Comic collectors come in various types: the obsessive-compulsive freezer-storing freaks, the loners, the socially stupid geeks, the flamboyant fanatics who don capes and wear tights beyond Halloween. But avid collectors all live by one simple creed: A comic book or action figure must be kept in pristine condition to be worth anything. You can look, but don’t touch.
Daniel Bowen does both—with a passion. Bowen, 31, has nearly 300 action figures out and about, suspended in fighting stances in his Citrus Heights apartment. A few times a month, he takes them from their shelves to fight each other as part of his ongoing battle between the good guys and the baddies, led by his biggest figure, a 10-inch tall Darth Maul. Bowen, who is studying to be a personal trainer, plays with the figures to analyze life, to put the war-torn real world in perspective.
He is a character himself. When his wife is at work, he wears karate suits and prances around town with his daughters Karma, 2, and Katana, 1. He practices martial arts in local parks with chain-sticks and wooden swords.
He plans to open a martial-arts school in Sacramento one day. Right now, he connects with others who share his passion online, where he started the virtual Sacred Fire Dojo, a group that currently has about 70 members. They know Bowen as his alter ego, Shinobi Shugendo, which he says represents finding a path and gaining personal power with nature.
When did you start collecting action figures?
It started in 1980. I was about 5, living in Utah. I really didn’t get an allowance so most of them were presents. My first one was the Incredible Hulk, probably made in the 1970s. I kept him in a little cupboard by my head on my bunk bed. I kept him with me all the time until that fateful day when he got lost. I remember looking everywhere for him, but I just had to accept that some how, some way, dude was gone. Poor guy.
Why would you take them out of the packaging if you knew that would make them worthless?
So they can be free. And to play with them. It’s kind of a liberating thing. You never know what they can do until you let them out. They want to be out.
Do you ever feel like you’re too old to be playing with toys?
I don’t think you’re too old to have something you enjoy that brings you happiness. Playing with action figures is one of the best psychiatric sessions. It’s a release. These pieces of plastic are an extension of you. Sometimes I want to be a part of their imaginary world. I’ll come in my room, sit down and look at them. You got to have your inner childhood somehow. If I had more money, it’d be motorcycles or something but that’s for later.
What’s your favorite action figure?
Voltron, definitely. It has been around the longest and the Voltron storyline is real cool. It is five different colored lions and they transform into one big robot. Voltron is the story of different people coming together to make the whole unit. It’s about teamwork and using the strength of everyone around you.
What is a virtual dojo?
A dojo is a place of learning and virtual means through the Internet. Real people are interacting, but it’s all inside the computer. You’re not really inside anything, but you’re communicating, you’re learning and you’re sharing knowledge. And you can send people videos through MySpace and YouTube.
Why did you create the Sacred Fire Dojo?
I wanted to get back to that spiritual nature. I have the love for martial arts and I see how much it helps me and I want to share that with other people. People need to find a way to conquer their obstacles physically and mentally.
Do you ever get mocked when you go out in your karate suit and spar with trees?
Yes. I never got into a fight but, at first, they didn’t know what the heck I was doing and they looked at me and were kind of afraid. But then they see what I’m doing and they say, “Oh, that’s pretty cool.” Usually it ends pretty good. I think that I have enough confidence that people aren’t going to come up to me and try to pick a fight. I lived my whole life worrying about what people think. Who cares? You got to do what you got to do. There are people who don’t like freedom and freedom of thought and that’s where being able to defend yourself comes in handy.