The Solaris guide to bootleg toys...
It's no secret that I really like toys. Growing up I was obsessed with Star Wars and Masters of the Universe and after that came the whole 90ties limited edition art toy movement. Although I feel that the massive art toy bubble is kinda over, I still get excited about a great designed piece of plastic. I feel there are three categories a grown man like me can still get excited about: Vintage toys from my childhood, selected pieces of the art toy movement and... bootleg toys. What? BOOTLEG TOYS? Now what's that crazy thing?!
Well... first of all, it's exactly what it says: A knockoff toy based on a popular franchise. Normally these bootlegs can be found in your local 1€ store and are lovingly made in China.
These can be re-casted Batman figures labelled "Masked Avenger" or outright bootleg insanity like fusing Mr. T with a fire engine...
As you you can already see, these unlicensed creations have the potencial to be even better than the real thing!
Before we dive head first into the insanity of the bootleg toy scene, let's recap on the three iconic childhood toys that haunt us obsessives to this day: Star Wars, GI Joe and Masters of the Universe. All awesome toys, but they had iconic artwork and packaging too. From the original vintage Kenner Star Wars packaging, to GI Joes action packed renderings of the characters and MotU's iconic 80ties font on the red exploding rocks: These are the things toy geeks dreams are made of!
Now let's fast forward to the art toy movement. I guess having toys designed by artists and designers really elevated the format from being kids stuff to be seen as valuable art objects. Buying a limited piece of plastic felt like purchasing a miniature sculpture at an ( more or less ) affordable price. Plus the toys tied in with street fashion, urban music and other more mature pop sensibilities. You can read more about it here: http://www.solaris100.com/blog/2016/1/24/ok-so-urban-vinyl-is-kinda-over-but
All these obsessive thoughts about toys gave birth to an interesting question:
So what if you could create these cool toys yourself? What if you were in control of design, manufacturing and distribution? Would that not be awesome? HELL YES IT WOULD BE!
So surprise, surprise: Slowly but surely a new generation of toy creators emerged who didn't have the money like big toy companies or the street cred of a famous artist. Nevertheless they craved to express themselves via the medium of collectable figures!
These very committed/insane people taught themselves to hack apart toys, create their own packaging, pour some colourful resin and sell their creations to a growing collectors market via social media. So fucking DIY!
What's the appeal? First of all: These toys are coming from people who grew up on the same toys that I did and throw in a lot of call backs to the old figures and packaging we discussed earlier. Then I just admire the DIY ethos of just crafting your own products in the back of your house, like a fanzine just in plastic. Last but not least are you purchasing directly from the artist and the pieces are way more limited and weird than the stuff you can buy in the stores!
Got it? Good...
So let's talk a little bit about my favorite artists out there and the toys they create...
1) The Sucklord
Let's start at the beginning: Morgan Phillips, bootleg toymaker extraordinaire hailing from NYC. It kinda all started for me with him. His fusing of my beloved Star Wars with Street Wear and Pop Culture really caught my attention: Stussy lightsabers, KISS Stormtrooper helmets and a PIMP Boba Fett? I am all in!
Making toys of his friends in full villain mode or doing a gay Stormtrooper all in pink, Sucklord opened the door for me to all things self-made and bootleg. His weird creations and irreverent humour is to this day Punk as fuck! He is clever, frustrated and very self-deprecating and I can only strongly advise you to check out all his great YouTube content as well. But warning: NSFW!
"The Sucklord Approach" inspired a whole new generation of toy makers like...
2) Has No Talent
Star Wars and GI Joe set the bar high when it comes to iconic toy packaging so I love how Chad Herrington aka HasNoTalent is bringing back the vintage cards with twist. Plus I am loving all kinds of clear plastic. Really digging is chrome toys also. And: Look at that great Suckadelic collabo!
As I purchased a couple of toys from him recently I could bully him into a quick Q&A...
1) Hi man. How did you get caught up in the toy hustle?
I started making card kits for vintage figures. Over about a year it just blossomed into this full resin slinging, figure and card making madness that I'm doing today.
2) How would you explain the bootleg toy scene to someone who only had a couple of Star Wars toys back in the 80ties...
The actual "scene" is a bit like high school drama. Someone is always mad at someone else for one thing or another. The majority of time it's not even a problem. Just someone in the background making up stories and creating lame hype to attract attention. The scene in a context from making bootleg toys, It's like taking my childhood back. All the figures that I used to play with but in customized colors and combinations.
3) Is it easy to connect with collectors and shift your toys without any professional distribution channels?
At first no. I received a lot of negativity from people saying that I was tainting the collecting field. Tons of people saying that I shouldn't be re-carding vintage figures because they can be misrepresented as being in they're original packaging. Going more of the customised route now, seems more exceptable in general.
4) What is the most exciting thing about crafting your own toys?
When I come up with a new idea for something, sculpt it out or Kit-Bash it together, mold it, cast it, remove and clean it up. Holding that finished item in my hand is a pretty exciting thing!
5) What's next in the pipeline for HasNoTalent?
You'll have to follow me on instagram at @hasnotalent to see what's next!✊
3) Healey Made
When it comes to remixing Star Wars toys with a Designers touch Healy Made could be called the Dieter Rams of the bootleg scene. Minimal packaging, clear shapes and crazy colourways make this very easy on the eye and the pieces looks great next to your MacBook Air.
Jumping back from the USA to the UK...
4) Trap Toys
Now whilst the above artists reference heavily Star Wars, Trap Toys are all about the 90ties HipHop references. I still need to get my hands on their amazing Easy-He toy that just looks like the real thing... pure fire! But all their amazing creations sell out so quick that it's really hard to purchase any of their creations... booo!
5) Honorable mentions
Now obviously they are so many more artists out there doing great things, I wouldn't be able to mention them all. But that's the fun part of it: Like a record collector it's all about digging deep to find the most ridiculous and exciting pieces! So here are four of the latest toys I admired...
Trashor by 8BitZombie
80ties Skate meets Zombie He-Man... what's not to like? Comes with a skateboard and rad cover art. Already sold out but check out all the other great 80ties/90ties mash up stuff he has on his website!
Sexy Motherfucker by GalacticJerkbags
Sucklord fan turns into a toymaker himself! Awesome Prince action figure with great card artwork. The cart maketh the toy!
Hype Beast Man by RYCA
Very tempted to get this bad boy! Once again based on the Masters of the Universe toy line, you gotta love a Beast Man rocking Yeezys and Supreme! You might know this artist from making moves in the Street Art scene also, remixing the smiley logo for Fatboy Slim.
Jumbo Uzay Trooper by DollarSlice
Basically a bootleg of a bootleg. DollarSlice took the legendary blue trooper from the Turkish bootleg Star Wars toyline Uzay and blew him up to epic proportions! Would have been great to add some oversized Uzay card as well but I understand why he didn't do it.
Last but not least... here is MY stab at toy design!
Check out the Solaris Bots: Sculpted, cast and painted myself back in 2002 during my time at Central St Martins. If I only just switched to creating smaller and carded figures. Maybe I might have been a resin toy maker superstar by now!
For the head I reused some bootleg action figures from the 1€ store, the rest of the toy might have been inspired by Jack from Tekken or Terminator... who knows.
Looking at them now I must say, I still dig em! :D
So with all this out of the way and all the knowledge gained... please enjoy my massive bootleg toy review video! Class dismissed...