books, including a 1949 issue of Ploice comics featuring Plastic Man, and four issues of the 60’s Warren magazine Screen Thrills Illustrated, that I used to drool over in the back issues section of Famous Monsters.
Orlando friend John Thrailkill caught up with us about the time the doors were opened for general admission. I wasted no time in debriefing him on the comic book intel I had gathered and he was off. There were people walking the aisles by this point but nowhere near what it seemed to be in the past. Granted, Friday for this show is usually a slower day than Saturday, but not usually this slow. As a buyer, this was great for us because we felt unhurried and could take our time looking at all the cool stuff on display before making our purchase decisions. This was a stark contrast to earlier FX shows when I often warned people that if they saw anything they wanted they had best buy it then or they probably wouldn’t find it again when they went back.
After setting John up with some comic book deals, Jim and I headed over to the celebrity area to see who was there for the Friday portion. The guest list this year heavily favored newer shows but there were a few quality selections from the classics. The first guest I visited was Scott Schwartz, who is best remembered as Flick, the boy who gets his tongue stuck to the flag pole in the modern holiday classic A Christmas Story. I had brought along a fairly difficult to come by one sheet movie poster for a film he did a few years later, Raiders of the Living Dead. This was an international version of the poster, it was never released theatrically in the US, given to me by Independent International legend Sam Sherman, who took a rare turn as director on this film. Schwartz was great fun to talk to and we discussed everything from Jackie Gleason, who he stared with in The Toy, to the recent death of Marilyn Chambers, who he knew from his later career in adult films. When I asked him how much I owed him for signing my poster, he replied “don’t worry about it, any friend of Sam Sherman’s is a friend of mine”. This unanticipated generosity turned out to be my best celebrity experience and sole autograph for this year’s show.
Next we moved over to the area for the Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner. Ms. Wagner had an attendant stationed at the entrance to her, currently, empty line taking the cash for her services. She was charging $25.00 per autograph, which I considered a premium since the average price is still $20.00. I just couldn’t justify this for her signature but Jim did pay $20.00 to have his photo taken with her (with his own camera). After I took a picture of the two of them arm wrestling, I couldn’t resist asking if she really owned one of the Sleep Number mattress she promotes in infomercials. She replied that not only did she, but so did everyone else in her family.
As we returned to the dealer’s area, John caught up with us carrying two overloaded plastic bags full of comics and complaining that he should have brought his book bag. It was getting close to 2:30 and we were all starving at this point, so we adjourned to the China Buffet a few miles down the road for a late lunch. For a moderately priced Chinese buffet, they do have a nice selection of sushi roles and a substantial hot bar, which was a welcome sight since we had worked up an appetite.
At the conclusion of lunch, Jim departed for Jacksonville while I remained in Orlando to hang out with John for a few hours. Byron, who had worked that day, arrived in Orlando around 7:30 and joined us and John’s wife Amy at our usual dinner spot, Alfonso’s. Continuing the relaxed pace of this trip, we ate some great pizza, downed a few pitchers of Shock Top beer, and shot the breeze until almost 10PM. By the time we returned to John’s house and hit the sack, I was beat but I also knew I had it all to do over again the next day!
John had to be at an event for his daughter on Saturday morning so Byron and I were on our own. We grabbed a quick breakfast in route to the show and arrived a few minutes after the 9AM preview started. There were considerably more people heading in early on Saturday but it still wasn’t as many as last year. Conversations with some of the dealers confirmed that Friday had not been a good day for most of them. I headed for a vendor I had been impressed with and purchased a loose ROM the Space Knight figure from him. This was a very short lived toy line from Parker Brothers that is better known for the tie-in comic book series from Marvel. I noticed a number of items, including the Seaview, from the previous day had sold so buyers were spending money. One dealer, who had some cool vintage three sheet and 40” x 60” movie posters, had at least half of his inventory cleaned out by Saturday.
After cruising the dealer’s area again and noting several vendors that had been absent the previous day, I headed to the celebrity section to get my priority one autograph for the show. I was very pleased when it was announced that Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy was going to be a guest this year even though I am only a moderate fan of Star Trek. When I approached his area, I noticed that he had not arrived yet but there was already a line of about twenty people waiting. I asked one of the attendants what time he would be there and was told between 10:30 and 11AM, so these fans were in for an hour to an hour and a half wait. When I asked what he was charging for an autograph, my jaw nearly hit the floor the floor when the woman replied $65.00! I told her I had an original movie poster from the 1952 serial Zombies of the Stratosphere I had wanted him to sign but I didn’t even pay that much for it. She just gave me a sour glare. A man in the front of the line looked at me apologetically and said he wouldn’t pay that much for anyone other than Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner. I told him I was unlikely to pay that much for a single signature from just about anyone. I certainly think Mr. Nimoy is entitled to a premium for his autograph but over three times the average price seems ridiculous. I was told later in the day by two different sources that his line was not busy and they had resorted to making overhead announcements that he was at the show.
