LIKE TOYS, LOVE CLUTTER
LIKE TOYS, LOVE CLUTTER
JOE LEDBETTER 42
On The Cover
The Incredible J.Led Article by Barbara Pavone
Firecat By Joe Ledbetter
Dead Zebra Society Article by Brian VanHooker
Camilla Dâ€™Errico Article by Nick Curtis
The Chronicling of Two Worlds by Seth Fisher
Super Flat & Super Soft: by Marc DeAngelis
THE LOYAL SUBJECTS
Frequently Asked Legal Questions... Article by Brian VanHooker
Calling all... Article by Josh Kimberg
DESIGNER TOY DICTIONARY 08
WHAT ARE DESIGNER TOYS?
WHAT IS 1/6TH SCALE?
WHAT IS BLIND BOXED?
WHAT IS KAIJU?
WHAT IS A CUSTOM?
BASICS OF BOOTLEGS
WHAT IS KESHI?
Clutter 41 NYCC | 7
TEAM Miranda Oâ€™Brien Editor-in-Chief
Jason Ryule Technical Coordinator
Barbara Pavone Contributing Writer
Josh Kimberg Managing Editor
Matt Dorcas Advertising Sales
SethFischer Contributing Writer Niall Anderson Contributing Writer man-e-toys.com
Nick Curtis Associate Editor
Brittany DiPeri Associate Producer
Marc DeAngelis Website Editor
Niktia Volchik Studio Coordinator
Nick Carroll Art Director
Brian VanHooker Contributing Writer
GUESTS Pete Fowler
We are always on the lookout for 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.
Send review samples for consideration to:
Telephone 212-255-2505 (Mon. - Fri., 10am - 6pm EST) www.cluttermagazine.com
Clutter Media Group 163 Main St. Beacon, NY 12508 USA
LEGAL The publishers would like to thank everyone who has furnished information and materials for this issue. The contents of CLUTTER MAGAZINE reflect the opinions of respective contributor or interview subject, and are not necessarily those of the publisher. All copyrights/rights to images (photographs, design) writing, and likeness are property of the respective owners. Every effort has been made to reach copyright owners or their representatives. All other material is owned and copyrighted by Clutter Studios. Nothing may be reproduced in part or whole without prior written consent from Clutter Studios. The publisher will be pleased to correct any mistakes or omissions in the online version of this issue.
NEVER MISS AN ISSUE
shop.cluttermagazine.com 8 | Clutter 41 NYCC
The following is basic primer of terms that you might commonly uncover while reading further regarding the designer toy movement.
A ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a form of rigid plastic from which toys can be produced out of at the factory level. Known for its hardness, toughness, and glossy sheen, ABS has a smooth surface that typically does not lend itself to showing intricate details. Due to the plastic being injected rather than poured into molds, pieces cast in ABS maintain more consistency in production than those made out of PVC. A recognizable example of this material being is LEGO building blocks. An accessory is an additional piece that comes with a designer toy, either to be placed on or near the figure for display purposes. Called an omake, or extra, in Japanese, these elements aren’t usually essential to the figure’s design but rather serve to compliment and supplement the piece. An Artist Proof (or AP) is one of several copies of a mass-produced esigner toy release that the designer receives from the manufacturer or producer. Typically limited to 10 to 25 copies, 10 | Clutter 41 NYCC
the artist embellishes these pieces in some manner — from simply signing & numbering them to turning them into a micro edition of custom pieces — before selling them as artist proof copies.
B Blind box and blind bag are terms used to describe a series of designer toys, with multiple designs, that are sold packaged in either a box or bag, respectively. The packaging completely obscures the contents from view, causing the purchased design to be random and not decided by the buyer.
C Chibi is a Japanese slang term for a short person or small child, though it is used within designer toys to indicate either a smaller rendition of a previously released figure or an original piece that conforms to the chibi style. Chibi releases tend to be cute and simplistic, though the latter in not a required element. (See also kawaii.) Custom figures, also known as handpainted (or HP) designer toys, are those that have been treated like a
blank canvas by an artist. Through a variety of methods, most commonly painting, the artist applies their own design scheme onto the figure. Usually unique pieces of art, a micro edition of a custom can be made using the same design scheme, though each one is still individually hand-crafted and/ or painted. Chase is the name given to a hard-to-find blind boxed toy. Very limited edition within an already limited editions line, these are often advertised in silhouette, unnamed, and/or with a “?/??” as its ratio of availability. Colorways refer to when a toy of the same design is painted several different ways. Often, different colorways of a single toy are created in order to fulfill the minimum order quantity (“MOQ”) for a factory order. By creating multiple colorways, collectors can choose their favorite color variation by personal preference or may even desire multiple variations. Also, due to limited quantities, certain figures with rare colorways become highly collectible
D A Deluxe (or DX) figure is a version of a Designer Toy which either indicates
scheme applied, or any combination of these. Frequently limited to a set number of pieces produced, a micro edition of customs can be considered a new edition or colorway, though this is not common. (See also open edition and original colorway.)
G that: it includes additional extras, like accessories, or it has been completely re-sculpted to be larger and/or more detailed. Designer toys, also known as art toy and urban vinyl works, are lowbrow or pop art pieces. Typically sold primarily on the basis of the artist or designer’s name, these emulate the production methods of traditional toys though designer toys are usually intended to be display collectibles rather than pieces that emphasize functionality or playability.
Golden Ticket is the name given to any special win notification included with a blind box series, typically for an additional Designer Toy or piece of art that is exclusive to Golden Ticket winners. Sometimes there are Instant Golden Tickets, meaning the additional piece is already included inside the blind box(es).
The edition or colorway denotation on a Designer Toy is used to indicate one of several things in regards to a previously released figure: the piece being cast in a different color of production material, the piece having the paint application scheme applied in different colors, the piece having a completely new paint application
Keshi, or keshigomu, is the Japanese term literally for eraser, but within designer toys it refers primarily to micro and mini figures cast in a
A header card is a common form of packaging for designer toys. Typically printed, though sometimes hand-drawn, a header card is a piece of folded thick stock paper that is attached — usually stapled — atop the plastic bag which contains the piece.
Kaiju is a Japanese term that means strange creature, though it specifically indicates any of the Japanese movie monsters. While a truly accurate kaiju Designer Toy would be an artist’s interpretation of one of these classic cinematic terrors, the term is often
Kawaii is a Japanese word meaning cute. It is used within designer toys to indicate any pieces that are inherently cute looking, specifically ones with minimal details and including elements such as hearts, flowers, stars, or rainbows. Kawaii pieces are commonly either super deformed or chibi. A recognizable example of this style would be Hello Kitty.
K A D.I.Y. (Do-It-Yourself, or DIY) figure is a Designer Toy that is sold unpainted with the primary intention that the piece will be customized.
used to indicate neo-kaiju Designer Toy releases. A recognizable example of this style would be Godzilla or Mothra toys.
colored hard gum. A recognizable example of these rubber-like figures is the M.U.S.C.L.E. toy line of the ‘80s. Kitbashing is derived from the term for using parts from various garage and/or model kits to make one single piece. Similarly, in Designer Toy terms, it denotes one piece made from the parts of several figures, the resulting work being used either for a custom or as the prototype for molding and casting.
L A lottery or raffle in Designer Toy terms primarily indicates a free-to-enter drawing from which the winners will be given the chance to purchase a limited, typically micro edition, figure. Principally used for high demand pieces, this system is generally considered a more fair manner in which to sell figures that would normally sell out within a minute or less.
Clutter 41 NYCC | 11
Lowbrow art, or pop surrealism, is a form of pop art that derives inspiration from underground cultural movements, such as comix, punk music, and hotrod detailing, and usually conveys a sense of humor through the work. A lucky bag is derived from the Japanese tradition of Fukubukuro, a customary New Year’s grab bag filled with random contents at a discounted price. The Designer Toy version, rather than being comprised of leftover stock, is typically a blind bag that usually contains test pulls, exclusive micro editions, and other rarities.
N Neo-kaiju is a term meant to indicate new kaiju, or designer toys inspired by the Japanese movie monsters but not actually directly interpreting any of them.
A platform, or platform figure, is the term for a Designer Toy figure’s unique shape and form. While it can specifically refer strictly to figures intended for paint schemes by a variety of designers, such as Dunnys and Androids, the term has also been used for any figure that has multiple editions.
M Marbled indicates an edition of a Designer Toy figure has been cast in two or more colors of material, resulting in swirls or patches of differing coloration that have not been painted onto the piece.
Micro edition denotes an extremely limited edition of a Designer Toy. Typically is signifies that less than 10 pieces were produced in this variation. A micro-figure is any Designer Toy that is less than, but not equal to, 3” in height. A mini figure is any Designer Toy that is roughly 3” to 5” in height. Mixed parts indicate an edition of a Designer Toy figure that has multiple, individually cast parts — such as head, body, arms, legs, etc. — and that one or more parts have been cast in different colors of the material. Typically each and every cast part is in a different color, though that is not a requirement. 12 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Open edition indicates an edition of a Designer Toy release that is not limited to a specific number. Though open edition releases aren’t strictly limited in quantity, there is no guarantee of unlimited availability; frequently self-produced open edition pieces will become no longer available after a set period of time or when the mold is no longer usable for casting the pieces, while production pieces will not necessarily have more made after the initially ordered quantity is sold out. Original (or OG) colorway is typically the debut edition release of a Designer Toy or, in some instances, the first mass-marketed version of the figure available.
P A paint master refers to a copy of the figure that has been hand-painted as the baseline for the factory or another specialist to replicate the paint scheme from on a micro edition or mass-produced release.
Plush or soft sculpture are designer toys made mainly or completely out of fabrics and other materials typically associated with stuffed animals. A point of articulation on a Designer Toy is the jointed area between two cast pieces that is capable of being rotated, such as the head, arms, legs, etc. Some designer toys are cast as a single piece or have been designed so that the multiple pieces interlock together and are unable to be rotated, thus they have no points of articulation. Pop art is a movement that emerged in the 1950s which is noted for including imagery from popular culture, such as advertising, comic books, and other familiar ‘modern’ designs. A recognizable example of this style is the works of Andy Warhol, especially his Campbell’s Soup pieces. A prototype is the base Designer Toy figure sculpted out of clay or wax before being molded for production.
ABS and the high level of sculptural detail retention of PVC. Resin is soft enough to sand and cut as well as sturdy enough to hold weight, though the finished pieces require primer for painting and are more brittle than the other mentioned materials. A recognizable example of this material being used are the bootleg garage and model kits which gained popularity in the early to mid-â€™80s.
S Sofubi, sofvi, or soft vinyl, is a wasei-eigo (an English word coined
PVC, or Poly (Vinyl Chloride), is a soft form of plastic that toys can be produced out of at the factory level. Often referred to simply as Vinyl, this material is known for its relative cheapness, resilience, and malleability. While this plastic lends itself to showing high levels of details, the pliancy of the material results in each pulled piece havingÂ a slight distortion to the shape of the figure as opposed to ABSâ€™s consistency. A recognizable example of this material being used are plastic dolls, such as Barbie. (See also sofubi.)
limbs, though these are not required elements. (See also kawaii.)
T The test pull or test shot is the first singular copy or group of pieces successfully cast for a production piece. Standardly cast in whatever colored material is cheap and on-hand, these are sent to the artist unpainted for approval. To-Scale Figures are designer toys produced in true ratios to what they represent if it existed in real life. Thus terms like 1/6th Scale Figure and 1/12th Scale Figure are used to indicate pieces that are one-sixth and one-twelfth, respectively, the size the real life figure would be. Typically to-scale figures feature many life-simulating points of articulation and come with sewn clothing as well as various accessories. A recognizable example for this style of figure being used would be scale model kits.
in Japan) derived from the Engrish of Softu Binyl. An exceedingly pure form of PVC, sofubi is uniquely made through a variety of molding and production techniques by Japanese master craftsmen. While sofubi denotes the material a Designer Toy is made of, some people use the term interchangeably with kaiju or neo-kaiju styles. A recognizable example of this material being used are vintage Godzilla toys. Sprays is a slang term for paints applied to a Designer Toy by airbrush.
Resin, within Designer Toy terms, primarily references a synthetic two-part liquid compound that, when mixed together, self-cures into a cast form. Ideally suited for self-production use, resin has a similar hardness to
Super deformed (or SD) is used to indicate a design with an oversized head disproportionate to the body. Whether an original piece in this style or a rendition of a previously released figure, typically these versions are small and chubby with stubby
V Vinyl is a common slang term for PVC.
Clutter 41 NYCC | 13
What are designer toys? Since the dawn of cave painting, art and technology have always been intrinsically tied. Without film, we wouldn’t have The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Citizen Kane. Without the printing press, we wouldn’t have had Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints. And if it wasn’t for silk screening and a healthy dose of attitude, we would not have Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych. Advancements in technology have always brought about new forms of art, and our generation is no exception. Computers have brought about an age of digital art, and, as for sculpture, materials like vinyl, resin, and sofubi are being used to bring art into the world of toys.
