An OSWCCer Goes To Toy Fair

By John Booth

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I flew into New York City on Saturday, Feb. 11, and flew out Thursday, Feb. 16.

In between, I made my first trip to the American International Toy Fair at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, filing daily stories for the website of the newspaper where I work. (I gotta put one more plug in: the series is at http://www.crainscleveland.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=ToyStories, and the more traffic it generates, the better, so c’mon and throw me a couple clicks)

What I want to do here, though, is just share what it was like from my plain old toy geek perspective. Honestly, that’s how I felt most of the time anyway – like a kid who’d somehow snuck into the greatest playground ever.

Sunday the 12th was a heartbreaker: I woke up to see more than a foot of snow, well, everywhere. Commuter trains and buses were shut down, and though I was no more than an easy half-hour bus ride from Manhattan, Toy Fair may as well have been in Malaysia, since I was getting nowhere near it.

(We did find one train that started running that afternoon, actually, but after attempting to drive to the station and enduring a frightening, slippery ride for the first four blocks of a five-mile trip, I decided I’d rather live to see the next three days of Toy Fair.)

I wasn’t the only one stranded – I heard lots of talk about low attendance on Sunday, and people hoping buyers would be able to make it in time for the rest of the show.

Monday the 13th, the city was still digging out, but the buses and trains were running. I made it to the Javits at about 8:45 a.m. The pressroom was about the size of a football field – a welcome change, for those of you who saw the broom closet we worked out of at Celebration III – and was a level above the main Toy Fair showroom floor. There were four massive windows that overlooked the place, and it was just stunning: Think the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but with toys. Aisles and aisles of booths and lights and signs and oversized sculptures, stretching until they blurred in the distance.

Now I started to feel pulled in two directions: I had my assignments for work I needed to take care of, but I desperately wanted to go in search of Star Wars stuff.

Turns out I was really too wired to do more than just wander around that first hour, mentally checking places I wanted to go back and visit.

Here’s the weird thing that took me awhile to get used to: Everybody knows Toy Fair’s an industry trade show, but it was kind of disconcerting to see all these acres and acres of toys, and hear so much dry talk about “added play value” and “varied pricing points.”

Anyway, Star Wars-wise, there were two key stops to catch on the main floor: the Master Replicas booth and the Sideshow Collectibles display, even though for the most part, neither company’s products are “toyish” enough for me. (I like my Star Wars collectibles just a little less grown-up, I guess.)

MR had people wandering the showroom wielding lightsabers, of course, and the new Maul double-blade was a big draw at their display.

I have to say, while I do think the MR sabers are extremely cool, I’ve just never found myself willing to part with the cash to buy one.

Umm…if I was gonna change my mind, it would be for this one. When the guys handed it to me, it took all my willpower not to start whipping it around with what certainly would have been disastrous results.

Clearly, I was hypnotized: Otherwise how to explain that I let the MR guys take this nerd-tastic pic of me in mock combat? (Yeah, I know, my grip’s all wrong and my stance is non-existent. I was too busy trying to keep the adrenaline from taking over and unleashing my inner Sith Lord.)

Okay, so besides the lightsabers, MR’s Anakin prototype costume was neat, too. They’re still gauging the market for these, but they figure even if many costumers like to make their own outfits, MR could still probably make money by selling the tough-to-assemble pieces like Anakin’s buckled glove, or the boots.

They also had a display of the still-in-the-works Falcon model, and one of the MR marketing guys brought out the cardboard cutout to show me the exact size the final product will be.

When I was a kid, the Kenner Y-Wing was the last Star Wars spaceship I got, and I still have it. The MR version of the ship brought back lots of great memories.

Sideshow Collectibles had an impressive display, too, although for me, the best Sideshow pieces are the non-human sculpts. Probably for the same reason that I only really like the non-human vintage Kenner large figures – the big versions of Han, Luke & Leia are just a little too doll-like for me.

Sideshow’s Grievous was as striking as it was at C3 and the Greedo bust was some good work as well, but the pieces I really liked the best were these funky cartoony versions.

Tuesday the 14th, I started the day with another bus ride, followed up this time with a subway trip to 23rd street.

