Solaris interviews: The Monkid

I first met Mik and Manou Rahner on the dance floor of the Mojo Club in Hamburg in 2016. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was hanging out with them on a daily basis in their design studio EMMAR based close to “Sternschanze”! Apart from being fantastic motion designers I realised that they created pretty awesome art as well. Just check out this animated wall tile piece…

The longer I shared the office with these guys, the more I saw Mik scribbling away on small pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection I saw pretty neat black and white line drawings that fuse vintage sensibilities with the modern designer eye. Turns out he is a tattoo artist as well!

So last week I swung by Fräulein Tinte’s Tattoo Shop where Mik aka Monkid currently set up shop every Monday and asked him all the tough questions…

Hey Mik! When we first met I saw that tattoo around your collarbone but didn’t know you were deeper into the culture. How did you first get into tatoos?

I must have been 8 or 9 years old when my parents took me on a trip to Denmark. When we visited Copenhagen we went by a couple of tattoo parlors that had their signs out on the street. I was mesmerized! The bold and colorful imagery, the nautical and religious symbols, the reflection of life, love and death really fascinated me  – I knew I wanted one! This was the late 70ties when tattoos still were associated with sailors and prisoners and were considered everything but art. In addition to that was I a kid so I had to wait till the early 90ties till I got my first tattoo.

There are many different flavours when it comes to Tattoos. How would you describe the style you are digging the most?

I always liked tattoos that have a deeper meaning, like a symbol on skin that reflects the mindstate of the person wearing it. So for me its not so much about a certain style. Wether its an abstract sign, icon or pattern or a realistic rendition of a tiger, as long as it speaks to me, it works.

Remember your first tattoo? What was the story behind it? 

I was about 21 when I finally got my first tattoo – a heraldic lilly with an eagle on top, a cross in the middle and a skull on the bottom (did i mention i’m into symbols…?). I was working on the design for weeks, trying to create the perfect shapes and composition. This was way before computers with design programms so I worked with rulers and compasses and a copy machine. I went to a tattooer close to where i lived, that worked out of a backroom at a barbershop. He was that classic oldschool Rock’n’Roll guy, pretty shady and very unreliable. I wanted the tattoo to be super small – I was the first one of my friends to get tattooed and I guess I just wasn’t brave enough to go big!

So the tattooer wielded a single needle to do the job. But he wasn’t really experienced with single needle work, so he went too deep into the skin and after a couple of years the lines were blown out and the whole thing looked like a blurry spot on my shoulder. The good thing I learned from this is that skin has some sort of resolution to it too. So if you want to go small you have to simplify the design to make it readable and hold up over the years. And open space is very important in a tatoo design also.

Can you describe the feeling of getting some ink done to someone who never got tattooed?

Well, I think there’s two things about getting tattooed. The physical part of actually getting the ink into your skin, when a set of tiny needles puncture millions of holes into your body. It’s about enduring the pain, being hurt and the healing process afterwards. It’s a bit like excersising really hard. Your body hurts but you fight through the pain and afterwards you feel your sore muscles for some time but you’re super proud you made it!

And this is the second part the mental aspect of getting tattooed. It’s a huge commitment. It puts you on a rollercoaster of opposing emotions: fear and confidence, insecurity and pride. And if everything goes right and you had a good tattooing experience, the positive emotions win over the negative and you charge your personality with pride and self confidence.

What inspired you pick up the needle yourself?

Even though I wanted to tattoo for a very long time, I always hesitated to getting started because I thought (and still think) it’s a huge resposibility to mark someone else’s skin for life. Plus in the early 90s, when I was the age when you usually decide to go for a tattoo career, beeing a tatoo artist really wasn’t an option. But observing the tattoo business from a distance for years I saw so many shitty tattoos from poorly talented tattooers.

I knew I can do better than that and if I learned how to tattoo I’d be able to save some people from really bad tattoos and put something that works on their body. And if people consider it art, I well surpass my goal. So I went for it.

How did you find out about equipment and the tricks of the trade?

Well this was the hardest part. I made a first attempt to learn how to tattoo in 2004. All the tattoo suppliers in Germany wouldn’t sell to non-tattooers so I bought my first machine on a trip to the states and ordered all the other stuff  from an US online store. I paid a fortune for shipping and customs! When i finally got everything, I realized that the needles didn’t fit the tubes, the machine was running way too fast and tattoo education dvds were super expensive. So I threw everything in a box and forgot about it for the next 9 years.

At one point my wife Manou and my kids went away for a whole week on holiday so I decided to give tattooing another try. I started by researching YouTube and tattoo forums for 8 to 10 hours a day. I noticed that a lot had changed since I tried to learn tattooing for the first time! There was way more information than before and tattoo equipment had made a huge leap also. I absorbed every little bit I could get my hands on.

It was a weird mixture of leaked tattoo education videos, self taught tattooers (scratchers) and timelapse tattooing videos. There was a lot of wrong information too. So I took notes, compared and sorted the infos and made my own compendium. After that I threw away most of my old equipment, ordered new stuff from Italy and the UK and started practicing on fruit and pig ears for several months.

Was it hard to get started? Drawing on skin is a bit more permanent than on paper I guess… I assume it’s quite nerve wrecking to practice… 

Yeah, well I knew I wanted to practice on myself first. I didn’t want to mess up somebody else and deal with the guilt! And I wanted to learn so I considered this my investment. I came up with a design (or more like a framework) for my calf that allowed me to progress in tiny steps and have a lot of repetition cycles, to learn from my mistakes of the previous session and try something new in the next one. So rather than go for a whole design on the first attempt and messing up a whole bodypart! I knew you just can’t get everything right the first time.

By the time I tattooed myself for the first time, I was pretty confident from what I’ve learned from practicing on pig skin. I knew how to set up my station, how to hold the machine, all the moves from pushing the footpedal at the right time to wiping while holding the machine was already in my muscle memory, so how much harder can it be, I thought. Little did i know… but the insights I got from this way of learning were priceless. I always went by one rule: I never use a technique on someone that I haven’t successfully tested on myself!

Tattooing techniques, needle configurations or healing and aftercare methods, there’s so many things within tattooing that affect the process and/ or the result. I would recommend this even to experienced tattooers: Just because you once learned something from somebody it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do things! It’s such a big difference how different needles will affect the skin and you can’t unfortunately observe your clients healing process on a day to day basis. So why not try it on yourself first and see how it works?

So i’m still working on that initial tattoo, I consider it a playground or a lab where I test new needles, different inks and sometimes do something wrong on purpose just to see how bad it really is…

Is the tattoo scene open to newcomers or is it hard to get a foot on the ground? 

It felt very closed until a few years ago. Tattooers kept their trade a secret, suppliers wouldn’t sell to non-professionals and apprentices had to work for free or/ and pay to learn tattooing. It is still this way today for the most part, but the younger generation of tattooers is way more open. A lot of them are coming from an artistc background, they see fellow and new Tattooers more as an inspiration and subject for collaboration than competition or menace.

How would you describe your style? Being a designer I assume you have a quite miraculous approach to it… 

I always considered myself somebody who loves drawing. Thats how I got into university to study communications design and I ended up as a motion designer producing fully digital animations that live on a screen for a couple of seconds and might as well be forgotten a few seconds after.

So tattooing for me is a bit like going back to my roots but with all the skills and the knowledge I gained from working in the design industry. It merges my love for drawing with designing a rendition of an idea on skin. And as a designer I want to pick and choose the style that fits the subject and idea of the tattoo best. Of course I’m drawn to certain styles that are tested and true like in traditional Western and Japanese tattoos and folk art or woodcut or etching techniques to modern illustration, icons and logo design.

So I’m trying not to use one certain style for everything but try to develop a variety of styles to choose from for a certain subject. That being said, I’m sure some people would say I have a certain style – I’m trying not to… at least for now, who knows…

Hamburg had a lot of sailors. I assume there is quite a strong local tattoo tradition? 

It sure does have a strong tattoo history! I guess Herbert Hofmann was the most famous Tattooer from Hamburg, his old shop on the “Hamburger Berg” still exists to this day!

But there are others, not so well known artists like Christian Warlich. Hamburg art historian Ole Wittmann is working together with the Museum for History of Hamburg to unveil and protect the legacy of Warlich and other Tattooers that were a vital part of Hamburg.

