Monday, July 19, 2010

"A Word With Alex Teo" - Interview With The Man Behind The Toy Haven

If you're part of the high-end collectible community, chances are you've already heard of this man. He's reveared for his collection both in the sci-fi and military realm of toys. His house reminds one of a museum, as he surrounds his entire house with his family's collection. Its safe to say his lifestyle brings a green of envy to just about anyones heart. His name is Alex Teo, an avid toy collector and design firm co-owner who lives with his loving family - his wife Daisy Chan and two sons Jared & Javon in Punggol, Singapore.
He, and his lifestyle, are a huge influence on Andrea and I. The constant love and support of such an extensive hobby that Alex recieves everyday from his family, is something that Andrea and I long to have in our family in the future. So naturally after following Alex's blog for a year we just had to ask our own questions. Unforutnately we live in the United States, and could not visit Alex and his family in Singapore, but he was kind enough to grace us with an emailed interview. The following is the interview that we had with a hero of ours, and we hope you enjoy it. Dont forget to check out his blog if you enjoy great toy reviews weekly.

So Alex, where was such an elite collector born?
My humble birthplace: Sunny Singapore :)

Where do you, your family, and collection reside now?
Still in Singapore. Have moved twice because of the growing population of toys and now residing in the North-East of Singapore.

How did you get started collecting toys? What was the first toy that attracted you to such a hobby?
I came across this toy shop in 1994 that had decorated its walls fromfloor to ceiling with "Batman: The Animated Series" carded toys, along with the vehicles from the same series in a display. It was quite overwhelming and as I'd been following the series on television (the animation rocked!). I could identify with the characters and the action figures were very close to the animated ones. I especially liked Clayface and Man-Bat. I wanted to replicate the same look for my room as the experience really awed me. So began the hunt for the BTAS carded action figures.

What does your family think of your collecting? How involved are they with your hobby?
My wife is my number ONE supporter and fan and she has been there with me from the beginning. She likes the collectibles too as they make the house unique and we always get a kick from seeing people's jaw drop the first time they step into the house and see the massive collection. My sons were born into the environment and grew up surrounded by the toys. The colors and stimulating environment has had quite a positive impact on them too. Because they grew up with toys and have been always around toys, they are not into the hobby as much as me. We've never stopped them taking an interest in toys and Jared grew up with Beast Wars and Power Rangers while Javon took an interest mostly in cars and trains. Daisy is into miniatures herself but leaves most of the collecting to me.

Do any of your friends collect toys? What do they think of your collection?
Some friends that I know started collecting toys at about the same time but have since stopped collecting and moved on to other things. On the other hand, I've made many great friends who are toy collectors as we all have a common interest to begin with. I've never got around to asking them (fellow collectors) what they think of my collection as they usually stare at me with disbelief and mouth wide open. A friend once said he couldn't stop drooling Ha! Ha!

So you enjoy movie-inspired collectibles, what would you say is your favorite movie to collect figures from?
I'm a sucker for movie-related collectibles. Back in 1994 when I started collecting carded toys, they were cartoon and comic-related (Batman, Fantastic Four, Spiderman) and then I discovered 12-inch figures but they were generally military themed as they were the vintage 1:6 scale Action Man figures. It's only recently when Hot Toys went "Hollywood" and their Movie Masterpiece Series took off that people all began to sit up and take notice. I'd been following their path from humble beginnings and it truly is a joy to see how much they have improved and how far they have progressed. The in-roads Hot Toys have made with their innovative ideas and engineering to bring their 1:6 scale masterpieces to us show us that they are just as passionate about the toy as we collectors are. Sometimes we complain about the price but when you compare that with stone cast statues that cost a lot more but stand there and do nothing, I think we can appreciate the figures a lot more. I have no ONE favorite movie collectible. I collect them all Ha! Ha! As long as they appeal to me and I enjoy and appreciate the art that went into making them.

What is your stance on boxed/carded collectibles? Do you prefer your collectibles to stay in the box/card or display them freely?
I started out with carded collectibles, BTAS to be exact. Then it grew to other lines as well, mainly Spiderman and Fantastic Four, not to mention Nightmare Before Christmas (the original, not the re-released ones). But I realized that to appreciate the toy, I'll have to buy two, one to keep in the box and one to open and play with since loose figures were not as "valuable" as carded ones. However, I discovered that carded figures cannot have the awesome details and realism that 1:6 scale figures had and I began to move away from carded figures to collecting 1:6 figures instead. Personally, 1:6 figures are meant to be displayed and keeping them in the box doesn't really show off the figure and the amazing details they possess in terms of their outfit, be it costume or uniform, gear, accessories and weapons. I open all my boxes and display all the figures. I've learnt from some painful experience that if you leave the figure in the box, the outfit might melt and deteriorate due to the heat and humidity while kept inside the box. Displaying them allows the fabric to "breathe" and actually makes the figure lasts longer. I do not buy to invest so have no qualms about opening the boxes and displaying the figures as I'm not concerned about the Mint-In-Box mentality. If I cannot wait to get my hands on a figure and open the box to examine it, then I won't buy that figure because I have no passion for it. I also do not adhere to the "completist" philosophy where I must buy everything within the series. That only makes money for the manufacturer and doesn't do anything for me. The money could have better been spent buying figures I like and not figures that belong in the series.

