10 People Who Make the World a Nerdier (and Better) Place | Mark Bellomo

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by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck

in Nerdy, Star Wars

We’re in the midst of spotlighting the people who actively make the world a better place for us pop culture nerds (and, by default, a better place in general).

In case you missed it, here are part one (Stephen Amell), part two (James Hance) and part three (Aisha Tyler).

Mark Bellomo

Author and super-collector Mark Bellomo has made it his personal mission to chronicle and curate everything that made your childhood awesome. His work is ambitious to say the least, and could only be pulled off by someone whose passion for the subject is unmatched.

To many, Bellomo’s books are as collectible as the lines they memorialize. As he says: “trying to learn every fact there is about some of these franchises—the G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and especially the Star Wars canon—is nearly impossible”. That’s why so many fans of these properties couldn’t be more thankful for Mark’s work.

His latest project can be described as the world’s most comprehensive chronicle of every vintage Star Wars figure produced from 1977 to 1985. As with all of Bellomo’s work, the book is so much more than just a curation of items. He explores the origins of each figure, and other fascinating details about the entire line including the climate of collecting at the time of its release as well as today.

ultimate guide to vintage star wars action figures_opt

I caught up with Mark recently to discuss the gargantuan task of chronicling and evaluating every vintage Star Wars figure, his favorite toy lines of all time, what it’s like to own 60,000+ action figures, and what’s currently on his dining room table.

 

Similar to your other books, you mentioned that the creation of The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures, 1977-1985 was a “labor of love” – what was your biggest takeaway after completing the project?

My biggest takeaway from this project? Hmm… how profoundly important a small coterie of “storytellers” were for children of my age group—those guys behind the scenes who were the creative force (the men behind the curtain) of the most popular action figure lines of the 70’s and 80’s.

What I mean by this: we Generation X-ers (e.g., Americans born after the post-WWII baby boom–from the 1960’s to the very early 1980’s) were really lucky to have been privy to debatably the greatest concerted push of quality characters and supporting narrative within the history of the medium of toys… specifically action figures. The [back] stories that drove these toy franchises were awesome—remarkable for the attention to detail and characterization.

The list of raconteurs from the late-seventies and early eighties who were the creative forces behind these toy lines were GENIUSES: George Lucas (Star Wars), Larry Hama and Ronald Rudat (G.I. Joe), Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman (Generation One Transformers), Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman (various iterations of Star Trek), Ted Wolf (ThunderCats), Donald Glut and Roger Sweet (Masters of the Universe), and of course Jim Shooter, Marvel Comics’ intrepid Editor In Chief, whose magnificent tenure birthed a 12-issue maxi-series that spawned a toy franchise, [Marvel Super Heroes] Secret Wars. Drawn by Mike Zeck and Bob Layton and written by Shooter himself, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was a marketing ploy that allowed each major Marvel Comics character to share a starring role with one another in a single title.

I’m always amazed at the lengths that toy companies in the 1970’s and 1980’s would go to select the creative teams behind these remarkable toy lines. (And for those of you replying that George Lucas did not have a vision of Star Wars as a toy line—he certainly recognized the marketing potential of the franchise and bilked the film for every bit of marketing potential.)

 

So true. What’s the most interesting thing you learned while compiling info for the book?

Hurm. The most interesting thing I learned while I was educating myself about the history of Star Wars and its innumerable characters? It was similar to learning the history of a small country: there are TONS of facts, facts—but these facts are always amorphous, often unpredictable, and sometimes a bit inconsistent.

Vintage-Star-Wars-Mark-Bellomo

image via Geekster

It’s QUITE challenging to wade through hundreds (thousands?) of pages of background information in order to distill this data down into a series of hundreds of compact, succinct entries that can encapsulate each accessory/part, action figure/character, play setting, and starfighter/vehicle. And I encountered some singular issues when refining these entries. For instance, whenever I searched for information about the Rebellion’s Y-wing starfighter, the craft is characterized as the “BTL Y-wing starfighter.” When I tried to find out what “BTL” stood for (Battle?!?), no one could point me in the right direction. The Star Wars universe is so very expansive it can sometimes become a bit too… unwieldy.

