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Godzilla and his Monster Island cohorts invade San Diego every summer as part of the International Comic-Con. Dealers sell Japanese toy creatures based on movie characters and television shows like Ultraman. Some of the vinyl and plastic items have hefty price tags. A couple of years ago a dealer at the Comic-Con had a clear white plastic Godzilla figure for sale. I asked him how much it was going for, and the guy told me, "Seven hundred."

"That's a joke, right?"

He gave me a mean look. "No, asshole," he said, "I am not kidding."

I guess someone did fork over the cash because two days later that toy was gone. I did some research on the Internet and discovered that only 100 of these clear-plastic Godzillas were pressed in Japan. It was a promotion for one of the movies, and they were given out at the premiere. I saw quotes up to $900. Today it's going for over a grand.

I bought my first two vinyl monsters in 1997 -- cheap ones for $12 and $20 -- a Mothra larva and a Mechagodzilla.

The next year I bought three more; the next, seven. I've been continuing to do so every summer when the Comic-Con rolls into town. In fact, it's my main reason for going: to buy Godzilla toys!

In the beginning of this collecting, I wouldn't pay more than $20 to $30 for each figure, but I started wanting hard-to-find monsters for my collection. For example, Megalon, the beast unleashed by the government of Seatopia in Godzilla vs. Megalon to destroy the land dwellers as punishment for nuclear waste and global warming. When I first spotted this action figure it was going for $45. The next year, $55, and the next, $65. I would have to break down and buy the thing at some point. Last year, I did -- and paid $75.

The Megalon is now priced at $100.

At Comic-Con 2004 I spotted, and became obsessed with, a Mecha King Kong figure. The dealer wanted $60 for him one day, $70 the next. Another dealer was asking $80. I offered the first dealer $50 cash. "Fifty-five dollars and it's yours," he said. I handed him the money.

Godzilla has changed over the years. In the 1950s he was a nuclear-powered lizard hell-bent on destroying mankind...or at least cities in Japan. In the '60s and '70s he became friendly and saved the world from space invaders and their monster slaves. As Godzilla was revamped in the 1990s, other aliens went back in time to change events and make Godzilla evil again. Many of his recent foes have been abnormalities created by fusions of his "Godzilla cells" with intergalactic creatures, frozen prehistoric baddies, and lab experiments gone postal.

I am watching Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster as I write this (I bought a Smog Monster for $40 on eBay, and it goes for $60 to $80 among sellers). The theme song to the movie is a psychedelic, '60s-style tune, "Godzilla, Save the Earth." -- Michael Hemmingson

International Comic-Con 2005

Thursday, July 14, through Sunday, July 17

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sunday)

One- and four-day passes available

San Diego Convention Center

111 West Harbor Drive

San Diego downtown waterfront

619-491-2475 or

www.comic-con.org

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