5 Questions with > Rob Bricken of Topless Robot

Codename: Rob Bricken
Specialty: Writer/editor
Base of Operations: Topless Robot
History: Rob Bricken was a normal, nerdy teen who simply enjoyed anime, comic books and terrible science fiction and fantasy novels in reasonable amounts until the new Star Wars figures came out in 1995. This set Rob down a dark path of insane toy collecting, which led to him waking up at 5 am on Saturdays, during college, to wait outside Toys R Us for the possibility of buying a Rancor Master figure. At a certain point, Rob realized his toy obsession had reached Trainspotting/heroin addiction-like proportions, and decided he want to know the touch of a woman again, and gave it up.

Unfortunately, he was almost immediately hired as an Associate Editor of ToyFare magazine in 2001; however, by forswearing all Star Wars figures, he managed to keep his toy-buying at a reasonable level. As Rob was the only person at Wizard Entertainment who knew why Goku’s hair sometimes turned yellow in Dragonball Z, he was put in charge of Anime Insider magazine, which he edited until 2006.

After a doomed, duplicitous internet venture, Rob was hired by Village Voice Media for incredibly low pay to create, write and edit ToplessRobot.com, the internet’s 466th most popular site for nerd news and humor, covering movies, games, anime, comics, acts of nerdery, and whatever Rob finds himself able to rant about. Since he has no other job, he tends to write for it all day, as well as editing feature-length Daily Lists of various nerd interest and discussion. Topless Robot receives about a million visitors per month, and has been mentioned by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, and several other far more popular and influential websites.

PG: What were your favorite toys or toy lines when you were growing up?

RB: I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan, but Masters of the Universe was my obsession as a kid (and pretty much now). The incredible variety of characters, designs, and action features just captivated me. Between my younger brother and myself, we had just about everything in the line. I honestly feel MotU is more than the sum of its parts; by having all of them, it was something far more unique and special than Transformers, G.I. Joe or even Star Wars.

Why do you think so many of us retain a love of action figures long into our adult years–did we just miss that particular synaptic order to stop playing with toys?

That’s a question I’ve often asked myself, because obviously no generation before us has continued to buy toys so far into adulthood, and I have a hard time imagining the next generation will have the same nostalgia for Power Rangers and Pokemon that we do for Snake Eyes, He-Man and Optimus Prime.

I’m not 100% certain, but I’d have to say part of it was the amazing amount of creativity in the toy industry at that time, although I have no idea for the reason behind it. In a 10-year span, we were literally introduced to toylines that would continue to dominate toy shelves for the next 30 years. Obviously, there is something special about Star Wars, GI Joe, Transformers and the like that has kept it around for so long, and kept us coming back to it after we should have technically outgrown it like all the other kids had.

But I still can’t imagine that totally explains it. Maybe it had something to do with Reagan’s America, how for the first time, most of both our parents had to work, or the divorce rates shot up, and we’re all just trying to recapture our youth forever. That sucks, but we are getting some sweet-ass toys out of it nowadays.

Do you think toy collectors differ at all from adult collectors of, say, baseball cards or comics?

In temperament and self-view, they certainly differ–I used to wait next to the insane Hot Wheels collectors when I was waiting for Toys R Us to open back in the day, and we never started up a conversation–but that same basic drive and sense of joy at collecting is certainly the same. My dad collects bar mirrors and derby glasses; my mom collects stamps; I collect action figures. By collecting something, you’ve effectively added an extra dimension to your life, where you can be incredibly happy at finally finding that rare thing you want, or be crushed when it slips out of your grasp. It gives you a way to pass the time that isn’t just watching primetime TV each night. I think life is richer for it.

What toys or toy lines do you collect these days?

I’m obviously looking forward to Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Classic line, although I’ve gone on record of preferring that Mattel would make more articulated versions of the Four Horsemen’s 2002 toyline instead of the old figures. I’m collecting Toynami’s Futurama line, as slowly as that comes out, although I remain bitterly certain they’ll never get around to making Professor Farnsworth or Hermes, and thus I won’t be able to complete the Planet Express crew. [Poe’s note: Dr. Mrs. Ghostal will be right there with you in sorrow if she doesn’t get a Farnsworth.]

