TOY-LINES INTERVIEWS AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST BATMAN COLLECTOR DARREN “DAGS” MAXWELL…

Darren “Dags” Maxwell  is well known throughout Melbourne, Australia in the science fiction community…he also houses one pretty impressive Batman collection…
Collectors are a certain breed, they either collect everything & anything, collect only sub-genres of something, continue collecting all their lives, or in the rare case, finish their collecting & consider their collection complete…

Dags is like the last one…

TL:  How did you get into collecting Batman? What was your introduction to Batman?

My collecting story actually started a few years before the 1989 movie came out. Being involved in my local science fiction fan community in the mid 80s, I was surrounded by a number of friends who were already collectors of one franchise or another – mainly Star Wars, Transformers and various Gerry Anderson TV shows.

There was also one Batman collector in the group who owned a respectable amount of classic 1960s/1970s merchandise, but sadly it was all destroyed in a fire when stored in a garden shed.

As a teenager in mid 1984 I entered the workforce in a retail store which suddenly gave me a disposable income. So I now had money to burn but instead of investing in property or buying a new car, I looked at what my friends had achieved with their impressive collections so I naturally gravitated towards this.

But I was a little stuck because I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to collect.

Now in the ‘early days’ I certainly dabbled in a few collections here and there, but once a few years had passed word got around regarding a new Batman film in production which looked very tantalising indeed.

Now I was already a Batman fan thanks mainly to the 1960s TV series, but my interest in the franchise never went beyond that. Yet once the first images of the new film were released, I stood up and took notice. Suddenly we were seeing the character of Batman as we’d never seen before within a live action setting, plus what really worked for me is that black is my favourite colour. As a result I was instantly hooked.

Yet what really sent me down a whole new path of existence was the merchandise being produced for the film. Now prior to 1989 Batman collectables were aimed mainly at children as they were always colourful and cartoonish in design, but with the dark image of the new film, items started to look more adult in nature with some fantastic designs and imagery – and let’s face it, that new logo just looked soooo good!

So when you combine my young age, disposable income, the fact that none of my friends collected Batman, plus how good the new movie looked, well it wasn’t long before I picked up a couple of items here and there, then a few more, and then a few more again. Alas within a short time I realised I had in fact become a dedicated Batman collector.

TL: How many items would you say you have in your collection?

I once attempted to count all the items for cataloguing purposes and though the photos might make the collection look large and impressive, I think it’s only around 650 or thereabouts. So there’s not really that much at all.

The key thing to remember is that being in Australia we weren’t exposed to the same quantity of merchandise as in other countries, and of course the Internet didn’t exist so there was no online shopping option available.

So aside from the four (4) items which I did eventually buy from eBay in later years, everything I own was either found by me in person or was given to me as a gift – and there was a lot of gifts.

TL: Do you have a favorite item?

It’s pretty hard to put a finger on just one item, however, among the faves are my mint-in-box Scalextric Batmobile (89 version) which I was so happy to get.

TL: Do you have a “Holy Grail” item you never got but wish you did?

Most certainly, a mint-in-box Corgi Batmobile from the 60s. Now I do own a couple of loose ones, but if they’re not mint-in-box then to me they’re worthless as loose ones are everywhere.

I was actually in Los Angeles in 1993 with some friends when we went to a toy collectors fair. Now as fate would have it, I actually saw one at the very first stall whilst still walking through the door. But at $500USD, which at the time was almost $1,000AUD, it was simply way out of my price range – it was so close yet so far … and yes I almost cried. Alas I’ve not seen one since.

As far as I’m concerned, without this one item my entire collection will always be flawed.

TL: How does your family & friends feel about your collection?

Funnily enough most of them pay more attention to it than I do, mainly because the room has been setup for so long (15 years) I don’t give it much thought. So when someone does come over for a look – especially a first time visitor – I’m usually caught by surprise as for the most part I forget it’s even there.

The one joke I always hear is when I have a party and my friends threaten to eat my Batman ice creams which are still in the freezer. Now considering they’ve been out of date for over 20 years, I tell them to “go for it” but if they end up in hospital it’s not my problem  LOL

TL: When you show people your collection room what are their reactions?

When the door opens their first response is usually “oh my god!” and then they just stand in the doorway afraid to enter, so I actually have to encourage them to go in. Once inside they struggle to take it all in because they don’t know where to look first.

Now what’s interesting is both the collection and the room itself really isn’t that big at all, it’s just that most people/non collectors aren’t used to seeing a whole bedroom devoted to something like it, so it’s more the initial shock then anything else.

