Clutter Magazine Issue 42 DCON 2016 - Mutant Vinyl Hardcore

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DCON 2016






On The Cover

Death Breathing Article by Nick Curtis

KROD By Mutant Vinyl Hardcore



The contributions of Jon-Paul Kaiser Article by Nick Curtis




How Mighty Jaxx Rose to Fame... Article by Marc DeAngelis




The contributions of Godmachine Article by Nick Curtis


2016 Winners Article by Clutter

Setting Sail For... Article by Barbara Pavone



POPOSITION PRESS Pop off the Press Article by Miranda O’Brien





U N I O N MIKE GRAVES The Mile High Art of... Article by Seth Fischer


DESIGNER TOYS The State of the Union Article by Clutter




Alluringly Subtle Asymmetry Article by Seth Fischer

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TEAM Miranda O’Brien Editor-in-Chief

Jason Ryule Technical Coordinator

Barbara Pavone Contributing Writer

Twitter: @ThePavoneReport

Josh Kimberg Managing Editor

Matt Dorcas Advertising Sales

Seth Fischer Contributing Writer

Twitter: @SethsBeard

Nick Curtis Associate Editor

Connor Donaldson Advertising Sales

Marc DeAngelis Website Editor

Niktia Volchik Studio Coordinator




We are always on the lookout for new contributors and team members. To get involved, please drop us a line at 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)

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.



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Primarily known for his stark blackand-white hand-painted designer toys, English artist Jon-Paul Kaiser oeuvre includes a multitude of production pieces. Having worked with Kidrobot at various points throughout his career, Kaiser has re-imagined the Dunny platform numerous times: the Samurai footsoldier Ashigaru and the Angel of End Times, both in 2012, as well as 2013’s elephant-esque Locodonta and 2014’s playful interpretation of Sun Tzu. As part of the five artist group contributing to the Kidrobot produced Arcane Divination series (see issue #40), Kaiser was able to interpret any three cards from the Tarot’s Major Arcana onto Dunny forms. And while this J«RYU curated series won’t be released until early 2017, we couldn’t wait to get some hints as to what Kaiser’s newest evolutions of the Dunny form would look like…

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s the most veteran Dunny designer in this series, did receiving this invitation feel any different to you than previous ones? How did the fact that it was being curated by a fellow artist, instead of someone on the corporate level, make you feel? Wow, in all honestly I’d not realized that I was the ‘most veteran’ Dunny designer in the series. That’s quite a strange realization for me! Working on this series felt totally different to any Dunny I’ve worked on before, working with J«RYU got me really excited for this series; he’s a great visionary and we had lengthy conversations regarding the various aspects of the series; aesthetics, the theme and how to really push the boundaries of both what a toy and what a Dunny could be. Without telling me “No” at any point, he helped refine my designs and allowed me to really expand upon my ideas for these figures. Together we wanted this series to make a statement, for ourselves and this industry and having a fellow artist and trusted friend as my point of contact added to the excitement as it felt as though we are working on a grand project rather than a product.

The Fool

Since you’ve worked on themed series before, what were your thoughts on the tarot theme of this series? It’s an interesting theme with so many varied parts of it that are so familiar. The designs have been reinterpreted or adapted to other sections of our lives and culture; playing cards, witchcraft, gothic design etc. as well as having a fascinating history of stories and fables that in turn are results of reinterpretation. J«RYU kept us close to the main theme of the suit of cards, but from there we freely extrapolated our concepts and stories to create each of our cards. Which Tarot cards did you select to interpret? Why did you choose these cards? Did you immediately have ideas on how to interpret their meaning in your style? I chose The Hierophant, The Fool, and The Hanged Man. I chose these cards for different reasons. For the Hierophant, I was raised in a religious background and although an atheist now I still find the iconography of the church – and religions in general – to be fascinating. I like

The Hanged Man

the power the designs convey; the complexity of the architecture or the illumination in manuscripts. To me the Hierophant represented a chance to reflect this power and icon worship, but also to create an opposing image; one of hollow promises and a dusty lifelessness. When I read the backstory to The Fool, I was struck by the parallels to Diogenes of Sinope, a Greek philosopher and the father of the School of Cynicism. That might sound a bit pretentious, but Diogenes was anything but. Using humor to highlight the foibles of society and poking fun at the dogmatic adherence to rules by the people around him. A real character. For the Hanged Man, it started with the image of a man tied to a tree. I didn’t want him hung by the neck as it seemed too ghoulish and an image very easily misinterpreted. I wanted it to be clearly an execution with a Mournful air to enhance that, the stance of a broken man head hung in defeat. Can you walk us through each of your designs? It’s always tricky to work with a pre-existing platform while trying to make it uniquely your own, but you have a history of handling it in

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The Hierophant

innovative ways. From the start, I wanted to stay away from just making the design a character that was on the Dunny and to use the platform more like a canvas, with a scene on it. For certain things, like the Hanged man, it made great sense to utilize the ears/horns as the divide in the branches of the tree the man was tied to, from there we have his stance and his position on the Dunny, then making sure all the elements fit and balanced without losing its organic feel.

The Hierophant (Chase Variant)

This has been without a doubt the most fun I’ve had designing a Dunny and the most involved I’ve felt; I feel so integral to this series and, as a result, the designs are my most confident and ambitious yet. With J«RYU helming the project I had a great soundboard for bouncing ideas back and forth and someone who I know well enough to trust when he made suggestions. I hope we get another chance to work on something similar again in the future.

Similar with the Hierophant, I wanted it to feel as though the Dunny was a throne that the character sat upon. As though he was a figure who could step out at any moment. With the Fool, I knew from the start I wanted the head of the Dunny to be the jar that Diogenes lived in, and that the scene would represent some of the key elements of the character; his lantern that he would carry around on sunny days “trying to find an honest man”, and the tiles of the town square where he lived. How did working on this series compare to your previous experiences with Kidrobot? Do you think you had a bit more artistic freedom due to J«RYU helming the project?

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For more information, please visit: Kidrobot: Jon-Paul Kaiser:


How Mighty Jaxx Rose to Fame in Four Short Years By Marc DeAngelis

Singapore may be small, but it’s fierce. As one of the Four Asian Tigers (along with South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), the republic has seen a rapid growth thanks to industrialization and the embrace of technology. Listed as the eleventh top nation under the Human Development Index, Singaporeans enjoy some of the longest life expectancies, best education, and highest per capita income in the world. And the government’s commitment to nature has covered the island in trees and public parks. This is an energy and commitment that are reflected in Singapore’s own Mighty Jaxx.

XXRAY tokidoki - Unicorno, 2016 16 | Clutter 42 DCON

Founded in 2012, the brand specializes in vinyl, PVC, and Polystone designer toys and licensed figures. And while the group hasn’t been around for long, they’ve certainly made a name for themselves thanks to collaborations with artists like Clogtwo, Godmachine, and Jason Freeny, as well as brands such as DC Comics and New Balance. Clutter Magazine sits down with Jackson Aw, who heads up — and lends his name to — the company, to find out the secret to their rapid rise to success and what awaits for Mighty Jaxx’s fans in the future. Why did you start Mighty Jaxx? What did you want to create that seemed to be lacking in the art toy world? I have been collecting since 2006 and was always curious about how the toys were produced. In 2012, I went on a trip to check out factories, and no, there were no almighty machines spitting out completed toys. Instead, there are rows and rows of workers at every stage of the production. With that mystery solved, I yearned to create figures that I would want to collect for myself, so I reached out to Clogtwo, whom I admire very much, to create Mighty Jaxx’s first collectible, the Hell Lotus.

also pretty close to our factory in China, so we do go on trips frequently. Mighty Jaxx is your second company, correct? What helped you develop an entrepreneurial spirit? Yes, I started a camera company during college with the help of my better half, Ella. I came from a background of digital media so I know next to nothing about business besides basic instincts. (Laughs) We all learned it the hard way.

I enjoyed the process thoroughly and I still do. When a collector decides to buy our work, it invokes a sense of pride that people love what we do. That is a great pleasure for us and the artists we work with. You mentioned that you personally started collecting in 2006. Do you remember the first designer toy you picked up? What was your taste like back then compared to now? I actually do; it was the Trexi series from Play Imaginative. I think it’s right to call them the pioneers of designer toys in Singapore. I particularly love the Huck Gee Trexi, and it’s surreal now that we are developing his Gold Life series. Now that I am familiar with the processes, I tend to look at the details of a piece as well and sometimes the engineering blows me away. I am more particular now, that’s for sure. What are some benefits and hindrances that come with being based in Singapore? Singapore is a costly city and that affects the overhead costs in all areas. However, as our country is small, supply runs are much easier, as is obtaining professional services. We are Brick Baby by Jason Freeny, 2016 Clutter 42 DCON | 17

I think Mighty Jaxx has been successful mainly because I wasn’t sure what to do, so anything that I did was pretty reasonable. I took loans and just went with it. Hell Lotus sold 20 pieces during its release so that scared the shit out of me, but we’re still standing. With Godmachine’s Death and GOIN’s Bad Apple as just a few examples, it seems like a lot of Mighty Jaxx’s pieces are a spiritual continuation of Kidrobot’s Black label. Have you consciously developed a darker side of Mighty Jaxx? Mighty Jaxx is an extension of what I love and I’m still pretty much stuck in punk rock. I worship Blink-182. In the beginning, we did try various styles here and there, but it’s not close to our identity and the collectors are more keen on the edgier works we put out, one’s that we truly love ourselves. So it’s an exploration we had to do. I do enjoy and own some of the Kidrobot Black series, but for us it’s about the artists we love. Other than the design work of the artists you’re collaborating with, how much of the work is done in-studio when creating a new toy? When the artist sends us the 2D artwork, we will take over from that point on. However, during sculpting, painting, and production, we will check in with the artist as well.

Death by Godmachine, 2016

Are all of Mighty Jaxx’s master sculpts 3D sculpted and printed? Other than speed, what benefits does this have? Yes, we work only digitally. It’s just a much better flow for us, especially when there are changes, working our renders of the colorways, and adding in the detailing. Also, we can reprint [the sculpt] even if it breaks. (Laughs) How big is the Mighty Jaxx team? Could you give us a breakdown of the company’s different teams? Mighty Jaxx now has a team of thirteen, with roles assigned to design, production, logistics, sales, and support. I started doing all the processes myself but as we take on more projects, we require more help, and I am thankful that each one of them for having passion for the work and that they are collectors themselves. Most importantly, they believe in the brand vision. Although we have clear work tasks, sometimes we do have to help one another out when it gets rough. Bad Apple - Pink by GOIN, 2013 18 | Clutter 42 DCON

Seeing everyone work great together at the recent STGCC [Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention] was pretty awesome. With great results come great rewards, so we are all looking forward to our annual company trip! STGCC was huge this year — way bigger than NYCC and SDCC for the designer toy scene. Does this accurately reflect the enthusiasm for designer toys in Singapore and Asia in general? Like Flabslab, Daniel Yu, and Pobber, STGCC remains our biggest event, and we experienced great growth, as well as having our friends, Jason Freeny, Huck Gee, and Simone Legno signing at the Mighty Jaxx booth. Jason Freeny has become a frequent collaborator with Mighty Jaxx with his Dissected and XXRAY variations on classic imagery. How did you guys hook up with him? I reached out to Jason in 2013 for a project, which resulted in Skull Bomb. Ironically, it’s not a dissected piece we worked on first but the edition sold out. Everyone loved it. Naturally, we began to explore more ways to collaborate, and now he’s a great friend and collaborator. Your DC Comics XXRAY series is hand-painted, which is pretty rare for mass-produced toys. How and why did you decide to go the handpainted route? The way we chose to present XXRAY, we cannot use another form of painting due to the complexity of the form. We want to stay true to Jason Freeny’s art, so each piece is individually assembled with over ten parts, and hand-painted before assembling. The XXRAY Sticky Monster Lab and tokidoki collabs are super cute. How do you decide which brands and which characters to give the XXRAY treatment? Thank you! Even though the premise of XXRAY is with licensed properties such as DC, we want to link back to our core designer toy community, which is why SML and TKDK projects were released. It’s important to not just expand the collector base but also to give a nod to our roots. Our team sits down to run through brands and characters that would be really interesting as XXRAY figures.

