The Monster Collectors
More than any other genres, sci-fi and
horror fans are big, big collectors. There are some amazingly
decked-out rooms, man caves, etc. out there, and it's fascinating to
think about what drives collectors. I'm a collector myself, so I
started thinking about collectors and collections and organized my
thoughts into these notes about the collecting phenomenon.
Things to collect
Most horror collections can easily be categorized into a few categories.
Movie Posters - There
are also a lot of posters for any given movie: advance promotions,
re-releases, lobby cards, etc.
Art - Some examples include box
art from toys or the Aurora model kids, magazine covers, etc.
Toys - This is usually figures
and accessories, but may also include games and other merchandise.
Masks - These make great
showpieces for display, even when you aren't wearing them.
Similarly, this category can include costumes and/or other role-play
Props - This might include
costume element (as mentioned above) like weapons, but might instead
refer to miniature models or other special effects.
Autographs - Although you might
think first of glossy 8x10s, other categories might include autographed
books, posters, toys, or any else on this list.
Movies (DVDs or whatever format) -
Some people like to acquire libraries of favorite films or complete
runs of tv shows.
Books - There are a lot of ways
you can approach this as well, such as creating a library about a
particular subject. For example, I know many people on the web
proudly show off their Lovecraft libraries containing complete
collections the author's works as well as biographies, critical
analysis, collections of letters and essays, and the expanded universe
of works by other authors within and beyond the "Lovecraft circle."
Comics/graphic novels/magazines -
These have always been considered "collectible," but many of us collect
only within an area such as vintage horror magazines or certain
Some folks say they collect just for the
sake of collecting, but I don't think it's healthy to just hoard things
and never look at them. If you're collecting, you ought to have
some reasons for spending the time and money acquiring pieces.
Here are some that apply to varying and overlapping degrees to
collector (myself included).
To decorate - Many
collections double as art. Indeed, many collectibles are
themselves art. I view toys as modern sculptures: representations
of idealized forms. Posters and artwork are best presented as
decorations, not sealed away.
To enter the universe - In many
ways, developing a collection is a way to overwhelm yourself so that
you drown out one reality with a fantasy one. If you get your
bedroom populated densely enough populated, then it puts you in another
place, one that holds some attraction for you.
To relive your childhood - Some
collectors are going back and re-acquiring the things they had as
kids. Other times, they're looking for the things they never got
to have as kids! Either way, it brings them back to their youth.
To invest - The assumption is
that pieces will appreciate in value over time. This is highly
speculative, of course. There are better investments if you have
the money. Personally, I'd rather buy only what I enjoy, even if
there isn't a guaranteed return on it.
To trade - A version of the
above, but some collectors acquire pieces to use as a special
trade. For example, if there's a piece another collector would
never part with for any amount of money, he might still be willing to
trade for a piece another collect has that he values above what he
Approaches to collecting
Collectors have different principles that
guide their acquisitions. There may be more than just these, but
these approaches spring to mind.
Vintage - There are
plenty of reproductions of classic items out there, but some folks
insist on having only the "real deal" in their collections. It
all depends on your reason(s) for collecting (see below); sometimes a
repro is just as good, like if you're just collecting movie posters to
decorate your man cave or whatever.
Originals - Like "vintage"
collecting, the focus is on pieces that were used in the film or tv
show. Some folks shell out big bucks for authentic props.
Showpieces - Some collectors are
looking for singular amazing pieces that stand on their own.
Life-size mannequins in full costume are one example. I know
plenty folks who prize a Han Solo in carbonite more than Jabba the Hutt
Single-focus collecting -
Sometimes people aren't interested in collecting broadly; instead they
hone in on one thing, such as only collecting, say, Creature from the
Black Lagoon or Planet of the Apes merchandise in all forms, something
from every category: posters, toys, costumes, you name it! By
contrast, most collectors just get a few pieces representing different
movies or shows they enjoy, albeit with an emphasis on a favorite area
(e.g., for me it was Star Wars or the Universal monsters).
Cost - This is kind of
obvious. If it's worth having, then it probably costs a bit, and
that's going to limit what else you can get, so you're less likely to
have a "collection" than just that one really desirable thing.
This is true of almost anything collectible!
Space - It's hard to have a place that you can keep a
collection and still make it accessible. I mean, it's still a
collection if it's in boxes, but what's the point of it if you can't
really access it without digging it out?
Maintenance - Not everything requires this, but some items
(Latex masks come to mind) will not hold up unless you go out of your
way to preserve them. Also, and I'm not sure maintenance is the
right term for this, some items call out for attention. For
example, my guitars all represent projects in that I have plans to
upgrade them in some way (e.g., new pickups and/or wiring upgrades),
and that is on top of actual maintenance like cleaning/polishing them
and changing strings. As a result, they're always in a state of
anticipation for something else. The same can be said for costume
pieces or toys that need to be displayed or added to (e.g., companion
pieces) before they are in their final form.
