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Creature comforts guide us through pandemic isolation

It’s great to discover merchandise and collectibles of pop culture characters that we’ve familiarised ourselves with during the pandemic at MCM Comic Con London. Characters and stories that, via online streaming, comfort us through a time of separation anxiety are now available as companion objects.

The pandemic was both a curse and a blessing. Social life, for all of us, was reduced to zero. Anxiety ran high. So what could stop us from belting out BTS’s Anpan Man – a song about a superhero made of red bean bun – in front of a YouTube karaoke stream?

It was during the lockdown that we rediscovered our love for superhero merchandise. It was via the K-pop group BTS. We saw a clip of Kim Taehyung competing for a BT21 Tata Mic on TikTok. It was a metallic green USB microphone with a fascinating heart-shaped face. We bought it online and the shipment arrived some weeks later. That microphone with a chibi face transported us back to our happy six-year-old self. We later gifted another BT21 Mang mic to the Editor, so we could sing our lockdown blues together.

It was great to discover the BT21 merchandise, as well as collectibles of many of the pop culture characters that we’ve familiarised ourselves with during the pandemic, at MCM Comic Con London in October 2022.

Creature comfort

Transitional objects such as comfort blankets, stuffed animals and toys are essential to human being’s survival. As a baby grows older and become more independent from its mother, it chooses a favourite possession that could provide security and manage its separation anxiety.

Victims of car accidents or traumatic shock situations are sometimes given stuffed toys by the emergency services to provide comfort.

The therapeutic value of a transitional object doesn’t stop as we enter adulthood. A comfort toy is essential in providing a feeling of enduring stability. One in three British adults still sleeps with soft toys, a report says. Men on average are more devastated than women when their teddy bears are lost, with 21% comparing the feeling to losing a best friend.

BT21: a successful brand extension collaboration

For the K-pop fandom, plushies and figurines are brilliant additions to collectible books, limited-edition CDs and posters. BT21 is a successful storytelling collaboration between the BTS members and LINE FRIENDS, a creative studio specialising in producing branded consumer products, such as retail merchandise, games and animated movies, for partners. The collection features cute chibi avatars that represent the seven members. They are available as game app, plushies and other types of merchandise. Once you enter the BT21 universe, you’re in a cocoon of warmth and relaxing music. The Korean voice programme that greets us when switching on the BT21 Tata Mic is a signal that our fun time has begun.

From BT21, we progressed to looking at figurines that would look great in our studio. At MCM Comic Con London, we acquired chibi figurines from Bandai Namco: Tanjiro, Zenitsu (Demon Slayer) and Itadori (Jujutsu Kaisen). These characters are important to us because during the pandemic slump, we watched the anime to summon our motivation to continue working.

Stories to the rescue

We can’t remember exactly when we stopped collecting superhero figurines. Our childhood was surrounded by mecha robots, and Marvel and Star Wars toys. Grown-up priorities took over after we graduated from college, so the merchandise collection was limited adult-approved varieties such as the rock concert t-shirts. Many years later, we started to collect photo books and illustrated books. It’s justifiable to collect stories with profound meaning that we could browse repeatedly for inspiration.

The pandemic, and the postponement of plans, made fans turn to superhero universes and pop culture to soften the blow. Those who bonded with favourite characters would collect related figurines and merchandise. They’re as special as the portraits of beloved family members on the shelves.

Time during lockdown meant more time to read manga and watch streaming shows. The Mandalorian and the rest of the Star Wars series started streaming just as we entered the lockdown period. The anime series, fortunately, got us out of our funk. They provided the much-needed catharsis through the melancholic universe of Tokyo Ghoul and the defiant spirit of the Demon Slayer. Their stories became our story. We learned to win with them.

Our studio’s collection of stickers and enamel pins by Frisson Comics, Senpai Beth and Star Wars Disney. From MCM Comic Con London in October 2022.

Taking the Force with us

Collecting merchandise such as plushies and figurines have been dismissed as infantilising, but it’s no different than blowing money on a luxury car or expensive fashion. It boils down to how much the item means to a collector. If the Demon Slayer and BT21 got us out of our funk in the last two years, why should we think twice about purchasing a few cheerful figurines?

At the MCM Comic Con event, we spotted an adult man cradling a plushy close to his chest. We don’t judge because the event is one of a few places where such comfort-seeking behaviour is openly acknowledged. 

Now that we’ve returned to a near-normal life, we’re not planning to abandon our superhero mentors. We may have to blend in better to return to society and corporate life. For that end, a limited edition C-3PO watch from Citizen’s Star Wars collection would suffice. This time, we take the Force wherever we go.

The Citizen stand featuring Disney brand collaborations was a hit at the recent MCM Comic Con London in October 2022.
Special edition Star Wars C-3PO Tsuno and R2-D2 Tsuno by Citizen, collected by our studio.

“If the Demon Slayer and BT21 got us out of our funk in the last two years, why should we think twice about purchasing a few cheerful figurines?”

Story of Books at MCM Comic Con 2022