Not all of the collectors we interview here have been head-hunted by reputation or are a result of me convincing a long-time mate to finally give in and share their insight and collection. Occasionally I will put the planned (hah!) schedule of interviews on hold because something so attention-grabbing and amazing comes up that we just have to investigate. Neal Rochman’s collection was one such occurrence, and this slightly later-than-normal feature on another Neil, Mr Dela Cruz, is the same! One look at the following panoramic photograph that was posted on this now-Australian based collector’s Facebook page and I knew he had to be the immediate subject of an interview. Without further ado…
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
I’m Neil Dela Cruz. I was born and grew up in the Philippines but now work and live here in Australia as a nurse. I collect a lot of things. Mostly toys, and primarily Transformers and some transformers related items. I’ve been collecting since I was young but with the limited funds for a kid I would say my collecting went on 1st gear when I was in college due to a bigger allowance, 2nd gear when I started working, and full gear when I migrated here. There’s been a few breaks inbetween but, it’s good because I get to enjoy what I own during these lull moments. Some of the other toys that I collect are DCUC, TMNT (Nickelodeon version), DM2 minions both Maccas and official toyline releases, GI Joe (mainly Cobra), Marvel Legends, HotWheels, MOTU/C and POPC, The Real Ghostbusters – Ghosts mainly as well as some select newer versions.
I’ve also collected some minifigures like that of Mr Men and Little Miss – got the full set from Target. Toy Story buddy figures, Megabloks figures – Smurfs, WoW, Comic books – DC titles mostly and TF related titles of course. I also get a few titles from other companies that pique my fancy like Fables by Vertigo and The Boys from Dynamite. I also collected LEGO, I had a town set up before in one of my rooms, but reluctantly I had to pack it up due to my ever growing need for space for the other toys I more actively collect.
When I was younger I used to collect pocketbooks – fantasy related ones – like those role playing type Wizards and warriors, books by Isaac Asimov world of Fantasy, Dragonriders of Pern et al by Anne McAffrey and I used to collect Supertrump cards (so 80s hahah) but those got lost in the frequent floods in my hometown in Phils. I also kept a good amount of Matchbox – which I still have kept in roller boxes in my old room back in Phils. Maccas toys – mainly Snoopy and 101 Dalmatians. So yeah there’s a lot more I collect but, yeah you pretty much get the picture I guess.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
In the last 10 years a lot has changed. Transformers was thrust into the spotlight again with the coming of the live action CGI films. A lot more people have rekindled their collecting bug and more newer ones have sprouted. Whether the spark will grow into full flame or not is yet to be seen. There’s also a lot of cooler products coming out and it’s getting more and more expensive. Good for the collector , bad for the wallet, haha.
There are more avenues now to get your fix of “plastic crack”, other than the usual avenues. Before it was just local retailers, online it was just Ebay. Now, there’s a whole gamut of online stores from HK to America and a lot of choices offered. Sadly here in Australia, the nerd community has to rely on Toyfairs and Retail stores for the common release, which is often dissapointing because a lot of the figures on mass release get skipped here in Australia and we pay double the price for what it’s worth in US. So the avenue we frequent, and thank goodness there is that option, is online. Going back to the Philippines almost yearly for holidays I was also quite surprised at how many hobby shops there are that have set up in all of the malls there. The main one would still be Greenhills. Granted it’s not as overwhelming or grand as say Akihabara in Japan, but take a slice of that or say a floor and that’s how it looks now. Before these shops were just few and far between, now, it’s a whole community. Philippines has definitely even more to offer a collector than Australia currently has but it’s the postal system/customs issues there that’s making it hard for collectors to get items shipped easier than here in Aus. But then, there’s already plenty more on sale in their local retailers than what is on offer here.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I hope to see more online stores, more sources both online and local retail to get items to collect from. I also want to see better consistent quality in the products they sell, Hasbro so far has quite a labile track record with their products, unfortunately.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
Single success I guess is completing my G1 collection. Well, sans the European and Japanese releases. Just the US based released characters. Completion is kinda subjective, I know, because people would probably ask “why did you have this guy but not the Targetmaster version?”. My answer would be, it’s the same guy. If I chance upon a cheap one on sale I’ll buy it but as far as I’m concerned I got the character figure, so that one is ticked off the list. I don’t even own a single of those eraser freebies that come with the minibots, or those mini spies, but hey I still consider my G1 already complete and that to me is enough. That’s not to say I don’t look out for G1 stuff anymore, I still do but, I guess I’m into the Euro and Japanese releases this time, but no intention of completing those.
