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Anime Cel Collecting - Inside the Mind of a Collector
By Adam Arnold
It's common knowledge that anime is expensive. Yet there is a hidden desire, though ever so faint, that cries out to buy, buy, and buy some more. For some, it may be enough to have a few fansubs, or maybe a decent sized collection of original Japanese manga. Still, for others the passion runs deeper. For those hardcore collectors they must own something truly original. They must own a piece of the shows themselves, and the easiest way to do that is to collect anime cels.
As intriguing a hobby as cel collecting is, it is not a hobby to enter lightly. As anime becomes ever more mainstream, average viewers will surely want a piece of anime history. Animefringe Online Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with Nick Dombkowski, the owner of Anime Chaos (www.animechaos.com), in order to gain some insider info on how dealers gauge cel value, what's hard to find, and what to watch out for. Some of this info might just save you a couple of buckets.
Animefringe/Adam Arnold: Thanks for agreeing to this interview and taking the time to sit down and answer a few questions. To begin with, how did you get into collecting anime cels?
Anime Chaos/Nick Dombkowski: I used to be a comic book and toy dealer but quit back during the start of the "alternate cover" craze. I was always interested in anime but never had the time to really watch any. I finally got to watch Project A-Ko and not long after that the Tenchi-Muyo! OVAs. I was hooked! Not long after I watched the series, I started looking for Tenchi-Muyo! merchandise and came across a nice cel of Ryoko from the 1st movie. That was the first cel I ever bought, and obviously wasn't the last.
AF: You have one of the nicest selections of cels on the net, how do you go about getting so many new items?
AC: Basically, I buy in bulk direct from Japan. Any more than that and I'd have to send you to the alternate world.
AF: From your experience, what series or movies would a collector be hard pressed to find cels from?
AC: The best example would be cels from Record of Lodoss War. It's extremely popular, extremely rare, and extremely expensive. Other examples would be Evangelion, Ah! My Goddess, and most Miyazaki films.
AF: Price is always subjective depending on the cel, but how do you judge a particular cel's value?
AC: There are a lot of features to consider when pricing cels. The series or movie, the cels condition, the characters pose, sequence number (if its a key cel or not), if a background and/or matching sketch is included. The biggest driving force is simply the popularity of the series.
AF: Quite a number of shows now are produced almost solely using computers. Douga (sketch color guides) and genga (rough sketch) are really gaining popularity, but there doesn't seem to be any real place to get them. How would a collector go about finding production material from one of these shows?
AC: Right now the best place to get them are cel shops in Japan as not many online dealers have a huge selection. I'm planning on expanding my sketches section based on the large number of computer generated shows.
AF: Say a fan wanted a sketch from Rahxephon or another CG series, in general, do they tend to be less or more expensive than traditional cels in many cases?
AC: In almost all cases the sketches are significantly cheaper than the cels because most collectors would rather have the completed cel art. They are catching up though. Give the industry another year or two and sketches will be all over.
AF: I know this is kind of a subjective question, but which do you think is better - getting one really nice cel or getting a couple of okay cels?
AC: There are a lot of different collecting habits out there. Some people only want "super deformed" cels, or just want a few key sequences. Even some people collect cels of characters sticking out their tongues or of people on the phone. So an "okay" cel in ones person's eyes may be very special to another.
As for my collecting habits, I go for the best quality possible. After collecting for a while the "okay" cels started losing their luster to me and I've become very picky as to what I buy.
AF: While you primarily sell cels via you website, you do offer some cels on Ebay. How do you decide what to offer on your website and what to auction off?
AC: There are a few reasons why. Ebay helps to maximize the profit from some cels, but you have to fiercely consider what you're putting up there. Some cels will do very well, others will sell for much less than you expect. To be perfectly safe you should just sell direct.
AF: The other reason is to let collectors all have a fair chance at a cel. It's very common for many customers to want the same cel; and by putting it on Ebay it lets everyone have a crack at it. You can't please everyone, but at least you can give everyone a chance.
AF: There is a lot of vocal collectors that are criticizing sellers who solely use Ebay to sell their collections citing it's just a quick way to get the most for an item really quickly. Do you feel there is any truth to this?
AC: It really depends what they're selling. If their collection consists of primarily Mon Colle Knights cels *cough* then the seller won't be making much money if any at all. However, if they are selling Lodoss cels they could potentially do very well. It's still a risk either way. What some collectors don't realize is the potential for a large loss on the sellers end if they don't use the reserve system.
AF: Are there any warnings that you'd offer people who are considering purchasing cels off of an auction site?
AC: Read the description thoroughly and if you have any questions about the item be sure to ask them before you bid. If you have any doubts, stay far away.
AF: I've read some real horror stories about how some dealers on Ebay package their cels, how do you package your cels to ensure they survive their terrifying trip through the postal service?
AC: I use some freebie packing supplies from the USPS. I place the cels in an envelope, place it in a small flat box, then reinforce that by putting it in another larger flattened box. In 7 years I've only had 4 shipping complaints... Only half were from damaged cels. That's an awesome track record. You have to really try to damage these boxes.
AF: You also offer silent auctions every so often on your Anime Chaos web site, have you ever gotten any ridiculously high bids before?
AC: Silent Auctions on Anime Chaos have just started, so not much to say there. Ebay is a different story. I've had some very insane bidders go crazy over a few cels I placed up. More power to them though. :)
AF: Since fans tend to collect what they like, are there any tips that you'd personally give for a fan that's just starting out?
AC: Cel collecting is more addictive and more expensive than crack. Watch your budget, don't go nuts, and enjoy what you do. This is the most unique hobbies I've ever had and its fun... Just watch your wallet. ;)
AF: You have a massive collection, how do you store and keep track of everything?
AC: Every single cel is stored in a cel book (art binder) and placed vertically in a bookcase. Keeping them in binders protects them from dust and direct sunlight. Storing them vertically keeps pressure off them and helps avoid the sketches from becoming stuck and lessens the chance for the paint to crack.
Keeping track of them... Well... Lets just say its all in my head.
AF: Any chance you let that Ryoko cel of her in her bathing suit go for say... 50 bucks?
AC: Slap a couple zeros on the end of that number and I'll think about it. ;)
Maybe you've been looking for that certain Sailor Moon cel or hoping to find something from one of the recent computer generated series, but just didn't know where to look. The best place to start is your favorite search engine and first read up on the ins and outs of anime cel care and collecting. By doing that you'll have gained a better grasp on what to look for when you finally decide to put some money down. While a number of sites repeat the same information, the following sites offer the most insightful information for beginning collectors.
Animanga Services: An introduction to anime cels (technical FAQ) - A page dedicated to explaining what the common terms associated with anime cels mean, technical aspects, and gives plenty of examples.
Anime Cel Info Place - This site, while not packed, does have two insightful resources. The first is a guide dedicated to "Mounting Animation Cels" and the second is an in-depth document detailing "The Care and Handling of Animation Cels."
Remember, just because you want the cel, doesn't mean you can necessarily afford to buy it.