2 | Clutter 22
WELCOME... to the 22nd issue of Clutter Magazine!
We hope you enjoy the content of this issue, and, as always, thanks to everyone involved in putting this issue together. We are super excited to be running fast into NYCC and The Designer Toy Awards 2014. We can't wait to celebrate this industry we all love so dearly, and award the winners. This years awards will be held at the prestigious Hammerstein Ballroom, so we will be going BIG!! We hope to see you all there. Peace, love & vinyl fumes, Miranda
COVER DESIGN www.sourbones.com
IN THIS ISSUE: COLUS
PLUS: KIDROBOT PREVIEW
Miranda Oâ€™Brien Editor-in-Chief firstname.lastname@example.org
Niall Anderson Contributor man-e-toys.com
Send review samples, toys, DVDs, etc. to:
Josh Kimberg Managing Editor email@example.com
Marc DeAngelis Contributor firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Curtis Associate Editor email@example.com
Barbara Pavone Contributor Twitter : @ThePavoneReport
Clutter Media Group, 163 Main St, Beacon, NY, 12508 USA.
www.cluttermagazine.com @cluttermagazine facebook.com/cluttermagazine (212) 255-2505
(Mon - Fri 10am - 6pm EST)
Nick Carroll Art Director firstname.lastname@example.org CREW Jason Ryule Tech email@example.com Lana Crooks Gallery Director firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTRIBUTE We are always on the lookout for awesome new contributors and team members. To get involved please drop us a line at email@example.com with how and why you would like to be involved with what we do.
LEGAL The content of the magazine (articles, reviews, advertising, features) reflect the opinions of the respective contributor, and not necessarily those of the publisher. All copyrights/rights to images (photographs, design) writing, and likeness are property of the respective owners, we assume no ownership. All other material is owned and copyrighted by Clutter Media Group and Trade in Cool. Nothing may be reproduced in part or whole without prior written consent from Clutter Media Group.
Printed in the USA.
Clutter 22 | 7
Nick Curtis Colus Havenga
South African born Colus has taken the Designer Toy scene by storm, calling upon his native country's fauna, mythology, flora, and iconography, as well as his classic black-andwhite art, to make immediately memorable figures. Starting last year with Kidrobot's release of his The Hunted 8-inch Dunny, this veteran apparel artist has already gone on to be included in a Dunny blind box series — Art of War — and is working on self-producing his own resin figures. But before we can prophesize about his bright future, it is important to understand where this up-and-comer began… Tell us about yourself. Who are you? what's your art background? My name is Colus Havenga, a South African living in the [United] States. I sound British and drink a lot of tea and gin, but not together. I have the best wife, Kimberly, and the fattest bulldog named Montague. I am a full time character animator, for which I've done extensive work in the stereoscopy field — making things 3D stereo for theatre and TV — and working on features, doccies (documentaries), and music videos, for the likes of Paramore, Linkin Park, Slash… the list goes on. Drawing characters has been my thing since I was very young. During high school I had a comic strip in a national magazine and also in the local newspaper. By the end of high school, I knew I wanted to do something in the line of art. I've always adored animation but, being in South Africa, I never thought I would be able to do that until I heard there was an animation school in Cape Town. Since then I've been working with some great studios, creating award winning animated shorts, ads, pilots, character design for movies, and whatever the CG/animation industry could dish out. And, in my spare time, I design my own stuff. Regarding your own stuff, how would you describe your art style to someone? Is there a reason you stick to black-and-white? Simplistic African-inspired animal creatures mixed with symbolic imagery in black-and-white. There is such an amazing amount of art and culture out Ivory 8 | Clutter 22
of Africa that I always try to incorporate it in my designs. When I was relaunching my label in the US, I noticed most of the brands had a blinding amount of color on their shirts and such chaotic amounts of imagery on them that you couldn’t make out what it was. I wanted to step away from that, make simple, bold designs that stand out, so I went the route of blackand-white. There is a perceived notion that the more color, the more value it has. It's a fun challenge to try and prove that wrong. The black-and-white aesthetic is very much ingrained in my brand. On rare occasions I throw in a grey, if the design requires it, like for The Hunted [Dunny], but I mostly stick to black-andwhite. I've fantasized about someday doing a toy and having a chase version in full color. That would be kiff [amazing]! How long has your apparel brand been around? I started the Colus shirt brand back in 2007. The
theme was mostly about playing with shapes and color, featuring one color designs on different colored shirts. In 2008 I moved to the States and relaunched in early 2011, still doing one color designs but sticking to black-and-white with the more focused theme I have today. Yea, I think I first heard about you in 2011 or so when Kidrobot founder Paul Budnitz wore one of your shirts in a MTV interview… Paul Budnitz is the best. I am very honoured that he wore my shirt for that interview. It definitely attracted a lot of people in the toy scene to my work. Is that when you started thinking about getting into toy design? Oh man, the toys. In 2005 I came across Ledbetter’s Mr. Bunny and Fire Cat online and that is where the rabbit hole swallowed me. I would slowly soak up everything on sites like Toy Tokyo and Kidrobot like I was reading a novel. I just loved the scene and the
crazy creativity of the artists. Everyone upped their game with every release and I wanted to be part of it but had no idea how. It sounds like a sorry cliché but being in South Africa my options felt limited and breaking into something in the U.S. seemed impossible at that time. After buying my first Dunny — an 8" Doma Red — in some random shop in Cape Town, I told my friends I will have a Dunny of my own one day. Fast forward 8 years and I have two Dunnys to my name which is just insane. Speaking of your Dunnys, your first one — The Hunted — was easily one of my favorite production releases last year. Where did that radical reimagining of the iconic form come from? Thank you very much, that is high praise! One recurring character in my shirt designs is the springbok, I love drawing them. They also happen to be South Africa’s national animal, so I simply had to have a springbok for my first toy! The Hunted Dunny design is inspired by one of my shirt designs named Clutter 22 | 9
Amour Propre t-shirt
Amour Propre, which is of a springbok on a trophy board with one of its horns cutting the other horn. Weird stuff.
playable characters in those games are gods and demigods who mastered the art of war, and I wanted my raven character to be in the same vein.
One thing that attracts me to the collector toy market is that I feel it has a very smart customer base and they will call you on your bullshit; you simply have to make something amazing and unique if you want it to do well. The public either really liked or disliked The Hunted Dunny, which is good in my opinion. To keep the ball rolling forward, you can't just keep making safe designs hoping that everyone will like it. I'm so grateful Kidrobot took that risk with me.
Last year you also made a figure that was completely your own: Ivory. I don't recall ever seeing it released, so was that just a prototype? What was it made out of? Are they coming out?
And Kidrobot must've been happy with your work, as they brought you back for the Art of War series, with you designing The Harvester Dunny. What was the inspiration behind this scythe wielding bird? To this day I can't believe it happened and I'm grateful for every day that I get to be part of this scene. When I heard about the theme Art of War, I immediately thought of popular online games such as Smite, League of Legends, and Dota 2. The
Being familiar with 3D software, I’ve been modeling some sculptures as concepts for possible toys over the last year, which worked out great because at the same time I helped Kickstart a 3D printer that uses resin and can achieve very high quality prints. I had this elephant model and thought it would be perfect to test the printer’s capabilities because of its tricky geometry. After successfully printing the elephant model with translucent resin, I sanded, primed, painted, and made the piece super glossy. The process was a first for me, since I mostly use the digital medium to create my art, so it took me three months of reading up on primers and airbrushes and learning from failures to get to the final result. After I posted
photos of the sculpture online, I got contacted by a few interested parties who wanted to produce it. I’m still in talks with them, but yes, I intend to release Ivory hopefully in the near future. And you've recently announced a new piece coming out, named Impundulu. What can you tell us about it? I am so excited about this one! It was a random lunch time sketch that I turned into a vector design for a possible shirt. Out of curiosity, wondering how it would look in 3D, I modeled it and ended up really loving it. Impundulu is the “Lightning Bird,” a mythological vampiric bird creature from South African tribal folklore. It can take on many forms, one of which a rooster-like bird the size of a human. Believed to be a servant of witch doctors, it seduces women and can summon thunder and lightning from its wings and talons. This will be the first piece I am self-funding. Mana Studios are tasked to make it happen. The quality of their work just blows me away and I'm so happy to be able to work with them on this project. It will be a 7-inch resin sculpture limited to 55 pieces in super glossy black, though I'm hoping to do a few colourways if this run is well received. So you are hoping to do more work in the toy field, maybe shifting more in that direction overall? I have a deep passion for the toy industry and, if I can have my way, I would focus primarily on creating and producing toys, making shirts and prints to accompany the toy releases. I love both shirts and toys, but having a 3D object in your hand that you designed is something amazing. And, deep down, I’ve always designed my shirts with the hopes to make toys out of them on a later stage. All in all though, the Colus brand is a creative outlet for me. As long as I get to express myself in some fashion I will be happy.
For more information on Colus, please visit:
www.colus.co The Hunted 8" Dunny with The Harvester 3" Dunny 10 | Clutter 22
Barbara Pavone Shadoe Delgado
"Shadow(Fabulist)" and "Shadow(Auditor)"
12 | Clutter 22
untitled custom Labbit
If you have yet to discover — and fall in love with — Arizona-based artist Shadoe Delgado’s sculptures and customized Designer Toys, buckle up and let us take you on a fantastic journey full of enlightenment. From his signature Shadows — dark, chubby yet lanky figures who use masks to hide their deepest secrets — to his easily recognizable custom Dunnys and Munnys, Delgado embodies the creativity and fearlessness of a true pioneer. We recently caught up with him to talk art, analytical psychology, and, yes, even pooping. Do you remember what first made you fall in love with art? In preschool, playing with markers and Play-Doh were the things I enjoyed most and, as the years went on, the materials I used evolved: markers turned into paints and Play-Doh turned into sculpey and ceramic clays. I was diagnosed with some learning disabilities and art was one of the few things in school I enjoyed and showed an interest in. That being the case, they placed me in advanced art programs throughout
elementary school. I wasn’t nearly as good as any of the other kids in the program, but that didn’t keep me from pursuing it. Was sculpture always the medium you found to be the most intriguing? I was introduced to ceramics in high school, but I didn’t realize its potential to make sculpture until I was in art school several years later. I had an instructor that kicked ass and opened us up to all the possibilities on the first day, along with all the harsh realities that come with pursuing fine art as a career. For me, there is something very
fulfilling about being able to turn something around and flip it over while I work. I think it’s special taking an idea of a creature or thing, making it tangible. Having gone to school to perfect your craft, how do you think holding a degree stacks up against being a self-taught artist? I’m kind of derp derp, so I don’t have a good understanding of how to do something unless it’s shown to me and I have the ability to rehearse it several times, along with incessantly asking questions.
However, a couple years in, I realized as a fine artist [that] the degree wouldn’t be of any use unless I wanted to teach, so that’s when I decided to aim for a six-year associate degree by going to school parttime and really exploring my options at the school. I learned as much as I could from as many people as possible without actually taking the classes. Art school also gave me some insight on the business side of art and how to get my work out there. When it comes down to it, I think if you’re serious about art, it doesn’t matter if you are self-taught or if you paid too much for an art education — whatever helps each of us reach our individual goals is what’s important. I have to ask: Do you have the coolest parents on the planet who gifted you with the best name EVER or is Shadoe a pseudonym? I guess I have the coolest parents on the planet who gifted me the best name ever? My full birth name is Shadoe Wolf Delgado. Lucky! (Laughs.) So, your sculptures, they’re seriously something else. How were Shadows born? Thank you! I had a teacher go through my sketch books when I was really struggling with my ideas and he pointed out that throughout the books there would be this form that I kept coming back to: a chubby figure with moobs [man boobs] that had skinny arms, skinny tapered legs, and sometimes these fat hands or skinny hands with two or three fingers. I started sculpting forms that had those elements and things started to come together. With the help of a buddy of mine,
Shadoe Delgado's studio Clutter 22 | 13
"Shadowboss and minion(redux)" custom Munny and two Micro Munnys
I was able to develop this weird glaze that was a dark purple-ish with flecks of red and, after seeing it on the finished pieces, it all came together and reminded me of my shadow when I’d wear a hoodie.
Anima/Animus, and Self. From what I understand, Jung believed the Shadow to be part of our unconscious minds where all of our repressed ideas, desires, and shortcomings reside.
Around the same time, I had been introduced to Carl Jung’s ideas on the shadow archetype. These ideas of my figures resembling my cast shadow and this new idea of a shadow of the unconscious mind came together and became my biggest source of inspiration and a means of working out my insecurities or “bad thoughts.” The work is in more ways than not self-reflective.
Jung suggested that the Shadow could appear in our dreams as a monster, demon, or other dark creature and, upon learning that, I felt like it made so much sense that what I was creating should be called ‘Shadows.’
