He’s finally coming out. After two long years, I’m proud to present a special interview with Mark Bellomo. It’s no secret I idolize the writer of definitive toy books like The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994: Identification & Price Guide, The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures, 1977-1985, The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Transformers Action Figures and personal favourite Totally Tubular Toys of the ’80s.
More importantly, it has also been my privilege to call him a friend.
Of course, you have all read his in-depth articles on toys and the toy landscape, but now you will get to know the young Mark and how he fell in love with toys and started collecting them.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]For my entire life, I’ve been dedicated to action figure collecting—obsessed, really.[/perfectpullquote]
My name is Mark and I collect toys
What would you consider your main collection?
“My main collection (by virtue of size and nothing else) is represented by what I like to refer to as The Big Six – essentially, the core action figure franchises established throughout U.S. history: (Marvel & D.C.) Super Heroes, Star Wars, Transformers, G.I. Joe, (He-Man and the) Masters of the Universe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These lines have a marked endurance and have been proven performers over multiple decades and through different generations of collectors.”
And you are the collector.
“You see, during the course of my life, I’ve tried to finish every major and minor action figure line – from the introduction of the action figure concept in the mid-sixties with Hasbro’s military and adventure themed 12” vintage G.I. Joe line (1964-1976) and Ideal’s Captain Action poseable figure and colorful licensed outfits (1966-1968) up until the modern day with Transformers Generations, Star Wars 3 ¾” Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Black Series (exclusives) as well as the 6” assortment of The Black Series characters, MOTU Classics+, DC Multiverse, Marvel Legends Infinite Series (+ 3 ¾” Marvel Universe), and Toys “R” Us’ G.I. Joe: 50th Anniversary pieces.”
How long have you been collecting? Have there been times when collecting wasn’t a priority?
“I’ve been collecting toys and action figures since 1976 with Mego’s Comic Action Heroes line; this marked the first time I felt compelled to actively pursue collecting a toy line. I was five years old. Now, I may have received a few of the more commonly-released 8” Official World’s Greatest Super-Heroes before then (e.g., Batman, Robin, Superman, etc.), but I didn’t actively pursue collecting a toy LINE until Mego’s Comic Action Heroes were released. The company’s 8” super heroes were too expensive at the time—since they retailed for between $1.96-2.99 each. But you could nab five or six Comic Action Super Heroes for that cost. Regardless, I began saving birthday and Christmas money for Comic Action Heroes figures at around 5 or 6 years old, but I didn’t finish the CAH toy line until a few years ago since I wanted to nab the three playsets, too.”
Would you say that you were a full-on collector from the get go?
“I suppose that I was a diehard collector from the age of five or six until I finished community college. When I moved away from my hometown to finish my baccalaureate degree (four hours from my home turf), I stopped collecting for about one academic semester because I hadn’t really established myself in the local collecting community yet. I worked three jobs—I’ve always worked a lot—in order to pay for collectibles and comic books. Luckily enough, I had a landlord who allowed me to utilize one of his vacant apartments as a storage space… which I filled from top to bottom with toys and collectibles. (He couldn’t rent the apartment due to the lack of a fire escape). During graduate school, when I began publishing a bunch of instructional apparatus for college-level textbooks, I was paid quite well. So, it was during this time that I began to finish certain toy lines. (It was a compulsion that fuels me to this day.) Up first: Super Powers. Then Mego’s Official the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. Then Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars. Then the 3 ¾” G.I. Joe line. And on and on and on…”
Why do you collect? Is that a professional of personal choice?
“Both. Collecting for me has ALWAYS been both a personal and professional priority. But first comes my beautiful wife. Then my devoted family. Then my dedicated friends. And THEN my sprawling collection. Always in that order. ALWAYS.”
Says the toy collector.
“For my entire life, I’ve been dedicated to action figure collecting—obsessed, really. Since I trust you—and by extension, your readers—I’ll share some personal information.
You see, as a kid, I didn’t have many friends—any TRUE friends—until late in middle school, so these little plastic homunculi were my pals… along with a bunch of well-worn early Bronze Age comic books that I inherited from someone (?) in the summer of 1977 (I recall Fantastic Four #94 in the stack [“The Return of the Frightful Four”; January, 1970]). I also read and re-read and re-re-read an assortment of fantasy novels (Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance books, TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules & hardcover rule books, etc..) and a few bookcases full of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that my mom owned because she was practicing reading English prose since she was a Flemish immigrant. My mom read an awful lot, so I just aped the behavior I saw: I read absolutely anything. Everything I could. Beginning with Judy Blume books in kindergarten to novellas and short stories in first grade.”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]My mom read an awful lot, so I just aped the behavior I saw: I read absolutely anything. Everything I could.[/perfectpullquote]
Apart from reading, what was your childhood like?
