FX CON 2005
Anatomy of a Collectibles Show
At the 2004 Florida Extravaganza Collectibles Show, I learned the intriguing bit of information that the 2005 show would be returning to the Orlando Expo Center. For the past several years, the waning show has continued to grow smaller and more conspicuously out of place in the vast Orange County Convention Center it had migrated to from the Expo Center. It seemed that a glimmer of reality or at least common economic sense might have finally crept into the minds of the promoters. Then I learned that Michael Herz, one of the founders of the show, had returned to the fold and was taking back control from the current group. Again, I dared to hope. After reading an article about the show and its recent changes in the January 21 issue of Toy Shop magazine, I was really beginning to think that there may be something to this. I kept my excitement in check, however, because you never actually hear of any show admitting to their decline, let alone dealing with it, and Toy Shop is a notoriously biased publication willing to grovel at the feet of any paying advertiser. I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and headed to Orlando to check it out!
The FX show started sixteen years ago in 1989 in hotel ballrooms. The annual event was an instant success and a joy to behold that grew larger with every passing year. In its golden years it moved to the Orlando Expo Center but during the tail end of this period it began to slow down as online sales came into vogue and took their cut of the business. Then a mistake was made. As the show entered the early stages of decline, a leap was made to the Orange County Convention Center where space was plentiful. Unfortunately it was space that could never be filled in a venue that seemed to go out of its way to annoy its customers (ridiculous parking fees, high concession prices, and a location in the heart of tourism and shopping that can quickly become a nightmare to move through). It was here that the show became lost and began to die. Table prices were increased to offset the Convention Center fees, vendors became alienated by the increases and policies of the new location, and attendance began to decline as collectors found easier access to their treasures elsewhere. In 2004, a final desperate measure was attempted and gaming was adding to the show in an attempt to both fill empty booth spaces and hopefully lure away some of Megacon’s business. The future did not look bright.
Michael Herz is to be congratulated by collectors everywhere (I stopped him in the hall and did my part at the show). He was wise enough to realize what had gone wrong with the FX show over the past few years and humble enough to openly correct it. The return to a smaller venue also heralded the return of lower prices and smaller vendors who had been ostracized by the former show. Gaming was, unfortunately in my opinion, retained but it was moved to an entirely separate area from the show. The attendance for this feature did not appear very strong when I stopped by mid-day Saturday so perhaps this will be dropped in the future. One of the wisest moves made this time was a Thursday set up for vendors and a later start time for the show preview on Friday. This allowed for access to more vendors during the preview and even the majority of the celebrity guests were there Friday night.
For me, the trip started off on a positive note even before the show. During our traditional pilgrimage to Sci-Fi City in Orlando, I found they were having a buy-one-get-one-free sale on the DC Archive Editions. For those unfamiliar with these works, they are hardbound reprints of golden and silver age classic comics from the DC archives. They retail for $50 and are difficult to find for less than $35, even used. I was able to pick up some beautiful volumes on the golden age Flash, Green Lantern, Starman, and Captain Marvel for a mere $25 each! Unfortunately someone beat me to the All Star Comics volumes or I would have been broke before the show even started!
This year Byron and I made the incredibly smart move of buying the “full access” passes for the weekend. These passes were $35, almost $20 more than the daily admission price of $16, but allowed us to attend the show a day early on Friday evening and go in an hour early on Saturday. Once I saw that approximately 80% of the dealers were set up by 4PM Friday and that most of the guests would be there for autographs, I knew we had made the right decision. My major purchase for the show was made Friday night and would have been almost impossible to broker during normal hours on Saturday. I found one dealer with reasonable prices on loose vintage G.I. Joe figures and, through ten solid minutes of wheeling and dealing, managed to walk away with his entire inventory at an extremely favorable price. Had I not been there early, their would have been no way to command that amount of his attention during the regular hours on Saturday and most of these figures would have probably sold out at their asking price. I could have easily gone home happy on Friday night and the show had not even officially started yet!
The mix of items at this year’s show was continuing the steady shift from vintage to modern pieces. As it becomes increasingly more difficult for dealers in classic or original toys to replenish their inventories, they are choosing to save their best wares for the internet where they can command above average prices. To offset this loss, many dealers are padding out their remaining stock with current and recent items for shows. Byron and I even observed two guys on the tailgate of a van, as we were entering the show on Friday, who had bags from Kay Bee toys and were furiously scraping price stickers off items before they took them inside! Along with vintage action figures, tin litho toys, comics, movie posters, and games were a rising accompaniment of collectible card games, ornaments, figurines, and modern toys. In addition to the small army of vintage Joes I drafted this year, I also purchased some vintage Marx pieces for the Noble Knights series (another one of those cool toy lines I somehow missed out on as a child) and a few Captain Action accessory pieces. The bootleg DVD market seems to be infecting FX as well with some vendors even mixing these in with other types of merchandise to fill out their tables. (ED’s Convention Tip #1 – If you are a vendor carrying high-end movie memorabilia items like title cards from “Forbidden Planet” or posters from “House of Frankenstein” do not have bootleg DVDs for sale at your table. This really doesn’t help your credibility with collectors, nor do the items cross promote each other.)