I’m really intrigued by this Carl Jung connection. Can you elaborate a bit more on him as an inspiration? I never had the opportunity to delve deep into Jung’s work, but I had several classes taught by an amazing mister by the name of John Dobson. He introduced me to the idea of the “Big 5”: Persona, Ego, Shadow, 14 | Clutter 22
I also introduce the idea of personas or perceived self into my work by including masks. Most of my Shadows have these non-descript faces, so I have them use masks to differentiate themselves or to represent the faces they didn’t have or the persona they wanted. I had a hard time fitting in growing up and was desperate to make friends, so the masks are a way of working out that frustration and confusion of self. Does all this tie in to the reason behind
Shadows having genitals? I was thinking of depicting the Shadows stabbing each other or fondling themselves as a way of portraying repressed ideas or feelings, but instead I sculpted them with little genitalia. For whatever reason, a lot of the people I’ve encountered in and out of art school really hate looking at or drawing penises, myself included, but I eventually got over it and started drawing them. I grew up being ashamed of naked bodies, especially my own, so putting little penises or vaginas on my Shadows was a way of pulling something out of that receptacle without being too distasteful. As you switch between sculpting and transforming toys, do you have to adapt your creative process in any way? When I work with clay or wax, I really like to have a vague idea of what I would like to do, but nothing too concrete. Sometimes I’ll sketch ideas as a means of problem solving, but I really enjoy watching that
original idea transform and sometimes go in a whole new direction. When I work on Designer Toys, there is a little more planning involved since they are all commissioned and most people like to have them personalized in some way. The planning is mostly a quick sketch or a fully detailed drawing, if it’s a Designer Toy I haven’t worked on before; when it comes to Munny and Dunny figures, I’ve sculpted on so many of those that I jump right in. Commissioned vs. Non-commissioned: Which pieces win? As someone who really wants to be doing his own thing without feeling the pressure of other people’s deadlines and all that other potential stress-causing stuff, I gotta say non-commissioned are the way to go. I feel like the only time I can fully appreciate my work is when I’m in the process of making it and sometimes hearing positive or negative feedback, after sharing a work-
in-progress with a customer, can take away from that [feeling]. Since I started doing the toys in 2012, the first seven pieces were the only ones that weren’t commissioned, along with the occasional toy for a show. Speaking of toys, how did you first come across them and what was it that you found intriguing? It was the summer of 2006, almost a year after graduating high school, I came across Giant Robot, Issue #40. Jeff Soto’s Protector was on the cover and it lured me in. I remember seeing some toys by Gary Baseman, Pete Fowler, and a full page ad for Jeff Soto’s Walker. I went online to look at all of this stuff and I kept finding more and more artists I appreciated. I quickly became very excited and overwhelmed. At the time, I was collecting these fully articulated [Neon Genesis] Evangelion figures that came with more interchangeable parts and accessories than I knew what to do with. In comparison, the Designer Toys were simple and clean, which resonated more with my lifestyle. Shadoe Delgado (above) and "Token faces for a Token Son" (below)
Have you considered designing your own toys or is building on already existing ones where it’s at? I’d really like to break away from the customizing for a while so I can focus on making my own figures. I’ve been working on my own figure since the beginning of 2014, but between hand-painting the Shadowlings and keeping up with commissions, it’s been hard to find time of my own. However, the little guy is nearly complete and I hope to get him cast by November for Designer Con. Turning to your personal collection, what are some of your favorite pieces? Since I started school back in 2008, I haven’t really had the funds to collect and I haven’t had the chance to make many art trades. I maybe have six or seven pieces of work from other artists in the form of toys and prints. Any pieces that I have that were a result of a trade tend to be my favorites, since there was a dialogue with the artist beforehand that resulted in the piece being conceived and, since money isn’t involved in the exchange, it feels more personal and like I’ve established a bond with a fellow artist. Other than that, I have thousands upon thousands of Pokémon cards in binders that occupy quite a bit of shelf space. I also have a manga/anime collection, along with my Evangelion and Futurama toy collections from years back. Has your move from San Francisco to Arizona had any effect on your creativity? My work slowed down to a stop after the move to Arizona. There were so many things I didn’t plan for, that kind of messed up junk. It’s pretty lonely out here; great for my focus but kind of bad for my creativity, since I work better surrounded by other creative types. The galleries that I’ve come across out here aren’t at all what I’m used
to seeing in San Francisco or Oakland and there isn’t a toy scene from what I can tell, at least not in the 50-mile radius that I travel within. I still haven’t had the chance to tell if the move was a good idea or bad idea. If we were to visit your workspace, what is the strangest thing we’d find? The strangest thing would be an image of a leper making a small sculpture or piece of jewelry. I tore the image out of a National Geographic back in my junior year of high school, and I have it pinned on my wall as a kind of reminder of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Now, for some sillier questions: If you could save only one thing from your home, what would it be? It would be a box filled with all the things I’d save! (laughs). I often find myself thinking about this question because where I live there’s the occasional big fire that wipes out several thousand acres. I think it would be a framed pen-and-ink drawing of a fox that my mom drew. Or maybe a clean pair of underwear. Or my wallet, so I could buy new underwear. If you had to choose between repeatedly sculpting the same thing for an entire month or not being allowed to sculpt at all for that time, what would you do? Hmm, let’s see. I’d probably go with not sculpting and use that time to draw and paint my ass off. As it stands, I already sculpt every day and I feel like my painting suffers because of it. If you could spend the day with any artist of your choosing, past or present, who would you pick and what would you do? Maybe Chris Ryniak, so he could show me where to catch some creatures. I like to walk around and look for reptiles and bugs and, from what I’ve heard, he’s been known to do similar things. I think it would be fun to hang out with an artist and do something other than art. Talking shop is great, but it’s nice being reminded that I’m not an art-producing robot that eats, sleeps, and poops art. Making things occupies more of my time than not making things and I’ve kind of forgotten how to act around people. Don’t get me wrong, I love art with all my guts, but it’s not often that I have a chance to do something different. Maybe talking to a contemporary would give me more common ground outside of art, but, if that fails, then I could always turn into a fan boy and harass him with art stuff. Finish this sentence, please: Shadoe Delgado is… Pooping. And has been pooping during the entire interview! (Laughs.)
For more information on Shadoe Delgado, please visit:
www.shadoedelgado.com Clutter 22 | 15
Atrocities to some, art to others. Whether the flesh is rotting, scarred, or stapled, Jeremi Rimel likes to experience it all; or, at least, to express it upon his Miscreation Toys imaginings. Taking children's dolls, one of the most classic forms of innocence, and deforming them into nightmarish wonders, Rimel has quickly become known in the Designer Toy world for his Japanese vinyl Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby and resin Gergle figures. Before entering the horrorladen world of Miscreation, one best be prepared… for his brand of sickness is contagious and addictive!
Please tell us a bit about yourself? What's your art background? Formally trained or self-taught? I'm an artist and toymaker from Albuquerque, New Mexico who is currently living in Charlottesville, Virginia with my lady Nicole and two chihuahuas that I consider my children. (laughs.) No, unfortunately I haven't taken any formal art classes besides what was required in early public school days, even then I didn't pay attention that much. Maybe that is why my stuff is so damn ugly?!
on-and-off since about '96. I would take old thrift store bought baby dolls and customize — or mis-create — them into the weird things that would pop into my head, which often ended up kinda fucked up and gory. I can't really pinpoint why I started to make them initially, I just started doing it and knew I loved making things that would freak people out. I'm an '80s kid, raised on things like horror films, Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, and Troma, so maybe I can get away with blaming a little bit of that weird on them too? (laughs.)
making the custom Autopsy Babies to casting the Gergle version in resin? I actually had the gears in motion for the Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby sofubi before I even sculpted Gergle for resin.
(Laughs). Okay then, so what made you take the leap from making the custom dolls to having a Japanese vinyl version produced?
How did you get into making toys into art pieces?
I've made well over 200 original custom doll creations, each of which would take anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks to complete. One of my more popular custom dolls was named "Hinge Lockheart," and it featured a heart-shaped incision on the chest that was hinged and opened up to reveal guts, maggots, and a heart in the chest cavity. Another favorite was named "Phobia," and it had a Leatherface-style removable face mask that was made up of stapled together doll parts.
While I was doing my custom dolls, I would find myself constantly checking out Japanese toys online, looking at things like old kaijus, Marmit stuff, and many toys that I didn't really understand what they were. The wild colors and crazy designs pulled me in, it seemed like anything goes! The enjoyment I got from being a fan piqued my interest in Japanese vinyl. I just felt this is where my creations belonged. I loved the idea of small limited edition runs of the same figure, so I looked into options for me to reproduce what normally would have been a one-off custom doll. I'm very grateful for advice I received from Dov of DKE Toys, pointing me in the direction of Luke Rook [Grody Shogun] of Lulubell Toys and I now have a pretty successful toy series in my hands.
I've been doing my Autopsy Babies series
What made you take the leap from
If the sofubi Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby
Where did the name Miscreation Toys come from? For a long time, I've been using the name "Miscreation," a word that relates to deformity, imperfection, and abnormality, things I tend to find beautiful. My art style was pretty much Frankenstein-ing toys to my aesthetic, so I felt the name "Miscreation Toys" would go over a little better than something like "Fucked Up Shit Toys." (laughs.) It just best described what I was putting out there.
18 | Clutter 22
How long would it normally take you to create these custom dolls? And what did these one of a kind Autopsy Babies look like?
The Iron Monster prototype
Autopsy Zombie Staple Babies
was already in the works, why did you make the resin Gergle figure? It's a bit confusing, I know! It was just a weird timing issue. Since resin reproductions can happen within a couple weeks as compared to vinyl, which can take many months, while my sculpt of the Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby was in Japan with Luke on queue for vinyl production, I sculpted Gergle to be made in resin to ensure I had a release prepared for a convention that I was going to be vending at. Gergle went over way better then expected so it wasn't long until I started re-tooling him for a sofubi release as well. The vinyl version of Gergle debuted at SDCC .
Visually, what's the difference between Gergle and the Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby? Were they new designs or did you revisit something from your older custom doll creations? I did make several early versions of Gergle within the custom doll series, so he was based on those prior. Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby was an original design I made just for sofubi. The difference in design between the two is that the Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby features many faces all around his head and has a slightly smaller body frame. Gergle is a little more plump and has a more familiar zombie face, only one of them at that! (laughs). Most Autopsy Babies are pretty similar though.
How involved were you in The Crawling Dead group Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby custom show at Toy Art Gallery? Did you select which artists would be involved?Â Besides the Batmobile randomly showing up at the opening, yes Gino Joukar [owner of Toy Art Gallery] kept me pretty tight in the loop. I put together a pretty good list of artists that I wanted involved and he had many in mind as well. Nearly all of them got onboard! A few of my picks were new to customizing and painting vinyl, which made for an exciting show giving them that little extra challenge! It meant a lot to me to see Chet Zar's "Conjoined Twins" piece and Retroband's Garbage Pail Kids-style "Toxic Timmy" Autopsy Baby as well as pieces from 20 | Clutter 22
some legends in the game like Mutant Vinyl Hardcore and Paul Kaiju. Everyone involved just did a kick ass job.
Speaking of kick ass jobs, you did two fantastic Lunch Special editions of your Autopsy Zombie Staple Baby figure. Such a simple idea, but executed so perfectly! Where did you get the inspiration for those from? Thank you, but I have to give credit where it's due on that one: to Mr. Grody Shogun! When Luke Rook was marbling some of the Autopsy Zombie Staple Babies for me, he came up with the idea for a meat and sushi version. I had a lot of fun releasing those and there will be plenty more "Miscreation Toys Lunch Specials" to come!Â
That's great to hear! As for things to come, you debuted your new sofubi figure, The Iron Monster, at San Diego Comic-Con this year. What can you tell us about this massive vinyl piece, and why this radical shift from the more gross out horror to the subtle & referential?
Yes, it's very different from what I usually do, I wanted to start branching out a bit and do some other projects that were fun and challenging for me. The Iron Monster was inspired by the 1939 science fiction horror serial The Phantom Creeps, which starred Bela Lugosi. The film itself was kinda wonky but, from a character design aspect, I fell in love with the look of the towering, big, uglyheaded robot in it. I just always wanted a model or toy of it, so I made one! I'm pretty excited how it turned out, I think any fan would be pleased.
Did you have any forays into Designer Toys prior to your vinyl figures? I've been doing my one of a kind custom dolls before I really knew anything about designer toys. When some of the first Munny blanks by Kidrobot came out, a friend suggested I look into them. I ended up customizing a few in my Autopsy Baby style. It was really cool to me they had made a toy just for customizing. Kidrobot kind of inspired my own venture into blank vinyl. One of my favorite things to do is sculpt and paint faces so I wanted to create a blank
skull-like shaped bust to work with. In 2007 I took the steps to independently produce a 500 piece run of a do-it-yourself toy that I called Think-UP: DIY Vinyl Bust. It was plenty of trial-and-error but I learned a lot about making toys along the way.
Have you ever had an idea for something but decided it was too dark or gross to actually do? Or do you embrace such impulses? With Autopsy Babies, if I ever decided against something that was too dark or gross, I don't think I would have made it very far doing them. I often work upon impulses, many of the details that get worked into an original sculpt just come to mind as I'm doing it, it's just part of the process I guess. If you want to do any kind of art, you can't hold yourself back. Get it out no matter how weird it gets, that makes it interesting.
For more information on Miscreation Toys, please visit:
Nick Curtis Johan Ulrich
ITS VISAGE MARRED BY THREE CLAW MARK-SIZED SCARS COVERING ONE BATTLE-WOUNDED EYE, THE BIPEDAL FELINE FIGHTER IS CROUCHED OVER IN AN ATTACH STANCE, READY TO SPRING UPON ITS PREY. WEARING A HUMAN SKULL HELM ATOP ITS HEAD, THIS IS THE DEATH CAT, A CHARACTER THAT HAS RESONATED WITH FANS AND SPAWNED A MULTITUDE OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL EDITIONS: FROM RUBBER MINI FIGURES TO RESIN RENDITIONS TO THE UPCOMING SOFT JAPANESE VINYL VERSION. CREATED AS THE MASCOT FOR DEATHCAT TOYS, A PASSION PROJECT OF TATTOO ARTIST JOHAN ULRICH, THIS TOY MAKING IDENTITY HAS EXPERIENCED SUCCESS AFTER SUCCESS RECENTLY, INCORPORATING ELEMENTS FROM EVERYTHING ULRICH HOLDS DEAR. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF? Well, I'm originally from Florida and moved around a bit after high school. I met my awesome wife Lindsey when I moved to Texas, then we moved to Virginia in May of 2013 and got married September that year. We live in a nice, little apartment with our three cats.
WHAT'S YOUR ART BACKGROUND? My interest in art started when my mom signed me up for a watercolor class in the 4th grade. I really enjoyed it, so my parents pushed me creatively throughout my childhood. After high school, I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship tattooing at Fat Kat's Artistry in Ocala, Florida. I've been tattooing for nine years now, I currently work at Jack Brown's Tattoo Revival in Fredericksburg, Virginia. So art is a huge part of my life.