Tattoos are getting quite fashionable now. Especially facial tattoos are not as frowned upon as they used to be. How do you feel about it? 

In my opinion the face is the most expressive part of the body. You can tell so much from a persons facial expression. If someones arms are covered with ink, it doesn’t really make a difference, if the face is covered, it does. So tiny tattoos are ok in my opinion, if it gets bigger it starts distracting me and interferes with the facial expressions. And I think its not for younger people, because you should really know what you’re doing. You can cover up a youthful mistake on your shoulder, in your face you can’t.

Any artists that inspire you?

Sure, but this would be an endless list starting from early stoneage cavepaintings and petroglyphs to streetart. But I want to point out Jeff Gogue (http://www.gogueart.com/).


Not only is he an increadibly talented tattoo artist and great personality but he shares his knowledge in courses and films also. “Tattoo as i see it” (https://vimeo.com/74232904) tought me a lot, not only about tattooing and visual art in general, but also about the personal growth and development as an artist. I watched it a couple of times and I always learn something new or remenber something I forgot about. I highly recommend this film to anyone creating visual art!

So if I would like to get a tattoo from you… how would we go on about it? 

Go to my website (http://www.monkid.de/) and fill in the email form or write directly to me via mail@monkid.de first. We’d meet for a consultation talking about all things concerning the tattoo and the process and make an appointment when we’d be actually be tattooing. Or if you live in Hamburg just swing by the shop! Every Monday I’m working at Fräulein Tinte’s cosy little Tattoo Shop (https://fraeulein-tinte.jimdo.com/) in Hamburg Eimsbüttel.

You tattoo under the name The Monkid… how did you come up with it?

I was born and raised in Munich. The name comes from monks that settled there first and the city uses a little kid in a black cowl (Münchner Kindl) as it’s symbol. It’s an image that you’ll find in various forms all around the city and that stuck with me since my early childhood.

So I merged monk and kid and came up with Monkid! I used it as my DJ name for a couple of years as well and when I started tattooing I thought I might as well just stick with it.

What are your plans this year regarding your art? 

Besides trying to make more time for tattooing and art in general and exploring new ways and techniques I’m currently working on an exhibition of my drawings and flash sheets. I have so many ideas for that so I’m super excited to see how this comes along!

Got any advice for someone who is about to get his/her first tattoo? 

Find someone you really trust and “surrender” to him or her – meaning take the advice, let them do their thing and have faith in them to create the best tattoo and experience possible for you.

Any shout outs? 

Thanks to the universe for steering me in the right direction and my family for bearing with me!

Solaris Interviews: Haniboi

I am always massivly inspired by creative people doing their thing. That’s why I loved living in London so much! 

Han Lee aka Haniboi always stuck out for me as he was very proficient translating his illustrations and ideas into fun products and prints. So it was really great catching up with him and gaining a little insight into his creative mind…

Hi Han! Please introduce yourself to the amazing readers of this blog… 

Hi amazing readers, my name is Haniboi, I’m an illustrator based in Taiwan! My main work is character design, and I recently created this new character called “Happy Crotch “.

The reason why I started this new character is very simple: I wanted to throw 3 of my favourite things ( drawing, music and sex ) into one pot and see what’s going to happen!

We know each other from our time at Central St Martins. What was the most important lesson you learned studying at such a well known university you think?

Don’t be afraid to try new things! With this attitude in mind I am always looking for new things to learn, and also to enjoy the progress doing it.

You were already using the name Haniboi when I met you, can you elaborate on how to got the name and what it means to you?

I am a childish guy and Han is a such short name! So my flatmate started to called me Haniboi. Personally I love the idea of staying a boy forever: Boys love to have fun, boys can play anywhere and boys are brave! Plus a boy has a simple mind which I really want to keep.

When we hung out in London you already started producing products alongside all the illustration work you did as well. The Haniboi Wallet Tape comes to mind. Was that your first official product?

I’ll say my first ‘official’ product was back when I was in high school and I started to make badges to sell. When I saw my friends loving and wearing my badges I fell in love with the idea of making my own things!

Can you tell us a bit about how you got your first products made?

The badges were an easy project even for a high school boy, I still remember I took my pencil sketch to the badge studio and look at them turned my work into computer. It was the coolest thing ever! I loved the clean line and color blocks! It still influences my style nowadays!

My first mass manufactured product was called Hanitape. It’s a cassette tape looking wallet. 

I started this as a project during my product design course at university. In that time I really wanted to figure out the whole process from designing a product to developing it and putting it on market. But no one could teach me that and college takes money and years to learn ‘design’! 

So I saved 1/4 of the college fee to use the money to made this product and see how long it takes to make this money back.

After that I just keep on learning and doing in the same time. It is not the best way of releasing a product because I made all the mistakes I could make! Lucky for me I had a good feedback from trade shows and order started to come in quickly.

It was a great experience and much cheaper than college!

I really liked the Rock Alphabet you did. Seems to me music has a big influence on your work…

“YES!!! Music is a huge influence” I have been saying it since… forever! At one point I was really tired of myself saying I love music so much without creating my own. It is like to say you love basketball but you never play ball and only watch the NBA on TV!

I really felt like something was missing. So, 2 years ago I started to make my own music. Today’s technology helps you making beats so easily and fast… I couldn’t find any excuse not doing it! 

  via Typefoundry
via Typefoundry

You have quite a couple of tracks now on your own Soundcloud account. Do you see your music as an extension of your design practise or is it an additional thing you do for fun?

At a moment it’s for fun and practice, because it takes time to learn. But I have this plan to make sex music for my character Happy Crotch! I’ll like to do an whole album full of sex tracks: From how you touch yourself to old school candle red wine strawberry sex etc.! To use music to tell that story would be a fun project, so just wait for it… 

  via Flipermag.com
via Flipermag.com

We both graduated awhile ago. Any advice you want to give any budding illustrator out there who is just about to leave university?

I can’t give any advice sorry, everything is changing so fast! I don’t even think you should go to university to learn “design” now! To have a big number of followers of your work online is much more important than a diploma or C.V.

In fact… personally I always ask for advice from much younger people that I meet, so… need to pass!

You did quite a couple of screen prints which got sold via known galleries like Nelly Duff. Tell us a little bit about that.

I used to spend a lot of time in London Print Club to make my own prints when I living in London, I love the color in screen print! It suits my style very much. Nelly Duff is a great gallery, I had a nice time working with them.

I wish there would be a screen print studio in Taiwan too!

You moved back to Taiwan after working in London for some time. Was it hard to settle back in? I can imagine the design scene in Taiwan is quite different from London…

The hardest part is you understand them but you don’t agree with them! They like your idea but will not go for it. People are afraid of change, that’s what worries me!

Let’s talk a little bit about the UPUP app you developed. You ended up creating plastic character toys for that as well. Tell us a bit how it all happened.

Dude… it is a long story… here is a short version of it…

UPUP started as my own side project. I put the website online and after 2 days it went viral! After that I started to get a lot of interest for UPUP and we started to license the characters. There are so many stories in between, because the whole process took about 3 years!


You even collaborated with UNIQLO at that point. How do you manage a project once it goes this big? I assume there might have been a lot of legal stuff you needed to sort out?

In Taiwan is once your name is up their people would line up to work with you. The legal stuff is not the problem, my agent took care of it. The big problem is they always asking for the same thing! When working with big companies it’s hard to ask them to listen to you. There would be advertising and PR company in between, so is hard to communicate. I need more experience of working with big company for sure.

Your most recent project is HappyCrotch which is a cute character which is basically… a crotch! How the hell did you come up (no pun intended) with that one?

One thing I love about Happy Crotch is that the name sounds so wrong but yet so funny! 

The reason I created this character is very simple: my crotch isn’t happy! 

I didn’t have sex for a very long time and when I ask my friends for advice just found out that no one’s crotch is happy. We are all living in a fake world full of sexual content to excite our crotch but no one is truly happy with it! I found it very interesting because there can never be just one answer to this issue, because everyone has a different kind of ‘happy’. So Happy Crotch is my way of finding my own answer…

Did you get any flack for creating a toy that talks about masturbation and sexuality this openly?