MC Supersized by Ron English and Secret Base
The most basic answer to the question “What are designer toys?” is that they are a modern art form where factory techniques are utilized in order to create the artist’s vision. In truth, there are many answers to the question of what designer toys are, and, just like any definition of “art,” the answers presented lie very much in the spirit of “art is in the eye of the beholder.” The umbrella which the term “designer toys” covers encompasses a wide array of types of art. Not only that but the umbrella itself has several different names. And while the term designer toys primarily covers original artist creations, it doesn’t necessarily exclude licensed properties in some instances. So while the world of designer toys may be a bit complicated to understand, the common thread throughout is an emphasis on the artist or designer behind the “toy.” First, there are several different names for designer toys; the other commonly used nom de guerres are art 14 | Clutter 41 NYCC
toys, toy art, urban toys, urban vinyl, and vinyl toys, and though they are often used interchangeably, they do each have different connotative meanings. Designer toys or art toys simply refers to artistic toys. The terms urban vinyl and vinyl toys specifically link back to the birth of the art form, with Michael Lau’s Gardener figures (see 1:6 scale toys) and his contemporaries at the time. Toy art is the name given to the genre by the fine art world and was first used in Simon de Pury’s auction house to describe a new art form which many collectors were unfamiliar with. Though the origins of the movement behind designer toys themselves has a few different iterations, the culture which birthed collecting in its modern incarnation, be it of designer or mainstream toys, found its origins in the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas’ expansive universe was the first property to embrace in-depth stories about their most periphery
of characters. From Han Solo all the way down to Salacious Crumb, each character had a name, a story and, most importantly, a toy. Whether you were a Star Wars fan or not, these sales techniques imprinted on us to think the way we do about collecting those little plastic objects.
Now, just because something features a licensed property, doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a designer toy. If a mainstream character is reconceptualized by an artist, like Ron English’s Simpsons series or Jason Freeny’s Bugs Bunny: Anatomical Rabbit, it may be considered an art toy, but even then some in the designer toy world won’t consider that art simply because it is based on a licensed product. Either way, licensed properties consume a very small space in the universe of designer toys; think of them as Pluto is to our solar system. Maybe some are art, maybe not, but regardless the world of designer toys does not revolve around licensed characters, it revolves around the artists. From a historical context, it is easy to understand what a designer toy isn’t. A designer toy is any toy that is sold based on the name and direct authorship of the artist. If there is ever any question about the authorship, a designer toy can be
Qeezer Qee by Nic Brand & Toy2R
Mainstream Star Wars figures are not considered art. Though they may be designed by someone and they are based on the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie (among others), they are a product intended for mass consumption based on a licensed property. In and of themselves, the designer toy community does not see these as art. Largely speaking, designer toys does not refer to licensed properties because the toys themselves are not the original creation of an artist, and even in cases where they were, like Transformers, the designer is not focused upon. Barbie and G.I. Joe are two of the most important and successful toy brands in history, and obviously, someone designed them (Ruth Handler for Barbie and Don Levine for G.I. Joe), but as cool and important as those toys are, they are considered toys,
as they are a product, made collaboratively by a toy company, for the mass public.
Clutter 41 NYCC | 15
understood in term of the intention and whether or not the artist’s vision is the central focus of the objects expression. The world of designer Toys is complicated, and a wide variety of objects can fall under this definition. Designer toys are almost always limited. Sometimes they are a single, hand-painted piece, sold in a gallery or auction; these pieces are where the toy is treated like an artist’s canvas and something new is crafted upon it, which is known as a custom. Usually, these are one-of-a-kind and can even be used as the blueprint for a more widely released figure. Also included under the designer toy umbrella are some small run toys. Often these are made of resin, have a set quantity being produced, sometimes signed by the artist. These toys are made by hand and there is high level of attention to detail. Also considered designer toys can be some mass produced items, oftentimes they come in blind boxes but not always and usually are made from vinyl. Intended for display rather than play, they are fairly affordable, and though they are usually limited, they have a higher number of items produced compared to other designer toys. What keeps these toys in the realm of art is still the artist, who is still the central voice in the design.
Vinyl by Toy2R
Frank Kozik’s PoTaMuS
Metal by Fully Visual
To the right we have a variety of versions of Frank Kozik's PoTaMuS design, each manufactured in a different material. There are two versions cast in traditional sculpture mediums (Porcelain and Metal) as well as the exact same design in Vinyl.
Porcelain by K.olin tribu
“Historically, designer toys take mass manufacturing techniques, usually reserved for producing high volume runs of product, and applies the sensibilities to producing higher end multiples of an art object. The artist works within the constraints of the process to create a beautiful and collectable piece, turning the purpose of these methods on its head. “More recently artists have started to use more home grown and DIY techniques to produce similar effects; Less mass market techniques, but the same ethos. “I believe that ultimately designer toys will continue to evolve as a medium for artists. However, a danger stems from commercialization with a focus on profit and mass production, which is at odds with the roots of this industry. Ultimately this scene is driven by and supported by the collectors. I think sometimes the artists forget how important not only direct to collector sales are, but also the secondary market, without which there would be no industry.” Miranda O’Brien Editor-in-Chief Clutter Magazine Forest Warlord by Bigfoot x Kuso Vinyl Painted by Skinner 16 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Keep it Indie! By Pete Fowler Back in the late ‘90s, I noticed, during trips to Japan, something new emerging. I collected Ultraman monsters, Doraemon, Ampanman, and anything else that interested me. But when I saw the first Michael Lau and James Jarvis toys, I knew there was something going on outside the usual merchandised toys from cartoons, films, etc. I tried to hunt down a Lau figure but soon realized that they were like gold dust and other people, like me, were desperate to get their hands on this new wave of toys from artists and illustrators.
design and creating a world where my characters existed was unlimited room for my imagination to roam.
This led me, in a roundabout way, to creating sculptures inspired by these figures that put my work under the noses of Sony Creative Products. This meeting started me on my way to designing toys myself, firstly with SCP then to the company I ran, Playbeast. My Monsterism range was fun to
I think it’s about the artist’s vision and what they can create within the constraints of the material and I for one, salute the indies for bringing back the art and ‘garage’ side to toys which I feel is greatly needed in a world of licensed characters and brand collaborations.
Photo: The Hang Gang
For me, designer toys should be something that avoids the big companies and should be done for the art and creative ideas. Obviously, these need to be financially viable, but I think the balance between art and commerce is being rebalance here and there and that can only be a good thing for the scene and the collectors and fans of it.
Back in the day... By Paul Budnitz, founder of Kidrobot When I opened the very first Kidrobot store in San Francisco, Huck Gee and I used to sit behind the counter cleaning the glass, hoping someone would eventually come in and buy one of our toys. Eventually a person would walk in from the street, look at the toys in the glass cases for a while, and finally ask, “what are these things?” I’d carefully reply that they were designer toys, created by artists in limited editions. Very special, very beautiful things. Then they’d say, “Yes — but what are they from?” I’d patiently explain that they weren’t from anything — not from TV shows, cartoons, movies, video games, or comic books. Just works of art that someone had made up. “Then why would I want one?” they’d ask, and stomp out of the store. Over time more people have got used to the idea that things can be beautiful just for what they are, as opposed to what they are related to. I think that’s what’s most wonderful to me about designer toys — they only rely on themselves for their appeal. In order for a toy to work, it has to stand on its own. That challenges us, because when we see something new, we are forced to stretch a little, and make the world a bigger place.
Big Mouth 8” Dunny by Deph, 2006
Clutter 41 NYCC | 17
ARCANE DIVINATION THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF CAMILLA D’ERRICO BY NICK CURTIS
Italo-Canadian artist Camilla d’Errico is best known for her manga-influenced fine art and comic creations, but she is no stranger to the designer toy world. On top of hand-painting a plethora of different art toy works, her aesthetic has adorned production versions of both the Bax Bear and Stitch platforms as well as her own Kuro release. But, finally, she has had a chance to try her hand at the Dunny form. As one of five artists in the J«RYU curated and Kidrobot produced Arcane Divination series (see last issue), d’Errico was enlisted to create three Dunny designs within the theme of Tarot’s Major Arcana. While the series won’t be released until early 2017, d’Errico gives us invaluable insight into her three upcoming production pieces in this exclusive interview.
ongrats on your first production Dunny figures! Even though you’ve had several art toy pieces made from your designs over the years, did being invited to be part of this one feel different? Thank you so much! Being part of this series is such an honor, honestly, it’s an amazing opportunity that I was given and for me, it definitely stands out as one of the most intense toy experiences to date. I’ll be honest, I’ve always wanted to have my very own Dunny design, it’s like being part of something bigger than myself and a culture all on its own. I haven’t had the chance to be part of the Dunny family until now and it feels really amazing to have finally been embraced by them. Your style seems perfectly suited for the tarot card theme. Did you immediately know which Major Arcana you wanted to interpret? Which ones did you choose? And why? I think as soon as I was asked to be part of this series my mind immediately exploded with hundreds of ideas like an excited firework. I knew right away that I wanted to design The Lovers and The High Priestess and I’m so lucky that I was able to work on them. Narrowing down the other two was super hard, I had a list as long as my leg of which others I wanted to do. But for me, right off the bat, The
20 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Lovers presented a great opportunity for me to show off the hopeless romantic side of my personality. I believe in true love and soulmates so creating this Dunny was a must for me. When people see the toy theyâ€™ll understand the way that I believe two people can share one heart in a very creative way. The High Priestess is such a beautiful character with many symbols and textures which immediately drew me to her as a potential design. I crafted many versions of her that I wish I could have seen become toys. It seemed like I had infinite possibilities with her. She was super fun to craft. Needless to say, I love tarot cards so this was definitely a blast and if I had my way I would have gladly designed them all if I could have. (Laughs) With each design there had to be a melding of your style and the classic cardâ€™s character, so how do you feel you found the balance for each Dunny? I wanted to be as true to the classic tarot as I could but still make them fresh and fun with the Dunny form. I thought of the platform as the bodies of each of the characters from the deck and did my best to bring them to life as mini characters. I tried a few different combinations with the platform, some with arms, some without to show the kind of variety that was possible with the Dunny while turning the toy into a mini person. I channeled my inner chibi for these designs too. Making them
Beyond the Rainbow, 2012
Clutter 41 NYCC | 21
into little anime people that were a balance of fun and cute. Did you find being part of this series similar to your past production works on platforms — like your Stitch and Bax Bear pieces? Or was this a much more unique experience for you? I’d say this was a much more unique experience because of the freedom that Kidrobot and J«RYU gave me. I wasn’t limited with color choices or textures and shapes, rather it was like being given the keys to a candy shop and being told “go ahead eat as much as you can” and I did. So I was able to explore textures, accessories, glow-in-the-dark, and metallics for the first time ever. Unless I’m wrong, you’ve never even customized a Dunny before. Did you find the shape challenging to work with? Now that you’ve explored the form, do you think you’ll revisit it in the future? Well, I’ve done private commissions at conventions before and one time I customized a set of Dunnys for a fan for their wedding cake toppers! These weren’t documented as thoroughly as my other work so it’s no wonder they slipped through the media cracks. (Laughs) To be honest the shape is a bit challenging but given the opportunity to play with it and alter it to suit my design made this much less stressful than it could have been. I think after seeing what some of the other artists did that I would maybe go more extreme with my designs and really challenge the shape and what can be created. I’d absolutely love to revisit another Dunny series and I hope that Kidrobot asks me to do more. This was definitely just me dipping my toe in the Dunny water. Also just want to add a big shout out to J«RYU for making this happen. He deserves all the credit for bringing this series to life and keeping us wild artists on track. He was a great leader and deserves a massive pat on the back for this accomplishment!
For more information, please visit: Kidrobot: kidrobot.com Camilla d’Errico: camilladerrico.com
22 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Mutated Zombie Baby 2099
Undead Minion Gergle
Timegore - Feddy Gorger
by Miscreation Toys
by Miscreation Toys
by Violence Toy
Brain Rott Meats
by Violence Toy
“Vinylploitation!”, a horrific group show featuring Retroband, Violence Toy, and Miscreation Toys. A terrifyingly gruesome exhibit, with pieces inspired by grindhouse and cult classic horror films! All three artists collaborated to represent their favorite genres of horror; sci-fi, slasher, and monsters. This onslaught of killer vinyl was a total bloodbath!
BY BRIAN VANHOOKER
A designer toy scene veteran, Andrew Bell has been making innovative toy designs for over a decade and is the mastermind behind the very popular Android series. Being a longtime friend of Clutter, and an expert in creating and collecting art toys, we decided to catch up with Andrew to see what he’s been working on and get a quick history lesson on the designer toy movement.
or those who don’t know, can you please go into your background a bit?
Sure! I’m an artist based out of Brooklyn, NY. I work with pretty much any medium I can get my hands on, but I’m primarily known for my illustration, sculpture and toy design. I went to school here in New York City at the School of Visual Arts starting 20 years ago, and I basically just never left. While in school, I was fortunate enough to land an internship at Marvel Comics, where I went on to become a freelance designer. I later worked at Nickelodeon for about five years, before leaving that job to try my own thing for a year or so to see how it went... that was 11 years ago! How did you first become aware of designer toys?