WHAT MADE YOU TAKE THE LEAP INTO DESIGNER TOYS? 22 | Clutter 22
Vinyl toys have always been a great love of mine. My first toys as a child were a soft vinyl Stay Puft Marshmallow Man [from Ghostbusters] and a Godzilla that I dragged with me everywhere. I just remember how nice the texture of the toys felt, and the smell of a newly opened vinyl toy still brings back great memories. Making toys has been a dream of mine since then, and I took the leap about two years ago with a lot of encouragement from my wife and friends.
AND WHY CALL YOURSELF DEATHCAT TOYS? The Deathcat Toys name… it's sort of a long story. Let's just say it's a culmination of some of my favorite things: death metal, cats, and, of course, toys.
LONG STORY OR NOT, NOW YOU'VE GOTTA TELL ME THE TALE BEHIND YOUR BRAND'S NAME! (Laughs.) Alright! It's not so much a long story as it is a silly one. I mentioned earlier that we have three cats; two of the cats have never really learned to get along, and
get into squabbles from time to time. One particular day, a few weeks after I'd decided to really get serious about making toys, my wife and I were listening to metal while we straightened up around the house when the two cats got into it. With the metal playing like a perfect soundtrack in the background, I felt like I was watching an epic scene from a movie. They can be like little cat gladiators sometimes. We'd been tossing around a few ideas [for brand names] earlier that day, and I shouted out "Deathcats." My wife liked it, and it stuck.
WHERE DID YOUR DEATHCAT TOYS MASCOT COME FROM? I ASSUME YOU DREW IT, BUT WHAT INSPIRED THE DESIGN? The Deathcat Toys logo is something I really had a lot of fun with. Most of the inspiration comes from a completely different collection I have. Japan makes this wonderful Cracker Jack of wafer candies called Bikkuriman; they're delicious milk chocolate surrounded by wafer, and each individual pack includes an awesome little
sticker with a crazy design. The stickers are completely inspiring for me, and I have books full of them. They are really some of the best character designs I've ever seen. Absolutely genius. The logo is done in the same style as the Bikkuriman stickers as an almost tribute to the art.
THE FIRST RELEASE I SAW FROM YOU WAS LILITH, THE FIRST MOTHER. WAS THAT YOUR FIRST FORAY INTO DESIGNER TOYS? Lilith was the first release I did that seemed to really take off. Two years before Lilith though, there were Cybins, a mushroom monster, and Killpies, which were a sort of deadly cosmic version of Kewpies.
I DON'T THINK I EVER SAW THE CYBINS OR THE KILLPIES… DO YOU STILL MAKE THEM? OR ARE THEY SOMETHING YOU PLAN TO REVISIT IN THE FUTURE? OR ARE THEY MORE CREATIONS OF YOUR DESIGNER TOY FORMATIVE YEARS AND THAT'S ALL THEY'LL EVER BE? I haven't made Cybins or Killpies in a long
Lilith, the First Mother prototype sculpt
Nekos in my Pocket keshi with NerdOne's M.O.T.U.L.O.S. Castle Playset
Johan Ulrich with his Lilith, the First Mother figure
Death Cat figures
time. I started off sculpting everything by hand, making the molds, and casting the toys one by one myself. They were kind of an experiment to see if I could make them myself and what kind of reception they would get. I took them to a few tattoo conventions and sold some to our friends. They were instrumental in giving me courage to try for bigger things. The plan for them so far is to let them stay in the archives; I think they're a good representation of my formative years. I also had a few other figures [in the works] too, but my schedule at the time left me with very little free time to devote to making toys. Thankfully that's all changed.
THANKFULLY INDEED, OR WE WOULDN'T HAVE THE LILITH PIECE! WHAT MAKES LILITH SO FASCINATING TO ME WAS THAT IT IS AN AMBIGUOUS, BI-STABLE SCULPTURE — MEANING IT CAN BE SEEN IN TWO DIFFERENT WAYS. WHAT INSPIRED THIS FANTASTIC DESIGN? TELL US THE STORY BEHIND IT.
Lilith, the First Mother figures
Lilith is my tribute to monsters, illusions, and tattoo culture. I wanted to make a monster toy, and I figured the queen of hell herself was as good a subject as any. Then you have the bent back lady, a prevalent design in tattoo culture, where a female body is contorted into a shape that makes you think you're seeing a skull at first glance. Once you look closer, you see the woman in the details. It's a really interesting illusion, one that makes you really think
twice. I figured combining the two could be a really dynamic design. I took the design to Josh Sutton of ERA Sculpture, and he was able to really bring her to life. And besides, who doesn't like naked ladies?
NO ARGUMENTS HERE! AND I COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE YOU'VE GOT SOME MINI LILITH FIGURES COMING OUT. WHAT'S THE SCOOP ON THOSE? Funny story: I actually was approached by DuBose Art and Design after they'd already produced one. It's an ingenious idea that I can only hope I would have thought of eventually. It took me by surprise, and I will definitely be doing a few releases with them. I'm considering doing some matching releases that will correspond with the existing colorways of the full-sized Liliths.
YOU FOLLOWED UP LILITH WITH THE 3-INCH TALL RESIN DEATH CAT MASCOT FIGURE, WHICH SEEMS TO HAVE REALLY CONNECTED WITH PEOPLE… WERE YOU EXPECTING THAT? To be honest, I had no idea it would connect with people so well. After Lilith I didn't figure the Death Cat would get anywhere near as much attention. It was really something I started out doing for myself. I just thought it would be cool to see the logo as an actual toy. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought so, the reception the Death Cat is receiving is better than anything I imagined.
FROM THE FIRST FOUR COLORWAYS OF YOUR DEATH CAT FIGURE, I COULDN'T HELP NOTICE THAT ONE WAS THE DEVILMAN TRIBUTE VERSION. WHY'D YOU CHOOSE TO DO THIS? I'M ASSUMING YOU'RE A DEVILMAN FAN, BUT DO YOU CONSIDER THE GO NAGAI CREATION TO BE AN INFLUENCE ON YOU? IF SO, HOW? It's a huge influence! As far as I'm concerned, Go Nagai's work is genius. My older brother introduced me to anime when I was younger, and Devilman was one of the first ones I saw. I was captivated. The design is really well thought out and the story is so original. Go Nagai has influenced a ton of people. I thought it would be nice to pay him and his work tribute like so many others have before me. Also, Devilman is metal as hell.
SPEAKING OF TRIBUTES, WAS THAT THE REASONING BEHIND REDOING THE DEATH CAT AS A KESHI-STYLE MINI FIGURE? AND WHY CALL IT NEKOS IN MY POCKET? Yea, I wanted to pay tribute to the toys I carried everywhere with me as a kid. The original M.U.S.C.L.E. series and Monsters in my Pocket toys were great designs and they've stuck with me. Nekos, or cats, in my Pocket are my way of remembering a great part of my childhood. Plus, I love keshi figures and the colors they can come in. I think it's a fun way to add a little diversity to toys.
THEY REALLY CAME OUT GREAT, THE RUBBER Clutter 22 | 23
Part of the Akumaneko series
WAS PERFECT FEELING. THE HEADS AND BODIES WERE CAST SEPARATELY, TO ALLOW THE HEAD TO ARTICULATE. THIS ISN'T LIKE ANY CLASSIC KESHI I KNOW, SO I'M CURIOUS WHY YOU MADE THAT DECISION? I just thought it would be fun to have interchangeable colors for the heads and bodies, really channelling a "play set" feel. I was really elated when I opened the box they came in; the colors pop and it was awesome to hold them in my hands. You mentioned how the rubber feels, and I agree completely. DuBose Art and Design did an awesome job casting them for me, and I was almost sad to see them go when they sold. It's a project that I had a ton of fun with, and the reception it received was really encouraging.
ASIDE FROM THE 2-PACKS OF NEKOS IN MY POCKET FIGURES, THERE WAS ALSO AN ULTRALIMITED VERSION THAT CAME WITH NERDONE'S M.O.T.U.L.O.S. CASTLE PLAY SET, WHICH WAS HAND-PAINTED BY YOU. HOW DID THIS JOINT RELEASE COME ABOUT? DID YOU APPROACH HIM OR DID HE COME TO YOU? I actually contacted him in hopes of getting
my hands on some of his figures that I'd been looking for, and casually mentioned doing a collaboration, not thinking he'd be interested. As it turns out, he loved the idea of doing the keshi figures with his M.O.T.U.L.O.S. Castles. I was surprised and excited. I know how hard it is for American collectors to get their hands on the castles, so it's a huge honor that he wanted to team up. I never thought I'd get the chance to work with someone who's so prominent in the Japanese toy industry, so I feel very lucky to have worked with someone so inspiring. I'm looking forward to whatever comes of our friendship in the future.
and feel of the piece. The other difference is the positioning of the body parts. We adjusted his posture so that he stands sturdier than the resin casts, and it also allowed for more points of articulation at the wrists. The head will still be articulated too, of course. With the addition of the articulation at the wrists, it's allowing me to explore the option of adding accessories that the Death Cat can actually hold in its hands. At this point it's still just a possibility, but it's a fun one to consider. Then there's the actual size difference; the sofubi edition will stand at five inches, a real handful of a toy.
SPEAKING OF THE FUTURE, YOU'VE GOT A SOFT JAPANESE VINYL (SOFUBI) VERSION OF THE DEATH CAT IN THE WORKS. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN THE SCULPT BETWEEN THE RESIN AND SOFUBI VERSIONS?
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE SOFUBI DEATH CAT? I MEAN, WILL THEY ONLY BE HANDPAINTED MICRO EDITIONS OR WILL YOU ALSO SELL UNPAINTED COLOR VERSIONS? AND WHEN CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE THEM AVAILABLE?
There are two major differences in the sculpts for the resin and sofubi Death Cats, which are really there to improve the aesthetic and make it easier to cast in soft vinyl. One is the fur, which we refined to look more realistic. I'm really excited to see what a big difference it makes in the look
With the sofubi Death Cats, there will definitely be several one-off color ways. A lot of them will be factory painted in multiple color schemes that I will design as well. Right now, the date they'll be available is unfortunately still up in the air. They're in queue at the Japanese factory
where they'll be produced, so we're shooting for sometime after October. The first release, like the Akumaneko series, will be showcased at Toy Art Gallery (TAG) in Los Angeles. It will definitely be an exciting time for me as a toy designer.
THE AKUMANEKO SERIES?!? IS THAT THE NEW PIECES YOU'RE WORKING ON FOR RELEASE THROUGH TAG? Yes! The series will include three 6- to 7-inch figures and six 2½- to 3-inch figures. Akumaneko translates roughly to "Devilcat," and this series is all loosely based on the characters in Devilman. It's being sculpted by Grizlli Atom of Gnosis Toy, and I really feel like he captured the vintage Devilman feel I was going for. I previewed some of the series at the Stepping Through Walls show, and I'm excited to get it all into production in Japan.
SPEAKING OF THE STEPPING THROUGH WALLS MINI GROUP SHOW AT TAG, HOW'D IT MAKE YOU FEEL TO BE SHOWN ALONGSIDE SUCH NOTABLES AS BWANA SPOONS, MARTIN ONTIVEROS, JON MALMSTEDT/RAMPAGE TOYS, AND T9G? It was a huge honor. It's still hard to believe it all fell together so quickly. I had only been talking to Gino [Joukar], the owner of Toy Art Gallery, for two or three months before the show. Next thing I know, I'm flying out there for it. I have a lot of respect for those guys; they've put out a lot of amazing work and it was incredible to be able to show my stuff alongside theirs. All in all, it was an awesome experience for my first show. I'm definitely looking forward to doing more shows with Toy Art Gallery in the future.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON DEATHCAT TOYS, PLEASE VISIT:
DEATHCATTOYS.BLOGSPOT.COM Death Cat figures
24 | Clutter 22
Have you ever wished that Data from The Goonies could square off against the titular Terminator cyborg? Or have you fantasized about Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly leading a legion of brown coated Rocketeers into battle? Or perhaps you want to host a mad monster mash with Pinhead from Hellraiser, Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Boris Karloff portrayed Frankenstein's monster. Soon you'll be able to do it all, thanks to the partnership of Super7 and Funko. Fueled by the nostalgia of owning Kenner's 3¾" Star Wars toys, the two companies' shared ReAction Figures brand takes cult classic film properties and makes officially licensed, vintage style action figures from them. Focused on cinema and television from the '70s through the 2000s as their blueprint, ReAction Figures pride themselves on making the action figures you wish you had as a kid. In interviewing Super7's owner and the project's Lead Designer from Funko, Brian Flynn and Reis O'Brien respectively, we get a glimmer into the ever expanding ReAction Universe… and it takes our breath away.
26 | Clutter 22
(left to right) Alien, series 1: Ripley, Ash, The Alien, and Kane in Space Suit
The Secret History of ReAction Figures Nick Curtis Super7 & Funko
Where did the name ReAction Figures come from? And what are they exactly? Brian Flynn: The ReAction Figures name is a shortened version of "Retro Action Figures." Since what we were making was from a simpler time, and with a nostalgic point of view, we wanted the name to be indicative of that time and place. Reis O'Brien: ReAction figures are the toy version of "what if." What if this old school movie had actually had a toyline? What if those toys had come out back in the day? How would they have looked on the pegs of a Woolworth in 1979? To me, they're little plastic alternate-reality time machines. Flynn: It was also our "ReAction" to the toys that were sitting on the shelf today, and
what we felt was missing out there.Â When you say "what we felt was missing out there" in terms of toys, Brian, do you mean the lack of figures from certain iconic movies or do you mean something about the style of toy being produced? Or both? Flynn: Mostly in the figures that were available. New action figures as a whole are done extremely well, with elaborate articulation and likenesses. At a certain point though, when it gets so accurate, it looses a bit of the charm and nostalgia for me. O'Brien : I think that's a part of it, for sure. I think that "just because you can do it, doesn't mean you have to." Yes, these days we can easily make highly detailed figures
with a gazillion points of articulation, but there's something to be said for simple aesthetics. It's like, some of the greatest songs in history are just three chords. Flynn: Exactly! As you continue to improve Darth Vader and make him more and more realistic, and each one trumps the last, I just run out of enthusiasm. I have enough Darth Vaders, I want something different, not simply a more accurate paint job or more articulated wrist. The figures can feel a bit technical and labored. What I felt was missing was a bit of the innocence and simple joy in the figures, so that was what we were channeling: crude likeness, crude articulation, simple paints, but endearing, fun, nostalgic, and being not quite so precious. Â
Clutter 22 | 27
O'Brien: ReAction Figures are the first action figures to strive to do more than just represent a character in a movie, slapped onto store pegs for the sole purpose of selling more tickets to that movie. These are the first figures to attempt to reach back into your memories, to transport you back in time, and to spark your imagination in a way that many haven't experienced since they were 9 years old.
he had to be sculpted from the photos. When we realized we could actually get the figures, it was a no-brainer to actually make them for real.
