As a child, I was an avid collector of My Little Pony and Care Bears, despite the fact that my only regular source of income was the occasional envelope on birthdays and Christmas. Even then I couldn't just have one. I needed them all. It fell to my parents to bankroll this craze. I remember my father driving from one toy store to another to find the elusive Birthday Bear (a mustardy-coloured Care Bear with a cupcake on its chest). It was the only one I didn't have. If the Internet had been around we would have found one instantly, but my father’s dedication to the task was admirable. Father of the Decade, I say.
Advertising played a part.
In South Africa, there’s a chip brand called Simba that delights in slipping little collectables into their packets to drive up sales. When I was a kid, the prize was Pokemon tazos - little plastic discs with pictures of Pokemon on them. Simba must have made a fortune out of us. The schoolyard tazo trade was on fire, much more intense than the sticker album craze of my primary school years. (If you didn't have the furry or scratch n’ sniff stickers you were nobody). Dragon Ball Z had a turn too. Sometimes you’d find two tazos in a bag. The feeling you’d get after finding two you didn’t have would drive off a hundred dementors.
As an adult I transferred my fierce love of collecting to vinyl records and books. By my early twenties I had every Discworld novel, including companion books, maps and diaries. I also collected graphic novels, comics, Mad magazines and cook books.
When my bookshelves were full, I branched into vinyl toys: Dunny and Munny toys and McFarlane figurines. I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan and ended up buying every single action figure from the films, even the Ents. They're still in their packaging at the back of a cupboard and cause shame every time I look at them. (Note: Not all collections are cool.)
I'm not sure at what age you're supposed to stop collecting. I started buying LEGO mini figures in my thirties. I love them so much that I have a Tumblr dedicated to recreating scenes from books and movies with them. Having a LEGO store near my apartment building doesn’t help.
When I first spotted a Batman Funko Pop in my local comic book store I knew immediately that this was going to be my next obsession. They were creepy little things that stared out from the shelf like Margaret Keane's big-eyed waifs from the fifties. But instead of bulgy-eyed children, they were Chucky, Pinhead, The Joker, Wonder Woman – my kind of characters. I had to have them all, or as many as I could possibly afford, an impossible task since there is literally a Funko Pop of everything.
That was long before Funko went mainstream and were predicted by Forbes to become a billion-dollar company.
First, I started collecting the Harry Potter Funko Pops, complicated by the fact that Harry came in a variety of incarnations - Harry in School Uniform, Quidditch Harry, Harry with Hedwig - and most appealing of all, Harry in Weasley Jumper. Even Dumbledore was available in a choice of blue or pink robes. A collector’s nightmare. But there’s a simple way to get around this. Funko Pops make the best presents. For Christmas I bought my partner a Diablo Pop to remind him of the many hours we spent thrashing demons together.
Nowadays I reckon the best way to show off your love of iconic characters is through a shelf of Funko Pops. (Why buy the DVD when you can stream it?) Imagine someone walking into your living room and spotting the violently orange-haired Leeloo from The Fifth Element. They’ll be enthusiastically recalling their favourite moments faster than you can say Multipass.
Even before Suicide Squad was released, I had my Funko pre-orders in. I did have an uh-oh moment when the negative reviews started circulating, but ultimately, I don’t regret my Shirtless Joker and limited edition Dr Harleen Quinzel.
All three of my Harley Quinns share a shelf with Pinhead, The Bride of Frankenstein and Riff Raff and Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show while Harry, Ron and Hermione share space with The Ghostbusters, Fionna and Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time, Thor and Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory. Ramona Flowers lives on my desk at the office next to my Super Mario vinyl figures.
I don't see any of my collectables as clutter. My apartment feels like the inside of a rainbow (it doesn't help that my bookshelves are arranged by colour). It’s a pop-culture explosion. A geek's paradise. A vibrant representation of my personality. And that’s what Funko Pops are all about really.
I don't see myself quitting collecting any time soon. Someone once told me that you should surround yourself with your favourite possessions.
There are worse things, I think.
Sally Partridge is an award-winning novelist and short story writer from Cape Town, South Africa.
All photos by the author.