One thing I do like is when someone says “I used to have one of these” when looking at a mint-in-box version of it on my shelves. Now that always makes me smile LOL

As for other visitors, well kids are not allowed in the room by themselves so their parents either have to carry them or hold onto them the whole time. Even my cat is forbidden from going in the room though she has snuck in once or twice when the door was open LOL. Fortunately Lynne, my other half, likes the room and not surprisingly the carpet is practically brand new due to absence of constant foot traffic.

It’s actually important to understand that when I first set the room up in 2003 it was mainly to get everything out of storage boxes and onto some shelves just so I could finally see what I had. Now because I had long since stopped collecting by this point, I never took the time to invest in expensive glass cabinets or better lighting so as a consequence the setup is certainly not as good as it could be. Now on occasions I have thought about upgrading it, but it’s simply hasn’t been a priority as the collection is still quite presentable despite being done on the cheap.

TL: Why did you choose to collect JUST items of Batman & not say Batman & the Joker or something like that?

From the outset there were two things which sold me on collecting Batman merchandise, the main character and the logo and that’s all. Quite simply, none of the other characters interest me so it certainly made buying things easier.

If anything you could say I have a ‘Batman collection’ and it truly IS a collection of Batman.

What does amuse me is when I see photos of other large Batman collections and I notice all the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Robin items in the pics, I think “well if you took all these out, how much would you have left?”

TL: Do you have a favorite Batman movie?

Most definitely, Batman Returns.

The Batman 1989 film was good but it had a number of elements I struggled to absorb, however, with Batman Returns I loved the interaction between Batman and Catwoman. Now even though some of the Penguin stuff was a little cringe worthy (in particular the army of penguins at the end and the Penguin’s funeral escort), overall it’s still my favourite.

A close second would be The Dark Knight which was simply outstanding.

TL: Favorite Batman actor?

Michael Keaton still works for me even though he’s not even close to physically resembling what the character should look like, but I still like him, probably because he was the first in the new range of movies which brought me into the franchise. What’s interesting though is I thought he was a really weak Bruce Wayne.

Next to this is probably Christian Bale, but I really disliked all his Batsuits, so if put Bale into the 89 Keaton suit he’d probably be perfect  LOL

TL: According to your site you’re officially retired from collecting?  Is this 100% or do you sometimes buy something you might see?

Now this might sound a little silly, but I actually don’t allow myself to buy anything at all for fear of heading back down the collecting path. The reason is because during my prime years what started off as a hobby quickly turned into an addiction and I don’t wish to revisit that.

To further highlight this fact, many years ago I started looking at the Batman section on eBay where I picked up four items, but when I came across what was to be my fifth item – something I REALLY wanted to buy – I realised what was happening so I got out quickly. Now I don’t go to the Batman section of eBay at all.

These days I can walk past modern Batman collectables with ease, yet when I see something specifically from the 1989 film I will stop and take notice. Honestly, it feels as if the inner collector hiding in the depths of my subconscious gets a little nudge.  LOL

To highlight this last point further, we have a great collectible store in my city called Lobos Collectables. Now a few months back I saw a box of unopened Batman 1989 chocolate bars which I’d never even seen before and boy did I want it – in fact, I still do. Now I looked at this box for quite some time with imaginary voices in my head telling me to get it, but even though Lynne was willing to buy it for me I still said “no”. As it turned out I didn’t even ask how much it was.

TL: When was the last time you bought a Batman something?

I really don’t remember but I think it was a $3 pack of Batman coat hangers from a supermarket many years ago, which I only picked up because I had never seen them before and they were cheap. Next to that would be a box of Batman cookies in 2006 and there’s even a story as to why I got them (I cover the story on my website) LOL

The really funny thing is my friends still give me Batman items from time to time, I guess they just can’t help themselves. If anything my collection since the year 2010 has gotten larger just from the donations of others and not from anything I’ve bought myself.  LOL

TL: Do you read the comics?

To Batman purists I freely admit I’m a heathen as I simply couldn’t get into them. Sure I’ve read a few of the graphic novels here and there, but Batman has to be on a screen for me to enjoy.

One thing is for sure though, I’m glad I never collected the comics because the amount in existence is massive! Someone even told me that back in the mid 1990s there was like eight comic series being released at the same time. Wow just imagine trying to keep up with all that!

TL: Can you tell us about the documentary that was made about your collection by Michael Wayne? Is it available online?

Yeah this is a really interesting one.