The line debuted with the Alien series. What's the history behind these pieces?
Flynn: We didn't have the figures ready for SDCC 2013 as we originally had hoped, so we thought about what we could do. Alien and Kane in the space suit were completed to test shot level, so we decided to make a limited 2-pack, similar to a vintage Kenner mail away figure, and we cast them in a blue plastic similar to many of the later Kenner prototype figures. We took that idea and meshed it with the fantasy of what would have happened in 1979 as Kenner made these figures. So we had a great little advance promo letter and we stamped cancelled across the front of it and the mail away box. We thought it was a fun homage to the classic figures.
Flynn: The Alien figures were prototyped by Kenner in 1979. The story goes that after Star Wars, Kenner licensed anything space related that was being made, and the figures were developed before anyone knew that Alien was an R-rated horror movie rather than a sci-fi epic. Long story short, Kenner released a large 18" alien in time for Christmas 1979, but nothing else was ever released, most likely due to the nature of the film not being very kid friendly. The figure prototypes were found in the early '90s and Tomart's [Action Figure Digest] ran a cover story on the unreleased figures in the magazine. For any and all of us that collected figures at that time they became the mythical holy grail of action figures— the figures you always wanted but were never able to get. So, how'd the ReAction Figure releases come about? Flynn: Well, fast forward to 2012 and, after the success of the Super Shogun Stormtrooper, we started brainstorming on what to make next. When we talked about all the things we wished we could have, the Alien figures came back up. We then tracked down who owned the prototypes. We were able to purchase a few a resin casts, sculpt some side-by-side, and some had to be remade from scratch. The Dallas figure, for example, has only been seen in Kenner internal promo photos from the '70s, an actual prototype has never been found, so
Back to the Future: Marty McFly & Doc Brown
28 | Clutter 22
When you launched the ReAction Figure line, your first release was the prototype 2-pack at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). What spurred you to do these this 'unique' release?
Is that also why you did the Early Bird pre-order sets of the Alien figures at SDCC? Flynn: Yes. With the Early Bird set, it was similar to Kenner not having toys ready for Christmas 1978. Kenner made a limited Early Bird Kit that was a mail-in item that allowed you to be one of the first to get the Star Wars figures once they became available. We made the exact same Early Bird Kit but for Alien. When we were making these figures for ourselves, our limited distribution and quantities made it so that these figures had to be $20 each at retail, so the Early Bird Kit was $100. Once we partnered with Funko, their distribution is so much larger than ours, we were able to increase the production quantity of the figures and retail them for $15 each. That left a gap of pricing of $25 from what the Early Bird price was and the new retail
price. To compensate we made a secret bonus figure for anyone who had ordered the Early Bird set: the clear grey alien, as a way of saying "thank you" to everyone who had believed in us. Additionally, the Early Bird figures are packaged on baby blue hardbacks, exactly the way the 1979 Kenner 18" alien was released. The general release of the Alien figures were done on the same card back design, but with a black ink instead of baby blue; Fox did not like the blue version very much and thought black made more sense for retail. Reis, what did you think when you first saw the Alien figures? O'Brien: I think I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to think anything. I saw the original Super7 display from SDCC a few years ago and instantly "got it." It struck such a strong chord with me. How did the partnership between Super7 and Funko for the ReAction Figures line come about? Flynn: What we realized after we launched the Alien ReAction Figures was that there was a far greater demand for the figures than we could actually fulfill at our size. That either meant hiring a bunch of people and expanding to a much bigger business or partnering with someone who already had that expertise. Our booth at SDCC has been right next door to Funko for eight years now, so they are pretty good friends of ours. O'Brien: There were a lot of behind-thescenes conversations before I got involved as the lead designer, but — from how I understand it — they had lightning in a bottle and we had the means to get it into peoples' hands in a big, bad way. So it was really just a matter of combining their idea with our resources and seeing how far we can take it. Flynn: It seemed like a perfect partnership that both of us would benefit from in working on ReAction together.
Pulp Fiction: Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield
Speaking of working together, how does that work? What's the division of responsibilities between the two companies? Flynn: Most pieces are a partnership between our two companies. Ben Butcher and Reis at Funko are super action figure fans, and between the two of them at Funko and Josh Herbolsheimer and I at Super7, we work together to concept and execute new character licenses and designs.
And those really out there ideas are where Super7 truly shines. I love the way their brains work. Speaking of which, can you elaborate on this year's special releases?
Flynn: Well, we always want to make all the weird stuff that as collectors you want, but is not always financially viable; more deluxe or niche versions of the figure that we could not really get away with selling at traditional retail, but worked great for a fan centric event like SDCC.
Flynn: This year we wanted to surprise everyone and do something very different for SDCC. We figured most everyone would be expecting another Early Bird kit or prototype figures, like we did last year. The first idea was to go back and really do something that no one was thinking about, which was the Alien Egg Chamber playset. We based the playset on Star Wars' Land of the Jawas playset in size and scale, and really went overboard making sure it could have looked like it came out in 1979. A lot of people thought it was another lost prototype item. Playsets had not been made in years, so we really knew it would catch everyone off guard. After that, we made the Blind Box Alien Eggs. We used the eggs to debut two new sculpts from series 2: the Ripley in space suit and the Kane with chestburster. Blind box had not really been done before for action figures, and the thought was to make them in dark clear grey with silver glitter so that they echoed the original star field poster of "In space no one can hear you scream." Of course, there were chase figures, which were totally clear, and a fun way to do something new with Alien. There are a lot of small hidden nuances to these releases. I finally just saw someone post a picture of the Alien egg next to the original Kenner 18" Alien, but I still don't think anyone has realized that the eggs are in scale with the figure. We also made a Gimp from Pulp Fiction but in an actual wood box, just like the film.
O'Brien: Yea, they get to do the really wild and crazy stuff, like their SDCC 2014 exclusives. And I think they're rad! These are the products that help us further the feeling of time travel — especially with the playset — or to pay homage to the action figure legends that came before us.
O'Brien: And, to be fair, Funko had their share of ReAction special releases at SDCC this past year, including the blood splattered Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction, the green blood splattered invisible Predator, the Superman "S" Shirt Sloth from The Goonies, the "Jayne Hat" Jayne and Browncoat Mal
O'Brien: Funko basically handles the development and distribution of the core toy line that goes out to mass retail, with the Super7 gang helping out with advice and guidance to help us keep that vintage authenticity. Flynn: As a whole though, we work together on everything and make sure it all comes out great. I think we both have the same vision for ReAction Figures and what they could and should be. Without Funko's help, we definitely would be moving at a much slower pace. It's been a great match. O'Brien: (Laughs.) We're a little bit country, they're a little bit rock-n-roll. How does it work when it comes to the more 'strange' releases, like this year's Alien Egg Chamber playset?
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack Skellington & Sally
The Rocketeer: Rocketeer
from Firefly, and the very first figure to launch our upcoming Nightmare Before Christmas line, Jack and Zero 2-pack on a foil-stamped card. And we plan to have more special releases and exclusives in the future, but Funko will stick more to variations on classic carded figures. Flynn: So, what you will see most often, is when you are looking to buy a carded ReAction figure, you will be dealing with Funko, but when you get into playsets, wooden boxes, and more elaborate or unique pieces, you will be dealing with us. Back to the ever-growing list of carded ReAction figures, who suggests the upcoming licenses to explore? Flynn: Honestly, we have a list of probably every property or license that you can think of, and whole bunch you haven't thought of. O'Brien: (Laughs.) Super7 originally came to us with a huge list of potential licenses. Sort of a "wish list." It turned out that our wish list for this line was pretty much the same as theirs. Flynn: It really comes down to securing the license, what is available, and how much will the licensor work with you. There are a bunch of figures we wanted to make that the licensor literally said "I don't want to deal with that," because it was an old property and they did not want to track down who they had to send royalty payments to. You would be surprised how some of these people literally don't want to deal with us sending them money. O'Brien: We basically spent the past year working on licenses from the big list that we all contributed to. Flynn: So we have a top ten hit list of properties that we want to make, and then we go back and see who is interested and who is not. Then we can prioritize who we are working with.
Escape from New York: Snake Pliskin
Clutter 22 | 29
(top row) Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Angel, Spike, and Daniel "Oz" Osbourne (middle row) The Terminator: T800 Terminator, Sarah Conner, T800 Endoskeleton, Kyle Reese, and The Terminator (bottom row) The Goonies: Mikey, Mouth, Data, Chunk, and Sloth
30 | Clutter 22
(clockwise, top left) Predator: Predator, Predator (Masked), Predator (Invisible), and Predator (Unmasked)
O'Brien: Planning for 2015, Funko is focused on using it's connections with licensors to keep that list growing. So once you acquire a license, you still have to design the actual figures. Unlike the Alien figures, all of these other lines haven't had previously made prototypes to model off of. Is it difficult capturing that retro action figure feel when having these other lines sculpted? O'Brien: Yes! Super difficult. Because all of our eyes have seen hyper-detailed toys, we now have a tendency to go towards that, so it was a little tricky holding back. For example, when we originally started working on the faces, some of us wanted them to be on-model to the actor's likeness, while some of us wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum and have almost zero likeness like the old Kenner figures. This push and pull led to faces that sort of missed the mark, looked a little too cartoony. So we went back to the drawing board
and pushed a bit more towards actor likeness, which, although not technically accurate for a "vintage" toy line, is ultimately more appealing to modern day sensibilities. Are there any licenses that you wanted to acquire but were unable to? O'Brien: The big white whale out there is Blade Runner. I guess the license is mired in who-owns-what. Flynn: It is owned by multiple people, none of whom see eye to eye, so nothing gets made. They literally prevent each other from using the license in any way. O'Brien: Breaks my heart. Also, a movie-accurate Ghostbusters line is never going to happen, but I keep having dreams about it. Flynn: The others I don't really want to mention, as I am going to keep trying to get the license for them. They can just keep telling me "no" every six months
(clockwise, top left) Firefly: Malcolm Reynolds, Zoe Washburne, Jayne Cobb, and Kaylee Frye
until I either wear them down or they stop taking my calls.Â Since the partnership, which of the lines have you been the most excited about? O'Brien: Oh jeeze. I guess the kid in me loves The Goonies figures since I waited for Goonies toys that never came back when the movie hit theaters. Flynn: The Goonies are a great example of something I thought was going to be good, but once we got through production, they were amazing! I think almost all of them have turned out better than we imagined. I am really excited for Snake Pliskin from Escape from New York. But here is a perfect example [of licensor problems]: they would let us make Snake, but they would not let us make Duke. A Snake/Duke two-pack would have been epic! That said, now that the figures are out, all of a sudden we might have the possibility of making
Duke. You just never know sometimes. O'Brien: From a pure design aesthetic, I'm currently madly in love with the Universal Monsters line. Flynn: Yes, I am really looking forward to the Universal Monsters! And The Nightmare [Before Christmas] figures. O'Brien: But Rocketeer is rad, too. Man, I can't decide. Flynn: The Predator figures are going to be great. Also, the extension of Alien and Aliens has me super excited, but we haven't really announced that yet! Wait, what? Tell us about the secret ReAction Figure future! Flynn: (Smiles.) We have even more coming that we have not announced yet.Â For more information on the ReAction Figures line, please visit:
reactionfigures.com Clutter 22 | 31
FISH IN A BARREL by Derek Hess for Kidrobot Black
KEEP WATCH DUNNY by Mishka Clutter 22 | 35
With the knowledge of last issue’s Mini Figure 101 article hopefully planted firmly in your brain by now, we’ve decided to treat you guys to a more in-depth look at one of keshi’s most interesting and controversial facets, the custom bootleg/pachi scene. A prevalent practice right across the whole toy industry from the 1960s right up to present day, the mini figure itself has certainly been no stranger to commercial bootlegging, with the likes of Kinnikuman seeing numerous native copies, early “gumball” knock-offs ahead of the brand’s American debut M.U.S.C.L.E, and, later, unofficial production runs in the form of El Greco’s Exogini. Whilst these forms of counterfeit figures hold obvious interest with collectors today due to the various materials, colorways, and slight alterations over the original sculpts, we’ll actually be foregoing these in this issue to focus entirely on the relatively new Western Custom Bootleg scene — where figures are born out of love for the original toys rather than to rush cheap, inferior products to market!
