Stumped by what to get the I-have-to-have-everything superfans on your gift list? Valentine Chhann can help. Chhann is one of the fortunate few who gets to do the thing he loves best every day: he shops for cool toys. And over his four years as a toy buyer at Forbidden Planet, New York's mecca for comics and collectibles, he's become the go-to guy for what's hot in the trademarked merch world.
"I'm not a big Alien fan but there's a life-sized egg with the alien face hooker that's coming out," says Chhann with grim amusement. "It's gonna be like three feet tall. We'll probably put it in the front window."
Chhann's own tastes veer toward comics and sci-fi-inspired action figures.
"DC Collectibles I love because I'm a big DC Comics fan," he says, walking down a long aisle of display cases stocked with thousands of toys and collectibles he helped to curate. "Diamond does a lot of Marvel stuff so they're good, too. They do Star Trek."
Chhann's a stickler for details and fondly regards the display case reserved for Hot Toys high-end action figures.
"I have a few at home and they're gorgeous pieces," says Chhann. "If there's anything that I want in this store," he says, petting the realistic fur of a 1/6th scale Star Wars Chewbacca (Hot Toys: $254.99) positioned beside a ready-for-action Han Solo figure ($229.99), "it would be anything here."
But it's not his only Star Wars pick in a year crowded with toys conceived in a galaxy far, far away.
"You cannot find these in most stores," says Chhann, picking up a Star Wars Action Figure 4-Pack (Hasbro/Entertainment Earth, $99.99). "You got four characters here, all exclusive to the set, including this red stormtrooper that originally debuted in a comic book in the '90s."
Red stormtrooper? Done.
"People love that 'Legalize Kryptonite' shirt," says Chhann as he passes a vast array of T-shirts adorning a wall near the back of the store. "I think it's more a statement on legalizing marijuana."
A lot of the other hot selling tees at Forbidden Planet are based on DC Comics television shows.
"We have the Flash shirts and the Arrow shirts, but one of the best sellers we've had recently is the Star Laboratories one," says Chhann. "It's the main headquarters of The Flash on the TV show right now and a lot of people, young and old, have come in to buy it."
At the back of the store, Chhann reaches up, takes an over-sized book from a high shelf and announces, "Here I have The Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition."
The 11-pound tome (Marvel & IDW, $174.99) preserves the first 15 issues of illustrator John Romita's Spider-Man art between hard covers, with each lovingly-scanned panel printed at twice the original size.
"You're even got stains that they reproduced just to show the condition of what these guys are looking like now," says Chhann appreciatively.
Super-sized John Romita magnum opus with original White Out corrections and coffee stains? Done.
While he's a classic DC/Marvel fan, Chhann occasionally gets caught up in the indie weirdness that reigns in the graphic novel section at the back of the store.
"We recently had Derf Backderf in here," says Chhann. "He signed all the copies of Trashed (Insight Comicarts - $21.20) that we had in stock at the time. He also signed a copy of his award-winning book, My Friend Dahmer, which I bought. Yes, it's about a serial killer but it's not ... grotesque, if you can believe it." Backderf attended high school with Dahmer.
With the demise of the Kim's Video empire, which catered to Manhattan's movie geeks from 1987 through 2008, horror fans jonesing for blood turned to Forbidden Planet, which expanded it's horror and expoitation DVD section to accommodate them.
"One of the ones that people have been drooling over when they come into the store is Society (the Society Limited Edition Set, $34.99)," says Chhann, pulling the 1989 horror film from a shelf jammed with gems like Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher and Kung-Fu & Titties.
"This is a limited edition which comes with the DVD and also a graphic novel, which apparently has a sequel for Society in graphic novel form," says Chhann. "Really good gift idea for the horror fan in your life."
Late 1980's body horror classic shrink wrapped with a graphic novel sequel? Done.
Forbidden Planet NYC is located at 832 Broadway in New York City.