The celebrity guests at this year’s show included the usual “guys in suits” from Star Wars plus a few odd but interesting choices. Cindy Morgan (“Lacey Underall” from “Caddyshack”) was there and, while noticeably older, still looks good for her age. Mark Goddard (“Major Don West” from “Lost in Space”) seems to have become a staple at every Florida show and, while he is an absolutely great person, I have to wonder who could live within driving distance of Orlando and NOT already have his autograph by now. In the “why do they keep inviting these people to every freaking show in Florida” department, Kenny Miller (“I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, “Attack of the Puppet People”, nothing else worth noting for the past three decades) must own stock in these shows. He seems to be at every one of them and I never see anyone getting his autograph. (ED’s Convention Tip #2 – When selecting celebrity guests, always review the roster of every show within a 50-mile radius for the past three years. If any guest has appeared in this vicinity two or more times during this period then they should immediately be disqualified from attending yours.)
Sid Haig (“Spider Baby”, “House of 1000 Corpses”) was at the show this year and I had him sign my movie poster for “The Aftermath”, a film in which he stars as a post-apocalyptic warlord but he never even realized was completed! Haig’s co-star from “Corpses”, Bill Moseley was also on hand. While Moseley plays psychotic patriarch “Otis Driftwood” in “Corpses” and its upcoming sequel “The Devil’s Rejects”, he will always be remembered as the scene stealing, chrome-plated, ‘Nam vet from Hell, “Chop-Top” in the second “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” film. You do not appreciate what an excellent actor Bill Moseley is until you meet him in real life and realize that there is a friendly normal looking guy playing these over the top characters on the big screen. Both Mr. Haig and Mr. Moseley were as friendly and personable as anyone could ever ask.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s” Marina Sirtis. Anyone who follows my convention tales will know that I prefer to have my in person signatures on less common items and rarely settle for the standard 8 x 10 headshot most celebrities like to hock. Usually this will result in my having an original poster or lobby card from a film signed, even if it isn’t one from the height of that person’s career. In this instance I had outdone myself by obtaining a B&W photo of Ms. Sirtis from one of her early roles, opposite Faye Dunnaway in the period film “The Wicked Lady”. In addition to being far removed from the usual “Star Trek” photos you see her in, she just happens to be topless. As I approached her table I told her I had brought my own photo that I had gone to great lengths to obtain but as soon as she saw it she immediately informed me “I don’t sign THOSE”. I found it rather amusing that she had no trouble signing the PEZ dispenser of the gentleman in front of me (a premium for the FX show) even though it had nothing to do with anything remotely related to her career but would not sign a photo that was clearly of her and actually a very tasteful shot. Fortunately I anticipated such a response and had Byron positioned with a camera in advance. (ED’s Convention Tip #3 – If you are a celebrity and you have previously appeared nude in any film, video, or magazine, for which you were compensated, then be prepared to have items and images from them presented to you at shows where you sell your autograph. What is important is that the item means something to the person PAYING you to sign it, not that you approve of it. Do not be a “Marina Sirtis” and refuse to sign things or you may end up doing more projects like these to pay the bills.)
For me, the highlight of this year’s celebrities was David Hedison, the actor who played “Captain Crane” for four seasons on the amazingly popular “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” television series. Hedison’s career also encompasses cult films like the original version of “The Fly” and a he was the only actor to play James Bond’s superior “Felix Leiter” in two of the Bond films. To my knowledge, this was Mr. Hedison’s first and most likely only appearance at a Florida show and it was a pleasure to spend a few minutes discussing his career with him early Saturday morning. I apologized for not having a topless photo for him to refuse to sign but he was only too happy to autograph a clothed shot from “Voyage”!
Overall, I consider the 2005 FX show to have been a success, both personally and in general. The unfortunate trends in the market place as vintage goods become scarcer seem inevitable, but still worth a try at this point. If you are a serious collector looking for reasonable deals on rare items then you have to attend the preview or you might as well not go. The true finds of the show were long gone by the time the doors opened to the general public on Saturday. The celebrities were a good mix but this is still an area, like gaming, that can easily be jettisoned with almost no impact on the remainder of the show. The return to the Expo Center was an excellent move and helped improve the entire mood of the show. I did hear a rumor that the Expo Center was being renovated and would no longer be available after this year. Even though there was no advanced publicity for it, I am crossing my fingers that we will see FX 2006.