What are your favorite pieces in your collection?
The Batman figures are very close to my heart as Batman was what started me on my toy collecting journey. The recent Hot Toys Masterpiece Batman The Dark Knight figures are my favorites (not their original Batman begins figures) as well as most Indiana Jones figures (Kenner, Medicom, Sideshow etc), not to mention the Star Wars line. As you can tell, I've no one clear favorite because I do collect what I like and there are always new and wonderful figures being released every now and then.

I think most of us have seen your house in pictures, and might I say, you have quite a museum going. Do you ever sense a feeling of pride for what you have?
Of course. I started collecting figures like everyone else, one figure at a time and the collection just grew and grew.

I’ve noticed that a majority of your collection is that of 1/6th scale, any particular reason why?
At 1/6 scale, the figures are big enough to be appreciated yet small enough to be displayed en masse. Each of these characters are dressed in their costumes/oufits/uniforms and have on them all their miniature realistic gear and are carrying all their accessories including weapons (all very well detailed) - one MUST appreciate the art that goes into making them. I realized that one can appreciate the figure better when you look at them as 3-D art forms. 1/6 vehicles would be too big (I limit myself to one helicopter and bikes plus a few less bulky vehicles) which is why I really like the Star Wars vehicles because they allow you to play with them and display them without taking up too much space. The legacy Millennium Falcon is one such fine vehicle and I am now eagerly waiting the new AT-AT Imperial Walker.
How do you manage to fit your collecting hobby into everyday life? Do the expenses ever prevent you from getting something else “non toy-related”?Budgeting is a MUST and one has to stay focused Ha! Ha! I could go out and buy a lot more stuff but space is a constraint and I would be less appreciative of what I have. In making a conscious decision to choose which figure to buy, one can appreciate the figure more as it was chosen above others for a reason.

You are revered in the collecting community for your 1/6th scale military collection, what started you in that area of expertise?
Hey Jon, I didn't know about the first part of the question. Revered? Really?!! I am humbled. Like I mentioned earlier, I started collecting 1/6 scale figures way back in 1995 when I discovered they had more details, were more poseable and realistic than carded figures. The only figures available back then were vintage Action Man figures and they were mostly military themed and pretty accurate in terms of uniform, equipment, gear and weapons. Also, having been in the National Service in Singapore, some regimentation does rub off on me and I do get a kick from seeing soldiers in their full battle order, all ready for war. Soon after, 21st Century Toys began releasing their 1/6 scale military figures followed by Dragon models, Blue Box International (Elite Force) as well as Hasbro with their classic collection. Even Medicom tried to jump on the bandwagon with their Special Forces Series. All these figures released were military themed so naturally, as a collector who had been collecting vintage Action Man 12-inch figures, all these new releases were a great complement and addition to the growing army of military figures.

I got to ask, how do you manage not to spoil your kids with toys when you have such a huge collection yourself?
That's the most amazing part of it all. Because they have been surrounded by all these toys the moment they were born, and having grown up with all of them around made them less inclined towards them.I'd given them some figures to play with when they were growing up and were curious but they never took to them, preferring instead to computer games and X-box. Whatever they saw at the movies and liked (e.g. Iron Man), Daddy will be bringing at least one home where they get to play and pose with it for a while. Because they are surrounded by all the toys and figures, my kids don't feel a need to go out and get some because what they want is already in the home.

So any collecting plans for the future? Excited for any upcoming releases?
I never really planned what to collect, it all just came naturally and the collection just grew from there. I'm certainly most excited about the recent Hot Toys announcements of their upcoming releases and am looking forward to seeing them displayed in my home :)

There are a lot of new comers entering the world of collectibles. What would be your advice to such a person?
I always tell newbies to only buy what they like and if they are in it for the investment, then I can't help them very much. If they are in it to enjoy it, then I say "Good to go" and to pick up something they really like and really want. If they cannot wait to go home to open the package and take out the toy and play with it, then they have made the right decision. Don't be concerned about the toy's value in the future and whether it'll be worth more or not. What is it worth to you? If you bought it because you really wanted it and were willing to pay the asking price for it because you felt that it was worth that much to you, then you shouldn't regret getting it at all. They are meant to be enjoyed. Simple as that.

Alex's collection in his family's house.

Alex, his collection, and family in the media.


@lex Gen X 1:6 Hardcore said...

I have to say "Thank you" once again, Jon and Andrea for this interview and post :) it's very much appreciated

parrow1978 said...

Great interview, thanks to both of you!

Rafys78 said...

Very enlightening.

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Great Man- changed my life :)

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