Now there are plenty of Batman collections in the world and many of them far exceed my own. Yet what caught the eye of this film maker named Michael is not that I was once a collector, but that I had actually stopped collecting. He was also particularly impressed with my website where I recounted with upfront honesty about my various collecting experiences, both good and bad, and the fact I didn’t just boast about how great my collection was or anything like that. What also appealed to him was that my collection started with the 1989 movie which he was a really big fan of, so in effect he was like a kindred spirit.

Now I hadn’t met Michael before and didn’t know who he was, but he contacted me a few years ago and asked about making a documentary of the collection and myself. His intention was to delve into the inner mind of what makes someone collect Batman merchandise in the first place and then to understand what makes them stop.

Now Michael actually lives in Sydney which is around 900 kilometres north of Melbourne, so after coming down to visit me to discuss the details of the production he opted to go ahead with it. Now as a labour of love his dedication to the project has been really admirable, over the years he has visited me with his crew around four times for interviews, including Lynne and one of my other collecting friends.

Despite his commitment to the film, I’ve always questioned why anyone would be interested in seeing a film which focuses mostly on me, for this reason I wouldn’t begrudge Michael at all if he was forced to include all these other collectors just to make the film watchable. Still, be that as it may, I can’t even remember what I said in all the interviews, so I just hope those comments still hold true and I don’t come across as a complete moron.  LOL

As of today the film is apparently in final stages of post production, though I have no involvement with it at all – I don’t even know what it’s called nor where or when it’ll be released.

Every once in a while Michael will send me an update saying things are going great and he’s happy with it, Still, even if it’s never finished the fact he was willing to even make a film about my collection in the first place is flattering enough.

TL: Over the years of not collecting did you ever thin out the collection of things you might not like?

Oh, there are plenty of items I can’t stand, but I’ve not gotten rid of anything.

For me collecting was an addiction so there was no thought of picking and choosing what I bought, it was all about basic ownership and as a result I ended up with a lot of stuff which I simply class as rubbish. If I could go back and give myself some advice it would be “don’t buy it for the sake of it, buy it because you like it”. But I didn’t think that way at the time. Back in the day I made a point of going through shops ‘hunting’ – that’s the best word to use – collectables, and as soon as I saw THAT logo it was like “DONE!” There was no thinking, no second thoughts.

Even on lazy days I wondered what I was missing out on in the shops, so I’d go on the hunt again. My biggest mistake was that I followed the mindset of buying a lot of cheap and crappy items rather than one expensive item. As a result my collection ended up with the quantity but definitely not the quality.

Still, no matter how much I hate certain items, and I mean that literally, I still won’t sell them or throw them out even though they are utterly worthless. In all they are still part of the collective.

TL: The milk chocolate batmobile is an interesting piece. Can you tell us about it?

In my time I’ve known collectors to buy certain food products, but they either kept the empty packaging or bought ‘safe’ items like soft drink cans which are easy to store long term.

A long time ago I heard a story (an urban myth maybe) from the 1960s where a guy owned a box of ice creams from The Thunderbirds TV show which he kept in the freezer. As the years progressed he became paranoid about experiencing a power outage and losing them, so he decided to sell them and made thousands of dollars due to their absolute one-of-a-kind rarity.

For this reason I figured that if I bought any Batman food items, I too would try and preserve them for as long as possible (more as a joke than anything) and one such item is my chocolate Batmobile from 1992.

For Batman Returns a chocolate Batmobile was released inside a nice little box with a clear plastic window. Because it looked so good both my mate and I bought one which we kept unopened. Well as the months wore on the chocolate started to turn white, then one day my mate rang me to say his had just crumbled! In a mad panic I quickly put mine in the fridge and sure enough it has remained there ever since. These days it lives in the butter draw cabinet with plastic lid taped down so it can’t be accidentally touched or opened.

To be honest I’m quite surprised it has lasted this long, I also wonder what it’s actually worth considering it would have to be the only one in the world – remembering that not only is it 27 years old, but it’s still mint-in-box. Fortunately the box itself has a clear plastic window so you can see the car sitting there happily appreciating in value with each passing day  LOL.

What’s funny is a friend of mine wanted to hold a 21st birthday party for it in 2013!

TL: You mention on your site your involvement with Sci-Fi conventions, can you tell us how you got involved with running conventions, running the Star Walking, Inc, editing 37 issues of The Force Newsletter, as well as involvement with Star Trek clubs?

My history in the local science fiction fan community is certainly a long one. Back in the 1980s fan clubs, conventions and social groups were everywhere and Melbourne was blessed with a plethora of them, so as a devoted Sci-Fi movie and TV fan I joined this community in October 1984 at the age of 17 and I’m still an active part of it today.

