Mark Hamill has served as a pop culture icon for the last four decades, a geek hero with few equals. But as is made very clear in his new show for the streaming Comic-Con HQ channel, Hamill also speaks the same language of those who love him. Even back in 1977, on the biggest movie shoot of his young career, Mark Hamill was busy building his memorabilia collection. “After Star Wars, I kept my [Luke Skywalker] boots from the original,” Mark Hamill told Inverse, “and the helmet I rescued the princess in.”
Hamill’s collecting of pop-culture ephemera actually started way earlier than that. “I was at some of the earliest cons,” Hamill said, “Even before I was cast in Star Wars.” And that makes his new show — Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest — a natural continuation of his lifelong interest in “nerdier” subcultures. Each installment of the show finds Mark talking to collectors and experts, exploring various deep corners of the geek universe. The first two episodes feature artist Jim Lee of DC comics and Scott Zillner, an expert on Godzilla toys and the current organizer of Powermorphicon.
Front and center is Mark Hamill’s passion for the stuff he’s investigating, and his enthusiasm is undeniable. He devoured the monster movies and comic books that came out during his childhood and was influenced by genre work from around the world.
Because his family relocated several times in his childhood, Hamill actually graduated high school in Japan. To be sure, Hamill loved monsters from a young age and told Inverse that he had “already built the Aurora Godzilla model kit” before moving across the Pacific with his family as a teenager. Worries that he’d be unmoored without western pop culture were assuaged by the preponderance of monster movies available. “Even though I knew Godzilla, and Ghidorah, and Rodan, and Mothra, and Gamera … [being in Japan] added a dimension that I’d never seen before. That was the first time I’d seen the Godzilla where they didn’t have Raymond Burr … the tone was so different … so dire,” he said.
Within a minute of our conversation, Hamill had already dived into the difference between cuts of the original Godzilla. It’s apparent Mark Hamill could be a lot of people’s best friend, the drinking buddy with whom they debate comic book storylines. The fact that he was and is still in Star Wars suddenly feels like a bonus, for him and us. And because the subject of Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest is all about locating specific collectables and/or aficionados, the tone of the show is squarely aimed at folks who would probably attend a Comic-Con not just in search of autographs, but also with the hopes of honing in on rare pop-culture artifacts.
With that in mind, the first episode features Mark walking around the DC archives with artist Jim Lee, seeing original art from across the history DC comics, including alternate art from the famous 1989 “Death in the Family” storyline … only this time Robin lives.
Hamill is aware that the show has to walk a specific line — even a show about nerdy collectables can’t let itself get too nerdy. “I wish we could go in and do supplemental material where we go in and do close-ups of all of that stuff! Hamill said, “Being down in the [DC] archives, you could spend days down there. You could do a whole documentary on just that alone. We are walking that tightrope though, we want to service the people like you and I, who really love all this minutiae, but also try to not be so in-the-weeds for people who just want to have a pleasant diversion.”
As an adult, Mark Hamill has become a bonafide comic book collector, which he partially attributes to the fact that he saw them as “elicit” when he was younger. “Comic books were forbidden in my house,” Hamill said. “At first, I had to hang out with friends who even had comic books to read them … but [eventually] when my father gave us money, my brothers and sisters would buy candy, but I would buy comics! Once you eat candy, it’s gone, but comics you get to keep.”
But as a comic book lover in 2016, Mark Hamill now has a harder time pursuing collecting, partially because of his status as Mark Hamill. He may have lifelong fans, but people often try to charge him more for valuable comics because of who he is.
“Oh, it’s terrible!” Hamill said. “I did an experiment one time where I was bickering with this guy to buy a [comic] book. And you know how it goes, the guy was like ‘I paid $600 for it so I want at least a thousand’ blah blah blah.’ So we go back and forth. And then I sent a friend and sure enough, my guy got him down to $200 less than I did! You know, people just assume that I can spend that much … it makes me want to go in disguise or something.”
Hamill even mentioned during the filming of Comic Book the Movie in 2004 that he was able to walk a convention floor disguised in a Hulk mask. “I thought: This is a great way to go and shop,” he said, “I mean, it’s not like I don’t want to get recognized. But, you just end up doing nothing but put in a personal appearance.”
Obviously, though Hamill’s voice could be recognizable as the Joker, he’d get recognized on the floor of any convention because of Star Wars. But the boots of Luke Skywalker aren’t the only pieces of memorabilia Hamill kept from projects he was involved with. He kept the socks from his Trickster costume from his recent stint on The Flash, and still has an in-universe Earth Confederacy t-shirt from his days as Col. Blair in the Wing Commander video games.
Those classic Star Wars clothing items might not be as awesome as a fan might think, proving that even when something was “original” it might not have been better. “I have to tell you, the stormtrooper helmets you can buy now are much better made than what I had,” Hamill said. “All the lightsabers I’ve seen and signed are much better than mine in the movies.”
And what about those vintage ‘70s space boots? “You wouldn’t recognize my boots out of context either,” he said. “They look more like slip-on hush puppies!”
Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest debuts on Tuesday on Comic-Con HQ. Clips from Episode 1, where Mark Hamill hangs out with Jim Lee at DC Headquarters, is on YouTube now.