XXray Justice League of America Wave 1, 2016

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After the follow-up to Huck Gee’s Gold Life Dunny series was canceled, the project was put on hold. Now the series has transitioned away from the Dunny platform and is being produced by Mighty Jaxx. Could you walk us through the history of your working with Huck? Who approached who? I met Huck in 2015 when he was here for STGCC. We didn’t speak about collaborating then, I was just stoked to meet someone who was there from the start. The next year, I chanced upon the canceled Gold Life [second] series and wondered if we could make that happen. So I asked Huck and it’s been a whirlwind ride with a short development time. Thankfully Huck and the collectors love the pieces, and Gold Life is alive once more! Has getting all that articulation integrated into the Gold Life figures been a challenge? Yes, we would not have done it without strong support from our production and factory team. We certainly leveled up on that one!

XXRAY Sticky Monster Lab - Bigmon, 2016

You’ve been in business for four years now. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen Mighty Jaxx and the scene, in general, go through? It’s been quite a ride! [There have been] lots of up and downs but we’re thankful that people have stuck by us throughout. The sofubi wave is definitely interesting and the artists are all really unique characters, so I’m curious to see how it goes. What artists do you hope to work with in the future? We are already working with some of our idols and it’s who I don’t know that keeps me excited! I am always on the lookout for emerging talents. Any sneak peeks at 2017 you’d like to share with Mighty Jaxx fans? Be ready as we continue to expand the XXRAY and Gold Life universes as well as introducing other new worlds!

Gold Life - Raku Night (top) & Gold Life - Soul Collector (bottom), both by Huck Gee, 2016 20 | Clutter 42 DCON

For more information on Mighty Jaxx, please visit:


Mingling an art nouveau aesthetic with imagery reminiscent of classic 2000 AD comics, the disturbingly dark illustrations of Godmachine. With a penchant for the morbid and morose, his artwork has adorned countless pieces of band merchandise, skateboards, and clothing. While not a completely unfamiliar name within the designer toy scene, his artwork being the basis for 2013’s Prey For Me and this year’s Death statues, he has never worked on an articulated figure… until now. As one of five artists in the J«RYU curated and Kidrobot produced Arcane Divination series (see issue #40), Godmachine 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, Godmachine is eager to share information about how his first proper designer toy releases manifested.

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ow does it feel being part of a Dunny series from Kidrobot? Walk us through your thoughts when you got that very first email inviting you to participate. Amazed! To be among some of these guys and those that paved the way is jaw dropping. I don’t know anything about the toy scene. I have a friend that collects and loves them, but I think his wife is miffed because he turned one room into a gallery with glass cupboards everywhere… sorry, display cases. They all look great. I hope I did enough [with my designs] to impress toy collectors and Kidrobot. Since this is a themed series, did you immediately know which Major Arcana cards you wanted to interpret? I was given a choice of all the tarot card characters and managed to pick some interesting ones to force through the smashed hole in my head to make then more… me. I just connected with some of the characters, but then I think they all have massive scope — I could draw the same character twenty times and never get tired of it. The history of these guys are varied and interesting.

There was obviously a challenge to keep your well­established aesthetic while still being true to the tarot cards. How did you end up balancing these elements in each design? The only thing that I had to be aware of was the lack of detail, but I put loads in any way. Then I was told we could extend the Dunny within reason, given its classic and well-known shape, [and] being able to fuck with that was just as exciting as drawing. I could have gone too far, but maybe in the future, they will ask me to show what too far really is. It’s kind of exciting when you get to pick the shape of your canvas as well as your artwork. It seems almost limitless. While you’re no stranger to production art toys, this is your first time you created the designs specifically for a platform rather than having your pre­existing two-dimensional art interpreted as a sculpture. How did you find the process of creating designs specifically for the Dunny form?


I am a complete stranger to art toys. It’s shameful how little I know! I own one toy and its a small rabbit with a cigarette [a Labbit]… I think it’s by [Frank] Kozik. Someone sent it to me and I had to ask what it was on Twitter, so Skinner helped me out. [As for] it being a platform — to be honest, I didn’t know that until the end of the job. I kinda just ran wild and waited to be told to reign it in. I had so much fun doing it, I don’t think I even thought of it. And they were so great in letting me run with all of it. I hope I don’t come across as anything but a rabbit in the headlights — I am just all a bit stunned by how brilliant it was and how big it seems to be. Please excuse my ignorance, but this process has educated me well!

The Magician

Now that you’ve worked on platform figures, have you gotten the urge to do more? Can we expect more pieces like this from you in the future? I would love to do more! There seems to be a gap here between those terrible skulls you buy in head shops that hold incense and the toys that are masterfully created by collectors and lovers alike. I can imagine all my work in 3D and am now considering film for some of my characters/ pieces. If anyone out there wants some hectic shit to sculpt, let me know.

For more information, please visit: Kidrobot: God Machine:

The Hermit

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Setting Sail For


Island by Barbara Pavone

Untitled works, 2016

Swedish artist Emelie Jensen has had quite the journey to the world of designer toys. Working as a professional artist for over a decade, Jensen went from tattooer to horse whisperer to Swansea Metropolitan University grad, wielding a degree in 3D Computer Animation, in 2012. All of which paved the way for her current gig as a badass toy designer and creator of Tomodachi Island. Today, she can be found in Bournemouth, England, lovingly growing her island and working on everything from customs to commissions. Obviously, we had to track her down. As you were growing up in Norrköping, Sweden, did you draw a lot of inspiration from the environment around you? Norrköping is a beautiful place that I miss every day. It is a vivid city with a lot of beautiful architecture and the art scene has always been very present there. Growing up, I was always very fortunate [to have] great art teachers. I don’t know if it was because of the fact that I listened and took an interest in the actual subject while others just took art classes as a joke, but I always got to do side projects on my own, which I really appreciated. 26 | Clutter 42 DCON

There is also a lovely theater in Norrköping where I spent a lot of time as a child and teenager. My grandmother is an actress and I loved visiting the theater with her, and still do. I am not much of an actress myself, though, I just like watching. I read that you actually started your artistic career as a tattooer! What attracted you to tattooing? I did indeed! I don’t really know what attracted me to it. My dad had a few tattoos and one of my strongest memories from being a child is my dad

having a tattoo done when we were on holiday in Denmark. I can remember that I was very mesmerized by the whole thing and that might very well have been what lit the spark. When I got into my teens, all I thought about was tattoos and tattooing. I drew flash and tried to sell it at a big tattoo convention [Svenska Tatueringsmässan] that’s held in Norrköping every year. I never got anything sold, but the encouragement from the tattoo artists at the convention really fuelled my fire and I knew then that I wanted to become a tattooist. Then things turned out a bit differently, but that is another story! You eventually gave up tattooing to become a more traditional artist — what inspired such a major change? It was a series of events and being naive as well — something I realized in my older years. I didn’t show much respect towards my profession and I think I took it for granted. I did get very stressed by the actual profession and instead of facing the problem, I let it get to me and it ruined me and my artistic flare, unfortunately. Years ago, I would blame tattooing for everything, but I have been reflecting on it a lot lately and it was a mix of not being in tune with myself, as well as the stress.

Untitled, 2016

since, [which will be] eight years in December. Why was returning to school important to you? And how did you end up picking your 3D computer animation major? Quite simply, I needed a new direction. I didn’t know what I was doing or why I did it. It just

Did you ever second-guess your decision to leave tattooing? I did, and I still do. I often wonder what life would have been like if I’d hung in there and stuck with it. But then I think of what I have now and I know that the decision was right for me. I probably wouldn’t have any of this nor my little family if I’d decided to stay. I have thought about going back — we’ll see what the future holds! Not only did you change careers, but also countries, moving from Sweden to England. What made the U.K. the perfect candidate for your new home? Wow, where do I start? The U.K. was never an obvious choice. Actually, I swore to never leave Sweden and Norrköping. I was into PC games and I played World of Warcraft pretty seriously. I met someone from the U.K. in the game and ended up moving over to work on a horse farm that sounded all dreamy and beautiful. However, it turned out to be hell on Earth and I spent most of my days just crying in the stables. The animals were not treated very well and there was nothing I could do to change it besides trying to give them as much love as possible during the short time I was there. After leaving the farm, I decided I wanted to stay in the U.K. and that is when I started studying. During my degree, I met Ceri, the father of my daughter and my soulmate. I’ve been here ever

Ori, 2016

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Purple Galaxy Guide & Green Galaxy Guide, 2016

sounded interesting and being into PC games at the time, it felt like the only right thing to do. I went in with the dream of one day becoming a CG Artist for Blizzard. That didn’t happen! (Laughs)

To be honest, after four years of living here, I don’t know much about Bournemouth, but it is definitely worth visiting and is growing on me a little bit more every day.

Do you think that academic experience impacted your creative process at all?

Now, the million-dollar question is: How did you become involved in the designer toy world?

Big time! It made me grow as an artist in so many ways. It gave me a wider understanding of shapes and space. It affected me in both good and bad ways. I always wanted to do my very best, but I tried to achieve so much more than I ever could. I always had a vision that I couldn’t translate fully because technology stood in my way and I think that is why I stepped away from it after my degree.

I’ve always been very fond of vinyl toys but didn’t really know much about them. I just bought one every now and then and didn’t really collect them. What sparked my interest was finding A Little Stranger, or Holly Astral as she goes by now. Her creations were something I’d never seen before and from that day, I started learning more and more about designer toys and how to make them.

I took an awful lot of new knowledge away with me, though, and my self-confidence grew. Not only did I do my degree as a mature student, but I did it in a foreign language as well. I sometimes forget that English is not my first language as I speak it more than Swedish these days! But yeah, it was a huge achievement for me and I will forever be very proud. I was one point away from a 1:1, though, and that will always bug me!

Do you remember the first toy you ever created?

Tell us a bit about where you live now and how it compares to Norrköping… I live in Bournemouth, which is on the south coast of England and I’ve lived here since September 2012. Bournemouth is a beautiful place, but it is a bit too busy for my liking. And I don’t think this town likes art unless it’s vector prints of the beach or the beach huts that Bournemouth is well known for! The coast around Bournemouth is, however, very spectacular. Unfortunately, we don’t own a car, so I don’t get to enjoy it half as much as I would like to. 28 | Clutter 42 DCON

I will always remember it because it is the ugliest thing on the planet! So ugly that I didn’t even share it with anyone but my other half. It was a 7” Kidrobot Foomi that I called The Sakura Water Pygmy and rather than fixing the broken arm he came with, I just gave him a long ugly octopus arm and it is just so ugly! (Laughs) You can really see that I knew nothing about toy customizing. Is The Sakura Water Pygmy still part of your family? It sounds glorious! (laughs) I do still have it, actually. It’s been sitting on one of my shelves, sort of in the background, always reminding me of where I started and how far I’ve come. So how was Tomodachi Island born? And where did its awesome name came from? Tomodachi Island is something that grew in my

