Rows of Pop! figures by Funko on temporary shelving at New York Comic Con. Some are priced at $500+ dollars, which is absolutely ridiculous.

Dispatches from NYCC: Funkos All the Way Down

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  • My husband’s grandfather made his living in the toy development and licensing world. He was in the business for over half a century so as you may imagine, he was kind of a big deal. In 2018 he was posthumously inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame at the annual Toy of the Year Awards gala and I got to attend the ceremony along with the rest of the family (talk about marrying up!). It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to being at the Golden Globes – we had a big round table where dinner was served by a fleet of tuxedoed waiters who kept our plates full and our wine glasses fuller, and everyone was dressed up and sparkling.

    During the ceremony Pop! Collectibles by Funko won two awards: People’s Choice and Collectible of the Year. I don’t recall which category was up or who exactly was accepting the award for the company, but I do remember the person saying something along the lines of, “aren’t these great? They don’t do anything but sit on a shelf collecting dust and people just keep buying them,” a statement I found to be nakedly cynical even in my wine-softened state and one that made me think twice about ever buying a Funko Pop, as they’re colloquially called, even though I’m an unabashed lover of having too much stuff. But reader, the Funko rep was right. Here I am five years later walking onto the floor of New York Comic Con and it seems like it’s just Funkos all the way down.

    What’s worse – circumstances have led me to step inside the myriad booths displaying overwhelming numbers of the vinyl dust collectors with the intention of actually purchasing one. My friend Paul Reubens passed away in July and while I generally dislike the expressionless faces of the humanoid Funkos (I actually already have one of Paul’s Star Wars character DJ R3X – I justified buying it because the format works so much better with robots and/or aliens [I also have one of Garrus from Mass Effect] and/or animals [I’ve also also been on the hunt for a reasonably priced Black Phillip from The VVitch {am I a hypocrite? Yes, aren’t you?!!}]), I decided if I find a Pee-wee Funko I’m going to get it. Even though it means enduring the inevitable pang of not being able to immediately text Paul a picture of my score like I’ve done with my other good Pee-wee gets. 

    The Toony Classics Pee-wee Herman figure from NECA.

    Weirdly, I don’t find a Pee-wee Funko. Or at least I don’t see one. The organizational strategy for the towering grids of Funko Pops varies from booth to booth, and the attendants don’t always seem to have a firm grasp on what they do or don’t have in stock. Who can blame them? Even the smallest Funko setups probably have at least 500 Pops on display at any given time, plus more tucked away to replenish as the con goes on. In the NECA booth, I do find the new Pee-wee figure from their Toony Classics line. It won’t be available until later this year, though, and anyway I feel there’s something off about his face. The eyes are dull and don’t follow you. Paul looked right at you when he talked to you.

    The only time we met in person was at this very convention in 2019. We had been chatting a bit on Instagram for a while before then – he found something I wrote about Pee-wee and reached out to thank me, thoroughly blowing my mind. Then he followed me and would occasionally like my dumb posts which I think just made me disassociate completely (but in a fun way, like I was watching myself on my favorite TV show and that show was Pee-wee’s Playhouse featuring Special Guest Sara Clemens). Standing in his autograph line back then, I watched him talk to his fans and was struck by how much attention he paid to every single person. He was warm and focused entirely on whoever was in front of him, giving everyone all the time they wanted. Seemingly endless energy. A lot of folks cried as soon as they got up there. He was clearly a safe place, still, for a lot of us. It’s hard to think about that day now, knowing he was already sick.

    Plushies of Pee-wee and Chairry sit together on a glass display shelf at the Kidrobot booth at New York Comic Con.

    The Kidrobot plushie is a better likeness of him – softer, warmer, but I don’t buy one of those either. “They can’t get your eyes quite right,” I want to text him. We eventually moved off Instagram DM and swapped actual phone numbers since he wanted to send me a video for my birthday last year. Even through the phone camera it felt like he was looking at me. His eyes were sleepier, I can see now when I rewatch, but still sparkled with that warmth. His birthday videos usually followed a (funny) script for the opening and closing moments (after he passed away, a lot of people shared the videos he had sent them) but he always personalized the middle so you knew he was really talking to you, just like he did for everyone in his autograph line at NYCC 2019.

    The last time I was in LA we tried to get together for lunch, but it just didn’t work out with either of our schedules.

    “Sorry I’m not gonna see you 😕,” he wrote.

    “There will be a next time!” I replied.

    There wasn’t.

    As I leave the Javits Center for the night, I realize the beady eyes of a Funko Pop are the wrongest of all. As much as I’m always happy to add to my Pee-wee collection, I’m sort of glad I didn’t find his Funko today. As I settle into my train seat, I put in my earphones and watch my birthday video for the umpteenth time. Like always, it feels like he’s looking right at me.


    Sara Clemens thinks too much about things, generally. They run a site called Videodame and a Twitter called @thesaraclemens.


    Life, Toys