Not yet… it is still a new character, people still don’t know about it. But I am looking forward to it! I like to hear about different points of view and see some angry people!

At a moment the work I do for Happy Crotch is still very safe, I need to spice it up more! Still working on it…

The packaging and the figures ( there are three colourways now ) look very slick. How did you get them produced?

I worked together with a HK figure studio called “Unbox “ and they are very professional.  Thanks to them my crotch came out very smooth and shiny!

Are you collecting toys? How do you feel about the current character design / urban vinyl scene?

In fact… I don’t collect anything at a moment. It takes too much time and money! I think we are in the best and the worst time of character design, or creation in general. Everyone has a social media account and can be an artist, this is the best thing ever! So many people are doing exciting works, and people can find them on their phone! However, we don’t get excited any more, we can find anything in no time! 

I remember when I was young and saw some new Japanese figures in the toy store: I needed to find out their story myself through hard work! I had to ask around friends, spend time to collect all the information and merchandise. Nowadays an artist has to put out works daily for people to like, it is totally another way around now! Things are very accessible.

I love both, it’s just up to you how you see the scene.

Most designers and illustrators dream about creating their own prints or toys. Is it hard to make your money back once the production cycle is done? Can you give some advice how to approach creating and selling your own products?

Oh, no… I can’t give advice again… but I’ll like to share a lesson I just learned: Spend times on the category you want to do before you started your own project!

 via ecurator2013.blogspot.de
via ecurator2013.blogspot.de

If you want to make a toy, spend time on learning how to make it: Ask people who know, follow their fan page, like their photo, get to know more people who are in the scene. Go and meet them face to face! 

In the process you will learn new skills and be able to tell people what you working on. You will build up your own network! Not a media one, a real one with people who will sort things out for you and help you to spread the word! This way you are making friends, creating work and do marketing in the same time. It sounds easy to do, but it takes time! Years maybe, but it feels much more solid.

What can we expect from Haniboi in the future?

I am working on the first music video for Happy Crotch, it is coming soon! 

Any final words of wisdom?

Be honest with your crotch.

 

http://happycrotch.com

https://www.behance.net/Haniboi

https://www.nellyduff.com/artists/haniboi

 

 

Back to the Future: 8-Bit Zombie

People reading this blog should know that I do love my bootleg toys. With mainstream toy companies pumping out merchandise left, right and centre I feel the bootleg / mashup scene still keeps it’s appeal with their limited edition runs, hand finished products and fun references to vintage geekery.

I don’t recall how I came across 8bit Zombie, but I am sure it must have been because I spotted the mighty Thrashor on one of the toy blogs I was frequenting. A skateboarding undead Masters of the Universe toy? Hell yes!

Plus his designs referenced all my favorite toys from the past, mixing skateboard graphics with vintage toy branding. Your Graphic Design career might have been influenced by adoring Dieter Rams, mine was by drooling over the typo and illustrations of GI Joe, MASK and Masters of the Universe toy packaging!

So from then on I stayed a loyal fan and especially loved the great patches and trucker hats with the printed brims. Plus all the goodies 8bz puts into each package he sends out like sweets, stickers and vintage trading cards shows how much this dude loves what he is doing!

I find such self initiated enterprises super inspiring, so it was time to have a little cross-atlantic chit chat with Mr 8bz himself…

Hey! Thanks for doing this interview!

8bz is still shrouded for me in mystery: Can you give some background to how the 8bz empire was created?

A little mystery is always a good thing! Long story short, I started my own screen printing biz about 8 or 9 years ago. The plan was to learn the ropes until I got good enough at printing tees to start selling my own designs on the side. And that’s pretty much how things went.

I knew right off the bat that 80’s pop-culture would be the theme I ran with for my brand. I’ve been obsessed with the 80’s my entire life, so it was a no brainer for me. Luckily, the brand started doing well enough that I was able to focus solely on that. Screen printing was a great experience but I’ve left that behind for the most part so I can give 8BZ my full attention. I feel super lucky to be where I am today and to have the most amazing fans that support what I do.

Can you talk a little about your approach and the first pieces you created?

My approach to most things is pretty simple. I’ve never had a problem with coming up with ideas for things, my brain is ALWAYS going. Although I wasn’t blessed with talent to bring my ideas to life, I’ve always been a very creative person. Many of the concepts I come up with are true “light bulb” moments. But I also spend a good deal of time hammering away at ideas in my head. As previously mentioned, nostalgia is my passion. So there’s no shortage of inspiration there. So for the most part my creative process is exploring subjects and themes I love, while also trying to put my own spin on them.

The very first pieces I created under the “8-bit ZOMBIE” name were hats. Printing under the brim got me a lot of attention in the beginning and was a great way to get my name out there and my foot in the door. I actually did do the art for the first hats myself. It was fun and very satisfying to truly create products, from start to finish, entirely by myself. But I learned fairly quickly that hiring people far more talented than myself, was going to be the way to go.

Making your ideas into product is not easy. What were the challenges you faced starting out?

I’d say one of the hardest things to figure out in the beginning was how to stick to a budget. Especially when you don’t have a way to move merch very quickly. The cost of producing products adds up FAST. It’s really easy for me to get excited about something and just dump a ton of money into a project without thinking about how long it’s going to take me to make that money back. (This is STILL a problem for me, haha) But some of that is almost a necessity.

If you aren’t giving it your all and making the best possible stuff you can make, people aren’t going to take notice of what you’re doing. So, starting out, you kinda have to pay your dues and have to be willing to take hits on stuff until you really get your name out there. It’s not easy to put everything you have into a release, only to see lack-luster sales. It can be a really hard pill to swallow. But sticking with it and riding out the hard times is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

You have quite a wide range of pieces, from pins to shirts to toys: How do you come up with product ideas?

As mentioned, I’ve never had a problem coming up with ideas. The cogs in my brain are always turning. It’s one of those “blessing and a curse” type of deals. But in this line of work, it’s most definitely a big advantage. I’ve got more ideas than I can ever possibly use. And I often find the hardest thing for me is deciding which ideas to run with and which ones to leave on the shelf. (Not saying that all of my ideas are good ones, haha.)

I also rely a lot on the insights and opinions of my artist buds. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with some unbelievably talented people, who share the same passions that I do. Brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of them is one of my favorite things.

The artwork and packaging is always so crisp and on point: Are you working with designers or is it all you?

Thank you! For the most part, I reply on my designers to create stuff for me. But I will sometimes work on packaging elements myself. And it’s often a collaboration as well. I can’t illustrate but I’ve been using photoshop for years and years. I do most of the graphic design work for the brand myself. And leave the illustrative work to the pros. I have an almost obsessive eye for detail, so package parodies and stuff like that are always fun projects for me. Recreating vintage packages or ads is always a blast and gives me a little creative outlet.

 

 

I am sure you are quite a collector yourself: What rocks your boat?

I collect all things 80’s. Everything and anything. I’m drawn to stuff with big, bold graphics & illustrations. Lunchboxes, TV trays, promotional material, etc. I can’t get enough of that stuff. But I’d say my biggest loves are Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Real Ghostbusters, Mr. T, etc. My toy collection consists mainly of those things. I also collect NES games. Nintendo games were one of my first passions and were the first things I began to really collect. (Hence the “8-bit” in “8-bit Zombie”)

What do you think about the current indie toy / mashup scene. Are you guys connected or is everyone just doing their own thing?

I think, for the most part, it’s great. There’s some really amazing indie toys out there. I don’t really keep a close eye on most of it, or travel in any of those circles. But there are people out there making better toys than the big toy companies. It’s pretty amazing. What was once the domain of only the biggest companies in the world, is now being opened up to anyone with the creativity and determination give it a go. I won’t say I’m a big fan of a lot of the “Frankensteining” of figures that goes on in the “bootleg” toy scene.

Cutting the head off of one toy and gluing it onto another isn’t the most creative thing in the world. But there are some really amazing and creative mash-ups being made too. As with most things, it’s easy to tell the difference between the people who put thought, love and care into projects and those who don’t.

What do you think is generally the appeal of 80-90ties franchises compared to the toys we have today?

