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Funko’s New Documentary “Making Fun” Shows the Benefit of Fandom, Hobbies & Community
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Funko’s New Documentary “Making Fun” Shows the Benefit of Fandom, Hobbies & Community

Every week on Twitch and Alpha host Ryan Green introduces us to the histories of our favorite geek fandoms on his show Lore Masters. If going deep into fandoms and breaking down topics of geekdom facinates you, be sure to join Ryan and his guests every Thursday starting at 4 PM PT.

Mike Becker had plain intents for his garage door business in 1998. He stated them so plainly, in fact, he literally dubbed it “the fun company.” Yes, that is indeed what Funko is portmanteau of.

Making Fun, a new film about these ubiquitous figures and their global community of collectors, offers a slew of such factoids. I’m not a Funko collector myself, nor much of a collector in general, but a recent chance to see a rough cut of this documentary at the Chinese Theater offered a more comprehensive, and moving, articulation of the ethos of toy collecting than I’ve heard anywhere.

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After chronicling the first years of Funko–when Becker’s crazy idea to make vinyl figures of Bob’s Big Boy and other retro pop culture characters seemingly took off overnight–the film features a series of interviews with “Funatics” from many walks of life. Elvira, Alice Cooper, a few Power Rangers, and other celebrities reflect on the coolness of seeing themselves in Funko form (and the oddness of fans wanting autographs on the figures instead of more typical merch). Pro athletes like Cletus “the Hebrew Hammer” Seldin and WWE superstar Zack Ryder seem giddy to finally open up about a geeky hobby that’s at odds with their tough guy images.

The most compelling interviewees, though, are the normal people whose Funko collections have offered–in the purest sense of term, perhaps–a personal happy place.

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As the collectors define the appeal of collecting, there are a number of refrains. Some, like Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, find it endlessly inspiring to be surrounded by creativity. It’s not just what went into the figures’ creation but also, by extension, the distilled creativity of all the comics, movies, and TV shows the figures recreate. Many other fans, though, speak of how Funkos rather viscerally reconnect them with the carefree innocence of childhood. Even the current president, Brian Mariotti, gets a twinkle in his eye when discussing how the company got to recreate the Hanna-Barbera characters he loved as a kid.

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Again, if Becker plainly phrased his hopes for toy-making with the name of his little Washington-based company, then the title Making Fun is wordplay on several levels. There is indeed a sense of humor to this success story, with Becker’s gee-whiz wish to find just a handful of fellow “knuckleheads” eventually translating to an international enterprise with devotes from Mexico to the Philippines. Even with healthy skepticism about watching a doc produced by its own subject, it is undeniably touching to see him reconnect with the Betty Boop licensor who was the first to take a chance on his figures, 20 odd years ago. And it’s fundamentally enchanting to watch this entrepreneur’s simple tendency toward fun connect with so many people people, in so many countries, in so many regards.

One profiled couple met through Funko forums. Another geeky husband is astounded to see how much geekier-than-expected his wife turns out to be after she unveils her collection to him. The most striking testimonials come from the collectors who mentor troubled teenagers and care for premature babies, though. Much has been said of the therapeutic benefits of hobbies, and for those with such stressful jobs, a room full of Funkos seems to offer both mental and tangible escape. After watching this, it’s impossible not to look at any catalog of Pops and not consider how deeply they can affect people.

Oh, and that brings up another surprising factoid. While the line of “Pops” are inseparable from Funko’s brand, now, they were initially considered too different to be embraced by long-time Funatics used to the company’s old Wacky Wobbler figures. For a company that’s made an industry of nostalgia, there is something ticklishly funny about resistance to change nearly blocking their most successful toy line. So… go figure?

Are you a Funatic? What does collecting mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments! And be sure to tune into every week on Twitch and Alpha and host Ryan Green as we explore geeky histories, lore, and stories on Lore Masters.

Image Credits: Funko

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