Let's talk about SDCC exclusives

25 JUNE 2017

Most people come to San Diego Comic-Con prepared for one challenge: the lines. What doesn't get discussed as much are the problems surrounding exclusives. And I wish they were, because it's a source of much frustration for nerds who come to SDCC specifically to buy one-of-a-kind action figures, variant covers, gewgaws and other items. They think that if they can get into Preview Night (or first thing any other morning) they have a good chance of getting what they want.

That's really not the case. Instead this kind of dynamic happens:
  • The "exclusive" is also available online for virtually anyone - and will hit ToysRUs in time for Christmas
  • A labryrinth of ticket lotteries, lines and other hoops to jump through make buying onsite complicated and almost impossible
  • People with early access to the Exhibit Hall buy up the exclusives before attendees get in
  • Resellers dominate and flood Ebay at marked-up prices
  • Absolute mayhem

I'm not a big exclusives person, so I tapped some people who are way more serious about it than I am. Here are their experiences.

Comic shop worker: His boss sent him and another staff member to SDCC on retailer passes with a list of exclusives to pick up. The deal was that those exclusives had to pay for their trip there with money left over. (This wasn't  a mutual agreement - it was a "do this if you want to keep your job" thing and it's not uncommon.) None of them - the owner or the staff - had been to SDCC before and the staff members were unprepared for the brutality of trying to get certain Hasbro and other exclusives. They were freaking out about being stuck with their hotel bill, ended up living on Ramen all 4 days and barely slept because they were making deals to get other things (like event tickets and back issues) to trade for exclusives.

Anonymous attendee: He's had numerous struggles with Hasbro, Mattel and Lego. Last year 3 of his friends bought a Mattel WW Barbie during the pre-sale for him to pick up and ship home. After waiting in line for 4 hours at the Marriott, Matty Collector staff took a 3 hour lunch, then came back and closed early. He had to come back the next day and wait again. And because the WW Barbie turned out to be less than exclusive after all, his friends no longer wanted it. He was also annoyed that last year's Lego "exclusives" were more like early releases of the Block Headz that were available 9 months later at TRU, Target, and Walmart.

Various first-timers I've talked to: Some of them were able to join certain trading circles to get what they wanted; one spent 17 hours straight online trying to get a specific figure and finally found someone to sell it to him behind a food truck; one came from Mexico specifically to get a 6" Boba Fett figure and never got it despite his best efforts. A first-timer who came with me in 2013 almost lost it over our hellish experience at the Mattel booth. Another one saw two attendees get marched out by Security after an argument over a line. Exclusives disappointment seems to be a recurring theme among the first-timers who share their stories each year.

Veteran attendee: He believes that while the exclusives aren't as great in recent years, the recent advent of wristbands and tickets has made onsite sales more manageable. He got upset last year when Security moved a line he was in to another part of the convention center, which made it easy for people to cut in. He also dislikes the online lotteries, because he feels that more exclusives go to people who are simply out for what they can get vs. passionate collectors. But overall, he believes that as Comic Cons get more high-profile and companies see more $$$ to be made, the type of exclusives we used to get - that were limited to the buyers within the convention center - are dwindling.

Recovering exclusives addict: Just like some people can't resist a blackjack table or a hypodermic needle, some nerds are driven to possess exclusives whether they like them or not. It's the rarity and challenge they can't resist in most cases, as with my friend B who used to drop an incredible amount of money on exclusives. (Enough to pay off a house, is his estimate.) He would crave something right up until the moment he knew it was accessible to the public; one time he was zealously hunting a fairly valuable item when he came across it at a used bookstore for $25. His desire for it died on the spot. At that point he knew it was a compulsion he couldn't afford, and today he rarely buys any exclusives. If this describes you in any way - maybe not to this extent, but you keep collecting way past your budget - then make sure you do your homework on whatever you're eyeing. You will often find out it's not as rare, special or necessary as you think. And that the resale value (always a convenient justification for buying) isn't worth it.

Just a few things to think about. I'm not going to give precise advise because I'm not enough of a savvy procurer to do so. I will say that you'll pick up the best advice and contacts on collector boards. While "San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive" is still highly marketable packaging, most collectors I know don't try to go to SDCC - but they do know what things are worth and where you can get them. If you're dazzled by the exclusives that have been paraded around online so far but living on a budget, do some research. You'll make better decisions, have more money, and you'll appreciate whatever you do buy instead of regretting it a month later.


  1. Thanks for posting - I know I have a 'hoarder/collector' mentality, so instead of needing exclusives, I found something esoteric that I collect and how its the thrill of the hunt asking each retailer if they have ANYTHING with that character, rather than than being stressed out about getting there early and wasting my day in a line.

    1. That's really smart. And probably more rewarding in the long run, I'd imagine.