Collecting: The uglier the better - the figures look good as all-action heroes are cut down to size

From 'Lord of the Rings', to Action Man, to 'Batman', there's a lucrative market in film and comic miniatures
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The Independent Online

Poor Elektra. Not only has the dagger-wielding assassin star of this year's first big action movie got her work cut out fending off uncomplimentary reviews, it seems she's about to lose out in the competitive world of minia- ture action figures.

Poor Elektra. Not only has the dagger-wielding assassin star of this year's first big action movie got her work cut out fending off uncomplimentary reviews, it seems she's about to lose out in the competitive world of minia- ture action figures.

In terms of collectable cachet, the Marvel Comics anti-heroine, played by leggy glamazon Jennifer Garner, has met her match in the hideous hulk Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.

For good looks mean nothing. If you want to make any money buying and selling miniature versions of TV, movie and comic book heroes, un- attractive is an advantage. "Sexy is not a good investment in serious action figure collecting. Go for the ugly guys," advises Fiona Shoop, editor of Antiques and Collectables magazine.

An original 1980s Jabba the Hutt action playset is up for sale on eBay at nearly £25 without a box (even one with a broken left arm is priced at £20); Elektra is on sale elsewhere on the web for half the price.

Manufacturers know the good-looking, exciting characters will be the most popular, so they make more of them. Many of the less attractive figures, then, are rarer and more valuable. "For example, everyone is going to go for Legolas, the good-looking Orlando Bloom character in Lord of the Rings, so they make thousands. It's far better to go for one of the more obscure figures," adds Ms Shoop.

The market for these figures and figurines has, like many others, flourished on the internet, where hundreds of websites are dedicated to movie, TV and comic book memorabilia.

"The market revolves around the internet, car boot sales and fan conventions, rather than auction houses," explains Daniel Agnew of auctioneer Christie's in London. "But it is growing and developing, with some of the very early Star Wars figures reaching the £1,000 mark."

Demand for toys and memorabilia is fuelled by nostalgia. Mr Agnew believes the market for TV and movie action figures will really start to take off when those born in the 1970s and 1980s reach an age where they have money to spend on things other than mortgages and kids - and can indulge their own childhood memories.

"When I'm a very old toy expert, I can see myself valuing Star Wars figures - but not just yet," adds Mr Agnew.

The trend has already set in with Action Man figures. Middle-aged men throughout the land are rescuing battle- scarred examples of their child-hood chum from jumble sales and attics, only to sell them on the internet. An unboxed vintage Action Man kitted out as a lancer was recently priced at $295 (£155). Even a pair of Action Man flippers can be sold for as much as £3.50.

Prices balloon when the quality is immaculate: an original mint-condition Action Man from the mid-1960s could bring in well over £1,000.

The action figure market usually benefits from association when new films containing old characters are released. For example, the Star Wars and Batman movies due later this year are likely to generate interest in figures from the older series.

Sarah Agar of internet firm Popcorn, which trades toys and other collectables, says: "There are no golden rules but try to go for the older products that are slightly different. It's a good sign if something is difficult to get hold of." The original packaging will bump up their value further, she adds.

"However, it is a shame for toys not to be played with, so we advise people to buy two at a time - one to keep and one to be played with. But if you can't do that, then at least keep the packaging."

Sussex collector Mel Benson is putting her investment faith in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a relatively recent entry into the action figure market.

The programme built up a loyal cult following over its seven series and lives on in constant reruns.

As well as a range of individual characters to choose from, there are plenty of accessories, such as Buffy's vampire-killing wooden stakes and the pink rabbit suit worn by her friend Anya.

Although these signs are fairly promising, Ms Benson is conscious of the "fan versus investor" problem.

"If it was just a personal decision as a fan, I'd buy Buffy and Spike, the beautiful blonde vampire," she says.

"But if I want to make any money, I will have to go for someone like poor Xander, who's very sweet but usually gets left on the sidelines while Buffy's out saving the world."

Once you've decided between Batman and Buffy, Superman and Star Wars, where should you go for your quarry?

Action figures rarely turn up at auctions, so internet sites will be the best place to get a broad idea of prices and products - and what is in demand.

Car boot sales, jumble sales and charity shops could also be happy hunting grounds, as well as your own attic - and don't forget fan conventions. These will be popular, though, so go early because bargains are often snapped up quickly.

ACTION STATIONS

Prices

A mint-condition Action Man from the 1960s could fetch £1,000 or more.

A 1980s Jabba the Hutt action playset, no box, is on sale on the internet at £25.

A basic Buffy the Vampire Slayer six-inch figure costs £12.99 in store.

A six-inch Elektra figure costs £9.99 in store.

More information

www.popcornlive.co.uk - online toys and collectables store.

www.toyzine.com - US-based toys and collectables website.

www.toyatticuk.com - toys and collectables website.

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