For those who don’t realize it, there are actually two separate worlds at Toy Fair: The Javits Convention Center is where most of the small-scale and independent toy dealers put on their shows, although the heavy hitters do maintain some token presence there.

The Hasbros and Mattels and Legos all have their own massive showrooms about a dozen blocks south, in what’s called the Toy District or Toy Fair South. (One or two of the buildings here are actually being sold, so this was the last year for the classic Toy District, and nobody’s quite sure what 2007 will bring yet.)

Down here, things are completely different – you’ve got to schedule appointments to get into most showrooms, for starters, and there’s a total lack of “carnival” atmosphere. Inside the buildings, it’s like the “behind the scenes” bit in the second Matrix movie – just cold, sterile hallways, with all these doors that open onto hidden worlds.

After a work-related trek through the Little Tikes showroom, I thought I’d try to visit Lego’s digs. (Lego’s entryway, incidentally, was a nice change of scenery – it’s all giant-scale Lego bricks, of course: door handles, door frames, etc.) No dice there. I scheduled a visit for Wednesday morning, but never actually made it back there, so I’m sorry to say I have no Star Wars report for the Lego maniacs.

Naturally, Hasbro was my next goal.

Here’s the funny thing about Hasbro’s Toy Fair showroom: When you step out of the elevator, if it wasn’t for the three plasma screen TVs on the wall in front of you looping toy commercials over and over, you could be in a law office or an accounting firm. There’s not a toy in sight. It’s all corporate green carpet and walls and imposing glass doors and a reception desk bunker and a smallish waiting area with a plant and a few chairs and a coffee table.

So I went to the desk, showed my card, and after a few minutes, they found a friendly PR rep to take me on a tour.

When we got to the Star Wars display, there was an HGTV crew shooting it, so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Maybe they thought they were creating Episode Seven. I don’t know, but my PR escort and I had to move on, so we looked over the Attacktix SW vs. Transformers line, and the SW miniatures line, too. (And when we were done with that, the HGTV crew was STILL shooting in the same damn place!)

So we got through the showroom, and she had another tour to give, but the Hasbro people said I could wait in the reception area until the HGTV crew cleared the SW display. It was another 20 minutes, at least, but finally, I got to go back in and see, frankly, what I’d come to see.

After all that, I have to admit, it was a little anticlimactic, to be perfectly honest. Lots and lots of cool new Star Wars toys, all on display at once, but still.I dunno. Maybe it was because I knew that last year, SW had been so huge, with Ep. 3 and all, and this display was literally just a small part of Hasbro’s overall picture.

Still, I did get two Star Wars freebies, even if they are pretty ordinary: a saga Snowtrooper and a promo Attacktix Wookiee Scout. They’re nothing you can’t buy in a store, but they hold some nice memories for me because I got ’em at Toy Fair.

Exclusive-wise, Hasbro was a bust for me: They didn’t do any cool Star Wars press giveaways like last year’s over-the-top Anakin/Vader press kit, and for the life of me, I don’t know how I would have gotten my hands on that gold Titanium Tie. I don’t know if they just give those to buyers, or what. Like I’ve said, this was all new to me – I mean, I guess I always pictured that visitors to the Hasbro showroom – or anywhere else – were just treated to all these exclusive tidbits just for showing up. Apparently, it just ain’t that simple.

In fact, that’s a pretty good summation of how the Toy Fair felt: I had a great time seeing everything, and playing with stuff, and talking to people, and just reveling in the fact that I was there. And I did come home with a fair amount of goodies, most of which earned me good Dad points with my daughter (Indoor carpet skates, anyone? How about a nose flute?), even if I couldn’t land the big Star Wars catches.

Wednesday the 15th, after I wrapped up my day’s work, I pretty much just wandered and explored for the joy of it.

After the fair closed at 4 p.m., my friend Ivan (he and his wife Alexa were kind enough to share their house during my trip) and I walked around Manhattan for awhile and ate above Times Square. In a trivial, but somehow appropriate moment, we spotted the Booth Theater, which was showing a play called “Faith Healer,” starring none other than Ian McDiarmid.

Several people told me that the first Toy Fair you go to is the best, and I can see that being true.

On the other hand, the next time I go, I’ll know enough to find out ahead of time how to get my hands on those exclusives.

Check out a gallery of photos from the trip right here!