Last Thursday was World Turtle Day, or something like that. I thought about looking up the reason why that is, but I decided I’d prefer not to know. Instead I get to just associate it with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as NECA, the toy company that has become a favorite of TMNT fans worldwide. And that’s because it has become a bit of an annual tradition with NECA as it looks to that day on the calendar to announce its latest TMNT themed collectibles due to arrive for San Diego Comic Con in the summer. It’s an exciting time as a turtle toy collector, but this year there was some dread on my part.
For the past several years, NECA has really been killing it with its TMNT products. It started way back in 2008 when the company released its set of turtles based on their original appearance in the pages of Mirage Comics. Licensing issues with Nickelodeon and Playmates, the holders of the master toy license since the 1980s, prevented NECA from really going too much further with the line. A loophole, or just a voluntary opening on the part of Nick and Playmates, allowed NECA to return to the license as convention exclusives. NECA could create figures based on the brand and sell them at San Diego Comic Con and only there (eventually, it opened up to include NECA’s webstore as well). And I believe they also had to be a part of a set and not an individual release.
Nickelodeon and Playmates would not allow NECA to create figures based on the original cartoon series, so the company had to get a bit more resourceful. Its first solution was to make figures based on the video games complete with “digitized” paint. They also supplemented the original Mirage line with a set featuring Shredder and the Foot Clan. Eventually, likely due to the success of these products, the license started to loosen with its restrictions. NECA was allowed to create quarter-scale versions of 90s movie turtles and sell them at retail. These super-sized action figures are lovingly detailed and some of the best toys I’ve had the pleasure of owning. The license then loosened further to allow NECA to release a set of turtles and villains based on the 1987 mini series for sale at SDCC in 2017. Then last year the company followed with a set of scaled-down movie figures, but more importantly, they came with an announcement.
Last year was the final year for NECA and its TMNT product being locked into the convention exclusive category. NECA was finally granted the ability to head to retail with only minimal restrictions. The movie turtles could be sold individually, and NECA partnered with Gamestop to sell them in their stores and on their website. They were a huge success as they sold out quickly. Restocks have disappeared just as fast and hopefully the supply will keep rolling in. NECA also was able to partner with Target for its figures based on the 87 cartoon. These figures had to be sold as two-packs and retail for $50. They also could not be stocked in the toy section, but rather electronics (basically, where Target keeps its vast assortment of Funko merchandise). These figures have been just as hard to find as the movie figures, and it sounds like they’re here to stay as NECA showed off a Bebop and Rocksteady tentatively scheduled for release this fall.
Now, I’ve been fortunate in that I was able to secure the SDCC sets each of the past two years so I haven’t had to hunt for the figures at retail. NECA launched an ambassador program last fall in which fans are asked to photograph Target’s NECA section each week and send it in. I’m a local ambassador and have yet to see these TMNT figures in person in my store. Either the store never got them or they sold out so fast that I never came across them (I have seen them once in a different Target). I won’t be so lucky in the fall when the new figures drop and will be in the thick of things as I hunt for these sought after toys.
This year though brings another SDCC exclusive from NECA and it’s basically what most fans thought it would be. Earlier this year, NECA released a quarter-scale version of the Foot Soldier from the 1990 movie with Shredder to follow in May. I have longed for a movie accurate Shredder ever since I was a kid and the upcoming figure (who may be shipping now) looks beautiful. I’ve had him on pre-order since they went up and have been very much looking forward to adding him to my collection. As expected though, the convention exclusive this year is a complement to last year’s set in that it contains scaled-down versions of Shredder, the Foot, and introduces a brand new sculpt: Splinter. The photos NECA released look fantastic and the set is virtually guaranteed to please.
So what’s the problem? Well, money for one. The quarter-scale Shredder retails for about $125.00 which is no small number when you’re talking about a toy. As an owner of the four turtles who were released at a similar price point, I can say it’s worth it based on their level of quality. The SDCC set will retail for $120, and if these figures receive single-card releases down the line they’ll likely run $25 a piece. The set comes with some extras and will likely have some kind of specialty packaging to justify the added cost. For me though, it caused me to reevaluate if I need two Shredders – a quarter-scale and a 7″ version. Had NECA not gone this route for the convention exclusive then I could have pushed it out of my mind and perhaps gone ahead with a less than responsible solution, but my sensible side has been crowing quite loudly.
2019 has gotten off to an expensive start for me. We had a family vacation over a year in the making in January to Disney World. It was an awesome experience, but then I got to come home to all kinds of fun literally on my first day back. We had some scary trees in the yard that needed to be taken down. Then both vehicles required over a grand a piece in maintenance and repairs for unexpected, non-crash related reasons. And then to top it off, a series of unexpected medical bills resulting from a hand injury I suffered which necessitated surgery (and will require additional surgery next month). That part of life has been no fun, and as a family of four in which I am the sole financial provider, it has caused me to reevaluate my spending habits.
Which brings me back to Shredder. I hated to do it, but I felt it was the responsible thing to make a choice. Having both seemed like a luxury I couldn’t do right now. Summer is coming, the kids have birthdays, they need new clothes, my son will be starting school in the fall. I’ve already cut way back on my discretionary spending, I haven’t bought a video game in over a year, and I’ve been forced to limit my toy hobby as a result. All self-imposed, but what feels like the right thing to do. I decided I can still collect NECA TMNT and Boss Fight Studio’s Bucky O’Hare line, but all others are being phased out for now. And if I have to make a choice between quarter-scale Shredder and the upcoming set, well, it wasn’t much of a contest.
I cancelled that pre-order. The quarter-scale Shredder looks amazing and I already regret my decision, but the SDCC set will feature four figures that will be much easier to find shelf space for compared with one figure who takes up a lot of real estate. I’m sure NECA expected some of this as toy collectors do typically favor the smaller scale figures over the large ones. Some collectors I know just collect the quarter-scale just to support the line in hopes it will lead to 7″ versions. Being an adult sucks. If given the choice, I would have been a kid forever. “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid…” was like my motto as a child. There are perks to adulthood of course (beer), and I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything, but man being a kid without responsibility was pretty great.
This doesn’t mean I’ll never return to old shell-head. Maybe things open up later this year, or maybe Santa Claus can bail me out. For now, it means I’ll be there when pre-orders open up for the SDCC sets hoping to score one somewhat secure in knowing if I don’t get lucky this year well these figures will likely show up eventually at retail. That childhood dream of a movie accurate Shredder is very much alive. This post isn’t intended as a pity party, just musings on what it means to be an adult with an expensive hobby. Toy collecting is fun and something I’ll likely never give up, but I have to limit myself, even when I don’t want to.