There’s no sense sugar-coating it.

As a child of the ’80s, Mark Bellomo describes himself as an introverted,
bespectacled, 98-lb. (soaking wet), Dungeons & Dragons-playing, action-figure-collecting, comic book-reading, dyed-in-the-wool nerd.

No matter, because according to the Good Book (as written by Stan Lee, naturally), the geeks shall inherit the Earth.

Mark Bellomo

Author Mark Bellomo

And Bellomo has certainly done just that.

Over the past twenty years or so, Bellomo has forged a reputation as one of the leading toy experts in the world, writing definitive books on three of the most iconic and important toy lines ever created: Star Wars, Transformers and G.I. Joe. He also served as Consulting Producer in the three-season Netflix documentary The Toys That Made Us, created by Brian Volk-Weiss.

Volk-Weiss, a prominent film and TV director and producer, and a bit of a toy nerd himself, calls it “an honor to get to know Mark.” Meanwhile, Kirk Bozigian, the former Vice President of Boys Toys at Hasbro and, as such, intimately involved with the G.I. Joe toy line, calls Bellomo’s G.I. Joe book “breathtaking.”

Bellomo’s depth and breadth of expertise is on full display in the book Totally Tubular ’80s Toys, a fun ride back to his roots where he examines everything from He-Man to Cabbage Patch Kids, Trivial Pursuit to Rubik’s Cube, and Pac-Man to Mario Bros Donkey Kong.

Mark Bellomo books

Author Mark Bellomo's work: "The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe," "The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Actions Figures 1977-1985," "The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Transformers," and "Totally Tubular '80s Toys." 

Of course “fun” is a relative term. For readers, it’s entertainment and nostalgia. For Bellomo, the fun found in the ’80s book involved an extensive and exhaustive deep dive into not only the toys but also the minutia of the Me-Decade.

Bellomo surrounded himself with every aspect of the 1980s. He watched an endless string of movies, toy commercials on YouTube, DVD boxed sets – and some antiquated VHS tapes – available for every ’80s toy line in the book.

Even so, that wasn’t enough. So he checked every toy sample from every line of his extensive personal collection to ensure that he had all of the toys’ various accessories required for the book’s photos; if a toy wasn’t complete … it wasn’t included.

“I know how obsessive this seems,” Bellomo says, “but for me to misrepresent an accessory in any of my guides is inexcusable.”

Of course it seems obsessive because it is. That’s the point. Bellomo has to obsess in order to tell the story. The right story. The complete story. The story a collector needs, right down to a toy’s smallest detail and its most easily lost piece.

Hang around Bellomo long enough and you begin to realize that fun is serious business.

Mark Bellomo

Mark Bellomo received a Millennium Falcon Star Wars toy as a Christmas present as a kid, setting a course of adventure that would last a lifetime.

With every project, big or small, Bellomo wears that sense of purpose and commitment on his shoulders just as assuredly as Superman wears his cape. For a man who first started collecting at age 5 and who now has some 65,000 action figures and 120,000 comic books, this is his charge and his unrelenting burden. And don’t be fooled, because it is a burden. A joyful, lifelong burden of a man whose own toy story demands it.

To better understand one of the most important voices in the toy collecting world, Antique Trader approached Bellomo with a few questions. Here’s what we found out.

Antique Trader: What is the key to your success in business? In life?

Mark Bellomo: Working 12-16 hours a day. Every day. Writing, researching, and organizing toys, comic books, and other collectibles.

For instance, yesterday and today have been spent researching every Star Wars clone trooper action figure released by Hasbro from their inception in 2002 (via the company’s Star Wars “Saga” assortment[s]) to the present day.

You see, in order for me to write about these artifacts, I’d better know them inside and out. Not just manipulating the physical toy itself, but learning the toy’s backstory/narrative for the character it represents.

For me, that means reviewing the myriad variations that comprised the clones of the Grand Army of the Republic beyond the simple Phase I and Phase II manifestations of clone trooper armor. So then, it’s essential for me to look up not just the colors that indicate different clone divisions and their operational overview, but also the different armor variances that suggest different military occupational specialties.

I live for researching toys and passing on that information to kids and collectors alike: It’s my mission statement in life.

G.I. Joe 1982

A selection of toys from the inaugural series of Hasbro's revitalized G.I. Joe line from 1982.

Antique Trader: What has surprised you the most about the collectible toy field?

Bellomo: That forty years after I began collecting toys, where once the collectible hobby was the province of “nerds” and “geeks,” during the past decade and a half, collectibles have become embraced by the average person. The secondary market FOR these collectibles is as powerful as any other investment opportunity (stocks, oil futures, commodities, etc.).

Antique Trader: The house is on fire, what piece from your personal collection do you grab? Why?

Bellomo: Nothing from my collection. They’re just toys, and toys can ultimately be replaced. The “pieces” I’d grab are:

1. My beloved wife.

2. My cat, Pea-pod.

3. My three external hard drives that house all the text for my books and articles, website, sundry research, and raw files of assorted TV consultations.

Unfortunately, there are a few pieces I own which are unique, one-of-a-kind samples, but what are you going to do? (My collection occupies my house, my garage, and a few different large storage spaces.)

Mark Bellomo

Mark Bellomo's beloved kitty, Pea-pod. 

Antique Trader: Biggest influence in your life?

Bellomo: My mother and father because they taught me the value of working hard. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. (I think they imparted this a bit too well: I despise taking vacations. I’d much prefer writing a book or researching toys and pop culture.)

Also, one of my grad school professors, H.R. Stoneback. He’s a leading expert in the field of American Modernism, and he taught me HOW to research; HOW to take a deep dive into a subject.

Antique Trader: What is your best habit?

Bellomo: I research an artifact or idea to the point where I’ve exhausted the possibility of finding any further information on a subject. This... takes a LOT of time.

Antique Trader: Your worst?

Bellomo: I research an artifact or idea to the point where I’ve exhausted the possibility of finding any further information on a subject. This... takes a LOT of time.

Mark Bellomo

Bellomo is an expert on the subject of vintage Star Wars toys, including Luke Skywalker in Hoth Battle Gear atop an open-belly tauntaun from 1982. 

Antique Trader: What would you like to be remembered for?

Mark Bellomo: My contribution to the field of collectibles: writing such definitive (yet accessible) guides to the favorite toy lines of my youth that these books endure past my time on this little blue marble hurtling through space.

Antique Trader: If you could spend a day playing with one toy, what would it be?

Bellomo: The Defiant Space Vehicle Launch Complex. It’s a 3-3/4"-scale, 3-part G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero space shuttle playset released in 1987. It’s enormous and amazingly detailed. If the Defiant is not available, then the 7-1/2' long USS Flagg aircraft carrier for the same brand.

The USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier

The USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier from Hasbro's G.I. Joe line is considered by many the greatest playset ever created. It retailed for $109.99 when released in 1985.

Antique Trader: What is your great-unknown talent?

Bellomo: I can play most sports ending in the word “ball” pretty darned well, and I only began pursuing those games in my early 20s. If toys did not exist, I’d be playing full court games of basketball or tackle football all day long, every single day of my life. Playing football is one of my favorite activities in life.

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