I think my first exposure to a non-action-figure style toy was via a colleague at Nickelodeon around 1999 or 2000. He had a piece on his desk from Hong Kong artist Eric So that he had bought at Toy Tokyo in the East Village. It was a really nicely designed figure, but I was shocked to learn that it cost something like $85! After doing a bit more research into the scene and discovering pieces from Michael Lau and Bounty Hunter, I was hooked! I went down to Toy Tokyo on an almost weekly basis to see the latest figures from Hong Kong and Japan, and I’d swing by 360 Toy Group now and then to check out Jakuan [Melendez]’s amazing collection. I scoured shops in Japan on a trip to Tokyo in 2001 looking for any modern vinyl I could find. My first order from Kidrobot was in 2002 when half the company was still 28 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Opposite: The Last Knight, 2014 Right: Zliks (Dead Zebra Edition; detail), 2006 Bottom: Despair Warrior, 2016
selling minidiscs! After surrounding myself with perhaps too many of these fun objects, it wasn’t long before I wanted to try my own hand at it. How has the market changed for designer toys since you first got involved?
It’s been through so many stages, it’s hard to keep track! At first, the artist-driven super-lowrun edition toys scene in the West was tiny, obscure, and relegated to a very small subset of collectors and fans picking up funky projects primarily out of Asia. Slowly more and more artists and companies from the US and Europe got involved. Some people really wanted to make the little scene into a big thing, promoting ‘urban vinyl’ at the big International Toy Fair and struggling to get noticed among a sea of traditional licensed playsets and ill-conceived party games. Convincing store owners that a $100+ toy, of an unrecognizable character, of which there are only 50 copies is a good investment was not an easy task.
But it slowly became bigger and bigger, with more artists seeing vinyl as a viable medium of expression, and more companies getting involved to facilitate that expression. Kidrobot pulled in the street art crowd and for a while kept a cool ‘urban’ vibe. Critterbox brought in some amazing traditional and comic artists, infiltrating comic shops and galleries. Tower Records even stocked some releases, and a handful of individual artists took it upon themselves to put out and push their own products to anyone who would listen. For a few years great projects were coming out on a regular basis, and new collectors rushed to snap up anything they could grab while spreading the word to their friends. As it caught on and expanded, big companies took notice and started copying the styles that the scene had helped define. Many were attempts to cash in on ‘cool’, but there were a few that actively involved the artists who had helped shape the scene. After a while, the market became somewhat saturated with
Clutter 41 NYCC | 29
product, some still interesting and fresh, but many not. Collectors were drained of money, space, time and either moved on, gave up, or just got tired of it all. There has been an understandable contraction in the scene in the years since the peak ‘cool’ days. POP! Style figures have introduced a new slew of collectors to vinyl toys, but they were coming in via existing mass-appeal licensed properties. A few of those collectors got more involved in the artist-driven products, but many seem to maintain a “why should I pay more than $10 for something when I don’t even recognize it” mentality. I think it’s brought the whole thing somewhat full circle — now you can buy ‘designer’ vinyl in the same stores as and at the same cost as those mass-market action figures that came before them in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but there’s still this small niche scene of artists and collectors doing interesting and original small run projects if you know where to look. Groob was your first creation, right? Can you tell me about him?
Yeah! Groob was my first foray into the world of toy production in 2004. The design came from a doodle created for my then daily drawing project ‘Creatures in my Head’ where I drew a monster every day and posted it online. I approached my first few toy projects with the idea that while these may be “art toys”, they’re still “toys”, and you should be able to play with them, so Groob came with a variety of faces that you could swap out to suit your mood. I did all of the shipping and distribution from my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, there were many awkward cold calls and emails, and
plenty of trips to the post office! I learned a lot on that project, including how much I didn’t know about toy production. And what was your inspiration for The Last Knight?
The Last Knight stemmed from a desire to bring the Dead Zebra brand itself to life, giving it a form rather than just a name. I wanted to create something that was both novel in form and universally recognizable in origin. I wanted to maintain a somewhat serious and dark aesthetic with the stylized skull and rib cage stripes, but I couldn’t resist a little playfulness, so I gave it an articulated jaw in case anyone wanted to feed it things. I have one here at the studio ‘eating’ my Wacom pen! I had to resist giving it a butt. You won Toy of the Year at the Designer Toy Awards in 2015 for The Last Knight. What did that feel like?
It was great! I was fortunate enough to have won a DTA previously for some of my Android30 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Top Left: Hello World Android, 2015 Top Right: Desginer Toy Awards on display. Top: Bells personal collection. Bottom Left: Groob (Ultra High Fidelity), 2004 Opposite Top: The Collector (White), 2014 Opposite Middle: Artist Studio Opposite Bottom: Bell’s personal collection of releases.
related projects, but this was acknowledgment for an original piece of my own design voted on by a selection of my peers who I hold in high regard. The Last Knight represented the culmination of 10+ years of toy production and is perhaps the purest ‘toy as art object’ figure that I have put out in those years. Being recognized for that effort by people whom I respect and admire was very encouraging. Can you tell us about the Androids line?
It’s hard to believe I’ve been working on them for over 7 years! A friend of mine who I met at Comic Con many years ago was a programmer working with Andy Rubin, who went on to become the founder of Android. When they were launching and promoting their new operating system, my friend suggested that it might be fun to make some toys of their mascot and got in touch with me. I took Irina Blok’s original robot design and modified it slightly to work better as a 3D object and put my own spin on it. Originally, they were intended as an internal promotional item, but I convinced Google to let me put together a blind box series for general sale. I had no idea if anyone would be interested in a 3” vinyl figure of a then unfamiliar mobile operating system, but they went over incredibly well with techies and toy collectors alike. The first two series were even bootlegged in China almost as fast as we could design them! We went on to do additional series and holiday editions showcasing some great artists including Gary Ham, Scot Tolleson, Kronk, KaNO, the Beast Brothers, and many more from all over. This year we released our 6th Artist Series featuring a really fun mix of inhouse designs and pieces from Andrea Kang, Otto Bjornik, Colus, Dwaine Morris, Nathan Jurevicius, Igor Ventura, and Jessica Wang. Curating, organizing, and producing all of the editions is a ton of work for me, but it feels great to see it all come together. We have an awesome collector community, and I’ve met some really wonderful people over the years that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to interact with. Can you tell me any exciting projects coming up?
I’m always working on new things, but, unfortunately, I can’t always talk about them in advance! This December I have a show together with my friend Lana Crooks at Rotofugi in Chicago. That should be fun! I’ve got some new toy and resin projects lined up for next year, but nothing I’m ready to share just yet. Keep an eye on my sites and Instagram for the latest!
For more information on Andrew Bell, please visit: deadzebra.com Clutter 41 NYCC | 31
Artist: 64 Colors
Munny DIY by Paul Budnitz + Tristan Eaton & Kidrobot
What is a Custom? In 1917, artist Marcel Duchamp took a porcelain urinal, placed it on its side, signed it with the pseudonym “R. Mutt” and forever changed the world of art. Fountain, as the urinal was titled, was intended as an antidote to what Duchamp referred to as “Retinal Art” which is art that only pleases the eye, but does not challenge the mind. Fountain is what became known as a “readymade” which, to put it simply, is an ordinary found object which is altered (or even not altered) and presented as art. The impact of the readymade on the art world was tremendous, as it challenged and expanded the definition of art, and the legacy of it still carries through to today; in 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted as the single most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 British art world professionals. A custom toy is a readymade. The process of creating a custom toy, in the simplest of terms, is taking an existing toy and modifying it in order to make it your own. Customizing on what is known as a “platform” is tremendously popular in the designer toy community. Much like the stretched canvas provides a platform for a painter, the platform toy provides the blank canvas for a toy artist. 34 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Artist: Luke Chueh
There are two main categories of custom toys: one is where an existing toy is customized to become something new, the other common form is when a basic, blank, do-it-yourself (“DIY”) platform is used as a canvas to create an artist’s vision. The process of customizing a pre-existing toy can involve everything from painting the figure, adding additional sculptural elements, or even taking material away to alter the appearance of the original design . Anything really can be “customized.” By drawing a mustache on a Superman figure, you are altering that toy to some extent and making it your own. Now, few would consider Mustache Superman art, unless it was done by say Banksy, but it makes the point. For designer toys, usually there is a much more involved process to bringing to life an artist’s vision, but the basic principles behind customizing are to take a pre-existing found object and using it to execute their concept.
We couldn’t continue to discuss custom toys without focusing on the most popular platform toy – the Munny. Produced by Kidrobot, and created by artist Tristan Eaton and company founder Paul Budnitz, this iconic design has become the foundation piece of customizers arsenal of tools. It’s chubby, characterized, human-esque shape provides the base for endless options and imaginations. Both the Munny platform and the Dunny were inducted into MOMA’s permanent collection of Architecture and Design in 2006. Of course, Kidrobot’s Munny is not the only platform toy in the marketplace, Huck Gee’s The Blank, Bigshot Toyworks’ All City Style, and the Mad*L by Mad are just a few. Most artists and manufacturers will, in fact, produce a blank version of a figure in hopes to extend the life of that design. In more recent years some of the big box toy companies have tried to jump on the toy customizing bandwagon. Purchasing and customizing a “blank figure” is no longer something that is unique to the designer toy world.
Moeru Kokoro by Artmymind Platform - The Blank by Huck Gee
Another form of customizing is “kitbashing,” wherein pieces of different model kits are combined with each other or a toy to create a custom design, a practice commonplace in creating movie props. Though customs are usually one-of-a-kind, a customizer may make “multiples” by hand-crafting the same design more than once, sometimes making minor alterations to each piece to keep them unique. A wide range of art can fit under the umbrella of custom, but the core concept involves taking an existing item (a.k.a. ‘found object’ or ‘readymade’) and turning it into an artist’s own creation. Handmade, hand-painted, handsculpted, each one is as individual and unique as a painting. This art form provides a level playing field for artists big and small, so why not try your hand at one, you might just find your calling!
Its a F.A.D by JéRYU Platform - 20” Dunny by Kidrobot
Artist: Kathie Olivas Platform - Munny by Kidrobot
Kitty Oasis - by Jeremiah Ketner. Platform - DIY Bear Head by Luke Chueh
Ida Mae Bunny by Gretchen Lewis. Platform - Bedtime Bunny Blank by Peter Kato Clutter 41 NYCC | 35
Super Flat & Super Soft: The Plushies of Flat Bonnie by Marc DeAngelis Itâ€™s a stereotype that artists are a sensitive bunch. But there is, of course, a bit of truth to that clichĂŠ. Itâ€™s what opens us up to inspiration. And with that sensitivity often comes compassion. For Yukari Fujimoto, those two layers are sewn together with a healthy amount of cute stuffed in between. Flat Bonnie, her line of plushies, not only delights collectors of all things adorable, but also serves as an awareness and fundraising campaign for animals in need. From fluffy bunnies to toothy sharks, Yukari is doing her part to help real-world critters, one handmade Flattie at a time. You have a passion for animal rights. Shelter bunnies seem to be your main focus,so how did you come to love bunnies so much? Yes, I created Flat Bonnie to help raise awareness of abandoned animals and the importance of adopting from a shelter or rescue. Many people do not know that they can adopt bunnies and other small animals at shelters. They think animal shelters only have dogs and cats. Many shelters are high-kill, especially for bunnies because no one comes to adopt them.
Flat Quokka, 2016
Bunnies are very smart, highly social, and loving animals. They become your best friends just like dogs and cats. My bunnies follow me around the house and come up on the bed to sleep at night. They know their names, come when called, and let me know if I am late for treat time. Animals and pets must have been a big part of your childhood, right? What are some of your best memories of your pets?
Clutter 41 NYCC | 37
Growing up, we had a family dog and later a cat. One day a lost parakeet flew in my window and I took care of him. My grandma taught him to say his name and “hello” in Japanese. I don’t know how or why, but more ‘keets and even a small parrot flew in my window. We were taking care of like 6 stray birds at one time. Do you still have pets as an adult? Yes, I live with Pinky and Roxy the bunnies. They are cage-free house bunnies. I think of them as my kids. They have unique personalities and can be bossy and even needy at times. Pinky and Roxy work as CBOs, or Chief Bunny Officers, at Flat Bonnie. You donate a lot of your proceeds to shelters, but you also raise awareness directly with your plushies. For example, the Shark Fin plushies and pillows call out shark finning. What are some other causes you care about? I care about all animal welfare, domesticated pets as well as wildlife. I like to help House Rabbit Society when I can. They help abandoned and neglected bunnies around the world. They also educate humans on proper rabbit care. I made Sun, Moon, and Sloth Bears for [the Australia-based] Free the Bears Fund. Their mission is to protect, preserve and help the lives of bears. They have sanctuaries in Asia where they rehabilitate abused bears. They also fight illegal wildlife trade. Elephants, tigers, turkeys, pigs, dogs,
38 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Flat Doggies, circa 2016
cats, and of course bunnies are some of the plush animals I have made for different rescue fundraisers around the world. When did you start creating plushies? Do you remember your first one? Did you have any specific animals that you looked to for inspiration? I made my very first Flat Bonnie — a white bunny plush — in 2011. I remember it very well! My bunnies at the time, Go-Go & Bon-Bon, were my inspiration. They were cheering me on from under the sewing table. Bon-Bon’s nickname was Bonnie, while Go-Go was white and liked to lay super flat when he was relaxed. That’s how I came up with the name Flat Bonnie. That day I made the first five Flat Bonnie plushies and donated them to the BunnyLuv Rabbit Resource Center in Van Nuys, CA to raise money for their shelter buns. They sold very quickly. Yay! I made Flat Bonnie all white because white bunnies are the hardest to adopt out at shelters. I make them flat style so people can carry them in their bag and go on adventures with them. Now Flat Bonnie fans call them “Flatties.”