The Monster Collectors
Although I'm sure there are plenty of
enviable private collections out there, some of the more famous figures
within the Halloween/sci-fi/horror community who are high-profile
collectors include the following...
Forrest J Ackerman -
The original and probably most famous collector of so many things
related to monsters and horror. Forry was the original nerd boy
uberfan of all things sci-fi and fantasy. He even coined the term
"sci-fi"! Due to his connections within the industry, Ackerman
came into possession of many amazing items, particularly film props
(e.g., the alien craft from War of the Worlds, Dracula's cape and ring,
etc.). Best of all, you could tour the so-called Ackermansion and
see the collection up close. There are videos on YouTube of
guests taking the guided tour around Forry's home. Sadly, the
collection was pared down before the Ackermonster's death and is now
scattered among many hands. See
the documentary "Famous
Monster" about Forrest J Ackerman for some footage of his
collection. It also features quick interviews with and a
walk-thru of Dan Roebuck's collection as well.
Bob and Kathy Burns - Bob is a
noted archivist of film props and memorabilia. In fact, the
studios have often dumped literal truckloads of props at his house
(e.g., this once happened with the props from the original Alien
film!). Ever wonder who has the Time Machine from the adaptation
of the Wells novel? They do. One of the original King Kong
miniature armatures too. All sorts of great props. A bit
more detail here: http://bobburns.mycottage.com/
Update: See also Bob's book It Came
from Bob's Basement
which covers some of his acquisitions. Here's a
description/review on my Recommended Reading page.
Kirk Hammett - Yes, that
Kirk Hammett! The lead guitarist from Metallica is a noted
collector of original movie posters, artwork, toys, etc. From the
looks of things, his house is something of a museum of pop culture. See my Recommended Reading page for his
book about the collection: Too
Much Horror Business.
Dan Roebuck - While he's an
in-demand actor, he's also an avid collector of movie memorabilia and
(especially!) toys dating from his childhood all the way to the
present. His site contains many pictures of his collection at its
Peter Jackson - The Lord of
Rings director is reportedly an obsessive collector of all things
Kong (even before he directed the modern remake). He has other
curiosities besides movie memorabilia.
Although I don't have the capital or
passion of many of the more famous collectors out there, I've managed
to collect quite a few things myself.
Posters - My collection
doesn't have a singular focus. It's a mix of movies I like and
movies that are representative of important points in film
history. And, most importantly, what looks nice. I wouldn't
get a weak poster of a film that is good; that's just missing the
point. In fact, there are several films I would like posters of
that just don't have good posters, so I don't bother investing in
them. I tend to have them grouped around the house by different
category. You can see a gallery of them here.
Books - I have several categories
I focus on, but basically it's subjects and authors I like. I
have quite a few "art book" such as art from Star Wars, Alien, and
unrelated work by HR Giger, etc. You can see what's in my library
Movies - I am reluctant to invest
in dvds since it's hard to amortize the cost of a single film (i.e.,
it's a waste to buy what you could rent the few times you'll ever watch
it!). However, I do collect inexpensive bundles of public domain
b-movies (which sometime contain honest classics and other gems).
You can see a list of my collection here.
Toys - I mainly focus on action
figures, but I do seek out a few other toys such as the Mighty Men and
Monster Maker as well as the Dr. Dreadful toys. I hope to
eventually put up galleries of my toys, but right now all I have are
online are the Star Wars dioramas Dani and I built years ago.
(See my Star Wars page for
Digital media - I do something of
an offline version of Pintrest, some of which I need to eventually post
on this site to share. For example, I save images of interesting
Halloween decorations, monster illustrations (including magazine
covers), etc. These might be from anywhere around the web, but I
especially save images from eBay for any items I see that I like.
Many of these double as research and/or inspiration for props and
costumes. (I similarly have a digital guitar collection that I
use for inspiration in designing guitars.)
Collect what brings you the
most pleasure. I can't emphasize this enough. After all, if
it's something you're really, really into, almost no one will
appreciate any particular item in your collection as much as you
do. If you're collecting to impress anyone, odds are slim that
you'll have much of an effect. After all, few folks are going to
understand the meaning and significance of a piece.
Just to give you an example,
outside of my Halloween collections, I also "collect" guitars. I
don't consider myself a collector, but that's how I'm regarded.
However, I buy them to play. Most people can't see the difference
between any two of my guitars, even though the most expensive ones cost
more than ten times what the cheapest ones in the collection are
worth. To any non-musician, they all have six strings, so what's
the difference?! The
most common reactions are to comment on which is the prettiest.
No one cares which is "vintage" or if it's the model so-and-so plays
on stage. Only I would care about that, and so I really only
collect for me!
Do yourself a favor and concentrate on
what makes you happy about collecting.