Being a teenager in this new world everything was a different  experience and in time I discovered talents I didn’t even know I had. The first fan club I joined in 1984 was Austrek – the second oldest Star Trek club in the world – and have been actively attending their social events ever since. Needless to say I’ve have seen hundreds of people come and go throughout the years/decades, but because I stayed on to support the club they made me a Life Member in 2016 when it turned 40 years old.

But my first love has always been Star Wars and in 1987 a great friend of mine decided to start his own Star Wars club, so he brought another guy and myself in as co founders. Then a year later in October 1988 Star Walking Inc. was launched and from the outset we were running our own conventions, holding celebratory social dinner banquets, doing paid costumes appearances, running our own Star Wars film premiere screenings and eventually holding social club meetings in both Melbourne and Sydney which still continue today. In fact, our club has been directly responsible for creating friendships, relationships, marriages and even kids.

One of the more special benefits of being a part of Star Walking Inc. was when four of us, including myself, managed to visit Skywalker Ranch for two days in 1993.

Although I performed a number of tasks within the club, one was the editor of the club’s newsletter. In 2013 I was keen to move away from a quarterly, black and white, paper based publication into a monthly, all colour digital one which worked out really well. Ironically one of the key benefits of the change was the annual membership fee to join the club was now cheaper ($10AUD) than when the club first launched in 1988 ($12AUD). What also helped the newsletter regarding the new look and feel was the massive resurgence Star Wars was going through at the time.

Today Star Walking Inc. is the longest running Star Wars club in the world and though I have now retired from the committee, I still managed to clock up over 27 years of dedicated service to it.

Once the 2010s kicked in I really wanted to run a convention based around a strong passion of mine, classic Sci-Fi films from the 1950s. Fortunately I wasn’t alone in this endeavour so with a team of 10 other people we ran a two day convention called Con 9 From Outer Space in 2012.

This convention was only ever intended to be a one off event, but it proved so popular that after 13 months of constant badgering from various people (and that’s no exaggeration), I decided to run a new three day convention based around 1970s movies and TV shows called Con 70: A Retro Sci-Fi Adventure in 2015, complete with a special disco night!

With Con 70 being another great success, I figured the time was ideal to run one final convention based around many people’s favourite decade for movies and TV shows, hence Con 80: The Ultimate 1980s Sci-Fi Experience occurred in 2017.

Now all these conventions were small, intimate affairs with 130 people on average attending. Importantly they harked back to a time before commercialism became the mainstay and for that reason our attendees loved them, so much in fact that everyone thought I was going to run another convention called Con 90, but nup, three was enough (and yes people still ask me about Con 90).  LOL

TL: What can you tell us about the Star Talking Podcast?

There is no doubt Star Walking Inc. is a club which has achieved a lot in its time, but one thing we never had was our own podcast. So a few years back we opted to put one together called Star Talking featuring the club Director, the Club Deputy Director and myself. In time a fourth person, Catherine, also joined us.

Our aim was to discuss the news and views of the Star Wars franchise and our first episode came out straight after The Force Awakens in January 2016. Now it took us a couple of episodes to get the kinks out of the system and to find our feet, but we ended up producing 42 monthly episodes along with a number of supplementaries called ‘Chewie Bits’ before the show was put on hiatus in September 2019.

One of the particularly cool features of the podcast was when a group of us representing Star Walking Inc. won a trip to the USA on the Family Feud game show which we took in April 2018. This allowed us to do some guest interviews whilst in the US, including a review of Star Wars related places such as the Lucasfilm HQ and Rancho Obi-Wan.

TL: Can you tell us a bit about ZED?

Well ‘The Zed’ is the nickname for a weekly YouTube series I produce called Sci-Fi Zone. You see once I finished running Con 80 I wanted to do something new with my science fiction interests, so running what is effectively my own ‘TV show’ seemed like the right move to make.

Sci-Fi Zone was originally going to be a 40ish minute monthly talk show covering various aspects of the science fiction movie and TV scene. However, following a number of great responses to our first episode, we quickly changed it to being an (up to) 20 minutes weekly show which kicked off in June this year.

From the outset I wanted Sci-Fi Zone to be something special, so I followed the format of a local TV football show whereby the three presenters sit behind a ‘V’ shaped desk with the host sitting on the left side of the screen rather than in the middle. Another key aspect of the show’s look is none of the presenters wear T-Shirts and we actually film our show in a real life comic book store rather than using a green screen, digital set.

At its core Sci-Fi Zone is designed to cover movies and TV shows from the past, present and future so we’re not a news show. We also structure it so anyone in the world can watch and understand the content without feeling it’s too Australia-centric (Aussie accents notwithstanding  LOL). So it’s our hope people from everywhere will see our show and enjoy what we have to offer because in effect it’s made by the fans for the fans.