Flat Mammoth, 2015
When starting a new design, how do you pick an animal to recreate? I have a long list of animals to “flatten.” They are my favorite animals, requests from rescue organizations, or suggestions from Flattie fans. Sometimes I find a fabric that inspires me to make a specific animal that I have been thinking about. What is the rest of your process like? You output a lot of plush. Have you streamlined any parts of your production? I still hand make each plush to order. Online sales keep me pretty busy. When preparing for a convention or art show, I am like a plush making machine trying to get them all made in time. I’m looking into factory produced Flatties, but I’m super picky about quality. Hopefully, I will find a good plush factory in the near future.
Flat Polydactyl Cat, 2016
The animals you recreate as plushies are instantly recognizable. What are some of the techniques you use to simplify the characteristics and uniqueness of a real-life animal into a flat plushie yet retain their trademark appearance? My plush designs are minimal, so I try to capture the cutest thing about the animal. I usually know what I want the plush to look like in my mind, so I start with making the plush pattern. I don’t draw the character out on paper first because looking at sketches can restrict or distract me sometimes. Some things on a sketch won’t translate to plush patterns very well. It’s harder to simplify an animal into Flattie style than one would think. I’m still learning with each new character.
Shark Fin Plush Pillow, 2015
Do you have to study a lot of images of the animal to decide on the best materials to use for that plushie? Yes, but looking at cute animal pictures all day isn’t so bad. Sometimes it is hard to find fabric in the color or texture that I need. While most of your plushies use cloth or felt, some parts of them have a smooth texture. Is this vinyl fabric? Something tells me you don’t use leather! Yes, it is vinyl. I only use animal-friendly materials. Flatties help animals, not hurt them. I use soft fleece and vegan vinyl, a.k.a. pleather.
Flat Bunny, circa 2011
Your custom pet plushies are very affordable. Do you get a lot of orders for these? It must be fun to see all of these pets and then get a reaction out of the customer. Yes, custom Flatties are very popular. I try to keep all my plushies as affordable as possible. I want many people to enjoy them. Custom Flatties are a little more expensive than my regular ones, but I spend a lot of time on each one. I love seeing photos of their adventures. Many people get very creative when taking photos of their Flatties. I also love when someone sends me an email letting me know
Flat Shark (Gold Tooth Edition), 2015 Clutter 41 NYCC | 39
Flat Honoo with Leecifer, 2015
their Flattie arrived safely and how they are doing. Like the Flatties are alive! You’ve created plushies based on animals that aren’t exactly household names such as the quokka and the capybara. What other offbeat animals do you love or would you like to create plushies of? May I suggest the aye-aye?
Who else would you like to collaborate with? There are a couple of collaborations in progress right now. This year I have also been working on something with Coarse. I enjoy collaborating with artists that I admire; I am grateful that they trust me with their characters. I would like to do another project with Gary Baseman sometime soon. What’s next for Flat Bonnie?
Aye-aye! They are super cute and creepy. I love them! They are on my to-do list, so someday… One of my favorite offbeat Flatties is the wombat and his square poop friend. Maybe I will make a pangolin and manatee sometime soon.
My favorite con, DesignerCon, is coming up. There will be a few exciting collaborations and exclusive Flatties released then. There may be an exclusive Flattie for NYCC as well. I am also working on new characters, products, and a story book for the near future. And of course… bunny world domination!
Do you have one particular plushie that is extra important to you? My piggy plush that I have had since I was two years old is very important to me. Also, the first Flat Bonnie plush prototype that I made. I still have many plushies from my childhood, and they are all special to me. You’ve collaborated with Leecifer, Scott Tolleson, and Gary Ham, among others. What’s it like to turn a vinyl toy into a plush toy? What are some crucial details you need to look out for? I love vinyl toys and have collected many over the years. It is fun and challenging to make plush versions of vinyl toys. Each artist has their own unique style, so I study all their toys and try to capture that in the plush while keeping my minimalist Flattie style. 40 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Flat Cactus, 2014
For more information about Flat Bonnie, please visit: flatbonnie.com
Gardener Figures by Michal Lau
What are 1:6 Scale Figures? Of all the different terms for types of designer toys, 1:6 scale is the easiest to figure out how it got its name: the toys are simply 1/6th the size of the basic human form, ranging from about 10 to 12 inches. While the name is easy, the rest can be quite involved. Stretching back to the G.I. Joes of the 1960s, the birth of the designer toy movement in 1999, and into today, the 1:6 scale action figure is coveted for its remarkable detail, extensive articulation, and intricate design work. Like every art form, be it abstract expressionism, rock music, etc., the designer toy movement has a few different variations on its origin, but one of the most prominent evolutionary tales began in Hong Kong in 1999, with Michael Lau’s Gardeners series. Lau was a designer who took a pastime between friends, customizing old 12” G.I. Joe and Action Man toys, and turned it into an art form. After receiving a positive response for ten characters he presented in a gallery show, Lau took 9 months to create 99 characters that he named Gardeners after a comic strip he worked on by the same name. The characters were styled heavily on American hip-hop and skateboarding culture and have in turn influenced the culture of those communities. Lau is the reason why the word “urban” is still so deeply tied to the designer toy movement. Lau, along with contemporaries like Eric So, Jason Siu, Tim Tsui, and a group known as Brothers Worker, transformed the 1:6 scale action figures into an art form. Today, the 1:6 scale platform is a highly collectible medium for both licensed characters and original works. Though 1:6 simply refers to the size, there are several aspects that are common among these toys. Due to the size, there is an opportunity for intricate detail and realistic paint application not attainable on smaller toys, which has been known to result in toys being mistaken for actual photographs of the character they’re based on. 1:6 scale figures are also notable for the multiple points of articulation, which can match the human range of motion far greater than smaller toys. Accessories tend to include highlydetailed weapons,
42 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Sawyer by Crystal Jade Vaughan
alternate heads, and interchangeable hands. Perhaps the biggest thing separating 1:6 toys from mainstream actions figures, aside from size, is the clothing. Often made from cloth and painstakingly designed to mimic real-life clothing, figures come with everything from a full three-piece suit all the way to Spider-Man’s full body get-up. Perhaps best known in the 1:6 scale is the work of Hot Toys, who have specialized in bringing incredibly detailed toys from some of the biggest properties out there, including Marvel, DC Comics, Star Wars, and many others. Though Hot Toys has helped to popularize the 1:6 platform through licensed products, companies like Fools Paradise and threezero have been a presence in the art toy world by bringing to life the work of artists in the 1:6 medium. Today, there is no artist more prominent in the 1:6 scale than Ashley Wood. Praised for his levels of articulation, finish, design, and accessories, Wood’s original characters cross the boundaries between sculpture, art toys, and action figures. In 2008, Wood teamed up with threezero to create 3A, which has pretty much single-handedly revitalized the medium of the 1:6
scale designer toy.
MUST & STORM by BrothersWorker
Flair for Darklings
THE INCREDIBLE J.LED BY BARBARA PAVONE
Since creating his very first figures — the iconic Mr. Bunny and Fire-Cat — back in 2005, Joe Ledbetter has gone on to become one of the designer toy movement’s greatest voices. Drawing inspiration from legendary lowbrow artists, like Shepard Fairey and Frank Kozik, Ledbetter left his graphic design gig and sociology schooling behind to chase his dream at age 26. Fast forward a decade or so and Ledbetter, who became a dad in February, is devoting his time to raising a baby boy, as well as crafting new toys in his signature aesthetic and revisiting his passion for painting, which has been dormant for far too long. We caught up with Ledbetter to poke around his studio, explore his artistic process and reminisce about how it all started.
irst things first: How does someone with a sociology degree get into graphic design?
Life can take you down interesting roads. I grew up not far from the renowned Pasadena Art Center and when I was in high school, I would often visit their student gallery and dream of attending. I remember seeing Jeff Soto and Tara McPherson’s student works on display there. They were standouts even then. I thought that was my path. I ended up taking weekend graphic design classes for high school students there, which was amazing, but when they gave portfolio reviews for prospective students, my spirits were crushed by negative reviews. I didn’t even bother applying. I ended up going to Humboldt State University in the beautiful California redwoods forest and after being undecided for my first two years, 44 | Clutter 41 NYCC
I eventually chose a sociology major. Looking back, it all worked out for the better. I don’t think I could have handled the crazy workload of Art Center at age 18. Plus, I think it’s much healthier and adds more to an artist’s toolbox if they study a discipline apart from art. It can give you more insight, experience, perspective, and subject matter to draw from. Being a self-taught artist, what was the biggest challenge you faced at the beginning of your design career?
Learning Adobe Illustrator on the job. It’s a tough program to get your head around and I ended up making T-shirt designs as the in-house graphic artist at an apparel company. I embellished my computer skills when I interviewed for that job, as one does, and had to learn fast.
Opposite: Fire-Catzilla, 2014
Clutter 41 NYCC | 45
I quickly became friends with a graphic artist I met in the industry and, like a sponge, picked up tips and techniques wherever I could. That’s actually how I met artist Thomas Han. He was a graphic artist for a silk screen vendor we worked with. It took me a few years of using Illustrator all day, every day until I was finally comfortable with it. It’s a genius program and I’m still finding and learning new techniques. Looking back at that time in your life, did it teach you any important, lifealtering lessons?
More [important] than any particular lesson I may have learned, I developed a strong work ethic, which is mandatory to succeed in any field. I worked hard at my day job, then I came home and worked on paintings for underground art shows, like Cannibal Flower in Los Angeles. The more you create, the more you will create. You eventually left your graphic design gig and decided to work for yourself instead. What inspired such a huge shift?
In the days of the early 2000s, Juxtapoz magazine was a big, big deal. It was the authority and window to the world of lowbrow and outsider art and l wanted to be a part of it. I dreamed of having a Juxtapoz magazine cover. I wanted to join the lowbrow party with the likes of Robert Williams, Shag, Todd Schorr, Mark Ryden, Tim Biskup, Gary Baseman, Camille Rose Garcia, Liz McGrath, Joe Sorren, and Anthony Ausgang, just to name a few of my art heroes.
I aimed to have a show in the legendary La Luz de Jesus Gallery or the Copro Nason Gallery, so I started from the ground up. I showed my work in small galleries and worked my way to bigger galleries. I had successful friends in the art world and their advice was: “Joe, you’re healthy, have no mortgage, no kids, you’re 26, and you can live on a shoestring. If you don’t take the shot at painting full-time now, you never will.” I took those words to heart and quit my graphic design day job to paint full-time and pursue my art career. I never looked back. In addition to designing for yourself, you also work with major brands. How do these two aspects of your career compare?
When you successfully complete a project yourself, like a toy production or a big solo art show, there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment that’s hard to articulate. It’s very gratifying. When I work with a big company, that feeling is not there as much because it is usually more of a team effort. However, [that sense of accomplishment] is replaced with the satisfaction that a lot of eyeballs are seeing your work and [a lot of people] are exposed to your art. You also develop working friendships and partnerships 46 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Above: Hullabaloo, 2015 Left: The Tourist, 2015
The first toy I ever designed was a 3” Qee for the 2004 Design-A-Qee contest held by Playlounge UK. The great design team TADO were included on the panel of judges and my Tiki-Qee was one of the winning designs. The winners became a series that was later released in 2005. That’s how I really got into the scene and met Raymond from Toy2r and it all went from there. The first original toys I created were both my Mr. Bunny and Fire-Cat figures, which were created at the same time. The Lava version of Mr. Bunny was my first release at Kidrobot Santa Monica in September 2005. It was a crazy night with a line around the block. Yes, I still have those toys. I keep two of every toy and product I’ve ever made. Bottom: Left to right: CrazyCatzilla, Lava-Cat, Fire-Cat, Ice-Cat, and Fire-Catzilla, 2014-15
when you work with companies, which can be great. What drew you to the world of designer toys?
I walked into the Kidrobot San Francisco store in 2002 and it blew my mind. There were new toys by Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, James Jarvis, Doze Green, Kozik’s first Labbit, KAWS, Michael Lau, and Eric So. It was a fresh new medium that legendary artists from all kinds of different backgrounds were getting involved in and it was crazy exciting. I remember seeing Nathan Jurevicius’ original line of Scary Girl toys from Flying Cat there and I was blown away. [That’s when] I realized that doing my own toy would really accentuate and build on my character-driven artwork. I wanted to get in on the action! Do you remember the first toy you ever created? And do you still have it?
From those inaugural figures up until now, would you say your design process and/or aesthetic have changed in any way?
I’ve gotten better and learned more about the process along the way. I’ve worked closely with over 10 different designer toy companies, as well as producing stuff myself. Everyone works differently and has their own strengths and weaknesses and l feel like I’ve learned a lot from everyone I’ve worked with. My toy design style has evolved and gotten better and it’s easier to produce. But I keep it on a short leash because it’s important to me that if a collector has a new J.Led toy, it will sit nicely on a shelf with a toy from 12 years ago. It’s also important to me to have a signature style [so people] know instantly what’s a J.Led figure.