 

Just thinking about it- the task of curating all of these images and this information had to be gargantuan. Can you estimate how much time went into creating the book? How did it compare time wise to your other works?

Since I have compulsive tendencies and lean hard toward the obsessive side as well, I don’t think writing/curating a book like this is too much of a massive undertaking—I never think about the enormity of the task. Of any task. I just kind of… do it. Because I guess I’ve always wanted to put together books to memorialize these toy lines. You see, ever since I was about fifteen years old, I had thought about—dreamed about, really—writing books about toys. When I write one of these books it’s an immersive process.

When I propose a larger collectible book (250-300+ pages) to Krause featuring a specific toy line, this means I have to delve quite deeply in terms of research. Not only am I compelled to own a representative sample of each action figure in the franchise (and its respective variation[s]), but every accessory, creature, playset, vehicle, weapon system, pack-in promotional, mail-away, package sample type, and paperwork/insert as well. But more importantly, I have to perform some hardcore research.

For The Ultimate Guide to Star Wars: 1977-1985, I reviewed about 150 different guidebooks and novels—and had to thoroughly read about eighty or ninety of them, cover-to-cover. Seventy four of these books (as well as a few films, and a bevy of Star Wars television episodes [Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 & C-3PO, Ewoks, etc.]) were referenced in the book, and therefore made their way into the book’s lengthy bibliography. It’s IMPERATIVE that I give credit where it’s due, from the Imperial Gunnery’s Internet cyclopedia to Gus Lopez’ detailed work on the line to Simon Beecroft’s source books to Kevin J. Anderson’s short stories to the revered Steven Sansweet’s brilliant tenure administering the fan-based aspects of Lucasfilm. I needed to tithe to them, intellectually.

However, that’s still not enough research. You can never, ever, ever perform enough research. If you find that you’re saying to yourself, “That’s IT. I know EVERYTHING!” you’re simply playing the fool. Trying to learn every fact there is about some of these larger, expansive franchises—the G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and especially the Star Wars canon—is nearly impossible.

In summation, even though I’ve been immersing myself in action figure franchises and the expansive cultural history that has surrounded them for nearly four decades, even with this amount of experience I’ve NEVER felt totally confident or comfortable; when you feel 100% confident with your writing ability—when you’re completely satisfied with your performance as a writer—I think it’s time to toss out your pen. You should always demand more of yourself, regardless of the project. ALWAYS.

 

Where do you rank collecting Star Wars figures in your childhood history of collecting in general? Is it your favorite line? If not, what is?

I’ll tackle your question about favorites first. My favorite toy line fluctuates based upon the work I’m currently immersed in. Right now, because I’m working on the final volume of Transformers Classics for IDW—which contains every single Generation One Transformers biography from all four issues of the Marvel Comics Transformers Universe limited series and the assorted individual bios from other random issues 47-49, 56-72, and 74-79, and also the G.I. Joe and the Transformers mini—I’m entirely wrapped up in G1 Transformers and their Tech Specs. I interviewed a few former Hasbro employees and found out some great behind-the-scenes acquisition stuff re: why we never had a combined G.I. Joe/Transformers product even though it was pitched to the execs every single year. So then… my favorite line is dependent upon what I’m working on for the moment.

I simply LOVE well-made action figures with expertly-written back stories and a fabulously imaginative narrative. But I suppose along with super heroes (particularly Mego’s Official World’s Greatest 8” line, DC Universe Classics, and [Toy Biz & Hasbro] Marvel Legends), Star Wars was my very first love as action figure product.

 

Let’s say there’s a fire or some other life-and-worldly-possession-threatening disaster- what one Star Wars figure or piece do you grab on your way to safety?

