Rick Whitelock, new member of the Overstreet Advisors, is the founder of New Force Comics, one of the largest retailers and wholesalers of Star Trek action figures and toys in the world. As a collector, he has over 30 years of experience of dealing with Golden Age comics, Star Trek toys, and Mego Super Hero action figures. Whitelock has been active in the collecting community since he was a young boy, influenced by his father. He has been interested in comics and comic characters since the very beginning, creating a passion that has influenced not only his collecting habits but also his lifelong career path.
Rick Whitelock was born in Decatur, Alabama, but spent the majority of his childhood growing up in the panhandle of Florida, Panama City. His fondest childhood memory of a comic hero was the mid-1970s Shazam show. He distinctly remembers his grandmother making him a Shazam outfit (complete with cape, so he didn't have to use a bath towel!) and admits to wearing that outfit out in no time flat! Batman also became a personal favorite, as the 1960s show was publicized on reruns during his youth.
He got, he said, the collector instinct from his dad. As a child, Rick’s father was a big coin and stamp collector and his "collector bug" carried over to his son. Growing up a child in the ‘70s, Rick was a kid at the "right" time. He and his father would go into a toy store and find there were countless Mego, Star Trek, and eventually Star Wars action figures to choose from. There were racks of comics at every newsstand, and Rick confesses he was just drawn into that fantastic world. They were everywhere he went, every toy store he visited, and he tried to get them all! He recounts innumerable hours of begging his mom and dad for the new Mego figure he had just seen advertised on TV. Pulling weeds, making his bed, taking the trash out, and keeping his room clean, “well, maybe not that one,” he chuckles, was his ticket to the great world of Mego and comics! He describes his room as a child always being cluttered with the latest Mego or Star Trek figures, and comic books. They were found, strewn about, but it was the world he grew up in, and as an adult, it is those kinds of memories that drive him to recapture part of that wonderful and innocent time.
Rick purchased his very first comic at a young age as well. “Silver Surfer #1, for a quarter at a local flea market around 1973 or so, was the first comic I ever got. I still remember Christmas 1973, my first Mego figures: a boxed Superman and Batman. My first Star Trek toy was given to me a year or so later: a Mego Captain Kirk and a Klingon to wage battle with!” he narrates fondly.
When asked about the prizes of his collection Rick states, “Ah, the age old question. Comic book wise, I love the Golden Age. Detective Comics #27, Marvel Comics #1, and Captain America #1 are a few favorites that immediately come to mind. Yet I find the issues I "prize" the most are from a little less known and possibly less appreciated Golden Age titles. They are various pedigreed copies from a Centaur title: Amazing Mystery Funnies. I have issue #1 Larson copy, I have issue #2 Mile High copy, I have issue v2 #7 Cosmic Aeroplane copy, and I have issue #18 San Francisco (Reilly) copy. Those are the comics I "prize" the most, even though they are not the most valuable. From my WGSH Mego Action figure collection, I would say my Alter Ego set (Montgomery Ward Special from the early/mid ‘70s) are the pride and joy of my figure collection. When it comes to Star Trek, I have literally owned just about every collectible figure or toy ever made, but if I had to narrow it down, I would say my Mego Romulan and my first Playmates Exclusive figure: Flashback Janeway.”
Post college, Rick really began to assess what he “wanted to be when he grew up.” He goes to on say, “I knew I loved comics and action figures, and decided that was what I wanted to be involved in. My wife and I started buying and selling in the early 1990s, via print publications. The name, “New Force Comics” really didn't come into play until 1995, when I was selling off my comic collection at the time, to fund the business. There was no Internet to speak of, and eBay was still just an infant AOL trading post, so I decided it would sound better in print ads (The Comics Buyer's Guide, Toy Shop) if I had a more official sounding name. So, in 1995, we created “New Force Comics and Collectibles.”
“The real reason we started New Force was that I was an active collector of the Playmates Star Trek action figure line, but I was getting tired of running around to Toys R Us and Wal-Mart every day looking for new releases. I figured it would be better to try to buy direct from the company that made the figures (Playmates Toys, at the time). After we officially became New Force, I contacted Playmates directly, and opened an account. Sold off my personal comic book collection to fund the start up, and the rest, as they say, is history!”
There were some items though that Whitelock wishes he would have kept. For instance, “in the mid-1990s, when I was raising capital to start New Force, I sold my Golden Age run of Action Comics #1-100. The issues #1-14 were all from an original owner collection, and the value of them today staggers my mind! I also had a complete set of MIB Remco Star Trek 1960s toys (the Astro toys). I sold them in 2000 to help finance a home purchase, but some of those items are so rare, I have never been able to replace.”
Thinking back to earlier days in the business Rick explains that “we were such a small fish in a very large pond, when it came to selling Star Trek toys. I just tried to carve a little niche out, and do the best we could. All the mass retailers were selling the toys; Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Target, etc. But, as the ‘90s progressed, the line became more of a specialty collector line, lost its mass appeal as a toy line, and the "big boys" stopped carrying the figures. About this time, eBay and the Internet were really taking off, and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, and we ended 1999 with 3 exclusive Star Trek offerings, and did more sales than any other retailer at the time. It was kind of bittersweet, given that we were one of the only fish in a really small pond, but we have been instrumental in bringing to the Star Trek collecting market certain figures that otherwise would have never been made.”
Even though he works for a fantastic comic collectible market, Rick still has difficulty finding those items he deems as “special.” “In today's information age of Internet highways and eBay byways, it is so much easier to collect toys and comics than it once was. Some items that I recall having more difficulty than others finding are: a reasonably priced, unrestored Detective Comics #27, a nice example of Captain America Comics #46, a minty set of Mego Alter Ego figures (the Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Dick Grayson, and Peter Parker versions), and a really minty carded Mego Romulan, in the Star Trek universe.”
Rick has such a fantastic collection that it would be extremely difficult to choose just one of each item he collects, i.e. comics, Star Trek, and Mego. But if he absolutely had to, he knew right away which items he would keep. When choosing from the ‘70s Mego figures, it would be the Removable Cowl Batman. “I just remember how cool it was to not only have a Batman figure to play with while watching the 1960s reruns on TV, but how awesome it was to be able to remove the Mask/cowl and see Batman's face (you know, the whole secret identity issue).” His favorite Star Trek toy was the Enterprise Bridget set. “Transporting (beam me up Scotty, if you will) was such a fantastic concept to a 10 year old boy, that when the Bridget Set was advertised with a Transporter, I went nuts wanting one. It was so cool, and I still fondly remember amazing my friends when I put my Kirk figure in the Transporter, and made him disappear.” Rick’s comic book grail is Detective Comics #27. “Always a Batman fan, to have the comic book issue that first introduced the famous superhero to the world, is reason enough for me!”
However, though retrieving wanted items is a rewarding experience for Rick, he says that as he matures, he finds that time he can spend collecting with his children is the most rewarding experience that has come from his hobby. “To have my 5 year old son with me at the computer, and me ask him “do we need a loose mint Mego Batman?” and he instantly tell me, “no dad, remember we got Batman last week, but we do need him on a card” is the best feeling this collector can have! On a different level, I find that beyond the feeling of childhood memories being refreshed every time I procure another item I had from days past, I truly enjoy the hunt. I get great joy out of the search for certain toys or comics, and even better than the search, are the friends you make along the path. Some of my very best friends today have come from collecting comics and toys, via contacts made, or convention meetings, or Internet networking and chatting. As wonderful as the collectibles are, family and friends make it so much better.”
Nobody could have summed it up better, Rick. Thanks.