Clutter 41 NYCC | 47
What’s the best thing about being an artist in Los Angeles?
You’re physically connected to the art scene. Young artists often ask how to get their work in galleries and I know the world has changed a bit since I first got going, but being a physical member of a scene is essential. Going out to shows every weekend, being a fixture, making friends with other artists, gallery owners and scenesters will eventually lead to having your work in galleries, as long as you keep your work flowing and relevant. Also, by being exposed to others’ artwork and seeing it in-person all the time, you will have a sense of where the quality of your work should be, how to put a successful show together, and what you should strive for. You don’t get that same sense from checking out an art show from a blog online. On the flip side of that, is there anything you’d change about the art scene in L.A.?
I wish the art world was more important and a priority to the masses. Imagine the amazing events and works that could be created if your favorite artists got million-dollar grants! Do you ever have an idea that simply doesn’t come to life the way you thought it would? If so, what happens then — is a toy cemetery involved?
Lots and lots of toy concepts are buried in the toy cemetery. One of my favorites was a threeheaded Gama-Go Deathbot Hydra in my style, which came with a cute little Herculean critter wielding a flaming sword. It was a collaboration with Gama-Go and the Double-Punch store in San Francisco. No joke: This was a real thing. 48 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Oppoiste Left: untitled, 2015 Opposite right: Balducci the Marvelous, 2016 Opposite bottom: Totem, 2015
We finished the sculpt, but the project faded away years ago for one reason or another. Say you find yourself in need of a big jolt inspiration: Where do you turn?
I never go out seeking inspiration because I think that’s futile. It comes to me while I’m working and, like I said earlier, the more you create, the more you create. I find that exciting ideas also come to me while I‘m traveling to a new place. [Basically] anytime I’m out of my comfort zone. Looking at your personal designer toy collection, what are some of your favorite pieces?
I love the classics. My pink Baseman Dumb Luck, my full set of mono Scary Girl figures from Flying Cat, and my Biskup neon orange Deco Plague Qee, to name a few. You have some seriously devoted fans, including ones who have gotten your art tattooed. What do you make of this unique immortalization of your work?
It’s quite a cool and humbling thing to see your work tattooed on someone. I love it. You recently became a dad — congratulations! Do you think fatherhood will affect your art in any way?
I’m sure it will affect my art. I’m a new dad, so it’s hard to say at the moment, but becoming a parent has definitely altered my perspective on life and love and the world. What’ll happen if your little one grows up not liking your designs?! (Laughs)
It’s not important to me whether my son likes my work or not! My hope is that he learns to think creatively, develops a strong work ethic, stays curious, and is empathetic to others and all life on Earth. 2017 is approaching fast! What do you have in store for us?
I have some new figures coming up next year with Kidrobot, some new figures I’m doing myself, and a lot of smaller projects, like pins, patches, and apparel in the works. I’ve just moved and have a big workspace, so I can get back to painting. I’ve taken a few years off painting because I just didn’t have the space, so now I’m working on some new paintings for different group shows. I also intend to get back to work on putting together a new solo show at my own pop-up gallery. Please finish this sentence: Joe Ledbetter is…
…happy you read this whole interview.
For more information on Joe Ledbetter, please visit: www.joeledbetter.com Clutter 41 NYCC | 49
What is Blind boxed? The McDonald’s Happy Meal has always been an exciting way to get a toy. The joy you feel at seeing a property you’re enthusiastic about being featured in that box, and the anticipation when you order the meal, hoping to get the toy you want. Even the disappointment felt getting something you didn’t want just fuels the determination to return next week and try again, and again, until you get the satisfaction of finally attaining that sacred piece. This roller coaster of emotions is exactly the same experience felt when collecting blind boxed toys. Essentially, the Happy Meal toy is a blind box (unless you ask the attendant what toy they have this week, but where’s the fun in that?). Blind boxing figures is a popular model in the selling of designer toys. Now, just because something is in a blind box or blind bag does not necessarily mean that item is a designer toy. In fact, blind packaging figures has been popular in the mainstream toy industry for some time. Blind boxing simply means the item being purchased is obscured by its own packaging and can only be revealed by opening the package. Usually, the toys being sold are in a series, and are linked by a similar theme (be it they are all part of the same property, or a design by the same artist, or sometimes several different artists with the same theme as a subject matter). In addition to the items being obscured, another element commonly used in blind boxing is the varied rarity of toys distributed, which is usually portrayed in a ratio. For example, a package may say that a certain toy
The 13 Dunny Series by Brandt Peters & Kidrobot
52 | Clutter 41 NYCC
King Tut 8” Dunny by Sket One & Kidrobot
has an availability of 1/6, which simply means one in every six boxes contain that given toy. Chase figures, in blind box terms, refers to toys with less availability than the other toys in that set; oftentimes a chase figure’s design is represented only in silhouette, unnamed, and/ or with a distribution ratio of “?/??.” A good example of a blind box series are Kidrobot’s many different series of Dunnys. To use a recent example, Kidrobot recently released a series of blind boxed Dunnys designed by Brandt Peters named The 13. The boxes are all exactly the same, leaving you no idea of what’s inside. On the packaging, all of the designs are shown along with their availability. The most common pieces, like The Mad Butcher and Mr. Gloom, have an availability of 2/20, other figures are more rare, like Diablo with a 3/40 distribution. While the chase figures, like the silhouette wearing the pointy hat, has an availability of 1/80, making it much harder to find. The blind box is commonly used to sell designer toys because it helps to fuel the collecting community ingrained in the designer toy movement. The mystery, the anticipation, the joy, and even the disappointment are all part of what makes collecting blind boxes exciting and popular. Because everyone has a “favorite” design or designs that they want, the aftermarket for blind box toys is all part of that community. Be it outright buying the toy one wants on eBay (often for an inflated price) or connecting with other collectors via forums and conventions to trade one piece (or multiple pieces) for another, reselling and trading are all part of the community aspect of the designer toy world.
The Process... By Galen McKamy Former Creative Director for Kidrobot The process of Blind Boxing from inception to shelf is a calculated process. Many collectors and fans understand pieces and parts of what it takes to produce a blind box series. There truly is a process going on here (at Kidrobot) 18 months before a release. We take into account what the fans want firstly. We track the blogs and boards, we reach far outside our walls for opinions and insights into new artists and customizers who might cap a series nicely. There is a delicate balance of what designs go into a blind box series. We look for the right balance of dark, funny, edgy, and cute. Choosing the artists is the most exciting part. Of course we love to work with our OG artists, but we are always looking to bring in new talent to pepper into our series. The artists are the ones that really transforms our canvas into their world. The outcome results in an average of 15 designs, all completely different and special to our fans in their own right. We have a broad demographic of fans that we need to excite; from a fifteen-year-old girl in Harajuku dressed up like Rainbow Bright with KISS face paint, to the thirty-something in Toledo, Ohio blasting Slayer. This does mean that you can’t always make everyone happy. It’s a sad truth to this niche industry. The most exciting part of my job is witnessing a Dunny release. We start to slowly, or rapidly depending on the source, leak images. Bits and pieces of information are
Mao & Mrs. Mao by Frank Kozik & Kidrobot
released to engage the fans and collectors. We refresh Instagram pics and blog posts to see what the response is. There is an internal all staff meeting here at Kidrobot headquarters the morning of a Dunny release. You can tell it’s release day because everyone, from accounting to sales to design, is happy like it’s “the first of the month.” We give a brief overview of the artists and the theme of the series, then pass around cases of Dunny. Everyone receives a blind box, a box of mystery. After we all tear into our boxes like it’s Christmas, the whole office begins the trading process. Just like when we were kids, trading up, trying to lock down that rare chase figure. At the end of the day we are all young at heart. Blind boxing is a uniquely engaging way to collect beautiful vinyl art toys, that pays homage to your youthful excitability.
Lunartik in a Cup of Tea by Matt JOnes
I give a small warning to all collectors, these are quite addictive and it's a bit like gambling, but the good thing is there normally under $10.00 a pop which is good for everyone's pocket. I like to compare blind boxes with oysters, they're not much to look at from the outsides, but open them up and there sits another pearl to add to your growing collection! Happy hunting!
- Matt “Lunartik” JOnes (www.lunartik.com) Clutter 41 NYCC | 53
The Chronicling of Two Worlds BY SETH FISCHER
Kyle Kirwan spends his time living in two different worlds. The first is the one where he and his fiancée, Sarah, decided to pack up their worldly belongings in order to spend their lives on the road in an RV 24/7, traveling around North America in search of adventure. The second world is also abound with adventure — and it is the mysterious world of Dor. Found in Kirwan’s Mudcat Chronicles, Dor is a fantasy realm concocted within the unlimited boundaries of Kirwan’s fantastically imaginative mind. A world that that has spawned a plethora of fascinating and visually stimulating products pleasing to both the eyes and to the heart.
54 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Opposite: Left to right: Romeo, Twink, and Champ, 2016
irst off, whose idea was it to pack up and go mobile?
It’s always been a dream of mine, and I brought it up to Sarah when we first met. It was this ongoing joke like, “Let’s get an RV and run away.” No one ever thought we were going to do it. I mean, it takes a special kind of crazy to do this. We were getting priced out of Brooklyn and decided to see what the rest of the country had to offer. Not only that but it’s a lot cheaper to drive to conventions and stay in the RV than paying for a flight, a hotel, shipping stock, getting a dog sitter, and food while there. This way we just take our house/ studio with us. Is there a plan to settle down again at some point or are you both content with the mobile life?
…Maybe? Probably…? I’m sure we’ll settle
down some place eventually, but neither of us has any real idea where we’d like that to be. Since you guys have been on the road, how many conventions do you think you’ve stopped at?
(Laughs) Three! Wizard World Chicago, ZappCon, and DesignerCon. We started with this grand idea of hitting a convention or a craft fair or a local market or something like that once a month. That didn’t happen. Conventions are a ton of work, the initial cost for a booth is usually steep, and it’s almost always a gamble. We learned pretty quick that the collector base for my stuff isn’t always at the smaller shows so we decided to focus on the big events. We do make a point to seek out any shops that are even remotely associated with designer toys and check out local scenes. That actually was one of the main goals when we first got on the road: to visit every designer toy store/gallery in the U.S. We almost got them all! Is it easier to conjure up motivation and creativity in familiar environments or does constantly changing locations make it easier to find inspiration?
Admittedly there are a lot of new distractions, but I love doing the stuff I do so the motivation is constant. I think I’m really inspired by new environments. I spent a long time in Brooklyn and I think I felt really disconnected from nature. That sounds so granola, I know, but I don’t think I even realized it until we were away from the city for a bit. The first few months on the road everything I was doing was just ripping off the things I saw. I made a few bird-themed pieces, a Tree-God, a cute little chipmunk creature, a giant sunset frog. I’ve definitely learned through this trip that just Clutter 41 NYCC | 55
getting out and moving around is really good for my creative process. It’s pretty great to move the studio around and have a new view to be inspired by every few days. Tell us about The World of Dor.
The World of Dor is a fantasy world comprised of a number of kingdoms and territories filled with all sorts of creatures. There are people who can turn into living rock! Dogs can talk and wear special mechanical gloves that give them opposable thumbs! There’s an entire race of giant bird people with a complicated matriarchal society! Long forgotten empires of sentient machines! Gods and monsters, magic and politics! The world is sort of a catchall for things I’ve always loved. Every character I’ve ever released resides within this world and are part of The Mudcat Chronicles, a story I’ve been working on for a few years now. How old were you when the first ideas within that world started popping into your head?
I think in my late twenties. They started as vignettes. They were just these little pieces of the world. There was no linear story, it was just a bunch of loosely connected characters. They weren’t sculptural at all, in the beginning, they were just sketches and paintings. I didn’t even start sculpting until a few years ago. What’s a Willo?
They are docile creatures who run in herds. They’re something between a cow and a gorilla. They’re like, quasi-intelligent. Willos almost never attack, there’s never been a reported Willo casualty.
They come in a multitude of colors, each representing something. Can you elaborate?
Since it’s such a sculptural piece I didn’t want to just be like, “Cool. Here’s a green Willo. Green’s a cool color!” I wanted it to work in the story. So I had to think, “Well why would they be different colors?” Well, they come from different parts of the world. They’re different colors in different environments. People in Dor were largely nomadic in the beginning and moved all the time so they would see all sorts of Willos. There’d be one that’s blue, or red, one that looks like it’s a tree, and these early people would apply some primitive superstitious meaning to it. The world’s much more advanced now and it’s almost cliche to say, “Oh! I saw a pink Willo! I’m going to have a good day!” After the Centaur Wars, large mammals — Humans, Jonas, and Willos — thrived. Willos aren’t as rare as they once were. So a lot of the superstitions surrounding seeing them have become something akin to old wives tales. Your first Willo I believe was a Kickstarter project that was funded in 56 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Above: Willo (Caldera), 2016 Below: Bloom, 2016
two days. That’s gotta be up there for you in terms of fan appreciation for your art.
Yea, that was rad! The Kickstarter had some changes along the way but I think it worked out well in the end, even if it took a long time. After a while, you decided that Willos shouldn’t be on their own and introduced Bloom. Can you tell us a little about Bloom?