Hmm… that’s a good question. I think I would grab my collection of Power of the Force Collector’s Coins. They’re quite expensive and are becoming more so every day. I also have a hundred or more MOSC figures… so, there are a few 12-back figures I’d hate to lose. And my Early Bird Kit.

I also have a telescoping lightsaber Luke, Ben, and Vader. Those are darned hard to find. But I think the POTF Collector’s Coins trump everything else in terms of value. Took me YEARS to obtain a few of the more select pieces (Droids Boba Fett, the 27 silver mail-away coins [Princess Leia, Boushh; 2-1B; FX-7; Zuckuss, etc.]). Losing those coins would hurt. It’d be like losing my Mego OWGSH collection—most of which were removed from sealed cards.

 

I’ve heard that the word “vast” is an understatement with regard to your collection of vintage figures and playsets. Do you keep most (or all) of it on display or in storage?

Of the 60,000+ action figures and 120,000 comic books I own, NOTHING IS ON DISPLAY. Absolutely nothing. All of my items are in storage: three 15’ x 20’ storage spaces, a full attic, a full basement, and full detached garage. The only items I have on display are three iconic comics: Fantastic Four #1, Brave & the Bold #28, and Amazing Fantasy #15—that’s the entirety of “display items” in my home. I feel that it’s not fair to my wife to exhibit stuff in our home (which is only about 1,200 square feet discounting the attic and basement), since when I’m working on a book that toy line in question seems to take over the house for a month or two.

You see, the only items I usually have access to are the toys and action figures I’ve currently purchased during… let’s say… the past month. So then, on my dining room table right now are the following items: Target Exclusive Marvel Legends Infinite Series 3-pack set of Ms. Marvel, Captain America, and the Radioactive Man (MISB: three sets since these were discounted to $19.99 a set at my local branch), Marvel Legends Infinite Series (all are MISP): Avenging Allies Sentry, Avenging Allies Machine Man, Iron Fist, Thor, Hawkeye; Transformers Generations Arcee (MOC, cut card [I just HAD to transform her and compare her to my vintage G1’s from 1986/87 like Galvatron, Kup, and Hot Rod]), Generations Whirl (MIB—labels applied), Generations Roadbuster (MIB—labels applied); Transformers Combiner Wars (all MOSC): Bombshell, Windcharger, Thundercracker, Alpha Bravo; Masters of the Universe [vintage] European exclusive Cliff Climber (MIB, contents sealed), European exclusive Scubattack (MIB, contents sealed); Power Lords [vintage] Beast Machines Evol (MIB, contents sealed);  Karate Kid [vintage] 6-piece Action Set (MIB, complete—inner bubble carefully cut open); M.A.S.K. [vintage] Wolfbeast (vehicle upgrade—a part on the lower shell of the one I owned was incomplete [I lost a piece, the control box on the “tank” section—and so, I obtained a lower shell with the missing part); Star Wars Rebels individually-carded figures—SL03 (The Inquisitor), SL05 (Agent Kallus), SL06 (Chopper), SL10 (Luke Skywalker), SL11 (Obi-Wan Kenobi), SL12 (Snowtrooper); G.I. Joe Collector’s Club Month #2-2A-2B (3.0) Cobra Slice (cut card), Muskrat (cut card).

I’m looking forward to moving into a new home in the next year. With maybe a carriage house on the property in order that I might have a thousand feet or so of display space.

 

Now that you’ve successfully tackled Star Wars, what’s next?

I like to think that there are five all-important toy lines in the secondary market, and I refer to them as the “Big Five”: super heroes, Star Wars, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe. At this point in my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to write guidebooks for three of these franchises: Star Wars, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Apparently, that means I’ve two more to go—two franchises that should probably be spilt up into three books: D.C. Comics super heroes, Marvel Comics super heroes, and a Masters of the Universe/Princess of Power split book.