Kuma Hana, 2016

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Left: Studio Space Top: Bullicorn (Medium, Large & Small), 2016 Bottom: Little Jakalope, 2016 Bottom Right: Shelf in studio space

head for a few years before I decided to actually use it. I started my company, Tomo, in 2011 and made furry phone sleeve monsters and bags. I also had my own kawaii jewelry range. It was how I made my living for quite some time, but, eventually, I got bored and it didn’t really work anymore when I became a mom. Anyways, the company was supposed to be called Tomodachi, but Tomo seemed easier to remember, so I went with that. In my head, I started building a story around my main character, the one you can see in my logo, who is called Tomo. I started to imagine where he came from and adventures he’d been on and that is how Tomodachi Island was born. It is still a work in progress and I think it always will be. The fact that I’ve given the place no boundaries leaves room for so much imagination. I love Tomodachi Island — it is my fictional sanctuary. If Tomodachi Island were a real island, what would it look like and who would be allowed to live there? That is a hard, hard question! I can see it very clearly in my head, but might not find words to describe it. Tomodachi Island is a place teeming with life. It’s got thick, enchanted forests and high, snowy peaks. Even the nights are bright as fireflies 30 | Clutter 42 DCON

and other glowing creatures light up the dark. It is a place of peace where no evil exists. The inhabitants of Tomodachi Island are very close to nature, maybe even one with her. Only creatures with pure hearts and no spite are allowed on Tomodachi Island. One day I hope to give you a better idea of what it actually looks like, but it will be a project that will take many years to complete. You create originals, customs, and commissioned toys. How do the creative processes behind these various projects compare? I find them all fulfilling, but I think commissions are the hardest. I am out to please my fans no matter what I create, but when it comes to a commission, the customer already has something in mind and a picture of what they want it to look like. I find that a bit daunting. However, it is great not having to do all the thinking myself and it also brings a lot of inspiration for the future. I do prefer originals, though, even if I haven’t made many yet. It is hard but so rewarding to know that something is your own idea completely. And when my fans fall in love with these creatures it feels even more amazing! Of all the characters you’ve dreamt up over the

years, which one is dearest to your heart? It is Snow Colossus, without a doubt! I think he’s been my guardian for longer than I actually knew. A sweet giant creature that sings the island to sleep every night. He guards the whole island whilst the creatures rest peacefully, knowing that he is there to protect them. I like to imagine him singing to me when I find it hard to go to sleep and I imagine myself resting on his huge fluffy tummy. He is my rock and he helps me escape this world when I need a break from it. If you were cut off from Tomodachi Island for a week, what would you do with your time off? Cry?! (Laughs) I would enjoy a lot of time with my little family unit as they are my everything. I would spend time outdoors, going mountain biking with my other half, if we had a car and babysitter for the day! I used to be pretty active growing up. Horseback riding and snowboarding were something I did almost every day and I really miss that in my life. Looking around your studio and your personal art collection, what are some of your fave pieces? I haven’t been collecting for long as I could never really afford it, but as I delve deeper and deeper into the toy scene, I find that there are things I just cannot resist. I am a Coarse addict and wish I could have more of their pieces. I will, one day! My favorite pieces are probably my Kwaiis from

Coarse, Phuak and Tuii. I am also crazy about [Max Toy Company’s] Negora, [T9G’s] Rangeron, and [Korator’s] Byron. Oh, it’s just too hard to choose… I love all my toys! Who are some of the peers that inspire you most? Coarse is an obvious one! I love the work of James Jean, Maurice Sendak, 3A, RxSeven, Brandt Peters, Amanda Louise Spayd, Tara McPherson, and the list goes on and on and on. I find so much inspiration in all these amazing artists’ work! Is there anything you would change about the designer toy scene in 2016? I wouldn’t change anything at all! Never in my life have I felt so welcomed and appreciated as I do in the designer toy scene. It is filled with so many great and humble artists and I feel so overwhelmed with how helpful and amazing everyone is. It is such a great community and I feel so blessed to be a part of it! Before we let you go, please finish this sentence: Emelie Jensen is… … asleep on the belly of the Snow Colossus! (Laughs) For more information on Emelie Jensen, please visit:

The Growing Leaf Tribe: Gin, 2016

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The sixth annual Designer Toy Awards are over and it’s amazing to say! Wow, six years! When we started this journey we were in a bar in San Diego and we couldn’t believe how happy the awards made our community. Over the years we have seen the DTA’s ceremony grow and change shape, the one truly constant thing we take away every year is the love we all experience in the room at the ceremony. It’s a moment where the designer toy community all comes together and celebrates all our mutual achievements. We have to thank all the people who made the DTA’s possible, let’s start with the nomination committees. These are the amazing people who devote their time for free to go through all of the nominees and build the finalists lists. This process takes weeks of conversation, arguments, and fretting. Every decision matters and every finalist should be honored that they were selected, this is the most grueling part of the process. This year’s committees were comprised of: (Pro Committee) Benny Kline of Tenacious Toys, Dov Kelemer of DKE Toys, Kirby Kerr of Rotofugi, Gary Rozanski of The Toy Chronicle, Jackson Aw of Mighty Jaxx, Travis Lykins of Urban Vinyl Daily, Huck Gee, Vincent Yu of My Plastic Heart and John Stokes of (Public Committee) Steve Lew,

Justin, Rob Lumino, Katherine Park, Lee Funai, Justin Cheah, and Ketha ‘Kay’ Insomphou. Next, we have to thank the DTA Judging Panel - including over 150 industry professionals and notables - each voted to select the winner in many of the categories, save for Best Blog, Best Toy Store, Best Online Toy Store, and the Fan Choice awards. These six remaining winners were chosen by open voting by the public, so thank you to all the fans and supporters who showed up to express their voice! Thank you to the Clutter staff who work endlessly and devotedly to the cause of helping grow and support the community we all love. Here at Clutter, we don’t get to vote in any of the categories, but we do get to select the Lifetime Achievement award winners and the Hall of Fame. So thank you all for that privilege. Lastly and not least, we have to thank all of the artists who create the amazing art we all love so much. Thank you for doing what you do and we hope that being a part of this process and these Designer Toy Awards gives you the love we intend. Thank you, thank you and make more toys!

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F.A.D. 20” DUNNY 36 | Clutter 42 DCON























RON ENGLISH Clutter 42 DCON | 37

HALL OF FAME Some designer toys have become iconic within the community, helping establish the basis for all that would follow. These pieces, released well before the beginnings of the Designer Toy Awards, are recognized by being inducted into the DTA’s Hall of Fame. The only requirements are that these pieces had to be released at least 12 years previous to induction and that they were pivotal in helping form the industry become what it is today.











LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT Clutter Magazine was proud to present the 2016 Lifetime Achievement award to Super7’s founder, and Owner Brian Flynn. Brian was there at the beginning of so much of what we consider our designer toy culture. He created one of the first English-language magazines about Japanese toys and toy culture. He created one of the definitive blogs about kaiju and kaiju culture in skull brain. He has created an extensive line of designer toys - too lengthy and numerous to name here. In our society the person who is there first gets naming rights - he chose to call the toys he was pioneering “neokaiju” and that is the accepted term we all use. In the last few years, he has reinvented several classic toy lines with this reaction brand, including alien and masters of the universe. He has been a mentor, a leader and an oracle for so many of us in this room and around the world. Truly a lifetime deserving an award! 38 | Clutter 42 DCON


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Rich Montanari’s initial guise of LASH, or LAstdyingwiSH, began in 2006 with him hand-painting other’s vinyl production pieces. Having found success with this work among collectors, peers, critics, and gallery curators, the LASH persona gave way in recognition to his Mutant Vinyl Hardcore identity in 2010. Mixing kaiju and yokai influences throughout his original works, MVH has carved its own collector base through its multitude of pieces, the brand releasing at least one new sculpt every year since it’s inception. And now, one decade after he entered the indie toy scene, Montanari is preparing to change everything again. No, he’s not abandoning MVH but rather building on top of it. Mark your calendars, for 2016 is the year of the Death’s Vault. 44 | Clutter 42 DCON

You’ve undertaken a new project: Death’s Vault. Where’s the name come from? And, of course, what exactly is it? The name Death’s Vault is an homage to the Death Head DX; it’s his vault of toys, the same way the Cryptkeeper tells his tales. I had the opportunity to move into a beautiful new studio space a few months ago. The catch was that the space was almost twice the size I needed, which would have left me with half the area being unused. I had been wanting to do a small store for years but it just never made sense until this popped up. I decided to use most of it for my working studio and the extra space I converted into an art gallery and shop. With all the [store & gallery] shutdowns this past year, I figured that having at the very least a new shop popup couldn’t hurt to breathe a little air back into the indie toy world. So Death’s Vault will have a shop space in addition to an art gallery. Are you planning to do in-person store exclusives and the sort? Yeah, I think so, but not sure how I’m gonna handle it. I’m thinking more like rainy daytype stuff so it’s always on hand. In case you’re not familiar, a massive influence of mine is Secret Base and what they would do only on rainy days would be to release a clear blue version of one toy of theirs. It

would be a walk-in only deal and, once the rain stopped, so would sales. I think that’s something I’d do. (Laughs) I was hoping you’d do rainy day releases or the sort. I love that stuff. Onto the gallery side of things, why make the leap into exhibitions by other artists? The gallery will be different than the usual since it’s a working shop first. Gallery shows will be limited to four or so a year, focused on solo showings, much smaller and more

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I’m assuming you’ve got at least one or two future shows for Death’s Vault already lined up. Can you give us an idea of which artists are coming to the space? Actually, 2017 is all set already. January is UNOBLAB, April is Izu Monster [aka Blood Guts Toys], June is Kaiju Tan, September is Paulkaiju, and then October is me again. I might add some shows as I go, as I’d like to

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do shows dedicated to one-offs of my own sculpts as new they get made. Plus, the exact dates for these shows has yet to be decided. I’m also planning the line-up for 2018, which sounds crazy but is how this all works. With Xmas right around the corner, I’m sure everyone is wondering what the status is of the Krampus DX you teased a while ago… Any chance we might see red before Christmas this year? It’s looking good. It’s scheduled for Luke [Rook, aka Grody Shogun] of Lulubell Toys to recast the DX body, so I can get more of both his and Dennis [Haaman, aka Shirahama]’s marble pulls. I know it was teased last year but I’m a slow worker, so it’s looking like

Top & Bottom: various Ollie and DX body figures, photo circa 2016.

intimate in scale. I want the artists to focus on the work, not on filling a large space just because the gallery — me — needs them to. I wanted to make sure it’s centered around the artist being compensated, not the usual fifty-fifty cut, so that the artist gets their due with much less stress, hopefully allowing for higher quality work.

it will happen this year. And just like Sam Heinous, I plan on making him a once a year toy. And like Sam Heinous, who typically comes with a pewter knife, are you planning for Krampus to come with any extras along these lines? A

thatch whip? A wicker basket? A set of shackles? I have some ideas but was thinking of hand-wrapped thatches using wood from my own back yard. I’m not sure yet if that’s too ambitious but we’ll see. I would like him to have something, though. Wow, that’s great! Do you already have a first release look planned for him? Yeah, I’m hoping to have them in hand by this Christmas, but at the very least I’ll do a pre-order if they don’t make it in time. I don’t want to say what color I have planned but it will be dark like you’d expect, as well as solid black, my tradition for a first blank run.

Images: Krampus DX master sculpt, circa 2016

In addition to your continued evolution of the DX body usage, you’ve been revisiting your Doji San design, making a so-called version 3.0 of it. Why the desire to alter it now? With art, you just know when a piece is done and when it’s not; and Doji never had that feeling like I had for the rest of my toys. Every now and then I would come back to revisit him and grow him. The funny thing is although that I now feel like it has reached the finish point, I want to push forward in the future. Maybe this will be a figure that I will revisit every few years and modify so it’s always in the changing process. I think that would be interesting. Just like people go through phases so will Doji. It will be fun to see the toy change and grow, I’m fascinated to think what version 8.0 will look like.

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(Laughs) While version 8.0 will surely be wonderful, how about sharing what version 3.0 looks like… What makes him feel finished for now to you? Newly articulated arms and legs, so he can move fully now. The last version with the fixed position feet had this flaw, that was only caught after he was made, that he leans forward a bit and this drives me nuts. Aside from the new arms and legs, I added a third eye which I’m keen on, plus many new masks. Originally I had planned to do many

masks for Doji, but with factory turnaround times of more than a year, it became impossible. Now that I’m working with a new factory the turnaround is much faster, allowing me to revisit the idea of many new masks for him like I’d originally planned. In addition to the masks, I tend to recall seeing that Doji San 3.0 had an alternate head… Well, more of a twoheaded attachment, really. Is this meant to be a completely different creature using Doji’s body or is this a 48 | Clutter 42 DCON

new evolution of him? Yeah, the two-headed creature is a new character. His working name is Nobu San. Design wise, I think we as humans focus on faces more than anything characteristically, that’s why a new head on an already existing toy body gives the feel of a brand new toy more than, say, a new body and limbs would. It’s the slightest of changes but it changes it all. Nobu San’s backstory has yet to be told, but I think he is more on the sinister side of things. Doji is a happy troublemaker and fits in well with my hero Ollie, but Nobu

fits better with the trolls. He’s the flip side to Doji. As always, it seems like you’ve got a lot going on! You’re also doing a Sludge Fighter with Mori of Real x Head, right? How’d did that evolve? The Sludge Fighter has been a project I have been working towards for close to ten years. As crazy as that sounds, it’s been that long that I have been asking to work with Mori-san. You see, RxH was one of the

first toy brands I feel in love with when I first started collecting and painting toys. At the time, I had painted so many customs that it got back to the guys in Japan and bothered them. Myself, as a novice, hadn’t thought what problems my actions could be causing. And, once I found out they thought it was disrespectful, I totally understood. I knew if I wanted to continue painting, I had to make my own toys. And, even more, if I ever wanted to work with these artists that I respected that I had to follow their wishes and stop painting unofficial toys. Mori-san, for me, was the main artist that I wanted to work with. It took years of building my own brand to convince him that I was honestly in this for the love of vinyl, but he finally agreed to work with me and gave me free range to design. The rest is history. My Sludge Fighter is based on my first toy, as an homage to beginning. Was Mori-san one of the Japanese artists to take offense by your customizing their toys? Yes, he was, since it was his toys I used the most. And since I’m now in his position, I can’t blame him. I made so many customs and, since the toy scene was much smaller [back then], word traveled much faster. Left: Doji San versions, photo circa 2016 Top: Doji San 3.0 mask master sculpts, circa 2016 Bottom: Doji San 3.0 master sculpts, circa 2016

