What makes a fan an ultimate collector? Is it the size of the collection? It’s monetary value? Could it be how rare some of the pieces are? It might just be the emotional connection that a person has to what they are passionate about.
Paul Bottos is the ultimate Mickey Mouse collector, primarily because of the latter. Yes, Bottos has over $100,000 worth of merchandise. Yes, he has over 10,000 plus Mickey pieces in his collection, but truly and more than anything else, it is the emotional connection that he has to the mouse that built Disney.
To say Bottos had a rough childhood is an understatement. His parents were divorced when he was a young boy and ended up being moved from foster home to foster home all throughout his youth. However, it wasn’t until he was into his adulthood that Bottos began his collection.
“At the time my wife was collecting Beanie Babies and we were at a yard sale where I saw this tiny Mickey and the moment I picked it up I had an epiphany! It brought back these memories from a happier time in my childhood where the local theater would show classic movies and cartoons before the films. The theater owner would let the kids in for free during the week to watch the cartoons before the movies and they were always Disney cartoons,” said Bottos, about how his collection, which began 32 years ago.
It took that one little Mickey Mouse toy to created a lifelong passion. At first it was little plastic toys, then bubblegum cards and eventually larger images like original art.
Through his collection, Bottos began meeting with other Disney fans, which allowed him to create a relationship with those who shared his passion, to the point that people were willing to give him various items.
“You start realizing that the people you start talking to about Disney or even Mickey Mouse created a kinship and a family lifestyle with good work ethics. I have not met a not nice Disney person in all my ventures,” smiled Bottos sitting in the press lounge after picking up a retro Mickey Mouse stuffed animal just moments prior.
Some would called the Canadian almost cultish or obsessed with Mickey Mouse, but really, Bottos is just a regular guy. For the past 27 years, he has been working at maximum security psychiatric facility in Oakville, Ontario with troubled youth.
“It was the woman who I called my mother that told me it was okay for me to cry. Up to that point, I was always told men or boys rather, don’t cry. I was 13 when I first cried and because of her I was able to open up and now I have a career with kids who are going through similar things that I went through,” confessed Bottos, who enjoys his career about as much as his collection.
What adds to Bottos being the ultimate collector is that during the time Disney was doing the, ‘When Did it Start for You‘ campaign that began with Jeff Shelly. It showed Shelly’s transition from fan to artist, which lead to Shelly being responsible for Bottos’ first tattoo.
“My most favorite pieces on my wall are three drawings that Jeff (Shelly) drew for me at a fan expo in Toronto. I stood in line for three hours to get a sketch the first time. He put the copyright symbol on it making it official Disney art,” recalls Bottos, who continued, “On my third meeting with Jeff (Shelly), I asked him to draw me Mickey playing a cigar box guitar, because I build those myself. Jeff agreed to do it after the show. I assumed he was just an animator that became my friend, I didn’t know that when I finally connected with Disney that he was the Director of Creator Art and has to review over 400 designs a week for licensing.”
Whether Bottos is out collecting Mickey items with his son Dakota, who is an avid collector of The Walking Dead, with having every single issue of the series, helping troubled youth or meeting other collectors, his heart and passion for the Disney property shines through his smile.
“My son was adamant about keeping the collection in the family when someone made an offer to buy it a few years ago. He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Disney found out that you had this?’ and look now! It happened. Before I had a connection with tangible things but now I feel more connected to Disney and the whole company because of my experiences. There are people with larger collections and even high end things, it really made me feel special because I didn’t have the best of the best of the best, but because I had an emotional connection, I was able to stay sane and enjoy life. Mickey was my therapist if you want to look at it that way,” grinned Bottos.
When other fans hear about Bottos’ collection, people often want to give him items and he goes so far as to invite them over so they can pick a spot for that piece to share in the experience of the collection.
Recently, there was a family near his residence in who lost everything in a fire, including their young son’s favorite Mickey plushy that he took everywhere with him. Once Bottos found out about their situation, he allowed the family to come to his home and pick an item from his collection for the young boy.
“He was a very shy boy and when they came into the room, he didn’t want to make a mess as he was going through the things. I told them not to worry about it and I started pulling things out, then there was one piece that lit his face up, smiling from ear to ear and that was the one I gave him. Not too long after, his mother wrote me a letter to show their appreciation,” choked up Bottos, who admits that connections like this is what collecting is all about.
If Bottos lost his entire collection tomorrow, even after picking up four amazing original paintings from Fantasia at D23 Expo, it would be okay, because the collection is a reflection of him and not the other way around.
Paul Bottos will be around most of the weekend in Anaheim, CA, if you get a chance, stop him and say hello, he will be more than happy to talk to you and invite you into his world.
All photos are courtesy of Paul Bottos.