Blooms are little furball creatures that are usually found near Willo herds. They share a few of the same traits and a similar diet so naturally they would be found in the same environment, but Blooms and Willos are a bit more symbiotic than other species. Blooms stay near Willos because they are large and offer protection from big predators. The Willos like the Blooms around because Blooms are constantly scrounging for food and discovering things to eat. The Willos just follow Blooms to food. Saves them the trouble of having to go look for it. I wanted a piece in the larger scale at a more accessible price point so I made gave them a go. Your latest are the Cavus Bloomus. Where do they fall in the Pantheon of Blooms?
The Cavus Bloomus are the species of Blooms located in the underground kingdom of Manchester. They are bioluminescent, gaseous creatures that have adapted to life in the toxic caves like all the other denizens of Manchester. The Cavus are a bit more varied in appearance than their counterparts above ground as they are much more specially adapted to the regions of Manchester, which is a huge interconnected network of massive caves and caverns full of poison gas. Do you have a personal favorite character?
Gopoo is easily my favorite just because she’s based on my dog, Corinn, when she was a puppy. She’s one of the first figures I released, the orange robot with the spindly limbs. Gopoo is actually the puppy in the inside of the suit piloting the thing. Pretty early on I knew she was going to be the main character of The Mudcat Chronicles. Corinn died of cancer July 24th of this year, so it’s pretty solidified that the whole thing is kind of an ode to her. I wanted to find a way to make her live forever so I wrote her into the story. She was the best. Hopefully, I can make her as lovable in the story as she was in real life. What comes first, the persona or the appearance? Clutter 41 NYCC | 57
Depends. Sometimes I come up with a cool design and it sits around for awhile until something seems to fit or if I really like it I’ll do some sketches and maybe sculpt up a maquette all the while really diving into the character. The sculpting process takes a while and by the time it’s finished I have a pretty fleshed-out story and personality. Other times I’ll have a specific end goal in mind for a character and maybe work backward to flesh out their design. Things change all the time though and there have been instances where halfway through a sculpt the entire characters story is scraped for something new. I find mostly things work best in tandem where the persona and the appearance influence each other and I sort of go with the flow as I’m working. Can any of the characters be taken as representations or metaphors for something or someone in the real world?
Oh yeah, of course! There are a few specifics like the Gopoo/Corinn connection that I’ve already put out there, but there’re more subtle ones as well. It’s probably more amalgamations than anything else. The story as a whole is kind of a metaphor for letting go and a little bit about the idea of artistic responsibility. It’s safe to say there’re a couple exes in there. You’ve already expanded into writing, resin toys, and painting. Are there any other mediums you’re interested in?
Well, certainly vinyl production of some sort would be amazing. I have a few ideas and am talking with some people about that. It’s definitely a goal. I made some enamel pins and I loved the way they turned out so if I can do more of those I will. I think a computer game or something digital would be awesome. Even if it’s something as simple as what DGPH did with Molestown. I loved that! Maybe a plush piece or larger scale fiberglass pieces. Honestly, if something feels like it would work design-wise and doesn’t mess with my — (clears throat) — artistic integrity, I’m all for it. 58 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Do you have any plans to branch away from Mudcat towards a different project that might be rattling around in your head?
I have some things I’m working on totally unrelated to The Mudcat Chronicles. The farthest along project is an alphabet book for children, like one of those “A is for Apple” books but with monsters. It’s good to diversify!
For more information on Kyle Kirwan, please visit: kylekirwan.com
Top Left: Willo Soft Enamel Pins, 2016 Top Right: The Conmen, 2015 Above: Left to right, original sculpts: Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence, 2015
Shogunasty (Afterglow Edition) by BigManToys
Basics of Bootlegs and (In)Action Figures The term bootlegging first originated in the 19th century, when smugglers concealed bottles of liquor in their boots while trading with Indian tribes. In 1919, prohibition was enacted and the practice of bootlegging spread across the United States to supply alcohol to the people. The word eventually came to mean the illegal dealing of goods, and today it is often applied to piracy of music or movies. For the designer toy community, the term ‘bootlegging’ has a very specific meaning; a genre for creating toy art based on licensed properties without permission. To understand bootlegging, it would be helpful to first understand one of the most widespread materials used in the creation of designer toys: a substance known as resin. Resin is a liquid substance that can be poured into a mold, hardening into a relatively archival objet d’art. “Resin is the lifeblood of the bootlegger. It gives their ideas form and their lives meaning. He who controls the resin, controls the universe.” - The Oracle Boot Leg
Care Grizzly Bears (Rainbow) by Falcontoys
Resin is popular in the designer toy world, as most other plastics require factory-level machinery to manufacture a piece, while resin can be poured in one’s home or studio fairly affordably. The process involves creating an original object out of clay or any other material, then creating a mold of that form, usually out of silicone. The two components of resin are then mixed together and poured into the mold, then the resin hardens into a rigid plastic as a result of an exothermic chemical reaction. Once removed from the mold, a hardened object is formed and can be reproduced. This process is often what is used by artists who want to make multiples of their sculptures or designer toys. As for bootlegging within the designer toy community, the name itself is a bit of a misnomer. They are not the cheap variety packs of action figures often seen at flea markets where it is clear that no mainstream toy manufacturer had a hand in creating them. Those toys are referred to as “knock-offs.” Bootlegging, however, while not technically being “legal” is something different in the world of toy art: within a Warholian art sensibility, often it is the bootleg that rises to the level of fine art. In the evolution of designer toys, the greatest example of bootlegging is Suckadelic’s Gay Empire series. The slight alteration of a Stormtrooper, with a larger codpiece, poured in pink resin, and doused with a lifetime’s worth of attitude created a brand new concept of what a Stormtrooper could be. The reason this type of art is known as bootlegging is because it builds off of a pre-existing
Alien vs Predator (Close to Midnight) Edition. By Special Ed Toys 60 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Motel Hell by Retroband
Homotrooper by Sucklord
property and was not created with permission from the licensor. The reason why this is art, and different to knock-offs, is that it is not intended to interfere with the sale of official Star Wars figures, it uses the artist’s creativity and imagination to create something entirely new (almost). Knock-offs are generally created in order for the broad consumer to buy a cheaper toy, and for the monetary gain of the company producing them. No one buying an ordinary Stormtrooper figure would accidentally buy a bright pink Gay Empire Trooper and mistake it as a genuine figure from the Star Wars line.
Space Madness: Non Solo by Junk Fed
While toys like this have been made without permission, sometimes — depending upon the discretion of the owner of the original work — the artist creating the new toy won’t get into legal trouble. And may even be encouraged to continue,so long as the new work doesn’t threaten the original, strictly serving as an artistic celebration for the fan community. Another type of bootleg occurs when a toy is made of something that has never been made before, termed an (In)Action Figure. Whereas where the Gay Empire alters an existing Stormtrooper toy, an (In)Action Figure is when something completely new is made but without permission from the owners of the license. An example of this is the work created by Retroband, who is known for making toys from movies that never had toys, like the series based on the film New Jack City. These toys are usually created by sculpting onto a pre-existing toy, or made from pre-existing toy parts, to create something completely new and outside of a legal license. Because they are unlicensed, bootlegs usually have very limited runs, which preserves the exclusivity of the artwork and can be a (semi-) effective legal loophole. Tapatío Resin Figure by Scraped Resin Clutter 41 NYCC | 61
FREQUENTLY ASKED LEGAL QUESTIONS FOR THE TOY DESIGNER BY BRIAN VANHOOKER
A HANDY GUIDE ABOUT BASIC LEGAL ISSUES PORTRAYED ENTIRELY WITH CRUDELY DRAWN-UPON MUNNYS.
DISCLAIMER: Clutter assumes no responsibility for any legal decisions you make as a result of this cartoon. The following characters are Munnys and have no formal or informal legal training.
62 | Clutter 41 NYCC
A: A symbol, word, or words used to identify a brand, for example:
Q: What is a trademark?
Registered Trademark Symbol It lasts for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely.
Q: What is a patent?
A: A patent protects an invention.
Crazy Scientist Munny
Finally! I have done it! I have created a Teddy Bear that can make smoothies!!
A patent would grant Crazy Scientist Munny the exclusive right to his invention for 14 years.
Q: What is a license or licensed Product? A: Licensing is an agreement between two or more parties where one party rents or leases an intangible asset to another party for a defined time period and under defined terms.
Toy Manufacturer Munny
I allow you to make smoothie bear action figures. Clutter 41 NYCC | 63
Q: What is an unlicensed product?
A: A product made without permission of the copyright owner. An example of which is a “bootleg” or “knockoff,” which is a counterfeit version of an existing product.
Argh, I be makin’ me own Smoothie-Bears. Another example is an original item made without permission from the copyright owner.
Q: Is a bootleg ever okay?
SEE, WHILE NOT BEING LEGAL OR LICENSED, SOMETIMES A COPYRIGHT OWNER IS COOL WITH FANS OF A PROPERTY CREATING AND EVEN SELLING BOOTLEGS IF THEY DON’T SEE IT AS HARMFUL. SOMETIMES CREATORS EVEN SEE IT AS HELPFUL. BUT BEWARE,IT IS STILL ILLEGAL
64 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Q: What is a copyright?
A: The exclusive legal right to intellectual property that you have created.
I will name him “Mr. Smoothie-Bear”. So where Crazy Scientist Munny may patent the design of a smoothie-making plush doll, the character and image of “Mr. SmoothieBear” himself would be copyrighted.
Q: How long does a copyright last?
WELL, IT DEPENDS
1. Everything before 1923 is in the public domain. 2. Everything published between 1923 and 1977 is covered for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.
3. Everything after January 1st, 1978 is covered until the death *U.S.-based copyright*
IF I MAIL MYSELF A COPY OF MY WORK, THAT’S AS GOOD AS A COPYRIGHT. NO, THIS IS UTTER BULLSHIT. MAILING YOURSELF SOMETHING OFFERS ZERO LEGAL PROTECTION, COSTS YOU POSTAGE, AND MAKES YOU APPEAR DESPERATELY LONELY. Clutter 41 NYCC | 65
Q: What is considered a parody? Rebellious Artist Munny
A: Parody is a creation used to make fun of something as criticism or commentary.
Look! I’ve made a “Mr. Shitty-Bear” Action figure.
Q: What is a cease and desist letter? A: A document demanding a party stop doing something (cease) and to not begin again in the future (desist).
I demand you stop making “Mr. Shitty-Bear!”
IF I DON’T MAKE MONEY OFF OF SOMETHING, THEN IT IS NOT A VIOLATION. NOPE! JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T PROFIT FROM SOMETHING DOES NOT MEAN IT IS NOT ILLEGAL. IT MAY MEAN PEOPLE WON’T CARE AND IT MAY COME INTO PLAY WHEN IT COMES TO DAMAGES, BUT IT IS STILL, TECHNICALLY, A VIOLATION.
66 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Q: What is fair use?
A: Fair use is the limited use of an original work used in order to parody that work. It must be transformative in nature and does not require premission.
F**K YOU DUDE! I only copied “Mr. Smoothie-Bear’s” stupid face! All of the rest is original.
Q: What is the limit to “limited” and how much do you have to transform something for it to be considered “transformative”?
NO ONE F**KING KNOWS!!!
THESE LAWS ARE PURPOSEFULLY VAGUE AND ARE HANDLED ON A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS.
IF I MAKE “X” NUMBER OF CHANGES OR CHANGE AT LEAST “X” PERCENTAGE OF AN ORIGINAL WORK, IT IS COVERED UNDER FAIR USE.