Shortly after Saturday’s general admission started, I caught site of the Tampa delegation of Nolan, Terence, and Lisa. This was the first FX for all three of them and I was looking forward to their perspectives on an event I have attended for many years. For the next couple of hours, I tried to follow whichever member of the group or combination I could to experience the show with them.
As Nolan and Terence were hashing out a game plan, I took a stroll of the outer perimeter with Lisa. She was desperately trying to take in the information overload that I became immune to years ago. We ended up in the guest’s area, where Lisa swooned over James Marsters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bounced to Nolan and Terence and lead them to the table of Joel Wynkoop, with whom I had visited on Friday. We tried navigating our way back from the creator’s section so Terence could see some of the main show but Nolan kept running into people he knew. We finally abandoned our illustrious editor briefly and I directed Terence to a few of the bootleg dealers. While the number of vendors selling bootleg DVDs were clearly down this year, their merchandise was the same inconsistent lot. I pointed out one person selling counterfeits of the Honey West series that is available legally from VCI and was previously reviewed here in the pages of Retrorama. Another table had a bootleg box set of both seasons of The Invaders for $50.00, the same price it can be purchased for legally through Amazon.com with a host of extras.
Nolan caught up with us and I pointed out a few top notch items I had spotted for sale as we continued our journey. Terence commented to me that he was surprised to see so many dealers of quality vintage items in the same room with other booths that looked like they belonged at a flea market. The merchandise mix at FX has always been a varied one and even the less effluent looking items are often worth digging through for deals. We saw Byron taking a well deserved break at one of the refreshment area tables after several trips to drop off merchandise at his car (he purchased several modern Star Wars items including an awesome Millennium Falcon ship scaled for the 3 ¾ inch figures). Lisa popped up around this time, still reeling from her close encounter with James Marsters, and I headed off with her while Nolan and Terence went in another direction. We discussed collectibles and the changing landscape of the market as we neared our agreed 1PM rendezvous time to break for lunch.
I still had one last round of bartering to do before leaving. I have always been a fan of the original Battlestar Galactica but I have repeatedly resisted the temptation of buying any of the spaceship toys Mattel produced in the 70’s. I remember clearly being in the 8th grade when our teacher read us a current events newspaper article on how a child had died of suffocation when he launched a missile from one of these toys down his throat and it lodged in his windpipe. Rather than chalk this event up to natural selection, Mattel was hounded with consumer complaints until they reissued all the spaceships in non-firing versions. This had long reaching repercussions that ruined a lot of other toy lines (most notably the rocket firing Boba Fett figure Kenner was planning as a Star Wars promotion) . Whether it was the negative press or just the high price tags ($10+ per vehicle), I never had these as a kid. I was able to cut a deal with one vendor to get the Viper, Cylon Raider, and a boxed Colonial Scarab, all firing versions, for a very favorable price. Now I am only thirty years behind the curve! I also purchased a boxed van from the LJN S.W.A.T. line from the same seller. LJN was Mego’s major competitor in the 1970’s for the eight inch action figure market. While there figures were generally inferior, many items like this van were unique from anything Mego ever produced.
Following a successful regrouping and photo shoot, I introduced the Tampa trio to our favorite nearby budget buffet and had Chinese food for the second day in a row. Our mini-Fanboy Summit was fairly quiet (I know I was tired and hungry) but we did manage to discuss the show and a few other appropriate topics. After sending Lisa, Terence, and Nolan back to FX, Byron and I decided to hit a few local shops. John joined us for the latter half of our adventures and dinner before we finally headed back home to Jacksonville after a very long day.
From a buyer’s perspective, I would rate the 2009 FX show at least on par with recent years and possibly even slightly superior. It was certainly a good mix of merchandise that still has a solid grasp on the vintage eras. While the overall buzz from the sellers did not seem very positive, I did see a lot of people spending money and a lot of quality merchandise disappearing. The vendors seemed motivated and more willing to negotiate than usual. The show never got too crowded at any time while I was there and it was nice to be able to move through the aisle and the dealer’s booths freely. This wasn’t my favorite year for celebrity guests but if you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Lisa clearly does, you would have been very happy (Julie Benz, Juliet Landau, and several other actors from the series were also there). It would be nice to see the 2010 show return to the late January time slot but I was already hearing rumours it might be pushed back to May next year. Megacon was already announcing their 2010 show in March and a new mini con this August in the pages of FX’s program. Regardless of the date, this is still a great show for me and, like The Terminator, I’ll be back!