Not surprisingly, whilst we’ll be looking directly at the growing movement in the West, the scene actually has its roots planted firmly in the East, notably in Japan, where the likes of the “Choujin Recruitment” contest in 1984 helped bring fan-based figures to the foreground for the first time. Organized by Kinnikuman creator Yudetamago and manga publisher Jump Comics, the competition offered fans the opportunity to submit their own characters for the chance to be featured in an upcoming chapter of the brand’s comic. Resulting in 160,000 designs from fans all across Japan, the contest had been a huge, 36 | Clutter 22
unexpected hit, so invariably once the final 20 winning entries were revealed in Shonen Jump #35, it took no time at all for a small underground toy company to beat Bandai to the market and bootleg the designs for the swathes of eager Kinkeshi fans that simply couldn’t wait. Ultimately resulting in a prison sentence for the sculptor involved — and one of the most expensive and hard to find series to date — the results were more than worth it for the scene, leading to a flood in fan created figures beginning in the early '80s, which ultimately helped to expand the Kinnikuman/M.U.S.C.L.E. universe, amongst others, further
than any official series or remake ever could. Custom bootleg mini figures are generally split up into three different areas of interest: “Custom Casts,” whereby an artist will reproduce a figure either because of its rarity or to offer new material/color options over the original; “Kit-bashes,” where one or more figures have been altered, mashed together, or re-sculpted to form a new design; and “Fan Art” — often referred to as “Super Rare” — which covers originally designed and sculpted figures based on unlicensed properties, such as the Choujin Recruitment figures
mentioned above. All three types are currently thriving in the West due to the work of a handful of key artists and producers over the past decade and a half. Throughout this article we will be taking you on a guided tour of some of the most influential of those people, alongside the various figures and series that have made the scene what it is today, beginning with the guy who started it all, Marty “THEGODBEAST” Hansen…
Clawshine & various other releases
Widely known as “THEGODBEAST” amongst his army of followers, Marty Hansen was arguably the first ever artist in the West to reproduce both M.U.S.C.L.E. and Kinnikuman figures in new colors and materials back in 2001. One of his most memorable projects, the Super-Rare Trilogy, is a perfect example of his early work, pitting three of the classic series’ most prized figures — the two-part Satan Cross, Black Hole Sunshine, and Spinning-Head Ashuraman — together in one beautifully recast, clamshelled resin 3-pack. Continuing to work in UV resistant resin alongside a flexible keshi-style rubber throughout the whole of the '00s, Marty soon gained notoriety for his instantly recognizable finishes — namely his ball bearing filled masterpieces and the thermal color changing Infected releases — before unleashing his original “Super Rare” style figure, Clawshine. Conceived by Marty, co-designed and sculpted by NECA Toys’ Jason Frailey, and self-produced by the artist, the ingenious mash-up of both M.U.S.C.L.E.’s The Claw and Sunshine designs kick started a massive trend in custom mini figures that has kept on swelling to this day. Having hung up his Custom Bootleg-boots in 2011 to pursue new, original designs — namely the recently released Kabuto Mushi MkII — the original molds for Marty’s iconic figure now currently reside in the super-talented hands of True Cast Studios.
Unknowingly, Rampage Toys’ Jon Malmstedt would also become one of the first Western artists to bring custom bootleg mini figures to the States. Debuting at The Art of Toys group show in November 2010, Jon’s Kapuke-Ki (Cupcake) Luchador figure featured a bootlegged M.U.S.C.L.E. body with, what was arguably a first for the time, an originally sculpted head. Cast in a multitude of tinted resins for the show, these little guys would form the basis for a whole range of Rampage customs over the years to come. Eventually outsourcing casting to a number of different artists including THEGODBEAST, Monstrehero, and Dave Sheely, new figures were gradually introduced in the form of an alternative Cupcake Lucha created for the Flex Pack set, the MIMP Cupcake Propagandas, plus the Smash Tokyo Toys (now Any Old Ion) collaboration, ACE Luchador.
While focusing his attention towards sofubi (Japanese soft vinyl), with the coming of his signature Ugly Unicorn original figure, Jon has still remained a prominent force in the custom keshi scene, working on the likes of the Nekos with Eric Nilla, as well as creating two entries for my (Tru:Tek's) very own H.U.S.T.L.E Artist Series: the Super Cupcake Lucha and Ugly Cenicorn. With spare time becoming scarcer in between vinyl projects, Jon's recent output has been reduced; yet fun little projects like this year’s Pachi in Ya Pocket and Mecha Freaks, rubber recasts of the original MIMP Propaganda figures and a series of micro mecha kit-bashes, confirm that Rampage is most definitely still in the game.
Offering up some of the earliest examples of custom keshi-style figures in the West, Alec over at indie toy company Muscle Things Laboratories formed M.U.S.C.L.E. Tapout back in late 2010 to showcase some of the incredible kit-bashes that were being created at the time. Featuring designs from the likes of Nama Niku, Halfaway, Ironoak, and, of course, Alec himself, the series — which would later be renamed as B.U.F.F and, more recently, Muscle World Order (MWO) — relied purely on M.U.S.C.L.E. figures as a platform, leaning heavily towards the American wrestling aesthetic. Being one of the first series to adopt a more keshi-like flexible rubber, along with a super-fine attention to detail in both coloring and casting, led to some consider the finest custom bootleg mini figures out there. Adopting similar clamshell packaging to THEGODBEAST’s Super-Rare Trilogy, this has also since become a major feature of the Muscle Things look, with recent developments including custom boxes and shrink-wrapped trash cans… the very same ones used by The Super Sucklord for his recent S.U.C.K.L.E. release! With B.U.F.F/MWO all but coming to a standstill in recent months, Alec has been hard at work perfecting hi-tech forms of bootlegging with the help of computer-aided design. By digitally scanning a figure, Alec is able to alter the converted 3D sculpt in seconds, with recent examples including the hugely popular Freddy Claw and S.U.C.K.L.E. crossover figure, the Necro Klaw. Most certainly a new and interesting slant on the tried and tested kit-bash formula, we’ll be interested to see where Alec will take the technology next. Clutter 22 | 37
Namakeshi & MNWA
Joining Rampage Toys’ Jon Malmstedt as one of the very first to follow in THEGODBEAST’s footsteps, Tyler Larkins (a.k.a Nama Niku) secured a number of releases in late 2010/early 2011 for the emerging bootleg lines M.U.S.C.L.E. Tapout and M.A.D. Collaboration, including the Nama King and Micro Sunshine. Shortly thereafter, Tyler formed his own brand, Namakeshi. Focusing mainly on kit-bashed and re-sculpted Kinkeshi to promote the Nama Niku blog, Tyler initially called upon the talents of THEGODBEAST, Muscle Things, and Silent Creations for a mixture of rubber and resin runs, with early classics including Frakenshine, Gyu-Dome, The Ventriloquist, and Meatgrinder, a figure that has since seen several hugely popular renditions.
Inspired by the early works of Rampage Toys, the debut of my own series, H.U.S.T.L.E, came in October 2012 with the release of the ‘Ed Sqworm Vs. Min-E-Face 2-pack. Featuring two figures kit-bashed by me in a similar vein to the Kapuke-Ki Luchador, the pair were initially cast by PappaGrim Toys in a variety of tinted resins, with a subsequent, super-limited batch in rubber produced by myself and distributed for free soon after. Hardly deserving a mention in their own right, it wasn’t until the H.U.S.T.L.E Artist Series was formed later in the year that the brand would offer its own unique spin on the scene. Recruiting artists from right across toys — not just custom mini figures — the series resulted in a total of 10 very different designs, including entries from bootleg old timers Nama Niku, Rampage Toys, and Killer Bootlegs, as well as “art toy” newcomers Brutherford Industries, Taylored Curiosities, and Hungry Imp. This diversity followed through to the finished products, with hand sculpts sitting alongside kitbashes and 3D renditions as well as a mixture of all three, which were all linked together by a trio of important aspects: sub-2” keshi scale, (largely) monotone color, and authentic rubbery texture.
It was actually one of these variants — the Chibi Meatgrinder — that lead to Tyler working with longtime partner in crime, casting maestro Eric Nilla, in late 2011. Joining forces on a number of Namakeshi projects alongside Tyler’s solo figures for both H.U.S.T.L.E and B.U.F.F, under the NNWA banner, the pair have constantly pushed the boundaries of both creativity and production, with the likes of Manzilla 2, Top Rope, and the recently revealed Pachi Man — an ingenious nod to the Kinkeshi knock-offs of old — all holding instant classic status amongst collectors in both the East and West.
Originally debuting back at 2011’s SDCC, Triclops’ B.A.S.T.A.R.D series has built a huge following over the past 3 years, its odd-ball humor and distinctly British flavor making it an instant classic worldwide. Unlike many of the other series in this article, B.A.S.T.A.R.D is one line that has never tied itself down to any particular brand of mini figure, instead plucking elements from across toy culture, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Masters of the Universe, Toxic Crusaders, and Beetlejuice, infusing them together to create such classics as Tommy Tanker, Harmful Avenger, and the Boglins-inspired Ballock. Hand produced in a hard resin to mimic the cheap knock-off toys of old, the now 20+ figure crew of motley minis have been joined by an array of factory produced figures, courtesy of Unbox Industries, including the vinyl PeeNut Mega B.A.S.T.A.R.D, a pair of MIMP-style PVC figures, and Skinner’s B.A.S.T.A.R.D Universe entry, the 10” tall Bullet Belt complete with keshi companion. With more Universe releases planned for 2015, B.A.S.T.A.R.D’s shonky, bootleg heart is thankfully set to live on way into the future.
38 | Clutter 22
Produced by myself in a number of exclusive colorways from January 2013 to April 2013, the Artist Series was swiftly followed by a number of collaborative one-shot releases, including Lunartik’s Letters ‘Ave It!, Peter Kato’s crossover figure Man-Nie, UME Toys’ Martin Furrybottom, and Bigmantoys’ Kamen Fighter. While other toy-related commitments have left H.U.S.T.L.E by the wayside for the past year, there’s one related project that most certainly deserves a mention: Nama Niku’s Deka Manzilla. A collaboration between both H.U.S.T.L.E and the NNWA, the oversized version of Nama’s Godzilla mash-up was one of the very first custom bootlegs to utilize the “Deka” scale platform, coming in at monstrous 5” tall and around 6 times the mass of a standard figure, large enough for the iconic Sneagator Claw to fit seamlessly as an appendage! One of the more elusive figures in the series, the 2013 NYCC exclusives were the only versions pulled before the molds were officially retired last November. Those who’re missing their H.U.S.T.L.E fix after nearly a year without a release will be glad to know that key figures from the Artist Series, as well as Monster Namahage’s latest entry, the CobraKing, will be available in a new premium rubber at NYCC ‘14 in October. (Look out for more news on Man-E-Toys soon!)
Widely regarded as some of the best examples in the Western custom bootleg scene today, Brown Noize Production’s 3D sculpted send-ups of Kinnikuman's various Sunshine figures started with one of the industry’s most recognizable figures to date, AshuraShine. A shrewd mix of both Sunshine and another classic figure, the six-armed Ashuraman, what really made the figure stand out upon release in 2012 was its complete lack of kit-bashing, instead favoring a similar approach to THEGODBEAST’s own Sunshine inspired figure Clawshine, by sculpting the additional features manually. Further heightened by the meticulous rubber casting of Muscle Things’ Alec, the figure’s success cemented plans for an even more ambitious project later that year, the Spinning Head Sunshine × SpinShine 2-pack… Highlighting another reason for the continued development of custom bootlegs — to not only recreate the feel of past toys, but to actually improve on them — it was this notion that set about the creation of the SHS × SS set in October 2012. Tired of not being able to display his Spinning Top Sunshine M.U.S.C.L.E (#195) properly, due to the pin-like base, Brown Noize’s Sanjeev set about designing a body suit for the figure to sit in. Created using C.A.D. in a similar way to Ashurashine, the figure was scaled to fit in with the rest of the series when the spinning top was fitted. Aware that many collectors’ #195 figures wouldn’t match in color due to the ageing process of the near 30 year old figures — regardless of Muscle Things’ attention to detail — Sanjeev then went about creating a companion piece that would become known as the SpinShine. In a nod to the original Ashuraman, the near-identical spinning top figure
replaced #195’s head with a three-sided design, featuring modified sculpts of Ashuraman and Sunshine alongside a new skull variant. Both extremely limited due to complications in rubber production, those dying to pick up the designs will be glad to know that both — along with Ashurashine — are still available to buy through the original 3D prototyper Shapeways, in a number of different finishes, including, if you’re feeling flush, a 24-carat gold plated steel version! Sadly taking a back seat in the mini figure community over the past year to concentrate on his biggest passion, super robots and mecha, Sanjeev has thankfully made a fleeting return through his recent “Super Rare” style figures with none other than Eric Nilla. Again, embarking with the intention of improving classic series, this time by offering up vehicles and characters that were unfortunately missed out the first time around, both Sophia III from obscure NES platformer Blaster Master and the long lost Rimfire from Spiral Zone were recreated by the pair to fit perfectly amongst the original line-up of figures. Tugging on our nostalgia heartstrings like crazy, what really set these apart wasn’t the cool retro-factor, but actually the level of detail that had gone into each piece, both in terms of design and production. Two of the first custom keshi figures in the West to feature extensive articulation, each consisted of at least 7 different individually cast rubber pieces, resulting in some of the most fun and playable figures we’ve seen in the indie toy scene to date. Proving to be a huge success upon their debut back in July, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that they’ll lead to more collaborations from the pair in the near future.
Whilst many of the series featured so far have focused on the play aspect of mini figures, largely being produced in a flexible keshi-style rubber, Healeymade’s seminal MUSCLE/MASK manages to transform children’s toys into stunning works of art. Typified by its minimal approach to kit-bashing — with each figure largely consisting of a perfectly chosen M.U.S.C.L.E. body and M.A.S.K. helmet — the beauty of the series lies in the incredible finishes artist David Healey has managed to achieve, his clear, marbled and opaque resin casts being a true sight to behold in person. Debuting with the sole figure MUSCLE MASK MASK MUSCLE — albeit with 2 different mask variants — back in early 2011, the series has since spawned a total of 7 different designs and multiple colorways alongside Healeymade’s lone custom creation, the hugely popular Breaking Bad inspired “Heisenberg” Rock Man. Showing no signs of stopping with his continuous output of figures, our money’s on seeing at least another couple of new custom Healeymade minis before the year is out...
Clutter 22 | 39
So that’s it, the most influential artists and series the custom bootleg mini figure scene has to offer in a nutshell! We’ve obviously missed a huge chunk of artists and series that have also helped cement the industry over the past decade – Motorbot’s G.R.I.S.T.L.E, Buff Monster’s Cheap Toys, Eric Nilla’s Deka Claw, and Adam Pratt’s Fruit Fighters to name just a few – but the point of fact is that with the sheer diversity of work out there, it’d take a full book to do them all justice! Instead, we’ll finish with a round-up of three bootleg mini series that are currently floating about at the moment...