SORRY, THERE IS NO MAGIC NUMBER OR PERCENTAGE; IT’S ALL SETTLED IN COURT. Clutter 41 NYCC | 67
SO, WHETHER YOU ARE CREATING AN ORIGINAL WORK OR ARE PARODYING AN EXISTING WORK, YOU DO HAVE LEGAL PROTECTIONS. CLUTTER RECOMMENDS THAT YOU FILE YOUR COPYRIGHTS, TRADEMARKS, AND PATENTS, AND, IF YOU GET SUED, CALL VOLUNTEER LAWYERS FOR THE ARTS... NOT LAWYER MUNNY.
story of Crazy Scientist Munny vs. Oh, so you’re wondering what happened in the Munny apologized for hurting Crazy Rebellious Artist Munny? Well, Rebellious Artist Munny acknowledged Rebellious Artist Scientitst Munny’s feelings and Crazy Scientist ... Actually, after years of legal battles, Munny’s right to parody his work... Okay, not really killed Rebellious Artist Munny before Crazy Scientist Munny went mad and shot and wish it could have ended differently. turning the weapon on himself. We’re sorry. We
BY JOSH KIMBERG
In 2009, an upstart designer toy company, The Loyal Subjects (TLS), burst onto the designer toy scene. With LA as its home turf, TLS brought some of the most classic designer toys to life from artists like Gary Baseman, Joe Ledbetter, Sam Flores, Alex Pardee, Buff Monster, and FriendsWithYou. TLS had an allstar roster of artists that shook the landscape and, over the years, these art objects became staples of the scene. In late 2012, TLS dropped a bombshell and released the first of its Transformers licensed products. TLS has undergone a total transformation from a dope, curated underground manufacturer to a major player in the licensed product space. In between flights to China, we managed to catch up with Jonathan Cathey, owner and founder and the most Loyal of Subjects, to find out why he underwent such a massive
Kid Dragon (Purple) by Sam Flores, 2009
70 | Clutter 41 NYCC
How did you first come up with the name for The Loyal Subjects? I had a partnership that wasn’t working, and I was getting pushed out of the business, eventually fired from it. I wrote a letter to my friends and titled it “The Loyal Subjects” — meaning I’m loyal to them, them to me, friends ‘til the end kind of thing. Shepard Fairey was the first to respond to the letter. He wrote that “everything would be okay,” something to the like. My friends were needed at that time. At the start, you created a sell-out toy with Sam Flores. How did that come about? I had worked with Mr. Cartoon [Mark Machado] and I had developed a rapport with that camp. Toons’ biz partner is a guy named Mark Surhoff. I really liked him. He was friends with Matt Rivelli [Upper Playground owner & then Juxtapoz Magazine editor]. I had told Mark that I would get involved in producing some items under my label, distribute out to stores, but have some inclusion for Upper Playground — it was their 10th year anniversary and Rivelli wanted to do something Upper Playground/San Francisco related with his stable of artists and their walrus icon. The first release was the Walrus Rider by Alex Pardee, then came the Kid Dragon [by Sam Flores]. Nothing walrus related, but it was a great design; fun, kinetic, flowing… I connected to it, so we licensed the image and made the collectible. We’ve all seen the fantastic toys you created with the likes of Gary Baseman, Buff Monster, Joe Ledbetter, all huge names and amazing artists. What were some of the ups and downs of that side of the business? Each one is different. Licensors like Hasbro, Dreamworks, etc are setup to make the licensee succeed. Most of the guys come from product, sourcing, manufacturing, product design, IP development, etc, so the acumen is different. It’s an easier language to process. The goal is always “Let’s make it work.” When
Mghty Morphin Power Rangers Wave 1, 2014
Snow Bunny by Joe Ledbetter, 2013
working with artists, it can be fragile. At the end of the day, you’re investing in these guys and believing in them as people and creators and you’re willing to invest the next nine months in finances, time, energy, and production capacity. It’s a risk/reward thing. It’s a vibe. If the vibe is good, then cool. If it’s not, then you move on. I think the single artist is usually challenged on any partnership because it’s a collaborative process. It’s not easy for most artists. What might be good one day is bad the next. Just need to keep the intent, content, context intact. It’s storytelling through 3D objects. Vision is a big part, so both parties have to buy into the vision. The upside is that we made some cool pieces for people to enjoy. We believe in everything we do or else we wouldn’t do it. The end goal is to capture that imagination, to create that narrative, to make that statement. Hopefully, we did that. The downside — really, everything is a learning lesson so there is no downside, you just evolve. How did you come to work with artists of that caliber? That’s who we are. TLS is Clutter 41 NYCC | 71
comprised of musicians, painters, illustrators, writers, etc. We speak the language. We understand the aesthetics and the creative process. Usually, that makes it easier to translate when speaking to someone you want to collaborate with. It’s like jamming; if you can play drums and you have a guitar player, you have a tune. Will there ever be artist-based toys from TLS again? Of course. I started with my own IP. Creating your own worlds never disappear, they get enhanced. When the timing is right. What was your favorite toy you put out in those first few years? My favorite? They’re all my favorite! (Smiles) I liked the Chaos Minis [by Joe Ledbetter]. Those were cool. was elegant and flowy. The FriendsWithYou inflatables were super fun, colorful, and playful. It’s hard to single [one] out because I really do like them all. Was there ever a toy that was supposed to have been made that never got produced? You know, the one that got away? And why? There are a bunch. Many reasons; the design wasn’t right, concept needed to be revised, timing was wrong. We’re not looking to put something out for ‘anything’ sake, we’re selective. Sometimes you walk into a potential project with wide eyes,
later to find that the veneer has been chipped away a bit, for the above reasons. You’ll never have 100% success rate for projects, it’s impossible. You stay true to yourself, the vision of the company, and be hyperintuitive with the fans. Some things fall out. Like they say in Hollywood, “Don’t get too attached to your babies. It’s okay to kill one, once in a while.” In the last few years, you have switched to pretty much all licensed products? What spurred that direction? Licensed as in larger media properties? We work primarily with the studios. It’s an exciting prospect to work with some of these legendary IPs. Sort of the curators of our youth. It’s been an honor. We also wanted the challenge; ability to grow our business, to challenge ourselves. Working the larger IPs is much more difficult on a product and marketing level. You have to be innovative, and you really have to know the IP and product design, including the process, market, engineering scope, compliance, the whole enchilada. I think some of the vinyl pieces were flat, static, totem-like and it was all crude/basic process, roto bulb with deco all over it. The forms weren’t innovative and the suppliers were a drag. Wasn’t that interesting anymore. We’re driven by this kinetic idea — [like] The Indian in the Cupboard — where we want you to play with our product, not keep it behind glass or on a shelf. The studios we work with have these hyperkinetic properties. Everything is action — living, breathing, moving, vocal, etc — it’s exciting to attempt to recreate that spirit. Then we have to compete in a larger market, which isn’t easy. The whole actual toy industry comes into scope and it’s a much more complex world. But the complexities and the evolution keep it fun, exciting. It’s all about pushing yourself… A “let’s see how high” kind of thing. We’re no longer in the hobbyist place, it becomes a viable business and that’s exciting. Exciting for myself, my designers, my employees, and hopefully our fans. Everything we do is to meet, match, or surpass their expectations. If they’re happy, we’re happy. (Smiles) How does it compare working on, say, Transformers to more obscure designer toys? It’s totally different. Transformers are much more complex in several ways; there are much more to the characters — construction, parts, tools, assembly, accessories, features, the “universe” or character canon, etc. — including the rich story history. You also have thirty years of fan expectations to meet. A bit daunting.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Wave 1, 2014
72 | Clutter 41 NYCC
The investments are much higher; more tooling, different processes, CPSIA [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act] and Prop 65 compliance, it’s a different world. Obscure designer toys are a bit easier; low runs, bulbous roto process, deco, and factories that
The Destroyer (Embrace the Darkness Edition) by Buff Monster, 2010
are usually small businesses and don’t carry the strict compliance or regulations that are needed to produce the larger IPs. A couple roto tools, small outputs, and some nutty deco designs. Not much on the features too. Roto is prob the worst process to work in for construction. The forms are poor, the structure is usually weak, the connecting points are simple, that’s why you decorate roto pieces a hundred which ways to Sunday… makes up for all the other parts. Texture is also something that brings people to roto. It’s smooth and the deco is really flat, graphic-like. That smooth surface lends itself to tampo [printing]
process. It became a thing, although originally created because the upfront costs were so low, roto tools are next to nothing, versus some of the extrusion process tooling. A Bathing Ape, Bounty Hunter, and Michael Lau pushed that aesthetic back into view. Disney, Mattel, and Hasbro had been doing it for years, but it was given a new set of eyes and an entirely new audience by those other guys. Really, calling cards for BAPE and BH. Better than an actual business card, I suppose. People went nuts for those original items. It was cool back then because it was so different. It was refreshed, rebooted.
Clutter 41 NYCC | 73
What do you think about the state of the “designer toy” scene? I think it needs a reboot, something different, something innovative. It’s great because it’s very democratic, but would be nice to see some difference and variation sculpturally and decoratively. What’s your favorite role to play in TLS and your least favorite?
evolve with them. If not, move on quickly. It’s all relationship building. Like in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” That goes a long way there, but you have to be with the right partners. If not, it’s really going to suck. Transparency is not always easy. Best advice: know your business, know your product, have a clear plan, and translate it to people who believe in your plan and who can see that your action is just as strong. What advice do you have about Chinese production?
They’re all my favorite. Design, product development, and the ideation process are always the most fun. It’s what comes naturally. I had to work at the other parts. I take them all on equally now — if it’s building a production calendar, studying the finances, or designing, I welcome it all. But, what is most fun is when it translates: living with something nine months of blood, sweat, and tears and it actually translates to positive experiences with the fans, that’s the most fun. We do it for the people who support us. It’s why we wake up each day. We’re here to serve. What are some of the lessons you learned about the pitfalls of production in China? China is evolving. It’s a dynamic place with lots of money. It’s also building one of the largest middle classes in the world. It’s the second largest economy and will be the first in only a few years. Exciting times for the Chinese. The business climate is difficult to navigate because the countries are so different, thus the expectations, the protocols, and the legal system are different. If you find good partners, then 74 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Production isn’t nationalistic. It’s about set-ups, capacity, labor, and quality. Big producers produce everywhere… Vietnam, Malaysia, India, etc. China is one place, they just have great teams with decades of experience. They also have great artisans and engineers. China is the genesis of the big toy explosion from the late ‘70s on. Also, big suppliers of steel, plastics, and paint — all the raw supplies needed for toy production. In short, they know the game and have had somewhat of a sustainable pricing structure until recently. As the middle class builds, so do the costs. Great for China, really. I once heard you say, “Make sure your toy molds are made in Beryllium, and find out the storage charges for your molds.” Can you elaborate? I think a lot of new toy producers aren’t aware of some of these intricacies… Beryllium is a more expensive metal. It’s extremely polished and holds great detail. They make extrusion tool masters from Beryllium. Most hobbyists aren’t aware of all the components.
Make sure you keep these tools in case your master is lost, liquidated, or trashed, you can always reproduce a new tool with your beryllium tool. Storage: you need to inventory your tools and do it regularly. Tools are expensive. After a while, a factory will melt them down, scrap them, sell them. Make sure you’re in control of your assets. After all, it’s your property.
subsequent narratives. We want to launch dynamic product offerings which make your toy chest, not the landfill.
I hear you go to China so often now that you have an apartment there. What’s the bi-continental life like?
I always say “we.”However, I started with my own IP, Mullet Heads. I’ve designed over 400 toy products, a good majority of our packaging, almost all of our photography. I’m a creative. TLS is my creative vision and creative outlet. It’s my pallet and reflects much of my personality. Be it TMNT, Transformers, Power Rangers, Mullet Heads, some of my paintings, illustrations, writing, or music, in the end, it comes from within.
I love LA. I’m in Asia so much because we’re building, and I need to be extremely hands on until I can translate the intent and delegate to another employee on my behalf. In the end, I miss home a ton. I think I flew over 200k miles last year. Nuts. But, hopefully, it shows in the product.
Are you going to design some original toys with your own IP? Jonathan Cathey originals? I don’t think most of our readers know you as an artist!
Any cautionary tales about toy production that you are willing to share? Nothing specific to share. More or less, do your homework. Molding, producing, shipping, and distributing product is not cheap. Know what you’re getting into before you get into it. Vet the suppliers carefully. Some are good, some are bad, just be ready to pivot if you get a bad apple. The good ones are out there, they are the sustainable businesses. A good supplier, a strong vision, a ready market, a strong distribution model, a strategic cash flow model, and a well thought out strategy are the keys to success. What should we expect from TLS in the next few years? As much as humanly possible. Actually, our mission is succinct: we want to deliver great experiences that are fun, imaginative, artistic, high quality, connective, and rich with features, storytelling abilities, and
Skeletor – GID Ed., 2015
For more information on The Loyal Subjects, please visit: theloyalsubjects.com
Clutter 41 NYCC | 75
Sushi Kaiju by Paul Shih (Resin)
Mockbat by Paul Kaiju (sofubi)
What is Kaiju?
Ooze Moon X by Rampage Toys (Sofubi)
Kaiju is a Japanese word which translates to “strange creature” or “strange beast.” To the general public, the word kaiju refers directly to a Japanese film genre which features monsters, a subgenre of the larger Japanese genre tokusatsu, which refers to films which rely heavily on special effects. Kaiju films are those that usually feature giant monsters attacking cities or other giant monsters, the single most famous example of which is Godzilla. In the toy world, the film genre kaiju shares a name with a major genre of toys. Because of the heavy influence of Japanese culture on the designer toy movement, and because, unlike mainstream toys, the world of art toys does not revolve around licensed characters, but instead on the imagination of the artists, strange and elaborate creatures and monsters are a very common and appealing means of expression. There are a couple other terms which are sometimes interchanged with the word kaiju for designer toy collectors, and each has their own specific colloquial meaning. Some purists feel that the term kaiju should be used to refer to only characters based on those specific Japanese films, and so a new term was adopted in the U.S.: neo-kaiju, literally meaning “new strange creature.” “Neo-kaiju is a term I came up with in 2002 to describe the kind of toys we were making at Super7,” says Brian Flynn, founder of Super7. “We were taking influence from the classic ‘kaiju’ figures, but doing them in a new and contemporary way. It was first used on the Neo-kaiju Project figures, and over the years the term has come to be used as a definition of any sort of contemporary monster influenced toy — from the cute to the crazy, abstract to traditional with a monster-y filter on it as opposed to a strict artistic or 2d influenced point of view.” Often linked with kaiju is the word ‘sofubi,’ which simply translated means ‘soft vinyl.’” a contraction of the Japanese ソフトビニール SOFUTO BINEERU. Sofubi is an important term in the designer toy world as it specifically refers to Japanese vinyl, which is seen as being the highest quality. Just as Champagne refers only to sparkling wine from Champagne, France, so too does Sofubi refer only to Japanese Vinyl. The reason why this word is commonly thrown in with kaiju is because most kaiju toys from Japan are traditionally made from sofubi. 76 | Clutter 41 NYCC
A new term, ‘sofvi,’ has also sprung up in recent years also to connote sofubi. It’s use is mainly as a reaction by purists to isolate the hardcore influencers from what is considered by some a newer and less worthy fanbase. Though kaiju commonly refers to giant monsters, the term is broader in the designer toy world and no specific set of parameters contains it. Though sofubi and kaiju are often tied together, not all kaiju are made from sofubi, or even vinyl, they can be resin or any other type of plastic. And though kaiju conjures up the image of terrible creatures crushing cities, they can also be small, cute, and even friendly. For art toys, kaiju is a broad term which really just refers to strange creatures and the word “strange” means something different for everyone. Just as the appeal of designer toys is the expression of the artist in a threedimensional form, the appeal of kaiju is that it can be almost anything.
