Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest

Mark Hamill and a puppet explore pop culture collections.
Mark Hamill and a puppet explore pop culture collections.

My buddy Scott Zillner is featured in the second episode of Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest, and Scott’s a good guy, so I’m gonna go ahead and pimp it.

Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest is a new web-based series featured on Comic-Con HQ, a subscription-based website and streaming service created by Comic-Con International (better known as San Diego Comic-Con or just plain SDCC, though they would really rather you use the full name). On the web, they are at Comic-ConHQ.com, but you can also find them on AppleTV, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, all the usual outlets for your streaming needs. Pop Culture Quest, which premiered November 15, has a new episode every Tuesday. Scott appears in the current episode, which you can watch at the site, on io9, on YouTube, or right here, at the bottom of this post.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the obligatory shilling, let’s get back to Zillner.

Scott Zillner and part of his extensive collection.
Scott Zillner and part of his extensive collection.

Scott’s regular gig is as a prop and toy designer, but he’s also a collector and dealer in rare toys, especially in the ones based on robots, giant monsters and Power Rangers, and he organizes a number of conventions and shows for fans of those things, including our local events, RoboToyFest, Power Morphicon, and the Lego-themed Brick Boutique. Before he started any of those things, he exhibited and sold at a lot of other shows, which he continues to do.

A few years back, he was invited to take part in a convention that was actually an elaborate event for the Make A Wish foundation; Scott told me “they had a kid who wanted to go to a Power Rangers convention, but there was no such thing, so they put one on. I did really well at it, so I told the organizer I’d like to be part of the next one, and she said ‘Oh, God no! this was a lot of work, we’re not doing this again,’ so I talked to Bandai and Saban and took over the show and kept it going. Actually it was Disney; they owned the Power Rangers in 2010, so I kept calling them to get permission, and finally they told me to stop calling; they said I could do the convention and they wouldn’t sue me, but if I kept calling to try to make it official, they’d stop me. Then Saban bought the Power Rangers back, and they’ve supported the show since then.”

Power Morphicon takes place every other year, so the 2016 con was the fifth. In between, there are a lot of small one- and two-day shows up and down California; the next of these is the Pasadena Comic Con; there’s a good chance Atomic Junk Shop may be represented in some capacity at that show, and certainly it will provide some basis for a future segment of whatever it is I do here.

Scott and Mark Hamill compare the Japanese and US versions of Godzilla toys.
Scott and Mark Hamill compare the Japanese and US versions of Godzilla toys.

I asked Scott about how he got to where he is now. He told me “I’ve been a toy dealer since I was 14; my mom dropped me off at a show with a box of toys and comics, and I sold a lot of stuff, so I kept doing it. Later, I found I needed a part-time job between shows.” To fill the time between shows, Scott began making and painting prototypes and props for toy manufacturers and the TV and movie studios. His most successful project is today a rare and collectible toy. He was asked to be one of many artists who created custom versions of Stitch for a Disney exhibit; his Tron-Stitch was popular enough to be turned into a limited-edition toy.

Mark Hamill's Pop Culture Quest at Comic-Con HQ.
Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest at Comic-Con HQ.

Scott was approached at one of the local shows by the producers of Hamill’s show about displaying his collection on camera. Originally the episode was going to be about his large inventory of robots (including Shogun Warriors, Transformers, Macross/Robotech, and a bunch we’ve never heard of in the US), but they later decided to focus on his kaiju collection instead; the camera crew came to his home in Hesperia to film, then later Scott went to a studio in Hollywood for the sit-down segment with Hamill. Of Hamill, Scott said “Mark is one of us; he’s a big geek, he loves this stuff, he loves pop culture, and then he got to be part of it; he’s living the dream.”

If you love pop culture and its artifacts (and if you don’t, why are you still reading this?), you should check out Comic-Con HQ and Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest. Future episodes include folks like Bob Burns, better known as Tracy the Gorilla.

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