Diskuo Zombie Smasher
In our eyes one of the most accomplished custom mini figure releases to date, Jack’s Attic’s Disuko Zombie Smasher’s unique approach to aesthetic, eschewing the usual M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestler look in favor of repurposing figures for a “faux” 1987 Famicom game of the same name. Featuring a total of three seamlessly kit-bashed, resin cast figures — said to be the scrolling beat ‘em ups’ “lead protagonists” — it’s the releases’ presentation and attention to detail that really sets it apart from the rest. Coming poly-bagged with a 3-panel perforated trading card with “real” game tips on the back, the pièce de résistance was the header, an ingeniously customised vintage (non-working) Famicom cartridge! Extremely rare and hard to find, with roughly 10 sets in existence, thankfully Jack’s Attic will be returning with a spiritual successor before the end of the year...
Inspired directly by Mexican culture, subculture, and dark humor, L.U.C.H.A (a.k.a Luchadores Undios Contra Humanidad Asquerosa) is the debut custom bootleg mini series from artist MannyX. Originally submitting Brain Drain for H.U.S.T.L.E back in 2012, Manny’s return comes brimming with the same creativity that made his first figure so popular. Featuring a total of four figures so far, each M.U.S.C.L.E style piece has been extensively reworked, coming recast in a hard resin by the artist. Recently
seeing a carded release in the style of the old M.U.S.C.L.E. 4-packs alongside a whole host of one-offs, the series will be making its next appearance very soon in the form of a custom painted run courtesy of Topheroy.
As the name of the blog would suggest, ToyAsObject’s latest custom mini figures series, Mininikku, takes on a distinctly art-based approach in style and aesthetic. Initially featuring just two designs sculpted and kit-bashed by Object’s Sean Gallagher — both originally seen in the Tamentai resin sets earlier in the year — the pair of M.U.S.C.L.E. customs have recently been handed over to KiD iNK’s Kris Duffler to be cast up in a variety of one-off resin finishes. Due to come in suitably over-the-top packaging, expect to see the pair up for grabs on Object later this year...
Now one level closer to the hallowed title of keshi guru, you’ll be glad to know that we’ll be returning soon with even more in-depth coverage of the current mini figure scene, including exclusive interviews and articles on the many other areas we briefly touched upon during our 101. In the meantime, interested parties can keep track of current releases via Man-E-Toys, while heading over to the dedicated M.U.S.C.L.E blog, The University of Muscle, will grant you a closer look at many of the figures and series mentioned in this guide… Until next time guys, keep it rubbery!
40 | Clutter 22
Josh Kimberg Bob Conge
Determined to achieve his version of the American Dream, Bob Conge's enterprising career trajectory is inspirational: find something you're passionate about, use every ounce of energy you've got to bring your dream to life, and make yourself synonymous with it in the process. Starting while the American art toy scene was still in its infancy, Conge's studio — Plaseebo — is immediately identified by fans as one of original modern monster creation. Embracing a rough hewn, raw power aesthetic in his work, Conge has been making beautifully ugly objects long before it was trendy to do so. Dedicated to one-off creatures as well as ultra limited, micro edition releases, the art aspect is as much — if not more — important as the toy element in his works. Constantly pushing the limits of what he's capable of, Conge has embraced modern technology, incorporating elements like LEDs and motion sensors into his classically inspired kaiju sculptures. As someone that's always ahead of the art toy curve, Conge's insight into the future is as fascinating as examining his past. Where are you from originally? Are you a full-time aritst? I am originally from what was then a small town north of Rochester in upstate New York. The town was growing fast, turning farmland into neighborhoods and shopping centers, but it was still rural enough for me to hunt on my way to and from school. Rochester was pretty much my hub, before moving to the Finger Lakes area — fifty miles south of Rochester — twenty years ago. I have not had a day job since leaving teaching in the '70s, and I stopped taking freelance design and illustration work about 15 years ago. I have been working only on things “I" want to make since then. When did you start making monsters? It was as a kid, with the discovery of the now classic Universal Monsters at the movies — Frankenstein, the Wolfman, The Mummy, Dracula — and all the space invasion films. And the radio programs, [which] filled out
our imaginations with so many great stories most every night. Comics also, like the Witches Cauldron, Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science, and the like. My friends and I spent hours and hours drawing these monsters in various scenarios. And when did you decide you were going to become an American making kaiju? Some time around 2000, when my son Mark dragged me kicking and screaming to the Internet and I discovered what Michael Lau was doing in Hong Kong, I realized the Internet would allow anyone to make whatever they wanted and offer it to the world of collectors. I was ALL in! Wow. With your first exposure to art toys being Michael Lau - who does very urban vinyl how did you personally make the leap to kaiju? I was into kaiju long before discovering Michael's work, I had "Kawzik Night Gamer"
been collecting vintage Japanese vinyl monsters since the 1980s. What Michael's work did for me was say, “now you too can make figures.” He kicked the door open. So how did you first learn about kaiju? I have been collecting toys since taking out a student loan that I didn’t need when I was in college and went knocking on doors asking folks if they had any old toys in their attic that I could buy. The collecting eventually led me from early American cast iron and German tin wind-ups to — many years later — collecting Japanese tin robots in the 1980s and then vintage Japanese vinyl kaiju in the 1990s. Much of what I learned about Japanese vinyl kaiju came from the most knowledgeable [Character toy seller] Steve Agin, Lev [Israel Levarek] at Toy Tokyo, and [tin toy specialist] Ray Rohr. What first attracted you to collect toys? Taking out a student loan JUST to buy toys is a pretty serious commitment! Since childhood, toys have always
44 | Clutter 22
spoken to me, each with their own unique voice and I enjoy being surrounded by them. I have often thought of toys as small sculptures; they are miniature interpretations of things that are unattainable in the 'real' world. They enable a child to become General Patton directing the Third Army of die-cast Dinky [Toys'] tanks through the dirt in his own back yard, or allow an adult to time travel back to that moment in the back yard of his memory. This spurring of the imagination is certainly the stuff of art. Speaking of art, how is Bob Conge the artist different than Plaseebo? Plaseebo is the studio and I am Bob, one of the guys making stuff at the studio. Who else makes stuff for the studio? I have and continue to do collaborations with other designers that we release through Plaseebo. What do you enjoy about doing collaborations with other artists?
It’s like sending your kid off to college, they come back as someone else and that is always exciting. Regardless of if it's collaborative or solo, how would you describe your actual creation process? The most important creative part of my day is the first 30 minutes in the morning. Almost all of my ideas for new pieces come to me during this period upon waking from sleep and I spend the rest of the day working out how I can bring the ideas to life. I have no idea where the ideas come from and I do not force or try to direct the process, I just let it happen as if I am listening to the voice of someone else. I make very quick shorthand sketches and notes, as some mornings it is fast and furious. I do not have a set approach to building my sculpts, so each new figure requires a certain amount of 'learning on the job' attitude. Each step suggests the next; it keeps the process interesting for me. I build my armatures with a variety of materials: wood, cardboard, paper, plastic, found objects, parts of old
toys… In short, whatever works. The finish surface sculpting is usually done using a two-part epoxy. Once a sculpt is finished, I send it out for production in resin or vinyl. Why do you make one-off creations as opposed to micro editions? I occasionally make micro editions, but making one-off pieces better suits my psyche. I am easily bored by repetition and excited by new challenges, [so] — to keep things fresh and interesting for me — I try not to repeat what I make any day. One-off figures also appeal to me as a collector, as I seek the unique and scarce. In this way I also feel a responsibility to the collector of my work, to insure they will not find twenty or more other pieces out there just like it. I feel limiting the quantity also helps to insure the long-term value of investment. Is part of this uniqueness in your work using things like the motion activated LEDs? (Laughs.) I think that's a throwback to what I found interesting as a kid, I was always partial to those things that would light up or glow-in-the-
dark. It would take those objects to another level of being unique. What was your break-through piece? The one that made you feel that you had arrived? I don’t think in terms of having arrived, but rather of being on the path. My joy is derived from being involved with the process of making stuff every day. Once the pieces are finished, my interest shifts immediately to what I will build next. I hope I never feel I have arrived, as that would be the end. As for a break-through piece, I think it would be my WAR figure from 2007. It was with this piece that I realized I could use sculpture to make meaningful statements about how I view the world and that these pieces could move others to a similar perspective. Unlike much of the 'cute' work out there, most of my figures attempt to make statements about subjects I find meaningful.
to me. While often a bit satirical, I would hope the glimpse in to my worldview is not all that obscured. For me, the back stories are a most important part of experiencing my figures in the light [that] I intend them to be seen in. So what is your worldview? What do you think about the current state of the world? I am afraid the current state of the world does not encourage me to venture far from my dirt road and hundred acres of woods. I am a recluse and life here is good and fulfilling. I guess you could say I am a sort of sniper, firing from the relative safety of seclusion rather than wrestling in hand-to-hand combat. We should all serve where
we can and, at my age, I am on a more philosophical frontline. Clearly one of the roles of art is to influence the conversation, as history will testify. I am however pleased to be able to say for the first time in many recent years I see hope for a new, more wholesome civilization on the horizon. My newfound view is the result of the book by Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. It is a most hopeful explanation of how the Internet will enable us to live fuller lives in a genuinely healthier society. Interestingly, a tool now being explored by art toy designers will play a most important role in the new world order: the 3D printer.
Is the internet a good thing for the art toy community? In short, their would not be a community without the Internet! Just ask yourself, how many of the people I deal with in the art toy world have I ever met in person? The true unsung heroes that are responsible for the success of this whole ball game are the tireless bloggers who connect the creators with the collectors, and they do this purely out of a love of the sport! We are all indebted to SpankyStokes, TOYSREVIL, Plastic and Plush, Vinyl Pulse, Man-E-Toys, Lowbrownie, Urban Vinyl Daily, Kaiju Lab, Tenacious Toys Blog, Monster Kolor Social Hub, Kaiju Korner, and the many others. And, of course, Clutter Magazine for its
Your WAR figure is amazing! And I can see what you mean, it exemplifies a desire to express something beyond cool and cute… Thank you for your kind words. Not unlike painting and sculpture, I see the art toy as a vehicle for commenting on all things human in a great variety of expressions, from purely visual beauty to biting social satire. There are kaiju of the imagination and then there are 'real monsters,' like war, the selfserving U.S. Congress in perpetual gridlock, the greed of American banks and corporations, the lack of compassion of the 1%, the meaningless 6 o'clock news… a seemingly endless palette to choose from. I feel my more meaningful pieces are those which spring from a desire to comment on social issues, attempts to raise awareness of the viewer and inspire change. Without the means of the Power Elite, this is my only voice. It is my hope that the viewer gets the message of my WAR figure, in how gross and devastating war is to both civilization and the environment. War is a lose-lose proposition that brings only death to everything it touches. The back stories of your figures are reminiscent of modern fables. Do you see them that way? Is the moral imparted a somewhat obscured glimpse into your worldview? Yes and yes. Most of my backstories are written as fables that give voice to issues that are important "Battle Damaged Mars Attacks Misfits Robot" Clutter 22 | 45
coverage online as well as in print and with the annual Designer Toy Awards event. How do you feel about the current scene in toys? Is it better or worse than it was 5 or 10 years ago? I feel the vibrancy of the art toy world is still accelerating at this point. From the beginning in the '90s, the drive and uniqueness of the expressions of this art form has come from independent designers and not from some organized central school or company. Each year it becomes more and more the medium of the individual creator and this will keep it ever fresh. The increased interest in working in resin, a more affordable production material, has opened up the form to even more designers in the past few years and 3D printing will offer options to an even larger audience. The Internet — with websites, Facebook, online stores, coverage by bloggers — helps to offer our creations to a world wide audience of collectors, [which was] unheard of only a few years ago.
Since you seem to be thinking about the ever-expanding nature of art toys, which advice would you give newcomers? Believe in your own vision; you're the only one who has that one! Do not follow trends, they never last. Follow your bliss and make stuff you like, not things you think might sell. Start by making customs and mash-ups of other designers pieces, teach yourself how to build and sculpt through trial and error. When you think you are ready to offer your first original figure, consider using resin rather than vinyl; you can move to vinyl once you have some real world experience in production. Be honest with yourself; if it looks like someone else’s stuff, don’t do it. Learn how to photograph your work like a pro, [as] 99% of collectors will never have the opportunity to see your originals. Keep in mind, you only need a handful of dedicated collectors to keep you afloat. If you're not having fun, it's not for you. It is not easy to break in, but if you love making the pieces [then] in or out is irrelevant.
The hard part is all the non-creative things required to enable you to break in or be noticed, like working a regular job, so you do not have to depend on sales of your figures to support what you want to make, photographing your work, marketing and promoting your work, packing and shipping, maintaining a website or online store, creating a dedicated work space and cleaning it, and all the other mundane disciplines that will give you a shot. If you are head over heels in love with making stuff, none of the above really matters anyway. You've been in a multitude of gallery exhibitions, including one-man shows. Is showing in galleries still important for an artist in an Internet driven society? If so, why? This is a question that everyone must answer for themselves. The internet is changing how we do EVERYTHING, including the marketing of art. If an artist does not have an online presence, including a store, the gallery is still as indispensable as it has always been for the past few thousand
years. Unheard of just ten or so years ago, the Internet now offers the artist the freedom to represent themselves to a global audence. That said, the gallery can play an important role in extending the exposure of ones work to new collectors and the prestige of being invited to be in various exhibitions. It is interesting to note that most galleries today also have an online presence. Do you think art toys are still segregated or have disciplines started crossing over due the Internet? Today everything crosses over, which is so refreshing and positive when compared with the art world prior to the late '90s, when disciplines were separated and isolated from one another. Rarely did you find a poet / painter or sculptor / filmmaker, but today one can move from painting graffiti in the streets to having work in MoMA [the Museum of Modern Art] and then a clothing line in just a few years. While I have little interest in what I have done before this morning, I think knowing what other
46 | Clutter 22
Hex Head prototype sculpt
work I have done may be of interest to other folks in the community. I know I like to learn as much as possible about the people who make the pieces I collect. What sort of works do you collect? For my personal collection, I seek out works in which the unique vision of the individual artist clearly inhabits the piece. At this point I pretty much only collect custom art toys that are unique or made in editions of 5 or less. For the last two years I have been collecting American Impressionist paintings by lesser known Artists who worked between 1880 and 1950.
project with Medicom Toys. I have also started working on a large scale sculpt which will be close to 6 feet high. The piece is titled "Greed Shreds The Fabric Of Democracy" and I am 6 weeks into sculpting the full-size figure in epoxy and fiberglass. Beyond that, what I'm working for the future is not what you think!