Will we see both you and Mori-san doing Sludge Fighter releases, or is this something that one of you will

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“control” more than the other? This is something I control and it’s my first outing with him. I’d really love to work with him again, so hopefully he will enjoy what I do and allow me to do more with him. For me, it’s not about saying I’m working with this high profile Japanese maker; it’s an honor to be working with a toy maker that was a massive influence on me starting MVH. Another new recent figure from you is Bernie, which seemed a bit different from your norm. What inspired his gremlin-like design? I started designing a Fink-like figure a few years ago and still plan on finishing him, hopefully before the year is out. As I was designing him, I felt he needed a sidekick. The funny thing is that the sidekick came into being before the Fink figure! Bernie was born and sits between the yokai world and a new, more Fink focused world that I want to explore. He will help tie the two together for me. Design wise, Bernie is more mascot looking and is the first figure of mine I had paint masks made for, so I could keep him clean and sharply painted. I think we’ll see more characters like him from me, both in size and design, in the coming years. Tell me more about this Fink-like world you’re exploring! Does your Fink-esque figure have a name? I hadn’t found a way to sculpt my company 50 | Clutter 42 DCON

Opposite: Sludge Fighter (collab. with Real Head), 2016. Top: Sludge Demon with various DX body figures, photo circa 2016. Right: Bernie - Black Raspberry & Cream, 2016 Bottom: Sludge Fighter (collab. with Real Head),

logo of the demon mask, which I really wanted to. Then it came to me: it would be cool to make a Fink body that would have a head using that demon logo but as a luchador style mask. Plus I wanted to make my dog, a Boston Terrier, as a head. I’m also gonna sculpt it so that the heads that fit the Ollie body also fit this new piece, so I can share heads… a Berserker Fink would be rad. No name yet, as — truth be told — I’m horrible with names. So what else is in the works? Any more collabs? Original figures? There is always something in the works. For Death’s Vault, I’d like to start a brand dedicated to stuff that’s more along the lines of occult, medieval, gothic style brutal toys. Wait… Death’s Vault will be its own brand in addition to being a space? Yes, I envision it as its own brand as well. I had played around with making a new brand a while back but I couldn’t find a good reason aside from an aesthetic standpoint. But Death’s Vault changes this, it’s physically a new space with its own personality so to me it works. I didn’t just want to make a new

brand just to make a new brand, this is a solid reason to me. Sounds great. And for the Mutant Vinyl Hardcore side of things, what’s forthcoming? MVH wise I have some sculpts like the insect, Krampus and more Troll designs plus stuff I’d like to keep secret still. Collab wise, I have one or two in the works, with the likes of Kaiju Tan, but I think I’m gonna hold off on collabs for awhile. It was fun but it’s so much work and I’ve had a few bad experiences. I just want to focus on my own brand again.

For more information on Mutant Vinyl Hardcore, please visit:

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Mural for New Amsterdam Vodka’s It’s Your Town project, 2016

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The Mile High Art of Mike Graves By Seth Fischer

Colorado has always been at the forefront in terms of picturesque scenery and aesthetically pleasing visuals, whether from its natural surroundings or from the creative minds inhabiting it. Mike Graves is one of those artistic geniuses helping to make the urban jungles of the State a little more pleasing to the senses thanks to some of the incredibly spirited and giggle-inducing murals he’s put up around town. For the most part, there is nothing particularly complex about his art, and that in itself is a refreshing change from artists who try desperately to stir up passion and emotion through metaphors and thoughtprovoking analogies. Having made art his life since debuting at his first gallery show in the late ‘90s, Graves is on the cusp of expanding his artistic resume with the debut of his first figure at this year’s DesignerCon.

Where did you grow up and when did you first fall in love with art? I grew up in Lakewood, Colorado, which is right outside of Denver. I loved art at an early age. I think I really started to pay attention to it when I started skateboarding when I was about eight or nine. I would copy all of the deck graphics and crazy ads from Thrasher. Do you still skate? What do you do with your time when not making amazing art? My skating days are pretty much over, my body is pretty wrecked. I’ll still cruise around my neighborhood, though. I have a three-year-old daughter named Olive. Her and her mom keep me busy, for sure; being a good dad is my number one job. How old were you when you decided that art was how you wanted to make a living? Around eighteen, I thought it could be a possibility. I’m still waiting for that to come completely to fruition. Moe, 2016

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Do you remember when you did your first mural? The first mural I did was with Emit and East. It was super nerve-racking because I didn’t know what I was doing at all and those dudes are legends. I learned a ton that day and become hooked in the process. The mural you collaborated on with Scribe [Donald Ross] absolutely blew me away. I’ve always been a big fan of his work and his vibrant and animated style and you both compliment each other so well. Who approached who? Thanks so much. I asked him to paint it with me. I knew he was coming into town to paint the DF [Crew] wall, so I was hoping to steal him away for a little while. We’ve known each for years now, it was an absolute blast to finally get to paint with him. Where’s the most surreal or bizarre place you’ve ever painted a mural? I painted an old Bentley in Art Basel Miami Beach with Kwue Molly and AngelOnce a couple years ago. We were painting it right when Secret Walls and a BET event were getting out, [so] there were thousands of people walking by and around., it was pretty nuts painting in front of that many people. How much preparation goes into each? 56 | Clutter 42 DCON

It really depends on who it’s for or the situation. Most of the time there isn’t a whole lot of prep, the ideas usually come pretty easily. If there are clients involved, it can definitely be a little work trying to make everyone happy. Are your murals representative of where they are placed or is it all arbitrary? All arbitrary, for sure. Who or what are the characters in your murals representing, if anything? Sometimes they’re me, sometimes people in the city. Mainly it’s just things that make me laugh or put a smile on my face. Is that where your recurring Chickenfish character come from? Yea, it stemmed from a joke about tuna, the “chicken of the sea.” I drew one and it made me laugh so I kept knocking them out. People seem to like them, [so] I’m going to keep doing them for a little while longer. Which do you prefer, art shows in which you’re fairly limited in terms of space or murals? Right now, I would have to say murals. There’s something special about working really big. I also like the fact that so many

Above: Work for Denver Art Museum, 2015 Right top:: Untitled, 2016 Right Middle: Narwhal Car for Denver Art Museum, 2016 Right Middle: Collaboration with Jaime Molina for New Amsterdam Vodka’s It’s Your Town project, 2016 Right Bottom: Mural at Occidental, Denver, CO, 2016

more people are able to see it. Do you remember the first art show you’ve ever been a part of? The first real gallery show I did was at a place called Revoluciones [Collective Art] in Denver, around ‘98 or ’99. It turned out to be a great night, sold a couple of paintings and people seemed to be into what I was doing. I was pretty excited to keep going after that. You’re going to be a part of the Gameplay: Video Games show at Helikon Gallery in Denver. Were you a big gamer growing up? Not really, I did love the old Nintendo stuff and the original arcade games, though. [Super] Mario Bros. was the best! You’re working on your first art figure for DesignerCon. Can you tell us about it? I’m super excited about it, its name is Moe, which was my nickname when I was young. I worked with Task One [and his] We Are Not Toys to put it out. It’s been a while in the making, I can’t even tell you how great it is to have it finally released. It was something I have wanted to do since I was a kid. Why this particular character? It came up pretty organically actually. I had talked with Task

about a couple different options and we were having trouble figuring out which one to use. One day he kind of came up with a mix of his favorite things and then sculpted this up. As soon as I saw it, I loved it right away. Just like that, we were ready to go. Is Moe going to have a limited run? It will be really limited. The DCon run will be 25-30, [then] there will one more 25-30 run with a different colorway, [and] if that goes well we might do a third run or a run of blanks. Any plans on more or even creating a series? I definitely want to do more. This one won’t be the only one, that’s for sure. Now that you’ve expanded out to 3D, Any other mediums you want to conquer or at least attempt? I read somewhere you used to tattoo as well. I want to do bigger 3D things, for sure. Bigger walls as well. I did tattoo for a couple years when I was younger. I realized pretty quickly that it was something that deserves all of your focus and I wasn’t able to do that at the time. It was kind of stressful. I think art that is less permanent is more up my alley.

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If someone came up to you today and asked if you would ink one of your original ideas on them, would you do it? I would do it if it was a close friend. Other than that, I wouldn’t do it. I know way too many tattoo artists that can make it look the way it’s supposed to. Who are some of your biggest art influences? What about non-artist influences? There are so many, some of the biggest are Scribe, Sub, Emit, East, OSGEMEOS [Gustavo & Otavio Pandolfo], Barry McGee, Doze Green [Jeffrey Green], James Jean, Herakut [Jasmin Siddiqui & Falk Lehmann], Ravi Zupa, and Jaime Molina, just to name a few. I could go on forever, there are just way too many to list. As far as other influences, I’m really just influenced by people that create: chefs, musicians, builders, craftsmen… I’ve been impressed by anyone who can make something with their own hands. Has there ever been a yearning to create art with a deeper meaning in terms of maybe politics, socioeconomic conditions, or even just a statement on the world in general? There is, for sure. I think there will be more a whole lot more of that in the future. It will always have some sort of comical / cartoon feel to it, though.

For more information on Mike Graves, please visit:

Top: Work-in-progress mural for Colorado Crush, 2016 Bottom: Mural at Crema Coffee House, Denver, CO, 2015

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POP OFF THE PRESS! By Miranda O’Brien

By their very nature, pop-up books are full of intrigue. We are indoctrinated to them at an early age, the curiosity of what lays beneath the flap, or the surprise of a pull out tab, captivating our attention. Most of us don’t consider the time or engineering behind these amazing creations, the hours of work, or the fact that each one is assembled by hand! But, one man does… Rosston Meyer, the founder and owner of Poposition Press. Bursting into the world of pop-up artbooks in 2013, Poposition Press has brought to life the artwork of some of the best known, and most loved artists of our generation: Tara Mcpherson, Jim Mahfood, and Kozyndan, to name a few. With a new book celebrating the work of Junko Mizuno just released, we thought it was about time we caught up with Meyer and found out what makes him pop!

Tell us a little about yourself, and the history of Poposition Press.

art and pop-up worlds — both small, inclusive industries with very dedicated collectors.

My name is Rosston Meyer and I run Poposition Press, where I design and self-publish pop-up books with visual artists. Poposition came to be in 2013 after doing my first pop-up book with Jim Mahfood.

Why pop-up books?