“Physically, I was pretty darned short: the shortest (and youngest) in my class. Quiet, soft spoken. Fast forward to early adolescence, and I had a bunch of acne. A little bucktoothed guy. To make matters worse, early on I wore braces on my legs à la Forrest Gump—so for a number of years (even after these braces were removed) I shuffled when I walked. It’s not noticeable anymore.”
You were picked on as a child?
“Also, since I was raised in a European household, some of my mannerisms are a bit affected. Upon reflection, I believe that my customs and mores were too honest and naive; I was a SUCKER: I was wa-a-a-a-a-a-y too innocent. Which made me an EASY TARGET for every bully within a hundred-mile radius. Thrown into garbage cans, slammed into lockers. Every day. So I retreated into a fantasy world of action figures and books and comics (I began collecting in earnest in the summer of ’82). As a result of the relentless taunting I faced, I was a pariah—and so I retreated as far as possible into a fantasy world of my own making. Back in the day, kids were cruel little predatory punks. Perhaps it’s because of my devotion to these playthings during my formative years that I forged an unbreakable bond with these relics.
Artifacts that essentially (and perhaps quite literally) saved my life.”
Fast forward to the present where you are regarded as one of the leading authorities on toys.
“So as an adult, I feel it incumbent upon myself to memorialize these brands—which were my only friends for YEARS—in the books I write. And even after maturing socially and emotionally, there remains a soft spot in my heart for these toy franchises. Because they helped me to persevere during an exceedingly dark, despairing time. I write my books in the hope of legitimizing these toy lines—approaching these franchises and their creators in a clinical way, and oftentimes in hallowed and hagiographical manner—in order to help other bullied kids who were like me: they retreat into the realm of action figures, toys, and comic books because the real world is very difficult to bear.”
The late Gary “Goggles” Head once told me in an interview that you were everything a hobby needs. “Mark has the strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma to get things done.“
“I recognize that the books I write are not for everyone—that they’re a form of escapism like the toy lines they hope to encapsulate. I fully recognize that to most people in the known universe—to non-collectors—Matchbox’s Robotech SDF-1 3 ¾”-scale playset is not a cherished antique… or that to the average person, the Glamour Gals Ocean Queen cruise ship… or the G.I. Joe Defiant: Space Vehicle Launch Complex… or the fully-furnished Strawberry Shortcake Berry Happy Home… or the Super GoBots Guardian Headquarters… or the Dino-Riders Brontosaurus… or the Masters of the Universe Eternia playset with working monorail system… or The Muppets Backstage playset… are not fascinating cultural touchstones. But it’s my contention that these toys should be regarded in the same sphere as other antique treasures—even if they’ve been mass produced; they should be revered similarly as objets de vertu—they’re as important to the collective consciousness as a Faberge Egg. And just like those valuable works of art, they become much rarer as time passes.”
Where did your love for writing start?
“It just so happens that my high school English teachers and my university professors encouraged my love of reading and cultivated my writing skills. Their faith and training allowed me to develop a clinically-rich style that initially lent itself to writing academic articles, then instructors manuals for college-level textbooks, and then longer essays. Then magazine articles. And finally, longer works. Thanks to the current popularity of super heroes, Star Wars, and 80’s properties, I recently left the university I’ve worked at for the past fifteen years, and now I spend every waking moment researching and writing about toys and action figures.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]But it’s my contention that these toys should be regarded in the same sphere as other antique treasures—even if they’ve been mass produced; they should be revered similarly as objets de vertu—they’re as important to the collective consciousness as a Faberge Egg.[/perfectpullquote]
I am curious as to when you wrote your first ever toy article.
“I published my very first article on toys in an add-in promotional book for Wizard’s Toyfare Magazine way back in 2000. Or was it 2001? They wanted me to interview the 12” G.I. Joe designers at Hasbro. I did so. They wanted me to write a timeline for the brand from 1964-2000 as well. I did so. I wrote a Market Report for them, too. Maybe two issues of their Market Report? And they edited the heck out of it and made me sound like a puerile infant. I think they added a joke about flatulence or something… I don’t know. I was a little upset. But I got paid and did some work for them on-and-off. Nothing major. But I loved performing research on toys. LOVED writing about toys. Action figures especially.”
It must be a joy really doing what you seemingly were meant to do?