Who are some of your favorite custom art toy creators? Do you strive for diversity in your collection or do you see a binding factor in the pieces? I find the work of Todd Robertson [a.k.a. Mechavirus], Nerviswr3k, Doubleparlour, Skull Head Butt, Secret Base, and Miscreation Toys to be among the most innovative. While my collection appears rather eclectic I feel it is bound by quality of expression.
Conge with his "Greed Shreds The Fabric Of Democracy" piece "WAR"
What's next? What can we expect in the future from you? I just today sent off a new sculpt, Hex Head, to True Cast Studio for production in resin. I will be releasing a micro edition of the new Baby Molezilla figure shortly and I have a number of one-off customs in the works as well as a
For more information on Bob Conge, please visit:
Clutter 22 | 47
Jumping Brain (Brain Hue Series)
While one might expect the monosyllabic utterance of "Brains!" to issue forth from a zombie's gristled maw, it could also be the delighted — almost child-like — reaction viewers instinctively have when first exposed to the artwork of Emilio García. With the brain being a subject of personal fascination dating back to childhood, García channelled his predilection into a powerful image: the Jumping Brain. Adding frog's legs to the fold enveloped form, García's Jumping Brain was the first of several sculptural creations from the Spanish artist to use the vital organ's contour. But what initially inspired this direction for García? To learn about the future works of this iconic artist, one must first understand his past.
50 | Clutter 22
Hinomaru Jumping Brain
What's your art background? Formally trained? self-taught? I grew up in a family of artists and artisans on my father's side: my grandfather used to sculpt saints for local churches, my uncle is a wellknown painter in Spain, another uncle is a shop window designer… My father didn't have the oportunity to be an artist, but he wanted to be one; the '70s were not an easy time in Spain. I grew up playing with brushes and clay next to my father, then — when I was 6 — my parents let me choose between catechism and art school for children as my extracurricular activity. My pick was obviously art school! Later I went to an art university [Escola d'Art i Disseny de Tarragona] with the aim to be a sculptor, but I realized how hard it is to survive as an artist as opposed to how easy it is as a designer, so I chose graphic design as my specialty instead. After graduation, I continued my studies in Barcelona, specializing in multimedia and cartoon animation. It was the mid-'90s and the Internet had just become huge, so I started
working on web design — including interactive elements — through my own studio. I spent almost thirteen years as a freelance designer, with clients like Diesel, Vans, Inditex [a.k.a. Industria de Diseño Textil], Hitachi, and The North Face, among many others. With all this commercial work, I definitely lost touch completely with being a fine artist until the birth of the Jumping Brain.
had a laboratory class and I remember the teacher showing us this brain model in there. "How cool!" I thought. It was the only one they had and he didn't let any of the students play with it, or even touch it, but I always wanted to get my hands on it. Well, now I have tons of them, so… Fuck you, teacher, you will never touch any of my brain models! (Laughs.)
What art tools — or tools in general — are essential to your process?
There's another side to my love of brains, though: I started to work with them to seduce a psychology student. She's been my girlfriend for nine years now, so it definitely worked! (Laughs.)
I essentially need clay, a few wooden sticks, silicone, and resin! I also love knives, files, and sandpaper; I like to get the first resin cast of my sculptures, work it out with those tools, and then make definitive molds of the refined piece. And looking forward to the future, as soon as they become affordable, I guess 3D scanners and printers will be essential for all sculptors and model makers. Where does your fascination with brains and their folds come from? Yeah, my love for brains is a chilhood thing: in primary school, once a week we
Artistically speaking, I've always loved to sculpt complicated shapes. The more complicated, the better. And is there anything harder to sculpt [than brain folds]? I dunno, but to sculpt a good brain is certainly a challenge. And once I got more into brains, I became fascinated with the plasticity of them; they change their shape constantly during our lives. How inspiring is that? Do you believe in the left-brain/right-
details from García's event at the Swab Contemporary Art Fair in Barcelona, Spain, 2013
Clutter 22 | 51
52 | Clutter 22
brain theory? If so, which side do you think is dominant in you?
you what it means or what you have to see in it; I want to hear what my pieces represent to you and how they make you feel!
I don't believe in this theory at all, because it is not like people think. Our brain halves always work together and they need one another to work; every task we do is the result of constant communication between both halves. You are not using only the right halve when painting, and you are not using just the left half when doing math. The magic comes out by using neuron connections between both halves. But what looks to be true is that there is more activity in one or the other half when doing certain tasks. So I'm a bit of both, depending on the sittuation. When I sculpt a new figure, there is more activity in my right-brain. And when I think how to get enough funds to pay bills by making designer toys... you know what happens, my left half sends an SOS message to the right! (Laughs.) Was there something specific that inspired you to sculpt frog legs onto an anatomical brain? It's such an iconic image… Definitely. The anatomical remix came to me after a really inspirational trip to Berlin back in 2007. I heard all these historical stories about some crazy and funny ideas that people had to go over the Berlin Wall: using homemade trampolines, hidden inside the speaker of touring rock bands, flying over in hot air balloons, digging tunnels underneath… Over 1,300 people 'jumped' over the wall in the first two years of the wall's existence, so the concept of 'to jump with ideas' was what encouraged me to sculpt a brain model representing it. I was also attracted to using frog legs because, honestly, I just like frogs a lot. Your Jumping Brain was produced by Toy2R, both in the full-size 5" and mini figure 2" versions. How did you come to work with them on this piece?
How involved were you with the Brain Evolution show at Toy Art Gallery (TAG)? Did you select which artists would be working upon your Jumping Brain design? That brings up a lot of good memories, so thanks for asking me that! Brain Evolution was not only my first show but I also had my first trip to the States for the opening, which was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, mainly thanks to Gino Joukar [owner of TAG] and his family. I was completely involved in that show, from the start until the end. Of course Gino let me choose the artists to invite and decide everything… Definitely bloody exciting, so many awesome artists customizing my first figure!
My collaboration with Toy2R started after the first self-release of the [3" resin] RED Jumping Brain. After that release [in 2008], Kevin Winnik [CEO of Toy2R USA] sent me an email asking to collaborate on vinyl version of the Jumping Brain. I had been collecting their toys for a long time, so I was honored to get the invitation! When the 2" Jumping Brain series was released, did you choose the colors of the pieces? Was there a specific reason for the colors chosen as well as the half solid, half glow-in-the-dark chases? For these releases with Toy2R, I wanted to preserve the original colors of the resin pieces: red, green, and blue. Around that time, I was working as a UI [User Interface] designer, so I'd chosen the basic colors of a computer screen's palette, RGB. Three colors weren't enough for a blind boxed mini collection, so I decided to add print basic colors
— CMYK [cyan, magenta, yellow, and black] — plus white to the set. Then Raymond [Choy, owner of Toy2R] suggested making the half versions as well as the silver and clear ones. I've noticed that the CMYK palette seems to play a reoccurring role in your art as well. Does it hold a special significance for you? Is there a reason it keeps reappearing? I enjoy working with vibrant colors because I like them, but I also think each basic color sends a slightly different message to our brains, making 'em vibrate in one way or another. I don't pretend that my pieces are minimalist art, but I try to use the same tactics that minimalist art does to communicate: clean shapes, solid colors, and a simple way to display them. I guess my work can give the viewer an ascetic environment to focus on your thoughts, feelings, and imagination, but I'm not gonna put a text next to the piece telling
With the ARThropod Brain exhibition, also at TAG, what was the impetus behind merging the brain pattern into the forms of insects? This was kind of a last minute idea, actually. [Exhibition partner] tokyoplastic and I were fans of each other for a long time, and we had made some attempts to collaborate on something but it never happened. Then Gino asked us to put a show together. Fantastic idea! So I sent Andi [Andrew Cope] from tokyoplastic, who is a master of digital modeling, a 3D scan of the Jumping Brain and a few weeks later he sent back an amazing bug brain render. Then we just started searching for pictures of nice bugs and Andi made them [into bug brain hybrids]! As we had no time to sculpt, make molds, and resin casts, we decided to use a 3D printer to make them for display as bug collections at TAG. And you might not believe it, but I met tokyoplastic in-person for the first time in Hollywood [at the opening]! It was
Mini Skull Brain Set
Clutter 22 | 53
Black CMYK Jumping Brain
an exciting, amazingly inspiring, and unforgettable experience. What attracts you to re-visiting your designs in new and different materials? As a sculptor, I like to try and find new materials that I'd be comfortable working with. For the Jumping Brain, I've made several in bronze and — thanks to Black Square Gallery — I had the opportunity to use those as an introduction into the fine art world [at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2012]. After that, I discovered how technology can be applied to sculpture; for instance, I can 3D scan my sculptures and use those computer files to manufacture bigger scale pieces much quicker as well as reproduce those designs in materials like marble or wood. This technology isn't good enough to create a finished, really detailed piece yet, but machines can carve out a basic shape — at any size you want — that you can polish and add details to by hand.
idea, but truly innovative at the same time. What made you think of creating a skull composed of brain folds? I sculpted the Skull Brain after a trip to Mexico, where I saw tons of skulls with different shapes and colors. I fell in love with 'em and their meaning [which is to honor the dead]! When I came back to the studio after the trip, I started working on my own skull design, the Skull Brain. Like the Jumping Brain, I had an overwhelming response to it and
I realized just how many skull lovers are out there! Is there a special meaning to the Brainade, you brain fold covered grenade? The Brainade is an old idea I had some years ago. I used to check on Google if anybody had the same idea as me before making them, and with the Brainade I've found few drawings. Because of that, I
The Brainade is the first time — that I know of — that you decorated a nonbiologically based shape with the brain folds? Is there a reason for this change? Can we expect more technological items adorned by you in this manner? Definitely no reason. And yes, more products like this — that I can't reveal — are already being made at the secret Lapo Laboratories. Where did the name Lapo Laboratories come from? And is that strictly for your releases or does it encompass more than that? This brand was created, just for fun, in the late '90s when my design studio started to grow. The idea was to host our own design projects. I remember the first project was a pixel-porn tee collection that I never released because of the tight schedule. The name Lapo in Spanish is a slang word for "spit," but when it comes out green. I know, its kind of disgusting… sorry for that.
My choice of materials comes to me by one way or another, usually through trying to make new things using local resources. For example, with the marble editions of the Skull Brain, a local stone carving company called me. They liked my work and offered me the opportunity to use their machines to carve marble versions of my models, the same way that they are actually making the columns for the [famous, unfinished church] Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
For more information on Emilio García, please visit:
The Skull Brain seems like such a simple "Stag Beetle" from the ARThropod Brain exhibition
54 | Clutter 22
had decided not to do it [in the past], but lately I have been concerned about how much our society needs to stop using fire arms and start using our brains as the only weapons. I believe in a near future where tanks and bombs will be obsolete.
28" Skull Brain
Clutter 22 | 55
T9G's Berry-Kun Skulpted by T9G
Chauskoskis' "Evil Greasebat" Sculpted by Chauskoskis
BY MARC DeANGELIS
THEY’RE THE UNSUNG HEROS OF THE DESIGNER TOY SCENE, THE ARTISTS WHO TAKE A DESIGNER’S IDEA AND BREATHE LIFE INTO IT, GIVING IT FORM. WHILE YOU’LL RARELY SEE A SCULPTOR’S NAME ON THE PACKAGING OF A TOY, THEIR WORK IS CRUCIAL TO EVERY RELEASE. CLUTTER IS PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN AND SHINING THE SPOTLIGHT ON THESE BEHIND-THE-SCENES CREATIVES TO SEE HOW THEY WORK, WHAT THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH TOY DESIGNERS ARE LIKE, AND WHAT THEY’D THEY’D LIKE TO SEE CHANGE.
Luke Chueh's Black in White Sculpted by Dave Pressler
The Walking Dead: Michonne Sculpted by George Gaspar
58 | Clutter 22
Sculpting is a specialized skill. Just about anyone can pick up a pencil and start drawing, but getting into sculpting takes a certain amount of dedication. “To become a serious sculptor, it takes a very particular kind of person, in my opinion,” explains Dave Bondi, the sculptor behind several Joe Ledbetter and Luke Chueh pieces. “You have to really enjoy being alone in your own world, focused and calm. You also have to be able to engage in some rather intricate and technical skills that many people don't have the patience for. It also helps if you have a kind of stubborn determination to see something finished.” Some of the artists behind your favorite designs started sculpting not long after graduating from diapers. “I know most kids play with clay and pencils in kindergarten, but I was good even then, and I never stopped playing with those materials,” says Chauskoskis, sculptor of Jeff Lamm’s Greasebat. “Clay and pens were my
favorite toys in every stage of my life.” Art class was George Gaspar’s catalyst as well, though it was a decade or so later in life. “I took a couple of ceramics classes in high school that I really enjoyed and then went on to study special effects for movies in college. From there I got my first job working in toys at McFarlane and never looked back.”