I’m a web designer, so I’ve done a lot of graphic and web content that’s completely digital. For a long time, I’ve wanted to design something with my hands. For me, making pop-up books is the perfect blend of my love of art, design, and the real challenge in running a small publishing company, entrepreneurship. There’s actually only a handful of people in the world making their own pop-up books — be they one-offs or smaller but still mass-produced runs like I’m doing. The best part is that I’ve got the approval of both the 60 | Clutter 42 DCON

Like many people, I’ve always loved pop-up books since I was a kid and started seeing some more complicated ones around the same time that designer toys came to the states in the early 2000s. That’s when I originally had the idea to make a pop-up book with artists. Fast forward about fifteen years, nobody had done it so I did. That first book was Pop Up Funk with Jim Mahfood, a completely handmade limited edition of 100 books. It was quite an undertaking, not just designing it but cutting and assembling all the pages and binding the books together. After that, I knew the next move was to figure out how to get the books mass-produced and The Pop Up Art Book — with Woes, Skinner, Kozyndan,

Junko Mizuno, Tara McPherson, and Jim Mahfood — was funded on Kickstarter in 2014 and a run of 1000 copies was made overseas at one of the hand assembly factories that makes pop-ups. Tell us a little about the process of making a popup book. What I do with the artist books is a little bit different than the ‘traditional’ pop-up design process in that I’m deconstructing existing art, whereas traditionally the paper engineering is done first then art is added, refined, and so on. So, in a way, I’m kind of designing these books in reverse. As far as production, once the engineering and matching artwork of each page is finalized, vector dielines [scores and cuts] are sent to the printer. They first make a completely white mockup book to verify that they can replicate the pop-ups without any issues, and then a color mockup book is made with the art in it. Then the process of printing, die cutting the pieces, and hand assembly is done. Amazingly, all pop-up books are 100% hand assembled. There are machines that assist in the die plate making, and of course the printing, but every

single pop-up book made — by me or anyone else — is entirely handmade. I’ve heard that it would be next to impossible to tool up a machine to do the delicate hand assembly that’s done at the factories. What are some of the difficulties in making popups? Well, a lot of thought and time is put into just figuring out what pieces of the art should pop up, after that comes the how. I usually make a non-pop-up version first that’s basically layers of cut paper to get a general idea and the artist’s approval, then I’ll figure out how to actually make it pop up. Since the three books I’ve done are all 11” x 17” landscape orientated spreads, art that is originally portrait orientated or a square can get quite complicated as that all space needs to be filled in. In some cases, I can do the fill in work myself but usually the artists need to create new art to complete the pop up elements, backgrounds, and so on. Some good examples are Tara McPherson’s Water Nebula page from The Pop Up Art Book, which was originally a square, and the Ocean spread from my latest book, Junko Mizuno’s

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TRIAD. That art, and the resulting pop up, is just insane. Who would be your dream artist to work with? Funny enough, I’ve been extremely lucky to have now done a pop-up book with my favorite artists: Jim Mahfood and Junko Mizuno. They were at the top of my list for a long time, and it’s an incredible feeling to have worked on these projects with both of them. There are, of course, many other people I’d love to do a book with — Skinner, [Frank] Kozik, Nychos, James Jean, and Jeremy Fish. I’ll continue to design single artist and compilation style books, like The Pop Up Art Book. I’ve had opportunities to work with some of the best paper engineers in the world on new projects, so those are what I’m focusing on now. There’s a book that’s not specifically art related but very ‘counter-culture’ and more of a mainstream thing that I’m working on as well. Going forward, I’ll continue to design the art popups myself as well as take on more of a publisher’s role where I’m overseeing projects that other paper engineers and artists are working on together, with Poposition Press eventually putting those books out Do you collect toys, or have any collections? Absolutely. I’ve been collecting toys for a long time, 15 years or so. I tend to like colorful pieces a lot, so I’ve got most of Junko’s toys. One of my favorite pieces ever is Ajee’s Skullskin, the lines on that still amaze me. My other favorites are probably the Knockman Family series from Maywa Denki, I just love the interactivity of the wind-up elements in

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those. I’ve probably got over 100 toys, although over the years I’ve sold and traded a lot. And of course, I’ve got a growing collection of pop-up books, cards, and other kinds of paper ephemera. Tell us about your latest project with Junko Mizuno. Junko was one of the six artists featured in the last book, so I asked her around the time that book was done about doing her own book. Thankfully, she said yes! She had a show at the Cotton Candy Machine in December of 2015 called TRIAD that featured her favorite three characters: the Nurse, the Witch, and the Wrestler. So we took all ten pieces from that show and turned them into six different pop-ups spreads. The ‘Triptych’ spread takes three portraits of each character and combines them into one spread. And Junko did an incredible job not just filling in the art and backgrounds but adding all kinds of fun little surprises throughout the book — new art under v-folds, pull tabs, and other little easter eggs.

TRIAD is available in a 5-page Standard Edition, as well as a 6-page Special Edition limited to 100 copies that comes with an extra pop-up spread, a poster insert, and a fancy laser etched acrylic slipcase. The book is available for pre-order now at triadpopup. com. A few copies will also be available at DesignerCon alongside a Junko Mizuno signing at the Poposition Booth #509 from 1 to 3pm on both days. For more information on Poposition Press, please visit:






















The roots of the designer toy movement can be traced back to Asia in the late 1990s. It was an exciting time when artists and manufacturers first started working together to bring alternative and individualistic ideas and worlds to life. Using mass-manufacturing techniques and turning them on their head, making commodity materials into high-end collectibles. It was underground, it was dynamic, and most of all it was highly sought after. The buzz soon spread, creating a worldwide movement that resonated with the collector’s soul in a generation that had grown up with massmarketing and the ingrained notion of toys as collections not just as items of play. To be precise, this generation was directly influenced by Star Wars, the first property that created a world of figures, not just A plot characters but a whole universe of play items that kids not only played with but collected. Whether you were a Star Wars fan or not, these sales techniques imprinted on us a new way to think about those little plastic gems. With roots firmly planted in a high-end experience, placed next to expensive furniture and shown as set dressing in magazines, it was a reflection of a lifestyle that you dreamed to obtain. A new world of designer toys, driven by artists, but supported by a network of manufacturers, press, galleries, and business minded individuals, pushed the boundaries of what the mainstream culture considers “art”. Fast-forward fifteen, almost twenty years to today, and what we see now is almost unrecognizable. The designer toy market has seen decreased sales and failing support systems. These issues have left a huge question mark sitting right in the middle of our beloved movement. With more and more designer toy outlets going out of business, it raises the question, what went wrong, and what’s the current state of the designer toy union?

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ECONOMIC FA C T O R S In recent years we have seen a decline in brick and mortar stores dedicated to the sale of art toys. Simultaneously more and more artists have entered the market, and social media is exploding with new artworks on a daily basis. How is it that the influx of art and artists is coinciding with the death of brick and mortar, shouldn’t more mean more? To help begin to unwind this knot, we called Frank Kozik, one of the godfather’s of the designer toy scene and current CCO of Kidrobot, to get his wellseasoned perspective: “People aren’t seeing the forest through the trees. All the cries of “mom and pop, brick and mortars closing down, it’s the death knell of the industry” — it’s not the industry’s fault. The reality is all of these mom and pops were in large coastal cities, a couple of big inland cities, or more upscale college towns. In the last five or six years, property values and rents have gone through the roof. There has been a general decline in small stores, no matter what. It has nothing to do with the validity of the genre, it just the places where there are enough customers to support a store have gotten too expensive for those stores to exist anymore. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the problem. If you open a store in some blown out second-tier city where you can afford a store, there are no customers, it’s a catch 22.” A Starbucks in lower Manhattan recently closed when its lease topped $1 million a year. There is no amount of coffee, even on a prime New York City corner, that can sustain that rent. How many designer toys does a store have to sell to make their rent? “The average retail price of a blind box toy when we started was $4.95 or $5.95. Now, the majority are $10 and up. That’s

really eaten into the market and made it harder to sell in the quantities a business like ours needs to do to keep things growing,” says Kirby Kerr, owner of Chicago’s largest toy store, Rotofugi. “And it’s not just blind boxes, it’s larger vinyl too… where average 8” figure pricing has gone from $30-40 up to $60-100. The higher price points simply make it harder to create new customers, and in this business we have to constantly find new customers as collectors fill up their collections or move on to collecting other things,” he adds. So another fundamental force impacting our movements market is inflation. There is no doubt that the economic crisis of the past few years has played a huge role in the declining sales of designer toys. They are a commodity item, but is it pure economics or is there a larger production issue at play?

uniquely insulated from market fundamentals that affect much of the small business world. Is the designer toy world a movement, a scene, and industry? Is it a business or an art form? As more and more artists expect their livelihoods to be derived from sales, it most certainly does have to be broken down and considered a business. And, for most, designer toys are a “small business” with “small business” headaches. “Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business. They’d say “money is bad” and “working is bad”. But making money is art, and working is art - and good business is the best art.” – Andy Warhol

“The biggest issue is overall decreased sales, and it all started in 2008 when the economy crashed. It’s been a matter of decreasing sales for eight years and we’ve reached the point, especially in the last six months, where we’re just regularly not doing the volume we need to do. The days of the big release where we can sell out of hundreds or even thousands of toys in a matter of days are probably gone for good. Those big hits were always what sustained us and they’re simply gone,” adds Kerr. Higher rents, inflation, loss of purchasing power, it’s starting to sound like the ills that plague us aren’t a lack of creativity or a bad case of sculptors block. Maybe we’re not that special or Clutter 42 DCON | 65

S O C I A L EXPLOSION Social media changed the face of the world and the designer toy market. Access to artists was at one time a premium, involving agents, gallerists, emails, but now direct access is at the tip of a collectors fingertips via social outlets. News is instant and cross-channel. Artists have the opportunity to reach their collectors without external support. Does this access limit the information flow within a genre as more artists can live within self-directed bubbles? More artists can find their audience, but in potentially a self-limiting and insulated way… and worst of all in a critically obtuse relationship.

Camilla D’errico. “[As collectors,] we’re all tuned into hundreds if not thousands of commercial channels across many social platforms that inundate us daily with products. Our devices determine methodically via algorithms what we may be inclined to buy. Over saturation leads to buyer apathy, and when given too much choice day in and day out, we often choose nothing; because there’s more available to buy than there are funds to buy it with, and we know we’ll see other new interesting things tomorrow and the next day,” she adds. This overstimulation of the market does have an adverse effect on sales, not only for the individual artist but for manufacturers and store/gallery owners too. Word of mouth is no longer an option and relying on that all important forum is no longer a viable strategy.

“Widening reach to share our work, ideas, and products online is amazing, but it simultaneously expands the horizon and overpopulates our social communities with a near endless volume of other creatives,” says Tasha Zimich, artist and Operations Coordinato to artist

“The landscape as far as the

feedback system for social media has changed. Kidrobot still have forums but they aren’t very active. Trolls drive out the good people, and people have moved to other platforms: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit. I still read our forums on a daily basis, we still pay attention, but the feedback loop has changed,” says Kozik. The collector base has certainly morphed over the years. a wider social net has meant that as a movement we are selling to a more diverse group of people. Not necessarily “toy collectors” who hang out and try to out collect each other, but selling to “non-hardcore” individuals who are not as interested in the thrill of the chase, they just want to own something cool. The collecting game has changed, the landscape is a flat digital infinity pool, and critical feedback is tempered by these factors.


In a world made up of “friends” it’s particularly hard to offer a critical opinion (albeit well intentioned) to a colleague or a Friend friend (we’ll use a capital “F” Friend to denote someone who would actually help you move or cook you dinner if they could, and in this case one you may have never met in the “real” world). Not only do all these friends lead to a false sense of self, it can also lead 66 | Clutter 42 DCON


P L AY ]

in practical terms to incomprehensible sales fail. On social media, “Yeh, bro, it’s awesome!” turns into a big fat $0. Because no one wanted to “hurt anyone’s feelings” or be seen as a hater. “As long as collectors turn into toy artists, we will have new/inexperienced people diving into the art world with an undeveloped ability to selfcriticize. Most of them did not go to art school [where] you learn how to present to a group and how to accept and digest the inevitable criticism,” states Benny Kline, owner Tenacious Toys. “I would also not be so bold as to negatively review a show that

someone put a year of work into or more. I could possibly hurt the hosting gallery’s sales, so the downsides of public criticism far, far outweigh the benefits,” he adds. So, if public criticism isn’t the vehicle for a critical discourse, where should this discussion happen? “In hindsight, the scene was naturally curated by the toy companies, in that they chose which artists to work with. Hence, you had key industry figures seeking out the best artists and producing desirable work of the highest quality,” adds Chris Dobson, collector and designer.

O V E R S AT U R AT U I O N AND FRAGMENTATION There is no denying that the number of manufacturers and designer toy production companies has been on a downward curve. STRANGEco, Wheaty Wheat, Critterbox, Flying Cat, the list goes on, and every one of these failed companies left its own heart-shaped hole in the world. Business failure is never easy, and most of these companies failed to succeed due to lack of artist support or a false sense of market size, and probably total Shakespearean hubristic meltdowns (but those tales are best told over drinks, lest we go down the tabloid hole). “At one point at the very start of Kidrobot, Toy2R, Michael Lau, when every toy company was looking to do some of that “cool Urban Vinyl stuff,” this is an actual conversation from the elevator in the old toy building on 23rd Street— Suit guy #1: This urban vinyl thing is gonna be huge! It is big in Japan and all the cool brands are on board, Nike, Adidas, all the film studios, and others. Look at Kidrobot, StrangeCo, and all the indie guys in Hong Kong. Suit guy #2: Look at it this way, Larry. The toy industry is a HUGE ASS, the action figure market is a small PIMPLE on that ASS, and this niche cool guy collectible thing is a TINY HAIR on that PIMPLE. Me... I blow coffee out my nose and exit elevator,” reminiscences Klim Kozinevich owner of Bigshot Toyworks. There is a disconnect. Feelings run high that these old school companies were creating products “true to the designer toy aesthetics.” Taking 2D artists work and recreating it in a 3D collectible form. Taking risks on designs no mainstream company would dare touch. And to some, with the death of these companies, came the death of the core of this industry.

