||Curious Josh Goes To the Fair
I was so excited to go to the Toy Fair this year. I had imagined it to be
heaven. Being able to be the first to see all the new toys for the year was
going to be so cool! Boy, was I wrong. The Toy Fair is a giant mess of corporate
greed, smelly salesmen, and desperate entrepreneurs.
I arrived in NYC around 10 am on Saturday to meet up with Yappy, ToyboxDX whipping boy and all around cool-guy. He was to be my guide for the
weekend. We showed up at the Toy center building North a few hours later. The
fair didn't officially open until tomorrow, but the place was buzzing with
activity. We quickly registered and got our GIANT bag of free crap. [Yappy: well, I couldn't get one... grumble...] Mostly the
bag had industry-type magazines and programs, but I got a free Rugrats doll, a
package of temporary tattoos, a key chain, a blo-pen and a bottle of water.
(Yappy - I hope your shoulder feels better!) There was a beautiful spiral bound
program, but it was very hard to decipher. We decided to take a look around and
see what was open.
In what was to be the first of many surreal moments, we had one guy approach us
in the lobby of toy center. He looked like a professional wrestler in this gray
jumpsuit covered in dinosaurs. I felt bad for him because he had obviously been
left out of the exhibition floors. "Are you guys buyers?" he asked. Feeling
trapped, we quickly ran away from him.
The Toy Fair is actually held in several locations. There are the 2 Toy Center
Buildings, North and South, as well as the Javits Convention Center, and then there were
the large buildings that the major corporations had set up in. Hasbro, for
example, had its own building across the street.
We started up stairs in Toy Center north. Basically each floor is set up like a
horseshoe, with all kinds of offices lining the halls. I wasn't sure why they
were here, because most of the people here also had a booth at the Javits
Center. Some just looked like offices, and some were totally decked-out. For the
most part, we could just walk in and look around each office. Unfortunately,
most of the cool larger companies require an appointment with a sales rep to see
the goods. (At least that's how it is for a retailer, I think Press has a
different method. Press people are also allowed to take photographs, where I was
not.) We made some appointments for Yappy to see some people later on in the
week. We got to see Resaurus, Sideshow Toys, 21st Century Toys, Toycom / Yamato, Dark Horse, Diamond Comics, and a host of others. For those of you who think
it's all about action figures… think again. Only about 1 company in 50 there has
something to do with Action oriented toys. This is a vast industry.
One of the more interesting companies I got to meet was a Hong Kong Company that
had something to do with Moore Action Collectibles. But they also sell bootlegs that very closely resemble real American toys. On display they had some T-28
FX Black-Ox knock-offs, as well as some Small Soldier looking rip-offs. I
asked the saleswoman if these were original designs and she said "yes". I asked
if they had concerns that they were based on someone else's designs and they
said they were different enough. Then the owner asks us if we know any
designers, and I, being a designer say, of course! He then proceeds to tell us
that he is looking for designers to go to Hong Kong and design toys with his
Chinese staff. He wants an American perspective, so his staff can create toys
that would appeal to American markets. Primarily he does this now by copying
existing toy lines, modifying them just a little, and then producing them. I
think the first thing they need to do is to pick a popular toy to bootleg! I
mean, Small Soldiers? What were they thinking?
So, after that surreal experience, we eventually went over to the Bandai
showroom. Bandai hadn't returned my calls, so I wanted to see if I could make an
appointment there. No such luck. The Bandai lobby is swanky. Brushed aluminum
walls and great mood lighting. Very sci-fi. They had a larger-than-life Digimon
that moved and lit up, as well as a couple of American girls in costume. For
some reason they looked out of place, like they could care less. They could have
gotten someone into cosplay and that would have been cool. I picked up my
complimentary Bandai mint and we were on our way. I was so damn tired from all
the walking that we called it a day. Yappy would later score a Bandai tour with
a more powerful press pass.
The next day we made our way over to the Javits Center, which has to be the
biggest convention center I've ever seen. This is where the big money exhibits
were. Playmobile, Ty, Irwin Toys, K-nex, all here. But there were a lot of
companies that were unaccounted for. Where was McFarlane? Lego? ToyBiz?
Playmates? I never got around to finding out, but I assume they were all
off-site in their own areas. Had I known I was going to this earlier, I probably
could have planned it a little better. We wandered aimlessly through the 2,000
booths, stopping occasionally to chat with yet another company with military
The sections in Javits Center were loosely broken into categories. Dolls, Games,
and Hobby sections were just some of the loosely defined categories. A lot of
manufacturers that were from foreign companies had gotten blocks together.
Indonesia, Taiwan and China all had their own "alleys" so to speak. I was
surprised to see Chinese and Taiwanese merchants displaying blatantly bootleg
materials in their areas. Of course I grabbed some catalogs, but nobody seemed
to really want to chat.
One of the most disturbing things I saw was the Richard Simmons booth. Yes, THAT
Richard Simmons. Apparently he started up a doll company, and I guess he was
there promoting them. Unfortunately Richard was in the ladies room when we
stopped by. I guess there were several other celebrities in attendance, such as
Clive Barker (Hellraiser) amd Mike Myers (Austin Powers).
I hip-checked a ton of people by accident but nobody seemed to care. They were all in this convention-induced haze. And there were also a lot of people that would jump right out at you from their booth, thrust their wares into your hands and force you to play with whatever toy they had
dreamed up. I can't blame them; I mean if I had a product to get out, I'd be
desperate too. There just seemed to be a lot of really bad ideas there. There
were lots of cheap robot dogs, and large-scale military figures. I mean how many
cheap robot dogs do we need? I saw the Aibo exhibit, and I was absolutely blown
away. Most people were just cashing in on a fad though.
To get through the show you really only needed to know three phrases:
What annoyed me the most about the Toy Fair is how children are really treated
as a commodity. We as adult collectors don't really see that side, but it's all
aimed at brainwashing 7-12 year olds into buying a product. Children aren't
allowed to attend the Toy Fair, but they had a Toy Parade out front for the
kids. At first I thought it was cool, but when they brought out Mr. Blo-Pen,
then it just got really pathetic. Even the one thing that the kids were allowed
to attend was nothing but a giant commercial. All in all, the whole affair was a
tiring pathetic mess. Here's what I learned:
- What scale is that?
- What's the price point?
- What's the street date?
All in all, I can say I'm glad I went, but I doubt I'd go again. With the age of
the Internet, most of the information is already out there. I knew about most of
the products before I showed up. There were very little surprises to be had,
aside from the sheer size of the thing. There's something kind of cool about
being a part of the industry, but this show has left me with a lot to chew on.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Children are nothing but statistics to the industry.
- The level of realism in the new military toys is frightening. You can buy a
sniper kit for your action figures that come with miniature bullets.
- For some reason, toy makers think Mechwarrior is cool.
- Robot dogs = $$$$
- Salesmen like to drink a lot.
- Dark Horse gives out the best swag.
- Watch your head on the shuttle bus. (better yet, walk)
- Make sure you hear the little click before proceeding through a turnstile on a
NY subway. Your children will thank you for it.
And remember that tip about the subway. Trust me.