“I must state here that I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life: I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of really amazing things. To take advantage of every opportunity I’ve been presented with, no matter what I’m currently writing, I work 14-16 hours-a-day. Every day… and thankfully it has paid off. Although I haven’t had more than three days off in a row since my honeymoon more than a decade ago, I wouldn’t live my life any other way. Even back then, fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was an Adjunct Professor writing academic papers and articles on Ernest Hemingway, Robert Penn Warren, Shakespeare (history plays, mostly), and Elizabeth Madox Roberts, I grinded away and grinded away and was fortunate enough to have many of these papers accepted for presentation at conferences all over the world: from the French province of Provence on the Mediterranean to the mountains surrounding the Piedmont Valley of Northern Italy. From gazing out at the frigid waters of the Atlantic while visiting some tiny islands in the Bahamas to overlooking the entrance to Boston Harbor while researching original manuscripts in the Hemingway Room of the JFK Library. That’s how I tried to learn how to write. Reading as much as I could from the best literary stylists in American history. Keep reading their books, keep writing about them, and ultimately… imitate them. I’ve been really blessed that publishing houses have given me such opportunities, particularly when I was an adjunct professor and just starting to make a name for myself.”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]…I work 14-16 hours-a-day. Every day… and thankfully it has paid off. Although I haven’t had more than three days off in a row since my honeymoon more than a decade ago, I wouldn’t live my life any other way.[/perfectpullquote]
Where did it all begin?
“One day in September of 2003, when I had just begun my career as a hourly staff member at my university, I was perusing Toy Shop during my lunch hour. In the front of the magazine, an editorial stated that a new person had just recently taken over the role of Editor In Chief, and he was looking for all new contributors. So I packaged up all of the articles I’d done for various toy periodicals, I collected the many instructor’s manuals and textbooks I’d written for a few high-profile educational publishers (Thomson [now Cengage] Learning and Bedford/St. Martin’s Press), I merged my 50+ page MS Word list of action figures (I ALWAYS KEPT and up to date list back then) and my 100+ page document of comic books, and sent an e-mail cover letter with the electronic attachments and followed up with a FedEx box of writing samples—color photocopied articles, comp copies of texts, etc.”
“Based on the strength of my writing samples and my knowledge of toys, the Editor In Chief of Toy Shop Magazine, Mr. Tom Bartsch, gave me a chance to cut my teeth with their mag by performing a detailed review of toys & action figures for the Christmas season. I wrote the review, took some pictures with a very crappy digital camera, and sent the stuff in for approval. He liked it so much, he hired me as his bi-weekly Action Figure Columnist for Toy Shop in a column I named “Figurative Language.” My articles we well received by the public, which led to book deals and eventually work with IDW Publishing, too.”
Buying and Selling
Mark, you have an eye and knowledge of the value of toys and comics in general. Do you buy and sell?
“Both. I’ve been buying many multiples of items (action figures, toys, and over the past few years [since 2000] especially comic books) that I believe will increase in value and then I sell them later—usually MUCH later—for many times what I’d originally bought them for, and I use these profits to fund my collections as well as the royalties I make from my books. For instance, when there was the inkling of a rumor about a Suicide Squad feature film, I made sure to shore up multiple VF+/NM- and NM copies of the first appearance of various members of the modern Suicide Squad.”
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If I only have one sample of an item, that will NEVER BE SOLD: right into my collection it stays.[/perfectpullquote]
Some might consider that inside trading.
Another example of how I use my knowledge of action figures to help supplement my collection is the 2011 debut of Mattel’s unbelievable Monster High fashion doll line. My wife and I were walking around our local Toys ‘R Us, and the toy line caught my eye. You take public domain monsters such as Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster—which were ludicrously popular back in 2010-2011 thanks to Twilight and True Blood—and combine them with a Barbie doll (which had been suffering from a conscience-based backlash), and then throw in wonderful articulation, superbly-detailed clothing, character-specific accessories, animal pets like the original Kenner Strawberry Shortcake dolls, as well as a black-and-white speckled journal that functioned as the doll’s biography/file card/tech spec, and you have a massive success. Monster High promoted uniqueness and diversity (“Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be A Monster”)—concepts that were not celebrated by the Barbie brand. I bought ten cases of Series One dolls, and unloaded them on eBay and via trade in late 2014/early 2015 before the Monster High franchise began to wane. I made excellent money off of these dolls which I then used to obtain pieces I needed for my collection. (I of course saved one of each doll for my collection because they’re pretty beautiful toys.)”
Does everything have a price?
“If I only have one sample of an item, that will NEVER BE SOLD: right into my collection it stays.”
“There’s just so much that love within the items I own. I love every toy line I collect: I can always find at least one piece in each of my toy lines that’s pretty amazing. My favorite toy lines in my possession? I couldn’t answer that. But I could answer which toys I’m most fond of at the moment.
I adore the original 1966-1968 Captain Action line, particularly the Batman Uniform and Equipment set and the Spider-Man Uniform and Equipment set.