I’m a huge fan of the anime One Piece, and I have Japan’s wonderful Portrait of Pirates figures of the entire main crew, save one which is due out in February. And I was collecting Marvel Legends Avengers-the very peculiar roster which exists in my head and nowhere else-although both Hasbro and I seem to be with the series.

Oh, I also am utterly unable to not purchase anything with the words “Final Fantasy VII” on it, so I have a lot of Square Enix’s great Play Arts figures, and many, many more on pre-order somewhere.

What are your favorite sources for toy-related news? (Aside from PGPoA, of course.)

I’m a big fan of Adam Pawlus’s 16bit.com, although he only updates it a few times a week. ToysREvil is an amazing resource for both Topless Robot and myself, as is Plastic and Plush. Actually, I check Big Bad Toy Store‘s pre-order page as much as anything–they have the new toy announcements and pics as quick as anybody.

BONUS QUESTION! Because Rob was “bitterly crushed” I didn’t ask him what toys were in his work area, he supplied me with a list and demanded I post it upon threat of death. While I’m not entirely sure I believe his claim to have co-opted control of the Google Earth satellite and grafted a plasma cannon onto it, I’m not taking any chances.

Desk:

  • The entire Straw Hat pirate crew from Megahouse’s One Piece Portrait of Pirates line
  • NECA’s Goblin King, being interviewed by a custom reporter Kermit the Frog, as per The Great Muppet Caper
  • Toynami’s Masterpiece Voltron
  • A Starting Line-up Pete Rose
  • Drinky Crow vinyl figure
  • Hasbro’s WWF figures of the Mega-Powers (Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage) vs. the Mega-Bucks (The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant)
  • Palisades’ Super Grover
  • Bandai’s new Soul of Chogokin Evangelion Unit-00′ (the blue one)
  • Square Enix Dragon Quest Slime stressball
  • Star Wars Count Dooku (given to me as a gift, as I seriously cannot buy SW toys)
  • A Nendoroid L from Death Note, whose enormous head makes him impossible to stand up
  • Every Playmobil Roman figure and playeset available to purchase in North Americ
  • An assortment of Japanese gashapon, many of which are holding beers

NEARBY

  • My very biased Marvel Legends’ Avengers roster
  • The first wave of G.I. Joe Combat Heroes
  • A bevy of Final Fantasy VII, FFVII: Advent Children and other assorted FF figures from Square Enix
  • The complete series of Mattel 2002 Masters of the Universe toys, including all the exclusives
  • A 10-inch Um Jammer Lammy figure from Japan
  • Darth Tater, Spudtrooper, Artoo-Potatoo, Boba Spud
  • The complete series of Toynami’s Futurama toys (so far)
  • Panda-Z vinyl figure
  • The old Matchbox Robotech Invid
  • An awesome Astro Boy from 1998 or so
  • Mermaid Gundam, the Gundam in the fish suit from the preposterous G Gundam
  • Lord of the Rings’s Saruman, getting handsy with NECA’s Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft
  • Art Asylum’s Khan holding the chain of Planet of the Apes’ Caesar

ON DISPLAY

  • King Grayskull from Mattel’s new MotU Classics
  • Palisades exclusive “ToyFare” version of Strength from House of the Dead
  • Lupin the 3rd Castle of Cagliostro Hot Wheels set
  • The limited/French/exclusive Interstella 5555 5-pack, bought for me by my wonderful friend Zach Oat
  • Old 12-inch Lisa Hayes Robotech doll, still in package
  • 12-inch Lum doll from Urusei Yatsura, still in package

Comments now closed (12)

  • Pingback Toys Toys and More Toys » Blog Archive » 5 Questions with > Rob Bricken of Topless Robot : Poe Ghostal’s …

  • I'm now addicted to ToplessRobot.com and have to share that the toy/superhero/anime/comics/etc./etc./etc./etc./etc. isn't just an American thing like Rob "sort of" said, but absolutly a worldwide thing! I myself have a hard time getting rid of my Marvel and DC original comic book collection, and don't want my 2 year old kid touching my old he-man toys! 😉

  • I was introduced to Topless Robot by Poe, and I check it out frequently.

    My favorite question/answer is about why so many of us have carried our love of action figures into our adulthood.