M5 Bravo by Jeff Lamm & Unbox Industries (Chinese Vinyl)
Ugly Unicorn One-Off #1 (Happy) By Rampage Toys (sofubi)
Kaiju: A Brief History By Mark Nagata, founder of Max Toy Company
Escaregot by Josh Herbolsheimer & Super7
Both kaiju and sofubi go back to the ‘60s in Japan, when Mattel toys — of Barbie fame — brought the soft vinyl casting process to Japan. This cheap process allowed for such toys as baby dolls to be made in mass quantities. When the first Monster Boom hit Japan in the ‘60s, such shows like Ultraman and Kamen Rider yielded an incredible array of merchandise, including many Kaiju and Sofubi figures. Companies like Marusan, Bullmark, Bandai, and Popy all produced copius amounts of Sofubi toys for Japanese children, many of which now command thousands of dollars in the vintage toy market. Of course, back in those days these toys were simply cheap toys to be played with by kids, and the collector market was nonexistent. For today’s collector, kaiju and neo-kaiju refer to the new wave of toys presently created in Japan. Technically, most of what is produced are not really Kaiju toys. But like the way the meaning of the word otaku can loosely describe fanatic followers, the word kaiju has now become a word that covers a much broader spectrum of toys. Kaiju toys now
Naminori Kaijin “Oron” Clear Ver. by Kenth Toy Works
are mostly artist or creator-driven figures using the same old school sofubi methods of production. There are some licensed sofubi by independent artists, but mostly the bigger companies like Bandai take care of that part of the market. Most of the remaining Sofubi factories in Japan are run by 1 or 2 people, typically in their 70s or 80s. Amazingly, the same folks who casted vintage Bullmark figures in the ‘60s are still doing the same today. Figures are all still hand-casted and in limited quantities, which accounts for the higher price point versus a mass produced toy in China. I am biased in my view point, but the Japanese do have the best quality vinyl (especially clear vinyl), and given the rich 50 plus year history, kaiju toys thrive and will continue into the future for as long as artists and collectors seek them.
Tripus: Father vs Son by Mark Nagata x Max Nagata
Kaiju Vs. SOFUBI?
Bechigon by Velocitron
By Ricky Wilson / Velocitron
The lines between kaiju, neo-kaiju, and sofubi tend to get blurred quite a bit in the minds of most collectors and separating one from the other can be a bit tricky but don’t fret! Here are a few points you can remember to ensure you don’t make a collector faux pas at your next nerd gathering: Sofubi (Japanese shorthand for “soft vinyl”) refers first and foremost to the material the figures are made from and secondarily to the figures made from it. These figures are almost always made via the slush method of production — rotocasted figures (like Dunnys) would generally be classified in a different category. The style of the figure, though, is irrelevant; it could be anything from an anime cutie to a classic Toho monster to a streetwear mascot from the backstreets of Harajuku. So you can describe a figure as “made from sofubi” or say that you “collect sofubi” and be totally in the clear! Sofubi itself tends to be, well, softer than rotocast vinyl (bet you didn’t see that coming) and lends itself to tons of great colors and production styles, from ultra-bright glow-in-thedarks to vinyl with glitter or pearl powder added and even “marbled” vinyl made from swirling several different colors of vinyl together. Collectors prize sofubi for its silky smooth “organic” feel and also its rarity. Slush casted figures are almost always cast by hand and produced in small, limited runs. If you’re a record collector you no doubt know about “virgin vinyl” used in record presses. All the vinyl made in Japanese sofubi factories is also “virgin” — meaning it doesn’t contain ground up bits of previously-cast vinyl — and as such has excellent consistency, color, and feel. Kaiju, on the other hand, refers to a specific kind of character: in this case, a monster. Translated directly the word means something akin to “terrifying beast.” Godzilla, Gamera, and the baddies from Ultraman all fall into this category as do most of the monsters from “hero” shows on Japanese TV (although some purists might contend that
Ultrus Bog by Skinner 78 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Earth Wolf by Josh Herbolsheimer
these man-sized creatures are more correctly identified as “kaijin,” or “terrifying people”). Many of the most famous of these creatures come from the Showa period of Japanese history — mainly the 1960s and ‘70s — but you can still see new kaiju in current movies, TV shows, comics, and anime. The monsters in the recent Pacific Rim were (correctly) referred to as Kaiju and there is a very popular manga series currently running in Japan known as Hakaiju that deals with ultra-violent bloodthirsty monsters (highly recommended!). Neo-kaiju are generally interpretations of or riffs on these classic monsters by modern designers. Some are very easy to identify as homages to their source material but others can be hard to identify even to pros; some may incorporate numerous elements from different characters or may have a reference as obscure as a particular texture of skin or even the color of vinyl used to make the figure. Most neoKaiju are strictly labors of love created by artists who were inspired by the heroes and villains of their youth but some very well established (or very ambitious) artists may obtain official licenses to do updates of classic designs. Almost all neo-Kaiju are available as toys only — you probably won’t find them starring in any movies or TV shows — but some Japanese artists go so far as to make lifesize suits of their creations and use them in low-budget fanmade films!
Cadaver Kid by Splurrt
Heirophany by Carlos Enriquez Gonzlez
KESHI-GOMU, a Japanese term literally meaning “eraser,” might be alien to most but chances are that if you’re reading this magazine and are over the age of 20, you would’ve had more than a few of these little rubber guys pass through your hands at some point or another. Emerging from Japan in the 1970s and quickly taking over many a toy collection in the West throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, these rubbery pocket mini figures have received a massive injection in popularity after a near two decade slump. In recent years, massproduced lines as well as a number of indie outfits have all helped to reignite the passion in these super-collectible, highly playable, and, above all, fun little toys.
An assortment of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures with original can packaging
Originally born out of a desire for
smaller, cheaper, and more collectible
alternatives to the increasingly popular soft vinyl kaiju of the mid-1970s, the pocket-sized “eraser” figures
known as keshi took no time at all
to establish a long standing place in
the Japanese toy industry. With their simple, monochromatic appearance, tactile feel, huge selection of color
options, and heavy reliance on tokusatu (special effects laden live action films),
anime, and manga licensing, they naturally appealed to hobbyist painters, completists, and diehard show fans alike. Initial distribution techniques further heightened popularity and scope, with gashapon (capsule) vending machines, ¥100 boxes, fast food meal premiums, and, later, carded packs, quickly setting the industry standard for well over three decades. Fast-forwarding to the present day,
keshi has unfortunately lost a lot of its
ground in the mainstream toy industry, 80 | Clutter 41 NYCC
with only a few die-hard lines surviving
of loyal fans hungry for new rubber
and licensed figures. Luckily for us, this
including Zoomoth, Newtervision, and
in a sea of badly designed imitations
most certainly hasn’t meant the end of the rubber mini figure; far from it, as
there have been a number of interesting
new developments over the past decade and a half that have very much kept the spirit of them alive. With such a deep and diverse past, the vintage
collectors market has always remained very healthy in the East, but the future lies with a number of new artists and
producers — working on a slightly more intimate scale, fueled by a strong base
figures — who have begun to emerge, Mokyu, with recent releases ranging
from licensed products, original figures, and, of course, pachi (bootlegs). Similar trends have also been seen in the West in recent years too, with the real heart
of the scene found in the ever-growing indie community which was pioneered by Marty “Godbeast” Hansen through his early Super-Rare M.U.S.C.L.E.
re-castings and, later, with the classic,
Jason Frailey sculpted Clawshine mashup. Alongside Godbeast’s output, the
An assortment of Mystical Warriors of the Ring, S.U.C.K.L.E., and OMFG Series 2 figures
likes of Rampage Toys and Nama Niku’s
likes of Unbox Industries, Fantastic
has an even healthier indie community,
of new artists and, inevitably, the revived
offering up their takes on the classic
Fights, Newtervision, Moqkeshi, and
early bootlegs encouraged a huge swell interest in pocket mini figures has also lead to some very interesting, larger
Plastic, and even The Super Sucklord monochromatic 2” figure.
scale factory produced lines too.
As with the mass-produced lines, keshi
Skirting on the edge of designer toy,
popularity has lead to an explosion of
mainstream, and pocket mini scenes, October Toys’ community-based line OMFG set a new standard for mass-
produced pocket mini figures back in
2011. Largely drawing inspiration from the Americanized keshi of the mid to late ‘80s both in terms of style and
presentation, the majority of recently
released lines have been produced in
China using a similar hard PVC as the
original M.U.S.C.L.E. Usually released in
comparatively small runs, with colorways often running between 80-200, these types of figures almost always come
packed on a blister card or in a Bandaistyle trash can for added authenticity.
This industry has seen continual growth over the past couple of years, with the
and pocket mini figures’ increase in
talent in the self-produced scene as
well. Unlike the previously mentioned
with outfits and brands such as Onion Nerdone pushing the boundaries in
terms of both creativity and authenticity of production, blending traditional style
with unconventional mediums, including soft vinyl and hard resin, to dazzling effect.
series though, the self-produced
Similar to the indie/self-produced
original Eastern keshi culture, largely
— community now spans a worldwide
creations tend to rely heavily on the characterized by their soft rubbery
feel over the hard, American-style PVC, and are limited to runs of anywhere between 10-200 pieces, dependent
on the choice of either hand-cast or
sub-factory-led production. Brought to the forefront in the West by the likes of Ironmask, Eric Nilla, and, recently, Metal Monkey’s Universe of Violence
(UoV) series as well as a steady flow of releases from The Disarticulators, this small but dedicated scene continues to flourish. Not surprisingly, the East
figures, the pachi — or bootleg
roster of A-list artists, ranging from Healeymade and his conceptual
M.U.S.C.L.E. & M.A.S.K. mash-ups, Triclops with their wholly bootleg-
embracing B.A.S.T.A.R.Ds, and, of course, Buff Monster’s recent Melty Misfit take on Cheap Toys. Aside from these
resin produced figures with their art
toy leanings, there are still a number of artists staying true to the original
medium, with the likes of Nama Niku
and Eric Nilla’s recently released Pachi Man, Brown Noize’s Ashurashine,
An assortment of pachi figures Clutter 41 NYCC | 81
An assortment of one-day license figures from Zoomoth, Shamrock Arrow, CMP, and Outer Rim
and my own [Tru:Tek’s] 2012 released
festivals in Japan and have just one
show properties in beautiful keshi form.
old through kit-bashed keshi, original
the day of the event! Spearheaded by
the one-day licensing obviously makes
H.U.S.T.L.E line evoking the feeling of
sculpting, rubber casting, and a plethora of authentic colors.
Easily the most highly regarded of all indie keshi right now are the one-day license pieces, fully licensed rubber
figures that are sold exclusively at toy
restriction: all stock must be sold on
Zoomoth with their securing of various
Capcom, Nintendo, and Konami licenses, including Metroid and Castlevania, the
practice has since boomed in the East, with the likes of Mokyu, Shamrock
Arrow, Outer Rim, and CMP taking
on a variety of manga, anime and TV
Unfortunately, the whole premise behind it very hard to collect these toys in the West, with these figures being factory produced usually in numbers between 100-200 per color.
Finally, as pocket figures were originally produced in a plain monochromatic rubber to encourage hobbyists and
miniature fanatics alike to paint their figures, it comes as no real surprise
that the custom keshi/mini community is still thriving today. With the likes
of Monsterforge, Ersico, and Plastic
Playhouse producing some of the most
interesting pieces in the West, customs from these guys can range from
straight-up mini figure re-paints to one-
off kit-bashes to even wholly re-sculpted figures, with themes often borrowed
heavily from the pop culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Hopefully all these various nostalgia-
tinged little guys, which are very much
in the spirit of M.U.S.C.L.E. and Monster in My Pocket, will remain a feature in
the Art Toy industry for quite some time Space Creatures in original blister packaging Photo: Todd Franklin/neatocoolville.com
Special thanks to MinifiguresXD for the huge chunks of info that made
“Nama King” Photo: Nama Niku
up a good portion of this article, and to Nama Niku, Neato Coolville, and
Zoomoth for the additional images.
Please Note: This is a heavily edited and abbreviated version of the Keshi 101 article that first appeared in Clutter Magazine #21. An assortment of pieces from Nerdone and Newtvision 82 | Clutter 41 NYCC
Clutter Magazine Issue 41 NYCC 2016 - Joe Ledbetter, the New York Comic Con 2016 issue of your indispensable guide into the world of art toy...