To me, it’s easy to see that toys of the past are vastly superior to toys today. The artwork, packaging and design of toy lines from the 80’s & 90’s were a thing of beauty. Over-the-top characters. Big, bold, bright packaging. And toy designs that were creative and FUN. All of it catered directly to kids and just oozed imagination and excitement. Compare that with toys on shelves today that are dull and generic looking. Package art that is muddy, uninspired and just plain boring. A good place to really see that contrast is the original TMNT line compared to the current cartoon & movie lines. The original toys were out of control on every level.

Just amazing. The new lines range from mediocre to painfully bad. Sculpts are hit & miss but often just “blah.” The worst part for me is the paint apps. (Or lack thereof) Often so bland and boring. It’s easy to see all the corners that were cut during production. But I think it all probably has to due with the fact that not as many kids play with action figures today.

Toys were IT back in the day. Every kid HAD to have them and it was BIG business. Today, kids attention is split between so many forms of entertainment. I’m sure toys don’t make anywhere near as much money as they used to. But, all that being said, I am seeing a resurgence of better toys lately. I don’t think we’ll ever see those glory days come back but I think companies are realizing that making better toys means making more money.

Any thoughts on the recent movie remakes?

For the most part, I‘m not into remakes, reboots, etc. Most of them are utter garbage and obvious cash-grabs. If the tone, spirit and love isn’t there, it’s just an insult to the original source material and the fans. Not saying there haven’t been any good remakes but it seems like the good ones are few and far between. I’d much rather see movie studios create original content, movies that will be this generations classics, rather than thoughtlessly rehash past classics just to earn a quick buck.

I am amazed they are still new MOTU pieces coming out, with Mattel remaking the whole toy line for the mature collector. What are your thoughts on that. Digging the new pieces or vintage all the way?

Totally love that Mattel is still making MOTU toys! I know there are people who are very critical of the line. But you can’t say that Mattel doesn’t know the worth of their property and isn’t trying hard to please fans. I think they’ve done a great job of paying tribute to the past, while updating and putting a fresh spin on everything. A fine example of how toys should be made and how a toy line should be kept alive.

I’m generally a vintage toy guy and can’t see myself seriously collecting new lines but I do have a He-Man and several of the Skeletors. There will always be a place on my shelves for new versions of those two.

I love the printed brims on the trucker hats. How did you come up with that?

Thanks again! Back when I first started screen printing I had seen some hats with printed brims. My first thoughts was “That’s awesome!” My second thought was “I can do that!” So I tried it out and became pretty obsessed with perfecting the technique. Took a few weeks (Or maybe it was months, hah) but I finally got it down to a science.

They are now the only 8BZ item that I still print myself. I used to do elaborate, multi-color prints but I keep things simple these days. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to printing that I used to. So now it’s just bold, one color prints. And I think that’s the better way to go anyway.

We need to talk Thrashor! Now from the idea, the sculpt all the way to the packaging, this bad boy is killer. Can you talk us through how he came into existence?

Much like a real 80’s character, Thrashor has a pretty interesting, and somewhat strange origin story. It all started with the idea to do a MOTU themed tee. As mentioned, He-Man, Skeletor and the whole MOTU universe is one of my huge loves. But for this project, I wanted to create an original character. And the initial idea was to do a tee design of just an action figure. I took that idea to one of my best artist buds, Matt Skiff. He was just as excited about it as I was. So we started tossing ideas around. A punk/skater vibe was something we were both really excited to play with and that seemed to work really well within the MOTU theme.

But as I researched existing MOTU toys & characters, I realized just how much I loved the packaging too. That’s when I got the idea to incorporate the packaging into the actual tee design. Matt was on board and things took off. The design was a hit and would start us on the path to a whole series of “toy package parody” tees. Matt and I often joked about making Thrashor into a real toy but little did either of us know that in the near future, that very thing would happen!

I was lucky enough to get in touch with the fine folks at Shinbone Creative and they guided Thrashor from a 2D tee design into a real life, 3D toy. It’s one of my favorite 8BZ projects ever and remains one of the things I am most proud of. Being an 80’s kid and an 80’s toy collector, creating my very own action figure was definitely a dream come true.

Will Trashor get buddies in the foreseeable future?

The initial plan was to do that very thing. Seeing as I had a catalog of existing 80’s toy parody characters already built, it seemed like a no-brainer. Little did I know just how time consuming and costly making toys would end up being. Looking back, Thrashor almost feels like a fluke. So many stars aligned at just the right time for that toy to happen. And while it was an absolutely amazing experience, I don’t think I’d say it was a smash success. I’m not sure I have the audience to be able to produce and sell toys regularly.

People loved Thrashor but I don’t think they loved the price tag all that much, haha. Which is understandable. It’s just such a costly thing to get into. But I’m hoping the brand continues to grow in ways that will allow me to return to toys in the future. I’ll never give up on making toys. It’s my favorite thing ever.

 

A lot of people dream doing their own thing but never get going. Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Find your niche and make sure it’s something you are passionate about. I think that’s the biggest key. People start “clothing lines” based on trends or vague ideas. And those are the brands that fold like a house of cards once said trend is no longer cool.  Have a solid idea of what your brand is all about and make sure it’s something unique, and that you love. If you build your brand on a foundation of themes that you are passionate about, everything else will be so much easier. Apart from that, just do it. That’s the hardest part. There will never be a perfect time to start something. You just have to jump in with both feet and go for it. No risk, no reward.

Did you actually finish any NES games using the power glove?

Nope! I didn’t even have one as a kid. And let’s face it, the Power Glove wasn’t the amazing controller it was advertised as. It looks totally rad and was the precursor to a lot of the technology we have today. But it was a lousy controller. I beat all my games with the standard NES game pad. Which, if you think about it, was actually probably the most influential controller ever made. Current video game systems still use that basic layout. (Albeit much more ergonomically designed, haha)

What can we expect from 8bz in the future?

Lots more rad stuff! Plenty of new shirts, more of the off-the-wall accessories you’ve come to expect (And hopefully some you won’t expect!) and I’m crossing my fingers on new toy projects. I’m currently working on my Halloween release and it’s shaping up to be a doozy! Keep your peepers peeled for that. Really excited!

Any shout outs?

Massive thank you to the artists that make my brand so rad and to all the people who support what I do!

Thanks for the interview!

Bonus round:

8bz’s 5 essential weird 80/90 pieces everybody should check out:

1. The Wizard – 1989

Pretty much 8BZ in a nutshell. The absolute height of the Nintendo craze captured on film.

The MOTU Slime Pit – 1987

Masters of the Universe, skulls, slime, what else could you ask for?

  via Strangekidsclub
via Strangekidsclub

The Real Ghostbusters 1986 – 1991

Everyone knows this cartoon but not as many seem to remember how many genuinely creepy characters and moments the series has. A must watch.

My Pet Monster – 1986

A giant, plush, multi-colored monster with bright orange shackles. It’s even more over-the-top than it sounds. One of the craziest and raddest toys of the 80’s.

Goonies II – 1987

One of my favorite 80’s movies, on my favorite 80’s video game system. Win-win! It even features an 8-bit cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough.” That alone is worth the price of admission. A total nostalgia overload.

 

Check out all the 8 Bit Zombie radness here: http://8bitzombie.bigcartel.com/

For some Instagram awesomeness visit https://www.instagram.com/8bz

Gamma Proforma: Audio Futurism

London has been home to many legendary labels: MoWax, Ninja Tune and Warp just to name a few. But apart from the heavy hitters many small independent labels keep pushing the envelope too. One of these labels is Gamma Proforma. Mixing art, design and music Gamma Proforma can be seen as a continuation of labels like MoWax where the design of the record sleeve is as important as the beats pressed on wax. With their 15th anniversary last year it’s about time to catch up with Rob Swain, creative director and label owner of Gamma Proforma, to shed a little light on the story so far. 

Hi Rob! Happy 15th anniversary! Tell me a little about yourself and the birth of the label. 

Things evolved from a group of artists and musicians (wasters), originally in Edinburgh where I lived at the time. There was never much of a master plan, we made music, art, ran events, it made sense to give it a difficult to say name and develop it. I’m an annoying, opinionated bloke who has ideas above his station.

You are the curator of the Gamma output: Picking artists, releasing albums and designing the art books. How do you manage to wear so many hats at the same time? I guess you are not getting a lot of sleep…

As with all things you enjoy, it’s never really work. Projects develop at their own pace, there are always a lot of creative hands in the mix. It’s not like we’re rushing around, pushing all the time. It happens in a more laid back, bit by bit way. Deadlines come and go, but we always get there in the end.