Before the Great Recession, designer toy sales we’re at an alltime high, the market was fresh and ripe. Some manufacturers took advantage of this and started producing numbers vastly outweighing the demand. “I started out collecting KR [Kidrobot] like a lot of people, mainly Dunnys. I started losing interest when KR started overproducing, not publishing edition numbers, and in my opinion did too many themed series. All of that conspired to making it feel less special to me. Collecting wasn’t about the monetary value, as some may argue an emphasis on limited runs suggests, but about owning art that despite being mass produced still offered a thrill of exclusivity, uniqueness, and discovery,” says collector Noah Feldman. Creating the type of designer toy products once achieved by manufacturers such as STRANGEco is EXPENSIVE. Currently there isn’t a market strong enough to support the scale of that type of production, to make them not only successful but profitable. And profitable enough to cover overhead, staff, and to continue to roll that revenue into the next project. The production process is long — often over a year — and in this hyper-real world we currently live, tastes can move on faster than vinyl can make it to market. It used to be that artists needed manufacturers to produce a toy. The cost of prototyping and molding is high, and full-fledged production is even higher.

or resin being poured. The cost of shipping samples back and forth to Asia or local US adds per unit cost. Then the cost of the actual figure, packaging, and shipping makes an average 100pc run cost about $60-80 for a small figure, and the price goes up with complexity, size, deco[ration], and detail,” says Kozinevich. “The other thing that not many consider is the cost of storage for these figures if they do not sell immediately. Having this art toy thing become a sustainable business is always a huge gamble,” he adds. It’s no wonder that frustrated artists started to take matters into their own hands, finding faster, cheaper and more homegrown methods of achieving a production figure or art piece to take to market. “The simple fact is that now it’s very much easier for an artist, or small company, to reach fans directly and sell to them instead of going through a distributor [or manufacturer] to get their products stocked at a retailer. I don’t begrudge anyone doing

“If you spend 3K-5K on a sculpt and prototype for a 100 figure run, each figure will cost $30-50 without a single ounce of silicon Clutter 42 DCON | 67

whatever they have to do to make their project, which is often one built on a passion for toys and art, work. But, at the same time, retailers like us can’t survive without good products on our shelves. And often these days the best products are out of our reach,” adds Kerr. The problem is that

manufacturers not only provided the funding for these projects, but they also had the ability to deliver to market, provide PR, outreach, and generally offer business support that artists so often lack. Most artists are not business minded, they need protection as much as they need a helpful dose of professionalism.

Artists have the right to direct their own lives and careers, and an ecosystem of professionals at every level can help everyone. The old economic saying might hold true in this context: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

C R E AT E A U N I Q U E BUYING EXPERIENCE While disposable income is at an all-time low for a lot of people, there has always been one key factor that drove people to spend those extra dollars on toys and art, and that’s the thrill of the chase – the exclusivity of owning a unique object that is limited to just a small number of pieces.

market was strong. Money was pumped into promoting art toys to the masses, release parties were thrown at high-end department stores in London and LA, artists were flown around the world, and the Kidrobot name and design were inducted into MoMA.

“I think the market has been overwhelmed. When I started [collecting], it was the thrill of the hunt for blind boxed rarities but now prefer very small run or one off customs,” says collector Cat Davies.

“Back in 2005/2006, Kidrobot was making huge amounts of art toys, but what people don’t understand is Kidrobot was operating at a huge loss – the investor group was losing their ass. Awesome for the collectors, it seemed really pure, but at the end of the day someone has got to pay for it,” discusses Kozik.

At the considered height of Kidrobot’s success, high-end celebrity-filled gallery shows, articles in the New York Times, and queues for releases stretching around the block were commonplace. This certainly didn’t seem to be some sort of smoke and mirrors affair, sales were high and the secondary

While there is no “money for nothing” anymore, this shift away from opulent outreach by one of the largest forces in our world did leave a big hole. Not only has there been a gap in mainstream media coverage and PR outreach

on a large scale since these good old days of over hype, but there has been a shift away from creating “a buying experience.” The definition of an “experience” is certainly subjective. Is it the thrill of the hunt for a release from 5000 miles away? Is it the waiting in line, and the comradery that is built between fellow collectors waiting in line? Is it meeting the artist (maybe before the days of experiencing every meal and move on social media), and getting a sketch or a signature? Or is it just the feeling of being one of the special few that knows what the fuck a Dunny is anyway? “We sold out of all of our presale items for SDCC this year, so the hype is there. If you want to talk about hype driving sales of a product, we sold out so there you go,” states Kozik.

WIDENING THE NET THE PHYSICAL LOCATION While online sales are certainly the key to reaching a global collector base, the importance of physical locations, stores, and galleries cannot be overlooked. Rarely do online store sales translate into an impulse buy or the discovery of a new artist. Expansion of the collector base, 68 | Clutter 42 DCON

outreach, and an opportunity to network with other artists and collectors is one of the keys to making this work. “Shops and galleries are hugely important. Shows are important, communities are important, and shops maintain these especially

at a local level,” says artist Kyle Kirwan. “If we’re suddenly limited to people just browsing [the] internet, then we lose a huge number of what could potentially become die-hard fans,” adds UK-based artist Chris “Squink” Booker.

Brandt Peters, artist, brand, and gallery owner, adds, “I get when someone says, buy from the artist directly. (I am biased as I have a store, but I am also an independent artist.) As an artist (witnessing how other artists act), I can tell you it’s not as rosy as many of those artists or collectors make it out to be. About half of artists seem to not respect any system or the idea that their decisions ultimately affect their colleagues,” “On one hand, selling directly is a strong stance as an independent artist, but upon further inspection, this decision tends to be more ego-driven than smart business driven. The artists I am referring to not only wants to sell direct but also sell through galleries and stores in the same moment. They don’t see themselves as partners with galleries and stores, rather they can see themselves as THE ONLY VALUE in the relationship. They are doing a favor, working with you. They are the ones providing 100% of the appeal, [as if] a gallery or store is only just

a space. I can tell you, although there might be some bad apples, a gallery or a store is not just a space. We earn our commission. I have a staff, take out ads, network and build alliances that help artists – our goal is helping artists build new fans, not just tapping into their existing base.”

There is no denying that posting on social media outlets, in particular Instagram, does drive sales. You can measure that metric directly, but it doesn’t provide a community experience, and it does provide a false sense of scale. Without events, cons, exhibitions, and other real-life experiences, how do you keep an interest in finding out more about designer toys?

“I discovered designer toys in 2012… since then I’ve been a collector and designing toys for my portfolio. I can’t agree that the designer toys scene is dying, it’s simply evolving into something bigger, more mainstream. It’s a bittersweet situation. On one hand, the thrill of [the] hunt is gone. On the other hand, there are so much talent around that you just can’t ignore them not being in the scene. There are tons of shitty products and artists out there too. Even the underground scene has changed, the whole resin scene and experiments [that come out of that] are exciting,” says collector Milad Taleghani.

While artists selling direct to their consumer base is great for the individual artist, they get more money per piece and it’s straight to them, they are selling to the same net of collectors. They lose the ability to reach a wider customer base. They expect collectors to find them, and ultimately direct sales do not support the wider industry. Not to mention the blogs and news outlets that support them. What is better for artists in the short run may be making it harder for the ecosystem in the long run.

“BIG” BUSINESS CHOICES One issue surrounding this whole conversation is the lack of real inside information. Emotions run high when you put your heart and soul into something, especially as an artist. As a collector, you get to see a very narrow slice of what makes an industry work, which can lead to misinformation. “I think overall, what has caused this entire problem is that this is a difficult business to bring in high profits. I really feel that’s what happened to Kidrobot, for one. They saw licenses as a way to increase revenue, and in turn were trying to sell the wrong product suddenly to a wellestablished and loyal customer base. Sort of like a bespoke shoemaker suddenly deciding to start selling factory produced knock-off Nike trainers,” discusses Squink.

This feeling is echoed by a large slice of the collector base, but is this in fact based in reality or is it an emotion created through rose tinted spectacles looking for the good old days of art toy collecting?

way,” he adds. “I can tell you with all of my history in this industry, licensed toys get new collectors introduced to designer vinyl or sofubi. They would never have

“The more licensed products we can sell, the more art toys I can make. That’s the equation. No company the size of Kidrobot, with a system and employees, can afford not to. We can’t afford to advertise and licenses come with billions of dollars of advertising built into the brand. We take advantage of that,” says Kozik. “People should be stoked about the licensed toy because we don’t make a licensed toy instead of an art toy, the profits from the licensed toy allow me to take more chances with art toys. It’s always been that Clutter 42 DCON | 69

crossed over if the licensed toy stuff was not there. Think big picture. Sometimes it’s about forgoing the short for the long,” adds Peters. “For the first time in its history, Kidrobot is making a profit this year. We’re not in debt to anyone, we don’t have to ask for money from investors, we are paying our own way and being profitable, and it’s because we are doing a decent mix of licensed product and art toys, and you can’t tell me that we haven’t produced an increased amount of art toys in the last six months, and we have more coming. We’re actually doing more art toys than we have done in years,” impresses Kozik. Expanding any market is a daunting task. Where do you find the next generation of collectors? Relying on parents or current collectors just isn’t enough. If licensed products and blind box collectibles are the gateway drug to a wider toy art market, the focus needs to shift to obtaining and converting those Funko Pop! collectors into buyers of custom pieces and high-end production pieces, and it can be done.

“The mainstream toy market, who clearly borrow ideals from the art toy world, have the potential to drive the next wave of collectors. I hear a lot of talk [about] how Funko are destroying our market and I think it’s very short-sighted and uneducated. Introducing the idea of collecting toys is key to what we do. Whether that be a Beanie Baby, a Funko Pop!, or a Living Dead Doll, the question becomes how to we educated these collectors that there is a cool new world, and a fantastic community of creators, waiting for them to explore? It’s something we think about every day at Clutter,” said Miranda O’Brien, 12-year veteran and owner of Clutter Magazine. “Two years ago, even I would have to explain to somebody what a blind box was. I would have to explain why you would want to spend $20 on this thing. What Funko has done is they have made it a normal product. They have opened a lot of doors, both on business and consumer levels. People start buying Funko, and they get bored with it, they see our stuff and it’s more interesting. Funko actually acts as a gateway for us. Funko raises the bar. They make us do

our job better because we have to compete with them,” adds Kozik. “Our licensed product are more interesting than ever. The ideal for me is to make an art toy that is also a licensed toy, like the Warhol license. We have successfully used the licensing vehicle to drive art toys into the mainstream stores. We are the only player out there of any size that has access to mainstream stores. If you live in Iowa, you can go to Barnes & Noble and buy an art toy. It’s really key,” he adds. And this strategy is working. “I started collecting about five years ago when I found a Labbit in a Barnes & Noble. Since then I’ve become much more of a serious collector and have ventured into collecting more than KR, [though] I do still purchase from them often. I see a lot of people around my age (20) who collect Funko and see my toy posts and ask me where to buy the things I share. I just think a lot of younger people literally have no idea that these beautiful toys even exist and maybe the focus should be more directed in trying to get the younger generation into the toys!” adds Devin McShane, collector.

