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:

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!

 The infamous Sucklord and Mary Paper$
The infamous Sucklord and Mary Paper$

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! 😀

So with all this out of the way and all the knowledge gained… please enjoy my massive bootleg toy review video! Class dismissed…

Check out the following great toy creators:

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… 


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!


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.