I guess the learning curve was pretty steep or did you have previous publishing experience before launching the label?

I’d previously ran a label, been in bands and had a shop, when Gamma kicked off it was more about doing things right, based on all the things i’d previously done wrong.

Gamma Proforma is quite a strange name, can you explain a little the meaning behind it?

Gamma represents 3 (Third letter in Greek Alphabet), it’s the 3 elements of what we do, Art, Music & Design. Proforma is a word i’ve always liked, it means ‘for forms sake’, in a working relationship, about being upfront and direct, the wordplay on ‘forms sake’ also appealed to me. It was 2000, that was the only domain name we could get.

The artist roster of the label is pretty impressive: You work together with some of the biggest names of the urban art scene like Will Barras, sheOne, Phil Ashcroft, Delta etc. How do you approach artists you like to work with?

A lot of the time we’ve met and discussed an idea, you meet one artist, then another. Most of the work happens in the pub, now and then if there’s someone who’s a good fit for a project or who has done something that’s impressed me, i’ll do what anyone would do, drop them a message or give them a call, send them some expensive biscuits.

Let’s talk Rammellzee: You dedicated a whole art project to him and curated an exhibition at Magda Danysz gallery in London. What does Rammellzee mean to you?

There aren’t many people from hip-hop’s inception who achieved what Rammellzee achieved in his short life, he was a legendary MC, inspiring the likes of the Beastie Boys. His art was ahead of it’s time, like Futura he moved beyond letter-forms before most of the world even knew what writing (graffiti) was. He created a complex world of characters and mythology, building costumes and sculptures from garbage, all backed up by a movement on his theories on control through written language, Gothic Futurism.

Can you name anyone who’s even achieved half of that? He’s Hip Hop’s Sun Ra, a cult figure who’s influence has yet to be fully realised.

You had Futura contributing a canvas for the Rammellzee show that was used for one of the 12″ releases as well. That must have been pretty special regarding his legendary status! Can you talk a little bit more about how that collaboration came about?

The Rammellzee project, Cosmic Flush, was about celebrating the life of a legend. When you’re talking Rammellzee, you can’t throw many names alongside his. Futura was a contemporary and friend of Ramm’s, he dubbed Futura ‘The Master Mapper’. It was fitting to have him involved, he’s part of the same story. Ian Kuali’i, who worked tirelessly alongside me on the project hooked up with Futura and made it happen, he was a gent throughout.


You are coming from a Graphic Design background, can you tell me a little bit about your sources of inspiration? Futurism seems to play quite a big role…

I’ve been into Design since I was a kid, the only thing I ever liked about Star Wars was the design, the story is generally rubbish. My thing, for the most part is modern art, Futurism is a fairly loose term. It’s constantly evolving, as we can never really live in the future, it’s always just ahead of us, and as such, each generations view of it is different.

As a child of the 70’s/80’s i’ll always be drawn to the Futuristic vision of my youth, the Delorean DMC 12 was built in the city i grew up in, vector graphics were new, computers were in their infancy.

I draw a lot on the period from my formative years, as it was a time when the tools were just getting exciting, but you really needed to be creative to achieve anything with them as they were still quite limited in what they could achieve. I subscribe to the ‘less is more’ philosophy, it’s healthy to be restricted, you’re forced to approach things differently.

For the Rewire project you had electronic artists like Cristian Vogel, Divine Styler, Luke Vibert and Andrea Parker contribute music… was it hard to get them all onboard?

I worked on that with Andrea Parker, Vogel and Vibert came from her relationships. Divine Styler is a solid member of the Gamma team, he embodies a lot of what we’re about. On the project in general, if you have a good idea and treat people with respect, in most cases they are happy to be involved. I have no desire to persuade people to do things they have no interest in, it’s worthless unless they actually want to be a part of it.

Running such a varied operation like GP must involve a lot of paperwork as well. With so many different artists involved, is it hard to sort out all royalties and rights and legal stuff?

Not really, most of the music we promote is available for free, we have very little paperwork, if a contract is required it’s usually very simple. We aren’t interested in tying people down or enforcing restrictions, for the most part, that’s what contracts do. A lot of the time we just shake hands and get to work.

With Banksy being at an all time high hype-wise and people like RnB singer Chris Brown trying his hand at street art, how do you feel about the urban art scene at the moment?

I don’t really pay any attention, I don’t even know who one of those guys is. It’s interesting how these generic labels bundle people together, I get why they are necessary, humans need labels to describe things, but just saying Urban Art or Street Art doesn’t really say much other than, someone painted something in the city, or here’s where the cool kids hang out. I’m not actually interested in these groups across the board, it’s like saying I like ‘Canvas Art’, I’m interested in art and artists, great painters, people of vision. 

Getting back to your question, at present we live in a very noisy world, in the 90’s you’d be hard pushed to meet anyone who called themselves an ‘artist’, these days I hear it daily. It’s like the Xmas pressie went from guitars to turntables to paint, in some respects it’s great that so many people are pushing their creativity, a lot are just having fun, i’d say 5% have something to say. Gamma isn’t part of the scene, we get lumped in as a generalisation in the same way people throw independent record labels in the same pot.

GP pushes a lot of experimental music. Any artists not on GP you are currently excited about?

I find it quite difficult to find new music these days, I spent a few hours going through new releases on Bleep the other day, nothing jumped out. ‘Current’ artists that I have playing in the office today are Bad Bad Not Good, Dead Rider, Juice Aleem, Mr Len, Beak, Clint Mansell…

You are releasing a book about the legendary UK designer and artist Swifty soon. How did this come about?

After a few beers, a lot of the time it’s a case of ‘why has this not happened already?’ There’s no denying Swifty’s credentials as a leading figure in Graphic Design, his record sleeves alone could fill two books. It’s a real honour to be working with him, people like Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle owe him a lot, I personally bought their early records because of Swifty’s sleeve art, it was a seal of approval.

Images via https://swifty.co.uk/

Vinyl is back with a vengeance but smaller labels complain about big labels blocking the pressing plants with their mainstream releases. Did you guys have an issues with that? What are your thoughts?

What you say is true, there’s a rich fat bloke with a big arse and he’s hogging all the room with his RSD fodder. Until he fucks off we’ll all have to just wait in line.

You did what many designers dream of: Run your own show. Any advice for any striving art entrepreneurs?

Have a back up plan or side job. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, financial security is not on the horizon. If you’re the sort of person who strikes out on your own or makes things happen you don’t need advice, you’ll do it no matter what people tell you. It’s like design, you can’t really teach it, it’s who you are.

Any final shout outs and announcements?

A massive shout out to you Solaris, and the other 12 guys that buy our stuff!

Gamma Proforma is hosting a night at The Social on 22.4.2016. Don’t miss it!  More info here

Check out Gamma Proforma online: http://www.gammaproforma.com/

Swifty Typografix: https://swifty.co.uk/

Thanks to DJ Food for addtional images: http://www.djfood.org/

Interview: Martha Cooper

 Image by Christian San Martin
Image by Christian San Martin

Martha Cooper needs no introduction: Snapping New York street scenes since the 70ties, she released together with fellow photographer Henry Chalfant the legendary book “Subway Art” in 1984 in which they documented the early Graffiti scene in New York in the late 70s and early 80s. The book became THE definitive photo book / bible about Graffiti and it had especially a big impact over the pond, showing Writers and B-Boys and B-Girls in Europe how the whole culture started.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Martha Cooper is now travelling the world feeding her Instagram account @marthacoopergram documenting art from Tahiti to Berlin. Going “All Globe” indeed!

When Stolenspace hosted her ‘LIFE WORK’ exhibition I jumped at the chance to have a chat with the photographer who documented so many of Graffiti’s iconic visuals.

The book “Subway Art” you did together with Henry Chalfant was for many people the first introduction to the graffiti scene. How did you guys get together? 

We actually met through Graffiti writers. I had heard somebody else was taking pictures and he had heard about me and eventually the writers introduced us. We each sort of wanted to do our own books but at the time it was very hard to publish books so we thought there can only be ONE book about Graffiti and we better do it together!