S A L E S TA C T I C S & PRE-ORDER SYSTEMS One of the more polarizing aspects of the sales cycles in designer toys is pre-orders. Fans believe they destroy the market, reducing the hype and experience. Manufacturers, stores, and artists feel they need them in order to gauge the sales and popularity of a figure, preventing the tying up of funds, and allowing business to operate and thrive in a difficult market. “Pre-orders are important for 70 | Clutter 42 DCON

a number of reasons. Most of it is plain logistical,” states Kozik. “The money comes in and we know we have made that sale, it’s a business decision.” Borrowing from its parent company NECA’s Comic-Con pre-order strategy, this year Kidrobot allowed pre-orders on all of its Comic-Con releases. “Comic-Con has become really expensive over the years. If people do travel there, they are worried about their budget and if they are going to get what they want. No one loses out on a preorder system. In fact, it makes it fairer for everyone. Consumers don’t have to run to our booth on opening night, get in a big line,

and hope they are going to get what they want. They know they have it and they can schedule a time to collect it, and really plan their Comic-Con experience,” he adds. “The problem it solves for both

our business and the customer, the fan, far outweighs the loss of the excitement of running to the booth and waiting in line. I understand that excitement but, as in all things that relate to business, choices have to be made and the pre-sale thing

seems more efficient for both sides of the equation and we are going to continue to do it,” Kozik continues.

DIY (NOT) & GOING IT ALONE One of the most important aspects of the culture surrounding designer toys has always been the lack of barrier to entry. DIY platforms make it possible for any aspiring or new artist to play on the same field, and stand shoulder to shoulder with well-established artists and toy designers. The downside of this is that not only can it dilute the integrity of the core, it can provide a false sense of what “making it” can mean. “The DIY scene is a doubleedged sword,” says Dobson. “On the one hand, it serves as a fantastic means to resolve the issue of the collapse of the ‘big’ toy companies, in facilitating artists to take matters into their own hands. On the other, a marketplace flooded with substandard work that has reached such a volume that the good stuff is easily buried. Cue potential punters being overwhelmed and artists of genuine quality becoming disillusioned.” New artists start by making a full-time career of art toys, seeing sales from other artists or whispers of how much money is transacted with some sales, and what you see is not always what you get… “Most ‘successful toy artists’ actually get most of their work from ad agencies and entities outside of the ‘designer toy’ world. Designer toys are just one small item in their portfolio,” explains Kline. And that’s the problem. The individual artist may be king

in the current market, but the margins in self-production are so slim that making it a profitable venture can be tough. “Our toy market is not like a traditional market/system. The ‘man’ is not involved… no one is becoming ultra rich making toys on either side of the fence. The markup is just way too high. Our system/market is made up of artists, artists just trying to make a living by selling their craft and product to put food on their tables for their family. Or a business paying more than minimum wage to help their staff put food on their tables. It’s not hyper-corporate and there is no giant room of gold coins we all jump into,” asserts Peters.

is who is policing the quality and how do we avoid oversaturation? “When the vision is pure and undiluted it will be better, in my opinion. So yes, it is no surprise that artists making their own work create better work,” expresses collector Jesus Sanchez Garza. But is this always true? “I was at a toy expo last year and I recall some guy selling stuff at $50+ for something that was half ass packaged, had some random story behind it, and just overall nothing special,” says Collector Juan Gallardo.

In the past five years, there has been a huge growth in homegrown resin casters, and artists creating runs of toys in their own studio environments (or kitchen tables). A fantastic medium for creators to prototype and produce their work, in a quick and cheap (when compared to a full factory run) way. The problem this creates Clutter 42 DCON | 71

EDUCATION & EXPANSION EXPLAINING THE PRICE When attempting to sell an art object of any kind, price point can be a big factor. When trying to sell an art object with its roots in a plastic toy that the majority of the public see as a cheap disposable item, it can be even more difficult. With mainstream toy manufacturers appropriating design aesthetics and creating cheaper versions to be sold at large department stores it no surprise. And it’s not only an issue when it comes to new collectors or the general public, it can be just as big an issue within the collecting circle. What makes one piece $20 and what makes another $2000? If both were made by hand in the same material, it can get a little muddy. Most collectors do not understand the cost of manufacturing, or even selfproduction, size of the artist, or length of time in the industry. “Even when you see a resin figure for a few hundred dollars, do you know that artist might have spent $120 of their own money to pay for that one resin figure? Not even counting their time to clean, paint, make the mold, etc. Even though you see a price, you may absolutely be clueless about how that price was derived,” adds Peters. Gone are the days when investment companies or manufacturers had the extra money to dabble in designer toys and just take a risk. Every business needs to make a

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calculated decision on all projects and expenditures. It makes tools like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms very valuable to a market in flux. REAL demand is demonstrated (not just “likes” on an Instagram post which can just lead to a $0 sale) and projects get off the ground without large upfront financial investment. The downside to this is that artist’s ego can sometimes get in the way. If a project fails to be funded, this can feel like, and been seen as, a failure in that artist’s career. There is also a huge feeling that if someone believes in a project they should find their own way to fund it and assume all the risk themselves on the venture; a very shortsighted, naive, and often ill-educated stance. “I sunk every cent I ever had into my life’s dream of making toys. When nobody bought my toys, I had to sell every single one of them at half the cost of production,”

explains artist Matt Walls. “There are four customizers right now sitting on $5k of my toys [that] they basically have stolen from me, never painted and just kept. There’s a store with my ENTIRE toy line that never paid me, never answers my emails, and won’t give HUNDREDs of my toys back. A major Japanese toy company took $15k from me, then didn’t produce my toyline for 18 months after the million dollar skate contract folded. However, I’m damn proud of all the guys who started out with me who are successful and living the toy dream,” he continues. Without the push to place art toys within the correct context, used as set dressing in highend experiences, pushed into big name art museums, and keeping them in the “high-roller lifestyle” the glamour of the well-designed, well-executed art toy collectible falls off the radar. Coupled with the inability to achieve a high-end finish without great manufacturing techniques, you end up with a muddy mix of quality and design. “There is not enough consideration for what should be done as opposed to what can be done. A strong concept can carry unrefined technique but we often see weak concepts combined with weak technique,” adds Ryan Rutherford, industrial artist and toy designer. “Historically this type of work from new artists would be private and part of their growth process. However, in our community participation is

encouraged, so new artists jump into the scene with little or no experience. Since we seem to lack and often oppose the idea of critical culture within our niche,

those pieces are received with as many polite accolades as the great pieces that should stand out. This is great for building an inclusive community but

does little to show the best the community has to offer to a larger audience. AND THIS IS WHY THE DTAS [Designer Toy Awards] ARE SO IMPORTANT,” he continues.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT T HE FUTURE I S WHAT WE MAKE IT It’s underground, it’s punk rock, it’s elitist, it’s a community, it’s embracing, it’s polarizing, it’s cute, it’s weird, it has made up rules, it’s nothing, it’s everything, but the main thread is that everyone involved in this considered cottage industry is passionate and involved purely for the love of what they do, the industry and people they serve.

affected by market forces, and evolve with the times. They are our generation’s pop art. They are a way for a whole generation to express their feelings, and find camaraderie with friends all over the globe. Yes, it will ebb and flow, companies will come and go, but how we survive will be determined by how we treat each other.

I’ve been dealing with that for 30 years across different industries. There are boom years, the market gets saturated, and there are slow years, people come in [and] they drop out,” he continues.

“I’m more excited about some of what I’m seeing right now than in previous years,” adds Zimich.

“If the toy industry was really dying, DesignerCon would be a wasteland, and they are sold out. 350 vendors,” says Kozik. “There are also collecting cycles, and

Your feelings about that don’t really matter!

Designer toys will continue to be

Call them toys, call them sculptures, call them multiples or art pieces, designer toys are here to stay and the union is strong.

“Making toys is an expensive long-term process. It’s not something you do at

the drop of a hat. Here is the ironic thing, if Kidrobot only made art

toys, and they were huge and sold everywhere, no one would want

them. So be careful what you wish

for, because what you wish for looks a whole lot like Funko,” finalizes Kozik.

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Rabbits and Raccoons, and Squirrels, oh my! by Seth Fischer

The history of the concert poster is a long and colorful one, but one aspect that has never changed throughout time is the goal: the ability to appeal and intrigue an audience into a state of excited curiosity. When we talk about its evolution, it would be impossible to do so without citing the work of the legendary Jermaine Rogers. For over 20 years, Rogers has revolutionized gig prints and never backed down from the opportunity to use his art, whether his posters or his acclaimed vinyl toys, to make people think about more than just music. There’s a reason so many musicians are eager to work with him and why so many art collectors covet his creations.

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You started at a relatively young age. Do you remember the first gig poster you ever did professionally? I’d been doing little flyers and xerox things for friends’ bands and other local punk rock shows since I was in high school. The first piece I did that was a real thing for someone noteworthy was a poster I did for a KMFDM show, in 1994 or 1995. It was also, coincidentally, the first time I’d used the Dero bear character on a poster. I’d been drawing the Dero bears for years and they had evolved over time, so it was cool to put the bear on a print that I figured would get a bit more visibility than the usual little flyers I’d done for “going-nowhere” bands.

things, you know? It was a way to be a part of the scene, even though I wasn’t in a band. Again, there were no illusions that this kind of work would ever be some sort of career. No one really cared about gig/lowbrow poster art back then… not on any kind of “you can have a career doing this” level. Even the guys in Texas who had a relatively large cult following weren’t rolling in the dough. It wasn’t until the mid 90s, after seeing certain artists demonstrating a sustainable scheme to make money doing posters, that I thought that I might be able to do it. I started doing things on the side, especially in 1995. By 1997, I was so enthralled with the idea of a career in art that I quit my day job and jumped. I figured that the worst thing that could happen is that it wouldn’t work and I’d have to start all over. Thankfully, it all worked out. There was really no plan. I just wanted to have fun and live a life which was a bit less ordinary. I was lucky. How much of your art is influenced by your childhood and the various art forms you were exposed to then? Quite a bit of the work has been influenced by things from my childhood. Children’s artwork and media have always had this amazing juxtaposition of comfort and creepy. There is a magic in non-conformity that is embraced by children. The older you get, the pressure to adjust and fit in creates an aversion to anything different. What was once alluring suddenly becomes disturbing.

When did you decide this was something you would be interested in pursuing as a career? Tell Me How To Help You…, 2016

Well, ever since I was a kid I was always drawing. I was that dude, you know? That was my thing. I had a really active imagination, as well, and I was voraciously consuming a steady diet of comic books and weird 1970’s/ early 80’s children’s TV. So the artwork began to be supplemented with a lot of plotting, a lot of writing. Writing and “universe building” have always been a framework of sorts behind much of my work. Even as a kid, I liked to tell stories with pictures AND words. Anyways, I grew up and got out of high school and sort of immersed myself in the aspects of DIY art that I had been stewing in: flyers, screen printing posters, and underground comics. Texas in the late 80s/early 90s was full of influences. I was working a series of random “day jobs,” and doing posters and flyers in my free time, just to be a part of

For instance, I’ve been drawing Dero and Veil ever since I was a teenager. Dero is heavily influenced by Sid & Marty Krofft shows that I watched as a kid. Shows like H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters introduced these worlds where everything was alive. The trees, the flowers, the furniture… all of it. The shows were populated by weird characters who were, of course, actors in big crazy suits... much like the people you see at Disneyland and other amusement parks walking around in those giant costumes. This was really the genesis of Dero for me. I found it fascinating that there were adult people in these suits and everyone — including other adults — seemed to be pretending that they were real. I was a kid and I knew that there were people in those suits. So, I know they knew it. Everyone knew it. But people were suspending reality and playing along, hugging these strangers in colorful costumes, taking photos with them, letting their kids take photos with them. It freaked me out, but it was really cool at the same time. So, I started drawing these beings that

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looked like they could be people in suits. They had blank expressions on their faces. Unsettling and knowing grins on their faces. They were the beings behind the scenes. The hidden hands pulling the strings in the world. The Dero bear looks like a freaky amusement park costume and in the storyline, it actually is a being wearing a disguise. It’s this fascination with the illusion of reality: something that looks alive on the surface, but has no real life inside. That same dynamic fueled my childhood love of wax figures, mannequins, and statues. So making toys and sculptures at some point in my life, dude, it was probably inevitable. You’ve worked with a ton of incredibly influential artists ranging from Neil Young to Public Enemy. Were there any particular collaborations that really made you sort of take a step back and collect yourself? I won’t front, there are a couple of times when I have felt pretty fortunate to do what I do. I remember being commissioned to do a print for David Bowie’s 2004 tour, and the time I got to spend with him. At some point, I was backstage in Houston talking with him and while he was talking, I locked in on his eyes and noticed the different-sized-pupils thing. It was this weird sort of confirmation that he was indeed David Bowie, you know? For a few moments, I sort of zoned out. This is Ziggy. This is the ‘Thin White Duke’. This is the cat who produced Lou Reed, recorded

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with John Lennon and Freddie Mercury, and worked with Brian Eno. This is the Goblin King. To have a guy like that compliment you on your work and break down what the imagery means to him is pretty surreal. You begin to think that maybe your funny little career choice may have not been such a waste. What inspired you to shift gears into the world of designer toys? My entire life I’ve been addicted to toys. When I got into my teens, I was that guy who took all of your old toys when you didn’t want them anymore. A lot of my friends thought that was funny, but a lot of girls thought it was cute. So yeah, on several levels it worked for me. I amassed a huge collection of 70’s/80’s toys… all of the stuff you’d expect: Star Wars, Mego, all sorts of television show toys, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, all of that shit. In the late 90s, a friend of mine turned me on to some of the vinyl figures that were being made in Asia. I was also pretty fascinated with kaiju figures, many of which I had access to for the first time through eBay. So, by the turn of the century, the atmosphere was ripe for me to dip into toys. I sort of put the word out there in certain circles that I was ‘open’ to experimenting.

