Mark Hamill is best known, of course, for his iconic role as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga. Many fans also know him as the voice of the Joker in numerous DC animated iterations. What you may not know, however, is that he’s also an avid collector of comics, toys, games and other pop-culture memorabilia.
Just like so many other collectors, Mark’s collection has grown so vast that he can’t display it all. So, instead of renting more storage space, he’s turning the tables on his compulsion. Mark’s setting out to see other collections — from the incredible DC Comics vault to the legendary basement of Hollywood prop archivist Bob Burns — while sharing his adventures with all of us on Comic-Con HQ’s new series, Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest.
I talked with Hamill about where he got the idea for the show, his favorite moments so far, and more, including his own collecting habit.
Fandom: What was it about the idea for Pop Culture Quest that captured your imagination?
Hamill: Howard Kazanjian has been a friend of mine for a long time — he was a producer on Return of the Jedi. He’s been out to the house several times and the most recent time I was talking to him about having to reluctantly decline multiple offers to host TV programs about things like space travel, UFOs, paranormal activity, etc. The problem is that while these are shows I’d love to watch — I’d love to see a ghost or a UFO or something — I just don’t think I’d be passionate enough to carry it as a host.
I told Howard, “If I was going to do a show, it’d have to be something I’m very, very interested in.” And we were sitting in the room that I’m sitting in right now, which is chock-a-block with model kits, puppets, board games, lunch boxes and toys… Howard said, “We should do a show about this. This should be the show!”
The reason it appealed to me is because it had gotten out of control — I’d collected too much stuff to display. I had to get storage space and hide it away, which is totally antithetical to the reason you collect. It was a way to continue my passion for collecting without actually acquiring more stuff.
Fandom: Prior to making the show, what was your experience with other collectors?
Hamill: You know, the people behind the collections are sometimes more interesting than the items themselves. And it doesn’t matter if they’re the guy who collects beer cans or whatever. It could be a guy who started collecting 007 beer from back when Sean Connery played James Bond, and it just took off from there into different kinds of beer. I don’t have a thing for beer cans, but because of the shared obsessive-compulsive nature of collecting, I think that’s so interesting. It doesn’t matter that I don’t collect beer cans myself.
I directed Jonathan Winters in Comic Book: The Movie — he won an award and wasn’t able to go to the ceremony. So, my wife Marilou and I drove up to give it to him at his home in Santa Barbara. It turned out that he collected Civil War memorabilia. Now, that’s not pop culture, but it was a really rarified sort of thing because it obviously wasn’t a collection of stuff which was mass produced. That was a moment that led me to see how people find joy in many different kinds of collections, and while we focus on pop culture on the show, obviously, we still feature a lot of different types of collections. I hope there’s something for everyone.
Fandom: I’ve seen the first two episodes where you visit the DC Comics vault, and the Zillner kaiju/robot collection. I read in the press release that you also go to Bob Burn’s basement — that’s pretty legendary stuff for film fans.
Hamill: Oh my god! It is legendary, but it’s funny because it’s out in the middle of nowhere — it’s just like a neighborhood house in the Valley. You’re not going to believe what this guy has. He started collecting when he was like 9 or 10 when he met a prop man who gave him the head from Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man. Bob was a kid in the late ’40s, so he was running around when a lot of this stuff was not considered valuable — the movie people would just throw it out. There wasn’t a lot of competition at that time, so that’s why his collection is so beyond belief. I can’t wait for people to see it!
Watch the trailer for Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest:
Fandom: How about your own collection? As we’re doing this interview, I’m drinking from a 1980 Burger King Luke Skywalker collector’s glass, and I’m wondering… I’m sure they send you all of it, but do you collect things with your own likeness, or is that just too weird?
Hamill: Ha! I remember those! Yes, it is pretty weird. To tell you the truth, they do send me a lot, but you know my son Nathan — he was born when we were making Empire Strikes Back — he’s the big Star Wars collector in the family, so I generally send him all of that stuff. And he’s very meticulous, logging everything into a master list and archiving each item like a curator in a museum.
My passion has been comics — collecting Golden Age and Silver Age books, but I had to dial that back. I couldn’t justify spending $1100 for a comic when I had to pay the kids’ tuition and get braces for her… priorities, you know! So, I said I’m just going to collect action figures. Then I cut back further and said I’m only going to collect action figures from the shows where I’ve done a voice. And I dialed it back even further and said I was only going to collect action figures for the actual characters I’ve voiced. But my wife still says it’s out of control.
Fandom: Where do you have your stuff displayed?
Hamill: I have a den, which is sort of a man cave — there’s tons of stuff here on shelves and whatnot. There’s also stuff down in the pool house. There’s stuff in the basement and now in the attic. What really sealed the deal for me in terms of having to cut back is when we bought storage space in Port Hueneme, which is like 90 minutes away — that’s ridiculous. As I was closing the door of the storage space I said, “You know, I’m probably never going to see this stuff again,” and sure enough I haven’t seen it since. There’s just only so much you can collect, and that’s why I’m doing Pop Culture Quest because I want to see your collection, other people’s collections and share that experience. I want to know what Brian collects, and I want to know why you collect it.
Watch the first episode of Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest now:
New episodes of Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest are available Tuesdays on Comic-Con HQ.