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Big kids, with big allowances

Vintage toys and childhood connections drive collector subculture on display at weekend Ultimate Toy and Hobby Show at Pearkes
Gillian and Bill Thomas-Martin keep connected with their childhoods by collecting toys and memorabilia

If the beach-ball sized Lego Death Star doesn’t catch your eye, the illuminated statue of Lex Luthor towering over a fallen Superman just might.

The home of Bill and Gillian Thomas-Martin is a tidy shrine and ever-expanding museum of toys and pop-culture collectables from bygone eras.

Justice League action figures, Hot Wheels cars in original packaging, Stars Wars models and boxy 1960s robots line shelves in about every space in their home. Aquaman has his own place of honour in the downstairs washroom.

“It’s probably easier talking about what we don’t collect,” says Bill, a 36-year-old native of Colwood.

The pair are part of the subculture of adults who enjoy keeping one foot firmly rooted in their childhood with corny and vintage toys that keep value through pure kitsch appeal.

Bill lists off obscure 1980s action figures populating their substantive collection – MASK (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand), COPS (Central Organization of Police Specialists), and Smurfs – but it’s He-Man that’s captured his heart.

He-Man, his buddies and enemies were the toys shared among his six siblings, but his mom sold the collection at a garage sale about a decade ago.

“It was a bit of a last-minute decision. She wanted them out of the house. I had to buy it all back,” Bill says. “My collection is actually bigger now than when we were kids.”

Hundreds of He-Man and Masters of the Universe figures from 1983 onward now populate an entire bookshelf. Bill admits that He-Man isn’t a genre highly coveted by collectors now. “I like to root for the underdog, I like things people consider lame. I’m building an army to prove they’re not lame,” he jokes.

The same goes for collecting Aquaman, the great underachiever of the Justice League. “People think he’s lame,” Gillian says. “He doesn’t have a blockbuster movie, but he does talk to fish.”

Gillian, 31, started collecting comics and action figures in her teens as a way to bond and relate to her older brother. She is slowly building a collection of vintage robots – think offspring of Robby the Robot – but its the original A-Team B.A. Baracus van, still in its red packaging, that has the wow factor.

“I saw the A-Team van at the first toy fair we went to. I had to have it and it was totally worth it,” she says. “We spent a lot of money that day.

“I find it interesting to look at the pieces and being surrounded by them,” Gillian adds. “It’s like being little kids with bigger allowances. We’re not being irresponsible, we own our own house. Our disposable income just goes to toys.”

Bill and Gillian are gearing up for the Ultimate Toy and Hobby Show at Pearkes arena, the twice-annual gathering of comic, curio and vintage toy collectors organized by Cherry Bomb Toys.

The duo sells Bill’s creation, the handmade Cube Dudes – superheroes and iconic characters reimagined as cubed “dudes” made of construction paper. He’s made 250 over the past few years and has cultivated a small following.

“I started scrapbooking, (Bill) started creating 3-D people and it went from there,” Gillian says. “He thinks outside the box, no pun intended.”

The Ultimate Toy and Hobby Show is Sunday, Oct. 6, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Pearkes arena. See