From bargain-basement plastic models to hi-tech, multi-slice status symbols, toasters can say almost as much about their owners as cars, watches or shoes. The reason is simple - as one of the few kitchen gadgets accessible to anyone, regardless of their culinary ineptitude, toasters represent a dream product for manufacturers and advertisers. Whatever statement you might want your toaster to make, there's probably one out there that fits the bill.
But there has probably never been a toaster that says quite so much about its owner as the one that will be launched at this month's Comic-Con International in San Diego: the Darth Vader toaster. It captures a target market that rarely forks out for kitchen appliances, with most of their disposable income going on Battlestar Galactica box sets and the latest Marvel comics. Not only does the black plastic device closely resemble the Dark Lord's shiny noggin, it also burns his image on to your bread of choice. "If there's something every Sith Lord knows how to do, it's make a balanced breakfast!" says the promotional literature. Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea first thing in the morning, but that won't stop the legion of fanboys who will be queuing up to buy one at Comic-Con.
The annual convention is an essential event for fans of comics, fantasy, film, horror, computer games and all the other things that grown men are encouraged to deny still loving. Although many might assume that the average conventiongoer lives in his parents' basement and works shifts at the local video store, times have changed. The number of superhero movies that now dominate summer box offices is evidence of the genre's mainstream appeal and acceptability. Studios and manufacturers alike are well aware that this means most fans at this year's Comic-Con can easily shell out the $54.99 (Dh202) needed for a Star Wars toaster. As well as a chance to meet favourite authors, actors, artists and animators, the 125,000-strong crowd in attendance will be encouraged to part with its cash at every turn.
Alongside the Darth Vader toaster, Lucasfilm is also set to unleash the Death Star cookie jar on the Comic-Con audience. "It is built to hold an Imperial Army of your favourite cookies," says the manufacturer, "and can even double as a festive ice cooler or candy bowl at your next Star Wars soirée." One of the convention's biggest attractions is the vast number of exclusive toys and products. Fans eagerly snap up limited-edition action figures, comics and branded goods in the hope that their values will one day increase. Although Comic-Con's purpose is to bring new and future releases from studios and publishers directly to their devotees, many outlets are aware that the best way to spark fans' interests is to be unashamedly retro.
Among the many goodies that will be available at this year's bash will be a 25th-anniversary Soundwave action figure, from the Transformers universe. Following the biggest movie of the year so far, the toy manufacturer Hasbro is re-releasing its original 1984 robot toy, which transforms into a cassette player. Its applications may be few in the age of iPods, but would you turn down the ultimate Eighties accessory?
Also hot property will be the Silver Astronaut Snoopy figurine from the comic strip Peanuts. Fans of the series will be aware that Charlie Brown's beagle was a key player in the US space programme, not only becoming the official mascot of aerospace safety but also the namesake of the Apollo 10 lunar module. The new issue of 400 silver figures is designed to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.
Comic-Con International takes place at the San Diego Convention Center from July 23 to 26.