At that point did you snap pictures on your own?

We always worked totally separately, in fact there was a little bit of competition. I’d hear he had gotten pictures of a particular train and I had missed that train or I wanted to get that train. So I think we drove each other to keep going out and getting these photos.

And our pictures are completely different: He isolated the trains from the background and I made sure the trains had context of the city in the back.

 Trains by Henry Chalfant via Nelly Duff
Trains by Henry Chalfant via Nelly Duff

Was that very important to you?

Yes, very important! I am basically a journalist, for me it was more about the art running through these desolate backgrounds than it was just about the art. But Henry was more of an artist and he wanted to highlight the art. Henry took pictures from the platform and I took pictures from vacant lots. He took them in sequence and glued them together. (It was a) totally different approach which is one reason why the book worked well because it covered both the art and the context.   

So what first got you into taking pictures of Graffiti, what caught your eye?

I was doing a personal project about kids playing creatively on the Lower Eastside. One boy showed me his notebook and explained he was practising to write his name on a wall. He told me he could introduce me to a “King”. That “King” turned out to be Dondi and I became fascinated with Graffiti.

Can you still remember the first picture you took?

Well, that was really the first picture I took of this boy holding up this book. Because until that time I really was not interested in Graffiti, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t understand it was names. It just seemed like some unintelligible letters, it didn’t mean anything.

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

The kind of Graffiti I would have been used to would have been political Graffiti with some kind of “Anti this” or “Pro that” statements. I moved to New York in ’75 so I am not a native New Yorker.

Maybe that gave you the special eye that native New Yorkers didn’t have?

Yeah certainly I was struck by the Graffiti, I wasn’t there when it sort of began. It took me from ’75 to say ’78 to start photographing it.

You mentioned in another interview that your first black book contains not only drawings by Futura and Dondi but by Keith Haring and Basquiat as well. What were your thoughts about Graffiti crossing over to galleries?

You know I wasn’t as interested in fine artists and I wish I had been a little more interested. Had I been I’d probably be a rich person now because it would have collected some of that work! My thoughts? I was happy to see artists making money from their work, I thought it was interesting that when Graffiti art started to go into the galleries but I was much more interested in the culture as it was when they were illegally writing for each other. The aesthetics of that, how they understood what they were doing and why they were doing it… for me that was sort of a puzzle to figure out.

So the gallery thing was kind of extra. But I did continue to follow it.

Do you know how the local scene reacted to Haring and Basquiat? 

The scene meaning the writers themselves? I mean there is a picture right there of Haring, my picture, it’s in the show. There was a lot of overlapping and I give Keith Haring a lot of credit for embracing the scene, I mean he worked with Graffiti writers himself. Perhaps there was some suspicion about fine artists joining the scene but I think most of the Writers, and they called themselves “Writers” as opposed to “Artists”, were happy to be noticed by other artists.

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

You snapped iconic pictures of writers in the process of leaving their mark, I am thinking that image of Dondi between the trains for example. Did you ever got asked by the police to hand over pictures for evidence? 

No, I never was! Other people where, but I wasn’t. I think it was just luck but I always felt that being… I had a press pass, I was a news photographer at the time, I worked for the New York Post. I was always hoping that my press pass would protect me.

Did any writers had issues of being snapped on camera with their face visible? They look very natural in the book, posing and smiling.

I don’t think the cops ever came after Writers because of the book. Luckily! Because I don’t know exactly what we would have done had they done that… I would have felt responsible. But I don’t think they did. 

I can image NYC not being the safest of areas, especially the dark places preferred by writers. Did you ever have concerns about your safety?

I had some concerns but I was working for the New York Post and they were sending me on all kinds of assignments to all of these same areas. They were asking me to cover things like drug busts on the lower Eastside, so to me it was sort of part of what I did. I wasn’t overly concerned… I was a little concerned. (chuckles)

When you first started out, what equipment did you use? 

I always used Nikons. Nikon has never supported me… ( laughs ) I still have a lot of my old lenses, but now I am all digital of cause. So I had an Nikon F. I had good equipment!

I guess as a journalist you were already well equipped…

When I worked for the Post they would actually provide the equipment, but I had my own equipment and it was high level, whatever professional photographers were using at the time because I would do all kinds of other assignments too. 

When you first started getting into it, how was the feedback of your friends and family. Did they get what you were doing?

Most people did not get what I was doing. At the time I was married to an Anthropologist, so in fact he DID get what I was doing. I remember having arguments with people because they felt assaulted by the Graffiti. So the fact that I was supporting Graffiti did not sit well with some people.

Pictures by Christian San Martin

So when the book came out, what was the response?

Uh oh… who can remember… (chuckles).. remember that was ’84!  You are asking to go back a long time!

I would say it was a tepid response. First of all when the first edition came all of the covers fell off. They did not do a good job of gluing . It was printed in Japan but published in England by Thames & Hudson. It was a much anticipated first edition that was supposed to come out for Christmas. And the books arrived and the covers where glued on the spine but not sewn and all the covers fell off! I still have a few of those which was an incredible disappointment. So we couldn’t launch the book and we had to trash that edition and they printed again.

All the covers of the second edition ALSO fell out of the second printing but they lasted a little bit longer. I guess it wasn’t a very good way of binding a book. The first edition is small and paperback, smaller than this ( points at my copy of Subway Art )… my guess is this binding is better ( laughs ). It all peeled off.

 image via  Arrested Motion
image via Arrested Motion

Was it hard to get it published?

Yeah it was very hard to get it published! We had about twenty rejections from American publishers… we kept getting introduced to publishers like Abrahams and Rizzoli. We had a weird made up mock up, because we felt like we couldn’t just describe it we had to show them. 

It was quite a large mock up that we in fact wheeled around, we had a special case made for it. Henry still has it in his studio. We would get initial positive reaction from some editor who would get exited about it but then when he would take it to their editorial meetings they all shoot it down.

So, there had been one previous book, that Jon Naar had done, a photographer with Norman Mailer called “The Faith of Graffiti” and I guess that had not done well so people kept referring (to that book) “Oh well… nobody’s interested in that!” His pictures were good but the trains weren’t as developed when he was shooting and they weren’t as… the Wildstyle and everything… they were much more primitive. An interesting book, hard to get now!

 image by Jon Naar
image by Jon Naar

So… we decided to take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair. We paid ourselves, bought the tickets, flew to Germany and wheeled it around the Frankfurt Book Fair and found Thames & Hudson. That was lucky!

We were very aggressive in the marketing and weathered many many rejections and actually wound up spending quite a bit of money to go to Germany and then to England for the launch of the book.

So basically it was produced in Europe and re-imported to America!

Yeah it was and the bad thing about that was that we had a terrible contract because the American sales were considered foreign rights.

Nobody expected it to sell so many copies… the original edition sold around half a million copies which is probably the best selling art book in the history of the world. Nobody thought it would gonna sell well, the initial print run was 5000 and our contract didn’t have a clause that said: Well, if it sells more than 5000 you are getting better royalties… and the American edition was considered a foreign edition so the royalties were like a penny per book each which is ridiculously low.

So, we did not get rich!

So when did you realize you were onto something?

I basically gave up on Graffiti after the book was published. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere and I needed to keep my career on track and I began doing all kinds of other assignments. It wasn’t until around 2002 or something that somebody contacted me from Germany and wanted to put together a book of my old photos that turned into a book called “The Hip Hop Files” and I sort of jumped back into the scene. They brought me to Europe and when that book launched we went to something like 20 cities in something like 20 days on a kinda whirlwind tour and then I really saw the effect. Up until then I didn’t really understand.

  via Flickr
via Flickr

When was that?

That book came out in 2004, so, from ’84 till 2004 there was not a lot of action! One other thing was that in the United States they kept the book behind the counter under lock and key because kids stole it and so when you went to a book store you had to actually ask to see it! So of cause kids were not really buying it and it wasn’t really on display… we got royalties but we didn’t get much!

When I first visited NYC I expected it crazy covered in Graffiti, but of cause there has been a crackdown on it. How do you feel about the scene today?

I am not drawn to going out and shooting the way I used to be and, in fact, I am originally from Baltimore. I decided I did want to do more street photography and I decided I wanted to do it in Baltimore. I actually bought a little house in the neighbourhood of The Wire and even though I live in New York I have been going back and forth.

