In just a few weeks, the eyes of the world will turn to California for the annual nerd clusterfuck that is the San Diego Comic Con. Lost in the shuffle of self-congratulatory movie panels and the mad dash to score exclusives will be the crazy amount of merchandise that will be on sale at the event…and at every other convention of the season.
Most of this stuff–like cheap comic back issues, action figures and graphic novels–is wonderful. After all, blowing your rent money on geeky stuff is the god-given right of every con attendee.
The dark side of the convention-going experience isn’t just limited to over-crowding and unpleasant smells, Sci-fi, toy, comic and horror events also have their share of truly lousy items on sale. So for today’s Daily List, we’ll be taking a look at the eight types of lame merchandise that seem to pop up at every convention. Is this subjective and mean-spirited? Of course it is! So be sure to name the merchandise that annoys you in the comments. With all that said, it’s time to open your minds and close your wallets for this takedown of the lousy crap that will be during up at your town’s next convention.
Remember last year when an attendee at San Diego Comic Con got stabbed in the eye with a pen by an upset fanboy? That altercation could have been much much worse. Take it from someone whose ninja-obsessed older brother once pulled a samurai sword on him in a fit of sibling rivalry, weapons and nerds don’t mix. Yet there they are at every convention, swords, bat’leths and other items that possess serious injury-causing potential just waiting to be bought by every socially awkward and borderline personality disorder-inflicted attendee with a Donatello fetish and disposable income. (These things tend to be about as expensive as they are beautifully crafted…and deadly). The best part about this for Snake Eyes devotees is that there’s no waiting list or background check required. But unless you are a Highlander or a member of the Arashikage clan you should probably steer clear of these. Sooner or later a person is bound to lose an arm due to some schmuck pretending to be Worf. Don’t let it be you.
7) Lame Costumes
While at Wizard World in Philadelphia recently, I saw a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume that appeared to be constructed entirely of duct tape and awesomeness. It was the best example of cosplay that I have ever seen, and it made me excited about fandom again. Then two minutes later I saw a woman wearing Vulcan ears, a Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf and Marty McFly’s 2015 cap from Back to the Future II and my enthusiasm was instantly deflated. I blame the costume vendors. When not peddling renaissance gear or weird accessories like the “futuristic” sunglasses and ray guns you see above, they are selling pricey knock-offs of comic movie costumes. (Including a disturbing amount of Batman and Robin outfits). Along with enabling schizophrenic ensembles like the one that the aforementioned Gallifreyan Vulcan was sporting, the crime of these costume dealers is that the items they peddle can never duplicate the DIY innovation of homemade get-ups. As such they are taking up valuable real estate on the dealer floor that could be better spent selling things like vintage McDonalds glasses. Camp Snoopy, we need you now more than ever.
6) Terrible Plush Toys
What’s with the proliferation of vendors selling plush toys at shows lately? The cartoon character plushes and superheroes are reasonable, if hard to understand why people spend money on things that usually end up in Wal-Mart claw games. But why are regular stuffed animals included? This is completely unacceptable…unless the event in question is Anthrocon.
5) Busts Based on Dubious Franchises
The old cliche goes that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But what about when said trash and/or treasure is a cumbersome replica of an annoying pop culture character? Mini-busts seem to be products that divide collectors, with some thinking they are high-end and somewhat classy display pieces and others dismissing them as expensive tchotchkes that serve no real purpose other than to take up space in display cases. That’s a debate for another time. Something I think everyone can agree on is that certain busts are wholly unnecessary. Take for example the above one of Princess Fiona from the Shrek films. Other than people Cameron Diaz has restraining orders against, has anyone ever bought this thing? Feel free to mention your least favorite collectible bust in the comments. Just don’t be surprised if I use your insights for a future Daily List on the topic.
4) Terrible Nerdy T-Shirts
We live in a golden age for geeksploitation tees thanks to websites like TeeFury, Ript and Last Exit to Nowhere. Because their apparel options are so inventive, there is no reason for you to be walking around in a shirt that consists of bad key art or a tired reference to a genre show or movie. (Like the ones that seem to dominate the dealer’s tables). So the next time you are at a convention, ignore the mass-produced T-shirts and seek out the ones created by smaller companies and local artists. Invariably these products are cheaper and more creative. They still probably won’t get you laid, but at least they’ll class up your ever-growing pile of unwashed clothes.
3) Pre-Autographed Items From Celebrities Who Are Signing At the Con You Are Attending
Want to get the autograph of a third-tier Star Wars actor but you don’t feel like waiting for minutes in line? Fear not, because every convention sells pre-autographed items from stars and Z-listers alike. Snark aside, there’s something incredibly silly about buying a signature when you could get it first hand. Each year events like the Wizard World and Creation cons seem to draw a bigger array of celebrities who all hold lengthy autograph sessions. (Not to mention VIP events that allow genuine interaction with these stars). It’s a little baffling then why fans would deliberately choose to buy pre-autographed items and deny themselves one-on-one moments with their favorite celebrities. Which would you choose: meeting Patrick Stewart in the flesh and having him sign something or just buying a framed autograph of him at the same show? If it’s the latter then you are lazy and make me sad.
2) Unwanted Star Wars Figures
Conventions are where peg-warmers go to die. This is especially true of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures. Since reviving the “Power of the Force” line way back in 1995 — an eternity in toy industry terms — the company has kept making strides in their sculpting, resulting in early figures such as the notoriously simian-esque Princess Leia being replaced by much higher quality versions. Go to any sci-fi, horror or comic convention and you’ll see these misfit toys sitting around unpurchased and unloved. (Ric Olie can go fuck himself). In a way I suppose that the constant presence of these figures is reassuring. It proves that trends like CommTech chips and slides may come and go, but shitty toys are forever. (This entry also applies to Toy Biz’s 1990s Marvel figures).
1) Bootleg DVDs
Before the Internet was commonplace, the only way you could get rare videos was through video tape-trading pen pals or conventions. This hasn’t been the case for a long time. Everything is available instantly right now through YouTube, bittorrenting and newsgroups, yet DVD dealers hawking their legally dubious wares at shows still refuse to give up the ghost. It’s understandable why they turn up at conventions as their service is primarily one of convenience. Having to track down a torrent of a particular show and waiting for it to seed can be time-consuming, so to just plunk down some cash for a whole series is a reasonable alternative. Also, not everyone is tech savvy enough to figure out how to satiate their nostalgic thirst through downloading. Impulse buying is another factor. Here’s the rub though: even if you can’t, everybody has a friend who can get this stuff. From your anglophile co-worker who still won’t shut up about how Ashes to Ashes‘ finale was eerily similar to Lost‘s to your HBO-subscribing pal whose house you keep meaning to go over so you can marathon season 2 of Game of Thrones, there’s endless ways of seeing what you want without having to resort to buying crappy DVD-Rs. The worst thing about DVD dealers at conventions is how they continue to sell product that is legally available — including shows like Max Headroom, Red Dwarf and Doctor Who. It’s one thing to offer products that haven’t been released and probably never will be. But when these dealers offer inferior versions of products that are officially available through stores, they earn their bad reputation as unscrupulous copyright-shunning outlaws. Trust me folks, there are much better ways to spend your money at conventions than shelling out $45 for the 1970s live-action Spider-Man CBS series.