Bottom Left: Hang Onto Yourself (detail), 2012

I think it was 2002 or so when I was contacted by Michael Maher from Wootini. Michael was a fan of the artwork and sort

Bottm Right: Veil:Specimen 72, 2016

Top: The artist with several Lifesized Squire sculptures. Bottom: Dero master sculpt, made circa 2003

of felt me out about the toy thing. He was working with Greg Blum and Jim Crawford from STRANGEco, and offered to help me produce a figure. Michael was very well versed in the vinyl community, including the burgeoning ‘western vinyl’ scene. So you know, I jumped in. During the process, I watched everything those guys did and said. I was soaking it up. Mike, Jim, and Greg taught me a whole lot. They really showed me ‘the bones’ of the thing: dealing with China, issues at the factories, shipping, and customs stuff, etc. I also learned a lot about the physics of toy making. It’s a very real skill to understand and anticipate how a figure will interact with its environment once it becomes present in three dimensions.

drawings/paintings. With a toy, it’s got to stand. It’s got to be able to reasonably exist within its environment. Then, there is the presentation of packaging. And there are a million other little details that are involved in the toy medium because of what it is. That said, the biggest aesthetic difference is gratification time. There is a sort of urgency that I often work under. If I’m creating artwork for a band or an event, there is typically a deadline. There is also the deadline that I impose on myself, as I don’t like an idea to float out there in the wasteland of unfinished for too long. I want to deliver while the spark is still there. When

So anyways, Dero was the first figure I made and it dropped in 2004. It’s always really cool when I come across other toy designers who refer to Dero as influential to them on some level. Like a lot of my career, I was just winging it. You do what you want to do and hope that you don’t lose too much money. My thing with producing toys has always been like this: I want to make this figure because ‘I’ want one. I want one to put right here on my desk. If I’ve got to make 500 of them to pay for my one piece, then so be it. Even though many of your toys were of characters previously introduced through gig prints, how does the process of creating differ between the two mediums? Well, of course, there are logistics involved with creating something that will exist in three dimensions that aren’t present in 2D Clutter 42 DCON | 79

I’m doing prints and poster art, I have [an] autonomy that I don’t completely possess in toy manufacturing. If you’re creating vinyl figures, it’s a process that involves many other people. There’s lots of hands-on work that gets done, most of which happens on the other side of the planet. So a lot of hurry-upand-wait happens. It can get very frustrating, but that’s the process. And it’s a process that, at a certain point, is really out of your hands. You really have to rely on people you don’t know to see a project exactly the way you do. Sure, there is a lot of direction that is provided to the factory that’s making your thing. You also make a real effort to impart a little bit of your vision into the mind of whoever your contact is at the factory… and you hope that they can accurately relay that to the folks who work there. Now, producing figures in resin is a totally different thing. There is a significant amount of control that an artist has in that process, and fewer people to have to get on board. I totally understand why resin is growing significantly as a medium for the toy/figure community. Control, control, control. It’s very exciting. Why did you choose Dero to be your introduction to that world? I chose Dero for my first figure because it was a very well-known thing that I had done. My fans at the time all knew it and dug it. Again, I was getting into a new medium and had no idea how any of it would work out. There was no precedent for ‘Jermaine Rogers’ in the world of designer vinyl toys, and I wasn’t going to assume that just because people liked my work in one genre that it was going to be a hit in another. There are many

examples where that just doesn’t happen. So, yeah, my thing was knowing that my fans, at least, would buy the figure, so [that] it wouldn’t be a pointless venture. The real mission was to introduce the work to others who didn’t know or care about my work at that point. Dero was something that I felt was very user-friendly. It was also something that had been with me for a long time. I’d built a story in my head around it for a long time, back when it didn’t matter to anyone but me. Now that it did matter on a larger scale, I was ready because I KNEW it. While many other designers concoct very elaborately creative backstories for their characters, yours seem to mix that with historical faction. For example, the Dero’s alliances with renowned conquerors like Genghis Khan and Alexander The Great. How come? I believe that familiarity makes a story more enjoyable. I think that most people respond to artwork that allows them to ‘own’ it. These familiar aspects, which are littered throughout the stories I tell, help to make the stories more accessible. But I must say that many elements of the stories, particularly the Dero/Veil events, are actually steeped in reality. So, you could very rightly say that I am focusing on lesser known events and alternative ways of thinking about what’s going on. There is a thread that runs throughout human history. It’s like something in the periphery: you glimpse it from the corners of your awareness but it never presents itself with any definition. A lot of the artwork touches on that.

Left: The artist with Creeping Right: Artist with Creeping DERO variations.

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Was the decision to use rabbits and raccoons as predominant figures in your art an arbitrary one or were they chosen specifically for a reason? I’ve always loved both animals. For years, we’ve had pet bunnies. Bunnies are very familial and durable animals, in many aspects. They’re also very fragile in some ways. I watched a bunny have a seizure and die once, after she ate a tiny bit of the wrong plant. They sort of move as a unit. There’s strength in that. Raccoons are the same way. If you see one, there are probably a couple more around, watching you. They’ll fight you, too. Corner one and see. They’ve also learned how to do what it takes to survive. They will scavenge and build. They will methodically plan. They will wait until circumstances are just right to move. I’ve been drawing both the bunnies and raccoons in my poster and print art for over fifteen years, so they are a very comfortable thing to slip into. They are perfect avatars for feelings and attitudes that I am very familiar with. Recently, the squirrels of the tree-tops have made an appearance in the story of the woods. They usually flutter to-and-fro above the forest floor. Lately, they’ve begun to inject themselves into the goings-on down below. They’re definitely making enemies on all sides. Time will tell what they really want.

Then again, you could say it’s all a goofy gimmick. It also seems as if your characters don’t really have heart-warming personalities. Yes, it’s a very real world… definitely a reflection of our reality. The world is a wonderful place, but also very hostile. Many things are not nice. If someone were to drop you in the middle of an uncharted Amazonian rainforest, there would suddenly be thousands of things trying to get on you, from bacteria to big cats. It’s a very impersonal world, and existence is sometimes scary. That’s why there is magic in kindness and empathy. Benevolence and willing sacrifice are magical… and just a bit weird. So there’s a lot of that kind of beauty in the stories and there’s a lot of shitty things too.

Veil’s story feels very Matrix-y in terms of waking up and becoming an independent thinker. The visual however is one of a bear that looks like he’s going crazy. Perhaps i’m looking too much into it, but it’s almost as if it represents the way the world sees freethinkers. That’s a very interesting thing for you to say. Think of it this way: imagine that you have been beholden to a certain idea for your entire life. It’s all you’ve ever known. It’s seeped into the nooks and crannies of every activity, thought, feeling, and relationship that you’ve ever had. It’s shaped your loves and molded your fears. It is the ‘truth’… the one reality that all other ideas in your evolution are anchored to. Every big decision you’ve made in your life was affected by it. It’s why you are like you are. Now, imagine that at some point the wool is pulled from your eyes and suddenly you realize that the joke’s on you. What you thought was reality was just another

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manufactured perception. It was faulty. Somehow you’ve pulled a thread that was holding the entire thing together, and now it all starts to fall apart. Your worldview collapses and with it, the rationale behind every life decision you’ve made, every relationship you’ve began or broken, every crusade you’ve undertaken, every situation you’ve chosen to ignore. How much of your life has been determined by a belief system which was essentially a ruse? It can leave you spinning. It creates a person who has just discovered real freedom and is desperately looking for more. If it happened to you, you’d understand the collateral damage that occurs in a life which has been soaking in lies. You’d begin to search all of the rooms of your mind, kicking doors to see if they cave in. It can very much feel like you’re going crazy. This is the plight of the man or woman who has been reborn with an urgent need to investigate and experience different perspectives, after having been tied to a faulty one for so long. So, yeah, when you look at the new Veil figure, think of it as a sort of childbirth. A mind being born. Most of your art is politically, or at least socially, influenced. When did that aspect become a part of your process? I think that aspect has always been present. I’d say that it’s moreso socially influenced, far more than politically. It’s very rare for me to embrace any defined political platform

because I think most of it is bullshit... When I did official artwork for the Bernie Sanders campaign earlier this year, it was the first time I’d ever done any artwork supporting a political candidate. Bernie’s a good man, and I wholeheartedly supported his ideas. But, with most of that stuff, I just don’t trust that easy. Now, social issues, “human” issues, present an easier target for an artist to address. You’re alive and you’re here, living in your community everyday. I’ve always been very aware of my surroundings — micro and macro — and my place within that. I’ve said before that I think it’s the job of historians to tell future generations what happened, but it’s the job of artists to tell those future generations how people felt about it. Art presents me with a wonderful chance to say my thing about this world. And it doesn’t always have to be some maudlin, hand-onmy-heart social statement. Sometimes it’s a statement on what it feels like to be me, in this flesh, right now. When doing gig posters, do artists give free range in terms of how far you can go with your art? In other words, have any bands/musicians asked you to downplay the metaphorical struggles depicted? As I’ve gotten further along in my career, I’ve bought myself more autonomy, so to speak... So I can make little statements here and there in different arenas and get away with it, especially in rock posters... you get more adept at knowing when and where and how

Left: Queens of the Stone Age poster, 2014 Right: Bernie Sanders campaign poster, 2016

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to say certain things. So a lot of the bands I work with know that I realize where the line is and trust me to kind of stay on the right side of it, at least in a professional sense. That’s why at this point, if I’m doing artwork for, say, Queens Of The Stone Age, Josh [Homme] isn’t going to ride me to see sketches and all of that shit. We’ve had years of creative trust built up, and if I do choose to make some sort of veiled statement artistically for a project, then it’s all good. It’s all about understanding all of those little details; who is the band, what type of music is it, what’s the fanbase like, etc. When I got commissioned to do artwork for Pearl Jam, I could be a lot more verbose about social issues. When doing work for Run the Jewels, I could make statements about the attitude of cops in the inner cities very easily. The music and the vibe of the band was very conducive to that type of content. When I was creating artwork for Die Antwoord, or for a band like Ween, it’s a different scene. What are you currently working on? Currently, I’m working on a print for an artist that I am very excited about. I’ve done a lot of prints for a lot of musical acts. My list of ‘dream gigs’ is very short: you can count them on one hand. This thing I’m working on now is one BIG finger on that hand. I can’t say who it is, yet. By Christmas, everyone will know.

I’m also deep into the process of finishing two books. The first one will hopefully be done in 2017. I love writing. It’s the little thing that got lost as I pursued my career in visual arts. Toy-wise, there are two new vinyl pieces in production, and some new resin pieces as well. 2017 is going to be quite a year for me, resin-wise. There are some very raw and wonderful things that are coming. I’m shooting for sculpts which are very emotive in their posing and staging. The Creeping Dero sculpts were a first shot at pieces that could creatively exist in different environments. There will be more of that. There’s a fine line between “surreal” and “ridiculous,” and I want to see how fast I can cross it. Are there any non-animal based concepts rattling around in your head that you’ve been interested in expanding on? Oh yeah, you bet there are. But if I told you, I’d be sort of stealing my own thunder. Staging is everything.

For more information on Jermaine Rogers, please

Run the Jewels poster, 2015

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