That project is pretty much finished. Because New York seemed kinda squeaky clean and not as interesting to me although probably there are pockets of good street photography subjects but remember: Everybody has a camera now! The only reason we are still talking about this is that there were so few people with cameras who were documenting (back then).

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

Today everybody is taking pictures and street art photographers are a dime a dozen, there are so many of them. I don’t want to be just another street art photographer.

You are exhibiting in a Street Art gallery. There always has been a bit of tension between Writers and Street Artists. At the same time I feel Street Art is a bit of an extension to Graffiti in it’s own right, so how do you feel about that?

You know I am giving a talk tomorrow right? A large part of the talk talks about the difference what I consider Street Art and Graffiti. With Graffiti basically being lettering and Street Art basically being images. But there is a huge cross over! Many Street Artists tell me that they began by doing letter Graffiti and they are very good at lettering. 

I flew here from Bangkok for example and Nychos, who I consider one of the most amazing spraycan artists out there, went out there almost every night bombing and writing his name. So there’s not a hard line between the two. There is tension. And probably the tension has to do with Graffiti Writers feeling that Street Artists have appropriated their culture and they are making a lot more money from it. Why they getting the fame when the Graffiti Writers are the ones that started it?

How do I feel about it? I am sort of just interested in following it, I don’t really have feelings about it. The whole thing is very interesting to me, I want to see where it’s going. It keeps going and going and going. Just when I think can’t get any bigger it goes further. I don’t think there is a country in the world that doesn’t have Graffiti. Last year I went to this Tahiti Graffiti (event) as a judge, it’s call ONO’U. It was a contest, I was a judge and these were Graffiti Writers. Now they had also Street Artists painting some walls but the contest was for hardcore Graffiti. And it was sponsored by the Tourism Board!

Would you expect that a country like Tahiti could even imagine that Graffiti would somehow bring people there? They have the most amazing scenery in the world, you wouldn’t think that there would be any reason! And they have contacted me this year and said they are doing it again and I think that was the second edition already so apparently it was successful. I can hardly imagine somebody booking a flight to Tahiti to look at walls.

I’d love to go! But it’s a bit far away… Talking about Street Art and Graffiti… what did you think about the Banksy takeover of New York? I am still amazed he didn’t get busted…

Well did you see the picture we used for this card? It’s from that.

I wasn’t there the whole time unfortunately, I was one of the many people that was trying to get those pictures. The whole thing was fascinating. He had the whole city talking about it, it was absolutely amazing. Very very clever. Some pieces cleverer than others but everybody knew about it. I recently instagrammed a piece, mostly the pieces didn’t last for one reason or another. There were so many different hilarious things that happened. I remember seeing these guys out in Brooklyn with a piece of cardboard and they were holding it up in front of the wall trying to get people to pay them money to being able to take a picture. 

Where’s the card… I love this picture and I love the piece… because it’s a piece about Graffiti. As soon as I heard he did a piece in the Bronx I ran up to the Bronx even though I was leaving for Europe that evening. But I REALLY wanted the Bronx picture. I didn’t even know what the piece was. And somebody dragged that couch in front and while I was there the owner of the wall started putting a big piece of plexiglass over that piece. So Banksy must have been just laughing his head off. 

I still can’t believe the NYPD wasn’t on it, trying to bust him!

Ah they might have been but maybe… who even knows… was Banksy actually there? Did he send out people to do it? I don’t know the whole story.

Wait, I want to show you this one picture that I recently took, because I passed by a piece that I had seen that he had done and it had been appropriated by this store that owned the wall, which is Zabar’s. Zabar’s is a well know delicatessen and they put a sign up: “Banksy comes to Zabar’s” ( laughs ).

They put a piece of plexi over it and they were so proud! Probably they never heard of Banksy before that happened. And then, when I went into Zabar’s they had a picture hanging at the cash register of the wall before the plexiglass has been put over it. So they were very very proud of this piece!

I think it’s great how you embrace new technology. Photographers normally turn up their noses at Instagram and iPhone photography…

No, I love Instagram! I love iPhone photography! I wish I could just do the iPhone and not have to carry around heavy camera equipment. I am totally digital! But I am not that good at it… I wish I was better at it. Here is the Zabar’s piece… look there is a little sign here: “Help Zabar’s to protect this unusual work!”

So there are 45 comments, which is a lot for me! You might have thought people would be really cynical about this but people are saying things like: Look, you know what, we don’t get the chance to see a Banksy because they always get wiped out or taken so this is one where you actually can still see it.

It’s ridiculous his work is so clever commenting on consumerism, yet his pieces become instant collectables with people tearing down houses to get his artwork. It’s crazy…

He is very clever, what can I say… I admire his cleverness. Of cause he is not the most sophisticated artist, well he is sophisticated, but I mean in terms of the technique. He is a really good artist.

Do you think Blek Le Rat is a bit mad about Banksy’s fame?

You know I haven’t kept up with Blek’s recent work so… oh but I am sure Blek is totally pissed off. That’s sort of like the Graffiti Writers not wanting the Street Artists to succeed.

I think the whiners really don’t understand how the art world works. It really isn’t about who started something or who was first. It’s like a whole culmination of other things.

You have been travelling all over the world to take pictures. Any places you still want to go?

Yesterday an invitation came in for China… I haven’t been to China! I wrote right back immediately and said: “Yes I’d be interested in that”. Yeah, there are few places out there…

So are you planning to create a Subway Art for our generation?

No. I don’t have any plans for anymore books. Although I might go back, I have huge archives of old pictures I have never done anything with because I picked out the best ones. But there are lots of ones that look more interesting now that so much time has passed. So I might go back and do… I don’t really have plans for more books. Books are kinda over. As a Blogger you understand that! 

To be able to take a picture and immediately post it, I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission, I don’t have to pitch the story to editors. I spend a lot of time pitching stories that never went anywhere… very frustrating. Look, I just posted this how many minutes ago… 38 minutes ago and it already has 484 likes. I mean, I feel powerful being able to do that and it’s a lot of fun!

To me this is like a great thing and it’s free. Ok you need the iPhone but the quality of the photograph from the iPhone is really pretty amazing. This is the 6, there are like 4000 pixels which is pretty much what I had with my first digital SLR and I did a book called “We B*Girlz” with that camera. Which had no more pixels than this ( shows her phone ). I mean that’s amazing! Mind you, I have my Nikon in here, just in case! ( Laughs )

 Image by Martha Cooper
Image by Martha Cooper

You mentioned the “We B*Girlz” book. Was gender ever an issue when you got deeper into the scene?

No! I can’t say the other thing. I think the Graffiti Writers respected you because of your skills. I was a skilled photographer and I gave them pictures and they wanted those pictures. Because photography was always… if you look right straight back… the picture of Dondi in his room… here I show you in here… this was when I first met Dondi it was before I even went out to look at trains. And I spend the day with him and his friends… these were pictures he took himself with like a cardboard camera. So the fact that I could take way better pictures and I always tried to give them to them kinda made me accepted.

Are you still in touch with the old writers?

Yeah, a lot of them actually. I went to Venice for the Biennale there was a separate Graffiti exhibition and Futura was part of that, Doze was part of that.

How do you feel about Futura, I am a big fan. He is just one of the old legendary writers who is still doing it!

Yeah he is still out there! He just painted the Houston Bowery wall which is the same wall which Keith Haring first painted. It’s like a performance to go out on Houston Street and paint and he did a good job with that wall!

 via https://flic.kr/p/ysxYoA
via https://flic.kr/p/ysxYoA

Any idea why Futura is still so successful. What gave him his edge?

I think he knew more about the art world, he understood the art world better.

Yeah I saw pictures of him hanging out with Madonna at Studio 54. Were you ever part of that scene?

Studio 54? Every night, but because I was working for the newspaper. The New York Times was a Murdock newspaper and they covered Studio 54 every night. It was all about the celebrities.

Do you have any crazy celeb stories then?

(Laughs) No, no crazy stories!

Really looking forward to the show, was there a special way you curated it?

Well there is a bit of a timeline! Because I don’t want to just be considered a Graffiti Street Art photographer. So it has a few of the older pictures in it. But it also has these Tattoo pictures that preceded the Graffiti pictures.