Yoskay Yamamoto's Do You Remember Me? Sculpted by Julie B
Joe Ledbetter's Teeter Sculpted by Dave Bondi
Others realized that they preferred to work with their hands and that sculpting was conducive to this urge. “I just love working with my hands. And when I’m doing that, I’m more of a machine. I’m translating something,” says Julie B., founder and lead designer of Pretty in Plastic. “As far as why I practice, it’s a combo of my love for the technical and seeing the gesture and poetry of art.” DESIGNER TOY TIE-IN While there might not be an abundance of sculpting jobs out there, sculptors do have options as to what sector to work in, from industrial design to special effects. So it's
Philip Lumbang's Awesome Bear Sculpted by Chauskoskis
(clockwise, top left) Luke Chueh's Possessed, Joe Ledbetter's Mr. Bunny, and Dave Bondi's Akashi.
Dave Bondi Dave Bondi is a fifteen year veteran of the animation and video game industry having worked for such notable entertainment companies as Electronic Arts, Disney, Activision, Mattel, and the television show South Park. Known for his contributions as a sculptor in the Designer Toy art scene, he has worked with artists Joe Ledbetter, Luke Chueh, and others. As a printmaker, he has collaborated with dozens of artists including Gary Baseman, Greg "Craola" Simkins, and Audrey Kawasaki.
interesting to see how these sculptors crossed paths with the Designer Toy scene. Some, like Chauskoskis, stumbled upon the scene and fell in love with what they saw. A Google image search for "cool toys" started it all. “I knew there were cool toys out there, but I didn't have a clue it was like this whole scene, even with names like ‘art toy,’ ‘designer toy,’ ‘sofubi,’ or
whatever. So I was like, ‘This is my thing.’ To me it never was a hobby. I knew right away that I had just found my niche.” Already possessing the proper skills, Chauskoskis got to work customizing, got his name out there, and quickly moved onto sculpting for designers. Others were already sculpting toys and simply made a transition or added Designer Toy sculpting to
their repertoire. Possibly most wellknown for sculpting Tim Biskup’s Helper, T9G was working on sculpts of popular anime characters like Doraemon when he was approached by artists within the Designer Toy scene. Similarly, George Gaspar was working for McFarlane Toys for years before he broke into the scene with October Toys’ Gwin platform. For some, like Julie B., it was a matter of who they were working with — rather
than for — during the primordial periods of the scene. “Once upon a time, I apprenticed under Nathan Cabrera. I worked on a lot of great projects with him.” Julie went out on her own, kicking off her own company by sculpting Amanda Visell’s Carnivorous Giraffe. Certain sculptors, like Dave Pressler and Dave Bondi, were already doing sculpting work and decided to lend
Chauskoskis Walter Jacott, a.k.a. Chauskoskis, has quickly made his mark on the Designer Toy scene with countless impressive customs and sculpts for clients such as Jeff Lamm, Gary Ham, and more.
Jeff Lamm's Greasebat (left) and Gary Ham's Wooper Looper (right)
Clutter 22 | 59
their skills to fellow artists. Pressler, who was already sculpting and casting his own designs in resin, saw the scene grow in the early 2000s and decided he would love the opportunity to bring other artists’ 2D designs into the world of 3D. He approached a friend, Anthony Ausgang, and turned his Bomb Cat character into a toy. Bondi, on the other hand, was a collector turned Designer Toy creator. “We were all crazed collectors hanging out at Munky King’s Chinatown store and making our own art in our free time. I was working at Electronic Arts at the time, Joe Ledbetter was doing T-shirt design, CRAOLA [Greg Simkins] worked at Activision. It seemed like all these different cultural influences were coming together. I was collecting Nathan Jurevicious, Gary Baseman, and Tim Biskup, and so was Joe [Ledbetter], so we hit it off right away. I knew that Joe's style would work really well in the digital sculpting world because his curves and volumes are so clean and well defined. We could 3D print it pretty easily, and Wheaty Wheat [a New York art and fabrication studio] had a deal set up with Kidrobot, so we gave it a shot. I guess I thought that the toy would just end up being part of the growing catalog of vinyl for sale, but it turned out to be this mega hit.” THE PROCESS Similar to other artistic services, sculpting is regimented with a somewhat standard workflow with a lot of back and forth with the artist and the sculptor. Sometimes sculptors are
T9G T9G is an artist living in Tokyo who works as a toy figure sculptor as well as releases many models and art figures of original characters. With his original work reflecting his special worldview, he has held private exhibitions actively in locations inside and outside of Japan, such as the U.S.A., Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
(left to right) Devilrobots & T9G's T9Rob, Tim Biskup & T9G's Helper, and T9G's Berry-Kun
sought out by the artist or producer, but sometimes the sculptor directly approaches an artist to see if he or she would like to turn their character into a 3D toy. Once the deal is secured, the artist provides reference drawings. These can be anything from rough sketches to precise vector
graphics. Depending on the detail of the sketches, the sculptor may independently collect more reference material to better understand the essence of the artist’s work as a whole. Next comes the actual sculpting,
Julie B The founder and lead designer of Pretty In Plastic Inc., a full-service art fabrication studio that makes everything from Designer Toys to major gallery installations and fine art. Growing up, her family was interested in science and academia, leading her to have crystal radio kits and a homemade cabbage patch as opposed to toys and play-dates. In spite of this, art and creativity came naturally to her, and all those hours spent with Lego and Erector Sets honed the skills she's used to make Pretty In Plastic such a success.
(clockwise, top left) Julie B with Tristan Eaton's Dreamland Mickey, Travis Lampe's Accidental Mishap, Kozyndan's Uprisings , and Kozyndan's Narwhal Sculpture.
60 | Clutter 22
whether in clay, wax, or 3D modeling software. Clay and wax have their own advantages, both in terms of scale and detail, so the sculptor and artist will make the proper decision based on the desired outcome. Smaller sculpts tend to be done in wax while larger ones gravitate towards clay.
(left to right) Brendan Monroe's Sour, Camille Rose Garcia's Lulu, and Mark Ryden's YHWH with unproduced accompanying figure
Dave Pressler Dave Pressler is a Los Angeles-based sculptor, designer, and illustrator. Primarily working inanimation and television, he has done production and character design for the last 20 years. Learning to sculpt, mold, and cast figures in the special effects industry, he uses those same skills in the Designer Toy world. He also curates his own gallery and pop art exhibitions. And while 3D printing may have only come to the attention of most people within the last five years or so, high resolution additive processes have been a feasible option for artists and industrial designers since the ‘90s. Generally, a sculptor will create a rough piece, attempting to capture the correct proportions and gesture of the character. Once the rough version is approved by the artist, the sculptor begins the final sculpt, adding detail, expression, and articulation. After further approval, the sculptor adds the finishing texture. Depending on the deal, a clay or wax sculptor may create a silicone mold and cast the figure in two-part resin, then ship the master to the artist or factory. Throughout this process, the sculptor has to act as a technical consultant and may work with the artist on changing certain aspects of the design. These could be stylistic choices or concerns about the quality of the toy, such as weight distribution and how the toy will hold up once in vinyl form. While the clay or wax version of a toy may balance without an issue, this may change once it’s cast in vinyl, especially if inferior materials are used, which can be prone to softening and warping. In order to keep the artist in the loop and to stay on track, sculptors
frequently send photos and videos of their progress and make incremental tweaks to reach the desired end product. As Dave Bondi explains, even before any work begins, sculptors often discuss the artist’s intentions. The toy designer might be sorely disappointed to find out that a run of over 300 toys would have to be manufactured in China and would cost about the same as a down payment on a house. Setting these expectations ensures the project gets off to a good start and makes clear if an artist might not be prepared for a large investment. The sculptor’s responsibility can even continue to the factory level. During the process of turning the master sculpt into a repeatable mold, the factory may have questions about the design and may request slight alterations, which could happen at the factory itself or be handled by the sculptor. CREDIT ROLL A toy’s packaging almost always showcases the brand name of the manufacturer as well as the name of the designer, but there’s rarely a mention of the sculptor who realized the ideas of the designer. This lack of recognition may be surprising given how tightly knit the Designer Toy
community is. For instance, everyone knows that Frank Kozik designed the Mecha Dunny, but who sculpted it? Who took those 2D designs and turned them into a 3D piece of art? A lot of hardcore collectors would love to know and it would seem fitting that someone so crucial to the toy production process receives credit. There are two schools of thought when it comes to being visibly acknowledged with sculpting a toy: one being that the sculptor is an invisible pair of hands through which an existing design is realized in 3D, the other being that sculptors are a part of the creative process and should be publicly credited for their work. For the latter, pleasing the client and recreating their character as accurately as possible is the name of the game. As it’s the designer’s original concept and not their own, these sculptors tend to shy away from the idea of receiving any credit for the production of the toy. "This is a practice in and out of Designer Toys," explain George Gaspar on how some sculptors don’t expect to be credited. “It’s not uncommon and isn’t meant as a slight against sculptors. For the most part, the sculptor is just a tool to get the designer’s image into 3D. Even in fine art, the artist who gets the credit
for making the art is the person that thinks it up, not the crew that person hires to make the item. The only time it’s frustrating is if someone else is getting the credit for your work. As a sculptor of other people’s work, your job is to make it look like their art, not your own.” Gaspar elaborates that if the project is collaborative by nature, then credit may be expected. “If the artist who you are working with is into working collaboratively and you are working to create the figure together, then sure, it’s nice to give the sculptor credit for the work that goes into the piece. When it comes to credit, it is really just a line on a box or a line on a website, so it doesn’t hurt the piece to have that in there. Sometimes things are sculpted at a factory, though, and credit may not be available to give in cases like that. It’s not something that has to be on every package; it’s a case-by-case kind of thing.” Some sculptors feel content with the recognition from artists and producers and don’t quite feel the need to have their name in front of collectors. Julie B. explains, “Sometimes we do get credit, which is great. It can be frustrating [when we don’t], but more often than not we are recognized by the artist and our accolades come in different forms. As opposed to Clutter 22 | 61
George Gaspar Like most children, George Gaspar's first toy was a plush, a Curious George to be exact. Growing up he had all sorts of action figures from HeMan to Star Wars and everything in-between, though he currently collects way too many things to list. As far as experience, he have been working in the industry since 1996, working everywhere from replica prop shops to McFarlane Toys, SOTA Toys, Mezco Toys, Gentle Giant Studios, and many others. Most of Gaspar's professional career has been with action figures and collectibles which is why, with October Toys, he actively chose to explore the vinyl, art toy side of things.
the fine art world, the Designer Toy community is very supportive and we are known for what we do. We collaborate a lot, so our clients tend to acknowledge us, whether it be in their press materials or social networking. We find it’s a good balance and we are lucky to work with people who are proud to say they are working with Pretty in Plastic. It says something about where they’re at as well.” Chauskoskis explains how receiving credit is important to staying relevant and how it adds incentive to a gig. “[If] you won't get recognition, don't do it. Personally, I don't get paid a lot for these works and [have to halt] my own projects, so I do want to keep my name out there at least. Clients need to be clever in that sense. I feel some of them maybe feel jealous to ‘share’ credit because they think, ‘I paid for [the sculpting service], it's my investment, and my project.’ I’ve been lucky to work with fine people, but I guess many other sculptors suffer from that.” Dave Pressler conveys a similar sentiment. “In my case, I have always required my name to be on the box. There are a couple of toys out there that don’t have it, but I require it contractually. Sculptors 62 | Clutter 22
should ask for it and make it a part of the work contract. It’s no extra cost to the producer to lay it out in the packaging artwork.” Adding a respected sculptor’s name to the packaging can even help garner more interest in the toy. “It’s like if you are a musician and your album was produced by a guy with some sort of reputation on the scene, why would you not want to use [his name]? It just adds [interest], right?” asks Chauskoskis. T9G confirms that promoting the sculptor’s name is a somewhat common practice in Japan and that many collectors buy pieces specifically based on of who did the sculpting work. “I consider that the client side should include the name of the sculptor on the package and website. In fact, several companies in Japan actually do this, and there are many customers who buy goods [based on] the name of the sculptor.” Dave Bondi explains how the recognition of sculptors has actually increased over the past ten years. “When I first started sculpting, the sculptor was like this invisible entity behind the scenes. A lot of designers were working with sculptors at the factory in China where the toy was being made so they didn't want to give credit. After
(clockwise, top left) Brandi Milne's Bunny Ride, Go!!, Bob Dob's Mouseketeer Wil, and October Toys' Gwin
a while the sculptors working on toys domestically like Nathan Cabrera, Julie B., Dave Pressler and myself started asking for and getting credit for our work. Artists like Luke Chueh and Joe Ledbetter, and producers like Munky King and Kidrobot, were extremely helpful in making this happen.”
network at shows and conventions,” he urges other sculptors. Chauskoskis gets exposure from his own art and customs, as well as group shows. “[Artists should] create their own art, not just work on other people’s ideas. Start a blog, use social networks.”
Since these sculptors aren’t household names with collectors, there’s some added motivation for getting themselves out there. Pressler explains, “I have found that having my name credited on the box is not a magic bullet to success. I still have to do a lot of promotion and social media on my own. Even if you are getting that box credit there still has to be a lot of hustle involved with getting your name out there.” He sees self-promotion as part of his job: “Social media is so easy now. It’s become part of the day to day work, carving out time to go online and promote yourself.” Julie B. agrees and has followed suit with social media campaigns for her company. “Recently we have developed a social networking campaign to let our followers and clients see what we are up to. Attraction is the best promotion.” George Gaspar also uses the Internet as a way to showcase his work: “Create a portfolio site and
What sculptors do agree on is that one of the best ways to ensure an influx of clients and a solid fan base is high quality work, which is made clear in just about any Designer Toy on your shelf. So the next time you tear open a box, rip open a foil bag, and pull out some fresh vinyl or resin, just remember that some seriously hard work has gone into turning a 2D design into a 3D object.
RESPECT THE SCULPT
Advertise Here!! Just
8" TALL DIY BEAR HEADS
Your indispensable guide into the world of art toys, counter culture and underground art. Included in the pages of this issue: Cover art and...
Published on Oct 8, 2014
Your indispensable guide into the world of art toys, counter culture and underground art. Included in the pages of this issue: Cover art and...