    Looking back, I wonder what posessed me to start buying toys again. I think I was 19, and I bought Beast Wars Transformers Transmetal II Megatron (the dragon). I was so ashamed to do so at the time, but then it sorta snowballed from there.

    As a child of divorced parents, I can testify to the whole "trying to recapture our youth forever" bit, however, at the end of the day I refuse to belive thats just it. There's gotta be something more to it, I'm just not equiped with enough to say exactly why.

  • Totally agree with you PrfktTear, When I was 18 in December 2002 I bought a G1 Warpath and Air Raid to finish my Superion that I never completed as a child then I decided to get R.I.D. Optimus Prime as it was so cool…then I found lots of other cool ones. I personally think that if there is something you loved in your youth its only natural you would still have a fondness for it (MOTU Classics…so excited). I originally started as I wanted to get soe of the figures I never had to finish my collection, and thats what I'm still doing, although new toys keep coming out that I like.

  • I buy toys because the toy industry and comic industry whored itself out to me throughout my childhood and at one point my family was broke and homeless.

    Years later I was teen and working during high school so I could buy comics. By college I moved to a town where they had no comic book store, and Walmart was carrying Marvel Legends that included a cool comic and a well made super articulated toy (the kinda toy I wished they had made in the late 80s and early 90s). So I poured my hard earned dollars into a figure or two a month instead of a short stack of comics a month.

  • Jeebus all the stars came out for this post! It's like a whos who of internet nerd fame here. hehe

    Nice interview. I always wondered how Topless Robot was born.

  • I blame Toy Biz. Looking back, I guess I always bought a few toys here and there, but without ever seriously hunting for anything.

    And then came Marvel Legends.

    I didn't even notice them at first. By the time I really knew they existed, series 8 was out, and I found myself searching (in vain) for the Doombot. I actually passed on most of what was out from series 8, because I wasn't interested in them at the time. The madness hadn't yet taken hold. Storm and Iceman? Wasn't really into X-Men. Cap? Wasn't into the whole Ultimate thing (and I'm still not.) Iron Man? I preferred the old school suit that was made in series 1. And at that time, Iron Man, Cap, and Torch from series 1 could still be found at Wal-Marts in the area. I bought those, and then started filling in gaps by hunting around at various stores and by hitting eBay. And I started reading comics again. At some point, I'm not sure exactly when, the madness did take hold.

    It began with ML, but spread to Star Wars, DC stuff from Mattel, World of Springfield Simpsons, etc., etc.

    That's how it happened; as for the why- I don't know… I suppose there is something to "recapturing one's youth" (PrfktTear, if you think of anything else, let us know.). Or it could simply come down to surrounding yourself with things you enjoy. Then there's the thrill of the hunt – the joy of finding something you have been looking for.

    I think a better question might be why do we keep doing it these days?

    An illustrative example: just three years ago (or thereabouts) I found a Juggernaut at a Wal-Mart in New Jersey. That'd be something like walking into a Wal-Mart today and finding- I dunno- a Giant Man series Thor on the peg. It is unthinkable now. Now we're competing with ever more scalpers… and we deal with skittish retailers (or manufacturers) who trickle the product onto the shelves/pegs. I guess I'm enjoying the hunt less than I used to. I must still enjoy the toys, though, or else I'd quit.

    So why is it that we enjoy these little plastic guys (and gals)? Any psychologists or anthropologists out there want to tackle the question? Is there a link to religious carvings? totems? fertility symbols? Is there a human response to three-dimensional representations of characters or ideas that is hardwired in us? Or should we just accept that we are nerds who are responding to nerdly things in nerdly ways?

  • Jeebus all the stars came out for this post! It's like a who's who of internet nerd fame here.

    Yeah….but it's not really complete unless Wil Wheaton stops by. And I don't think Wil Wheaton is gonna stop by.

  • I'm not a star, but I do post here quite a bit. I thought this was one of the best interviews you've done Poe.

    I really liked some of the points he had about why we still collect toys. Good questions, good answers.

    4 Stars sir!

IntenseDebate supports the following HTML tags: <a> <b> <i> <u> <em> <p> <blockquote> <br> <strong> <strike> <img>