Any final sage words of advice for any budding photographers?

Ahhh… for photographers ( laughs )… it’s a tough career! Good luck!

So what’s next for you if you are not planning any new books. Just happy snapping away?

I figure I am doing a victory lap! I am enjoying travelling around, seeing what’s out there… that’s about it!

Thank you very much for the interview!

All images from Martha Coopers Instagram account @marthacoopergram

Pictures taken at Stolenspace during the interview by Christian San Martin

“Life Work” – Martha Cooper |  5th Feb 16 -­ 28th Feb 2016

Stolenspace Gallery London, 17 Osborn Street, London UK E1 6TD

www.stolenspace.com

Suckadelic — A New Hope

I have no idea how I got into all this but somehow I managed to enter the twisted world of Suckadelic bootleg toys, ruled by Morgan Phillips aka The Sucklord, and started collecting his bootleg toys around 2005.

The super funny twists on Star Wars and pop culture in general appealed to me straight away plus the fact that The Sucklord hand crafts each toy in his secret base in Chinatown NYC really set it apart from the other Designer Toys I was used to.

This really felt underground and exciting, especially as his other references apart from Star Wars were Hip Hop, Streetwear and Graffiti.

After visiting his workshop in New York I knew I had to interview this guy! So here we are.

Enjoy this exchange which happened via email in 2007…

Hi Sucklord! I can’t believe Suckadelic is still a one man operation! How does the Sucklord find the time to do all the designing, supervising and pimping of Suckadelic?

I don’t fucking know, to be honest. I wonder about that all the time. I guess because it’s my job, my hobby, and my leisure time all at once. It’s all I do (almost). It’s lots of late hours and time saving corner cutting that keeps it going (somehow).

Plus I’m a fucking obsessive maniac and super organized…

Peeps might associate Suckadelic mostly with the small bootleg figures. Now you just released the first suckadelic rotocast with mad accessoires. Can you shed some light on the design and production process?

Ahh, it was nothing special. I just grabbed a blob of sculpey and hewed it out. then I made some molds and casted the pieces. then I did some finishing and simple tooling on the castings. I sent that to the factory in China along with the color specs. After that it was a bunch of back and forth with them fussing on details for a few months. Then one day all of a sudden they just showed up.

With Lucas milking the Star Wars franchise to the fullest, a lot of old school fans feel screwed over. What are your feelings towards the prequels and the soon to be produced live action tv series?

Well, they aren’t very good for the most part, but I still love them for what they are. I mean they look great and they feel like Star Wars movies overall. There are some really choice bits in all three that I love. But I am really sorry that the storytelling is very lackluster.

I mean the story itself is great, but the execution is really bad, shockingly so. And it didn’t have to be that way. But I’m still happy they exist. I like watching them. If you are really committed to Star Wars, you find a way to love them.

The Suckadelic geek universe expanded massivly… with mad villains popping up everywhere. Can you shed some light on the backgrounds of Suckadelic regulars like Spooky Booty, Mary Papers and Crimson Suicide?

I just grab people around me and put them in the story. I don’t have a life outside of this thing that I do. If you are my friend, you wind up in a movie as a character with a figure. That’s what my friendship is.

These people that get close to me get a mask and a new name and their existing personality traits get slightly hyperized and that’s it. You get in where you fit in. These just happen to be the main women in my life, so there they are, supervillains.

The Sucklord always rocks the mad bling and ghetto blaster… and you keep on releasing breaks CDs mashing up various TV and Movie shit too. How important is Street culture to the style of Suckadelic?

It’s pretty important. I think that’s what sets it apart from other nerd worlds. the presence of hip hop and sneaker culture and cute girls. These are things you don’t necessarily associate with geeky comic book kids. It’s that literacy with both worlds that gives this thing it’s unique flavor and frame of reference. I mean, we’re from New York, even the nerds here are dope and get laid.

That’s what sucked me into the whole Suckadelic world actually. I feel that a lot of people might even envy geeks if they wouldn’t dress so crap. Because geeks care and know what they like and don’t like. A lot of hipsters just jump from one bandwagon to the other and don’t get excited by anything.

True. The nerds have way more passion. There is no reason why you can’t get excited about toys and movies and still dress cool and get girls. Hipsters are no fun, they hate everything.

Looks like Suckadelic has the first proper MC as well… give us some lodown on Vectar!

Oh yeah, Vectar, what’s his deal? We’ll he’s just some bottom shelf villain who is trying to come up. He and the Sucklord have had kind of rocky relationship. Vectar has done a lot of uncredited dirty work for the Sucklord and he’s sick of it. He’s tired of toiling in the shadows. It’s tough to best the Sucklord but the one thing he doesn’t do is rap. So Vectar is trying to distinguish himself in that field. Jury’s still out on weather the world is gonna go for him as a rapper, but ya gotta give it to the little cockroach for trying.

You guys keep on crashing conventions, thinking about that Vectar gig at the San Diego Comic Con. How is the response from the geeks? I mean, a lot of people take Conventions and Cosplay crazy serious and might feel you guys are trying to make fun of the whole thing…

Nah, no one gives a fuck. There are so many people at those things it’s getting harder and harder to make a dent. The effects of that rap show wore off in like 30 minutes. You got to keep hitting them over and over for them to even think about weather they are insulted. We’re gonna keep trying though…

Talking about commitment… what Tattoo did you get signed by Geekfather Stan Lee on that random pic I found on the net? Plus, how was the experience? Some people say it can be pretty shattering to meet ones heros…

Ehh, it was a Green Goblin tattoo. I was kind of over him by the time I met him. He let so much crap movies go by with his brand on it that I didn’t even care anymore. Love the classic comics, the Jack Kirby era, but all the movies suck, in my opinion, Yes, even Spider-Man.

Back to Suckadelic’s bootleg mash up style. How hard is it for a proper fan and collector to pick rare figures apart to create your artworks and figure prototypes?

No problem at all. I mean I haven’t really bashed anything too rare. I just buy a loosie off Ebay if I don’t want to chop my original. I play with my toys, so it doesn’t bother me to hack em up. Been doing it forever…

Looks like the big names getting into the Star Wars bootleggin’ game
as well…any thoughts on the KAWS Vader?

The Kaws piece is cool, but to me it’s more about his style than a direct riff on Star Wars. He is all about putting his skull and bones in all kinds of settings, the mickey mouse etc… Star Wars is just one more stop on the cultural reference train. I’m not knocking it, I like it, but that piece is not really about star wars so much as Kaws…

You collaborated with other artists like Bill Mc Mullen and exhibited in places like Alife in NYC. How did you hook up with them?

I don’t know, Just hanging out. You make friends, One thing leads to another…

What does the future hold for the Sucklord… any crazy shit in the pipeline for 2008?

Well yeah, what else am I gonna do? Stop now and go straight? Can’t do it. have to make crazy shit. Not sure specifically what it is yet. but I’m gonna keep making these bootleg 3 and 3/4″ figures for at least another year. I have about 10 more characters planned. Vectar will have one as well as his pals the Crystal Pharoah and Baron Darkowl.

Not sure if I’m gonna rush to make another vinyl. It’s cool having it, but I wonder if it’s worth the financial risk unless you have a really hot idea. Right now I’m not sure if any of the dozens of ideas for the next one are gonna fly with the fickle buying public. We’ll see.

Gonna keep the videos coming tho. There is a new Original Villain series that will start in 2008. It’s called, for now, TOY LORDS of CHINATOWN. It tells the backstory of the Sucklord and Vectar’s rivalry and their struggle to control the bootleg toy racket in New York. We have been shooting a bunch of stuff with lowrider bikes and lazer shootouts in Coney Island. It seems like it’s gonna be a fun series.

Music wise, I dunno. Maybe a Vectar album? I’m sick of the Star Wars breakbeats style albums. I want to make music that I can perform.

And finally… what are your top 5 Star Wars toys?

Uhhh….

1) the 1978 cantina creatures esp Greedo (also R5-D4 and power droid, that whole series)

2) Vintage Giant Boba Fett

3) Force Battlers Emperor Palpatine

4) Kenner AT-AT

5) Almost all of the Galactic Heroes series (the bad guys anyway)

Thanks! Check out www.suckadelic.com and get your mind blown!