For the sake of producing a decently-sized book, the MOTU guide should not only incorporate the [approximately] 125 total pieces of toys in the original He-Man line (1981-1987), I should also combine MOTU’s beloved sister line into the book as well: She Ra, Princess of Power.  With the added amount of pics that the She Ra line will afford to this book (52 pieces total), we should consider the length of the book to run at about 192 pages (a multiple of 16). This is including all of the tail end Euro exclusive MOTU items (Tytus, Megator, Laser Light Skeletor, Laser Power He-Man [both variations], and the last three pieces released domestically—those esoteric, super-delicate Battle [Power] Paks/Battle Equipment: Cliff Climber, Scubattack, and Tower Tools.

Furthermore, I’d like to split up the super hero book into two different volumes: a D.C. volume that takes readers through the Captain Action & Action Boy outfits of the mid-to-late sixties [Aquaman, Batman, Superman, etc.] all the way up to the Matty Collector exclusive DC Universe Classics & Signature Series Collection of 2014. The second (Marvel) volume should encapsulate the Captain Action outfits of the mid-to-late sixties (Captain America, Sgt. Fury, Spider-Man, etc.) all the way up to Hasbro’s Marvel Legends Infinite Series figures.

I get excited thinking about the possibilities of covering these toy lines. And being able to inject some comic book information in those super hero action figure guides would be wonderful. I’m sitting on over a hundred thousand comics that are gathering dust. When I’m covering Wolverine, I’d like to be able to mention his first comic book appearance in Incredible Hulk #s 180 (cameo) & 181 (1st full appearance) with cover and page scans to go along with his very first action figure appearance in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Mattel, 1984)—4” tall, with silver or black claw variations, a secret shield, and shield inserts. His appearance in the Toy Biz X-Men and X-Force toy lines of the 1990’s could be tremendously improved with these comic scans. For instance, I could imagine taking scans of Wolvie wearing his iconic brown costume (which began in #139)—say in those awesome Mutant Massacre issues of Uncanny X-Men (issue #’s 210-213 [October 1986-January 1987])—while reviewing the 10” tall Marvel Comics Famous Covers Wolverine (Toy Biz, 1997). And then writing about his various manifestations in the Marvel Legends brand, from his very first appearance wearing his tiger-striped costume in Series Three (Toy Biz, December 2003) through his final appearance, where Wolverine dons his [unmasked] Astonishing X-Men costume in the Jubilee Build-A-Figure wave (Hasbro, August 2014).

The possibilities for these super hero collectible books are ENDLESS. Ye gods, that’d be FUN.

But I still have to think about my responsibilities to IDW Publishing, to Krause Publications (I’d like to put out a 2nd edition of my Transformers: Identification & Price Guide and a 3rd edition of my Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe soon…), as well as the fact that I’ve been dreaming of launching my very own website for about four years now. Every time I get in the groove of working on it, another book project comes up. Not that I’m complaining, mind you—I know how lucky I am to be involved in the amount of projects I tackle, but I’ve had the website’s directory built and the majority of the flavor text written since 2012. All I need to do is take the photos. But it’s a lot of work… taking photographs of dozens upon dozens upon dozens upon dozens of toy lines. Yeeeeeeeegh, man. Yeeeeg. Anyone who’s taken a lot of micro shots of toys and action figures knows what I’m talking about. It’s a TRUCKLOAD of work that I must chip away at over time.

One day… one day.

 

The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures, 1977-1985 is available on Amazon, as well as Bellomo’s other incredible works. We sincerely thank him for making the world a nerdier (and better) place.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hail Mary May 13, 2015 at 9:50 pm

What a great interview! I had the chance to talk to Mark at Retrocon a couple of years ago, but didn’t get into detail like this. I’m looking forward to checking out an upcoming MOTU book from him!

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Brian (Cool and Collected) May 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Great interview! Mark’s books are an invaluable resource to all of us collectors. I would love to see him continue his exhaustive research with other toy lines of the 80’s.

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