TL: You also mentioned on your site writing your memoirs of sorts with your involvement with the science fiction convention & experiences you’ve had.  Can you tell us how this is going & how it will be made available?

Sometime ago I realised that as I get older I was likely to forget a lot of what I had experienced within the science fiction community back in my early days. Now because I hold nostalgia in such high regard, and the fact my entire social life for a couple of decades was solely devoted to the science fiction fan community, I started jotting down all my memories in minute detail whilst being as accurate as possible. Now admittedly there are many things only I would remember, but even if no one else cared about the past I would at least have some sort of permanent record of this wonderful history.

Once most of it was written down in rough point form I realised just how daunting putting this together into something readable would be. As it stands the raw text alone is over 170 pages, so it’s unlikely to be completed anytime soon, but at least it’s there, which is the main thing.

One unexpected benefit of doing this in the first place is when friends forget the details of certain events from say 25 years ago. Fortunately, I’ll be able to tell them not only when and where the event occurred but also what happened there.  LOL

Being a fan of nostalgia has even allowed me to author the club history articles for both Austrek and Star Walking Inc. which are on their respective websites.

TL: Do you, or did you, collect anything other than Batman?

I certainly did. As previously mentioned in mid 1984 I was a teenager working in a retail store with a disposable income, so instead of thinking “I should save this money (for a future Batman collection LOL)” instead I just wanted to spend it now!

But unlike most people who focus just on one collection, idiot me had three on the go at the same time – and this was BEFORE Batman!

First off I quickly became obsessed with science fiction movie soundtracks so I started buying them left, right and centre because I wanted to be known as THE soundtrack collector among my friends. Now I only bought LPs purely as an ‘investment’ because in many cases I didn’t even play them. Fortunately by the 1990s CDs became the norm so my collection came to and end due to a lack of produced material. Now ironically LPs have made a come back in recent times but my soundtrack collecting days are well and truly over.

Next up was Star Trek and Star Wars official movie posters with a few other science fiction movies tossed into the mix. The reason this collection even existed is because we had a speciality collectors shop in Melbourne called Moviola and I bought all my movie posters from them. In the end I had to ban myself from entering their store as I was spending far too much money. For example I had scenarios such as ‘I really need a new pair of shoes for $40, but I’ll spend $80 on this poster instead’. It wasn’t good at all. A few years back I sold many (but not all) the posters which helped pay for a cruise  LOL

I was also fascinated with the 1984 film Dune so I have a collection based around that. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of merchandise released in this country so the supply dried up pretty quickly. Still I can at least boast to having every toy they released for the film.  LOL

TL: Do you collect anything now?

Thankfully no.

When I was running Con 9 From Outer Space in 2012 I hunted down every classic Sci-Fi movie I could find on DVD and I’m pretty happy with what I got. The good thing about a collection like this is eventually you just run out of movies.

These days I’m pretty much an anti-collector LOL though funnily enough Lynne now buys more things than I do and even that’s not much.

In essence my collecting journey was a very intense one, but it also had a limited shelf life too. Now considering I gave it away 22 years ago, I still look on in amazement at my friends who are in their late 40s/early 50s are STILL collecting for Star Wars, He-Man, etc. To be honest at the rate I was buying things back in the day, there’s no way I could’ve sustained that level of intense spending for 30 years.

So upon reflection, the best thing I ever did with regards to collecting was to stop.

TL: Have you ever thought of writing a newsletter or blog on Batman or start your own Batman fan club?

I wouldn’t create a blog/newsletter for Batman because my knowledge of the franchise really isn’t that good, plus I truly believe you need to know your Batman comics inside and out which I don’t.

As for creating a fan club, unfortunately the social club scene is a dying entity these days due to the dominance of the online world, so starting a club now would be inviting failure – or at the very least wouldn’t yield the reward for the effort. Sure there’s the option of a new online club, but I wouldn’t be interested in something that has no social presence which is why Facebook sites don’t appeal to me. As far as I’m concerned social interactivity is crucial as the core method of human contact rather than just reading words on a screen.

If anything I’m content knowing the clubs in Melbourne are still going strong, which in turn allows me to have some nerdy, face-to-face, Sci-Fi talks with my friends a couple of times a month. LOL

 

If you’d like to visit Dags ‘personal website to see his Batman collection or the Sci-fi Zone check the links below…

 

 

http://www.darren.maxwell.net

 

https://www.sci-fizone.com

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