The Robotech SDF-1 playset, Mint In Box. I bought this about ten years ago or more from a gentleman who only used it for display purposes.
I love my Glamour Gals Collector’s Fashion Stand mail-away offer because I found it years ago mint and unused within its original Kenner mailer box. Why do I love this? Not because it’s a great toy (it’s not), but because it’s incredibly hard-to-find. But it’s certainly not my favorite Kenner toy. Which leads me to…
It’s the Glamour Gals Ocean Queen Cruise Ship playset. It’s absolutely incredible. This is the alpha and omega of playset detail—when Kenner was at the top of their game.
One of the pieces I’m most proud of obtaining is my Princess of Power Spinnerella MOSC. I bought mine about ten years ago by surfing the forums of He-Man.org. I had to then find a MLC Spinnerella, since there was absolutely NO WAY that I’d ever open the package.
A few other notable pieces: a Gabriel Lone Ranger Rides Again Silver with instructions and unapplied foil labels for the toy’s “8-Way Action Saddle”—because I had NO idea the darned horse’s saddle even CAME with labels. My Columbia Tristar M*A*S*H* Military Base playset that has play buildings with removable roofs and a 16 sq. ft. play surface. The impossible-to-obtain A-Team Command Center… a multi-level warehouse headquarters for Galoob’s 6” A-Team action figures that took me a full year to track down MIB with all of its requisite parts.”
Have you ever been really disappointed with a bought toy? One that didn’t live up to your expectations?
“Sure I have. You can’t be happy with every purchase. I previously alluded to Hasbro’s G.I. Joe Battle Force 2000 line above. Ever since I was 11 years old, I have spent my own hard-earned money on toys. At some time in the fall of 1987, I recall saving enough money to purchase all six Battle Force 2000 action figures and then I bought the BF 2000 “two-in-one” vehicles as well, with the purpose of lacing the respective components from each of the six units together “to form the ultimate stronghold”: the Battle Force 2000 Future Fortress.”
Sounds awesome for any child.
“This took a lot of money, time and effort to put this all together, and I was excited to assemble the Future Fortress and play with the toy. However, this toy was a GREAT disappointment to me. You see, these six BF 2000 components didn’t snap together. They didn’t clip together. They didn’t hook together with interlocking features. You simply… placed them next to one another. You know, adjacently. Really??? They rested next to each other!?! I was TERRIBLY heartbroken by the fact that one short year earlier (in ’86), Hasbro had produced a bevy of five-robot combiner teams that merged into a single magnificent gestalt (the Aerialbots [Superion], the Combaticons [Bruticus], the Protectobots [Defensor], and the Stunticons [Menasor]). Why couldn’t the company figure out how to snap/click/combine together these six G.I. Joe vehicle components into a lone Future Fortress. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.”
Sounds like you’re still not over it.
“I was crushed. I still haven’t played with this toy thirty years after the fact. The last time I touched these pieces was in late 2008 when I had to pose them for photos included within the pages of 2009’s The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe: 1982-1994.”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I used to get ostracized pretty hard for reading my Marvel Tales (Spider-Man reprint) comics during elementary school, or I would receive a beating for playing with Smurfs during recess.[/perfectpullquote]
Does the collector that has everything still have a Holy Grail?
“Yes, I do. A full set of Ideal’s Super Queens, mint, loose and complete. Batgirl, Mera, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman. But I mean MLC with every accessory… even the three generic spare dresses for Supergirl’s Linda Lee Danvers secret identity, Wonder Woman’s Diana Prince secret identity, and Batgirl’s Barbara Gordon secret identity (Mera had no need for this dress since she had no secret identity…). One day… one day. Maybe I’ll start selling my blood now…”
How much has the toy scene changed the last few years. In Europe it has become a hype to collect, re-sellers are popping out everywhere and prices at conventions have gone waaaay up.
“Hmm… a good question. The toy scene has indeed changed during the past decade—specifically the past five years. Where it was once considered gauche to collect comic books and action figures, now—thanks to the mass-acceptance of geek culture—it’s celebrated. I used to get ostracized pretty hard for reading my Marvel Tales (Spider-Man reprint) comics during elementary school, or I would receive a beating for playing with Smurfs during recess. Now… there’s been a sea change around the world. And that’s a GOOD thing. Having more people aware of and competing for collectibles is a VERY GOOD thing. It justifies my existence as someone who chronicles this stuff.”
I would like to thank Mark Bellomo for his time and effort in making this article happen.
You can read his loving tribute to his favourite MEGO here.
More on Mark Bellomo and his impressive collection can be found in the YouTube documentary Collectable Spectacle.