I don’t have a particularly greatest find so to speak, but I do get my share of a good bargain. With G1 TFs I have had my good share of buying BIN lots on Ebay before the first Bayverse movie hit so I was able to bulk up my G1 collection quickly. There’s also finding and buying Takara Frenzy waaay back in a Philippines bookstore for about $3 (today’s conversion rate). Sadly I didn’t keep the box, but the figure is still functioning and playable heheh. Also getting a Bumblejumper for roughly $30 because it was included in a BIN lot was pretty nice. I could also include here I was given by my friend, for free, an MP Rodimus (Takara version) because he ended up having an extra of the figure. Instead of reselling it, he thought I’d like one and gave it to me for free. Lucky I guess.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
There’s been a lot but I don’t particularly recall the whole details anymore. From what I can remember it’s someone finding a Fort Max in a thrift shop and paying less than $10 for it, granted it’s not complete but hey, that’s a good one. Also I’ve heard a few stories of people helping mates or relatives out in cleaning garages and attics and coming across boxes of TFs that the owner isn’t interested in anymore and of course, they give it to them… free. Magic words. Instant collection.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
That would be my G1 Soundwave. It’s a gift from my aunt who lives here in Australia while I was still living in Philippines, given to me when I was grade 5 for a late birthday/Xmas present when she went back for holidays. It’s what got me hooked onto TFs. I was already into TFs but having him in my hands and playing with him definitely made me decide then that I will get more. Coming close would be my mum’s gift – Microx . She didn’t know any Tfs so she bought it for me, I looked at it and thought… it’s Reflector!! But why does it say Microx? Aaah who cares… I got me a Reflector!! I still have the toy and its accessories, sadly all the boxes got thrown out already. This second choice is more for sentimental reasons.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Hmmm, there are a few I would like to grab still. A Big Powered set would be definitely on top of the list along with a Galaxy Shuttle. Both of which are quite exorbitantly priced everywhere nowadays. From whom to grab it from… well I could think of a few but I’m not saying… makes it easier to snipe it when they’re not expecting it!
8) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Enjoy the hobby. Granted from time to time there will be lull moments in collecting. That is a good time as a collector to focus on the items you’ve got. I’ve heard people say, I forgot I already have this but was stashed away. I myself am guilty of that at times, but yeah, it’s a good opportunity to savor each toy or item you’ve got. Clean or set up a display or rearrange your display, there’s plenty of things to do during lull moments in collecting that make it even more enjoyable than just the “getting” of the item moment.
Pay your dues first – remember if you have a mortgage, that gets first pay, then the utilities, then the grocery then your hobby. Living on ramen noodles is not a way to live. Buy what you want, within reason. Good savings don’t hurt especially on rainy days. Don’t get jealous, get inspired! People see other collections and say they feel jealous or down because compared to their collection of this and that or because his/her collection has this and is bigger and in this condition… well I say, get inspired to improve your own collection. Each collection is personal, I myself was collecting G1 before 2006 with the principle of – I’ll just get the figures I wanted. I attended this toy convention and saw the collection of Griffin, 12 tables set up of TF toys. I was amazed and from then on I got inspired to get a complete set of G1 too. So yeah, use what you’ve witnessed to inspire you to enjoy and appreciate the collection you have.
Many kind thanks to Neil Dela Cruz for pictures and words
All the best