The Solaris guide to bootleg toys…

It’s no secret that I really like toys. Growing up I was obsessed with Star Wars and Masters of the Universe and after that came the whole 90ties limited edition art toy movement. Although I feel that the massive art toy bubble is kinda over, I still get excited about a great designed piece of plastic. I feel there are three categories a grown man like me can still get excited about: Vintage toys from my childhood, selected pieces of the art toy movement and… bootleg toys. What? BOOTLEG TOYS? Now what’s that crazy thing?!

Well… first of all, it’s exactly what it says: A knockoff toy based on a popular franchise. Normally these bootlegs can be found in your local 1€ store and are lovingly made in China.

These can be re-casted Batman figures labelled “Masked Avenger” or outright bootleg insanity like fusing Mr. T with a fire engine…

As you you can already see, these unlicensed creations have the potencial to be even better than the real thing!

Before we dive head first into the insanity of the bootleg toy scene, let’s recap on the three iconic childhood toys that haunt us obsessives to this day: Star Wars, GI Joe and Masters of the Universe. All awesome toys, but they had iconic artwork and packaging too. From the original vintage Kenner Star Wars packaging, to GI Joes action packed renderings of the characters and MotU’s iconic 80ties font on the red exploding rocks: These are the things toy geeks dreams are made of! 

Now let’s fast forward to the art toy movement. I guess having toys designed by artists and designers really elevated the format from being kids stuff to be seen as valuable art objects. Buying a limited piece of plastic felt like purchasing a miniature sculpture at an ( more or less ) affordable price. Plus the toys tied in with street fashion, urban music and other more mature pop sensibilities. You can read more about it here: http://www.solaris100.com/blog/2016/1/24/ok-so-urban-vinyl-is-kinda-over-but

All these obsessive thoughts about toys gave birth to an interesting question:

So what if you could create these cool toys yourself? What if you were in control of design, manufacturing and distribution? Would that not be awesome? HELL YES IT WOULD BE!

So surprise, surprise: Slowly but surely a new generation of toy creators emerged who didn’t have the money like big toy companies or the street cred of a famous artist. Nevertheless they craved to express themselves via the medium of collectable figures!

These very committed/insane people taught themselves to hack apart toys, create their own packaging, pour some colourful resin and sell their creations to a growing collectors market via social media. So fucking DIY!

What’s the appeal? First of all: These toys are coming from people who grew up on the same toys that I did and throw in a lot of call backs to the old figures and packaging we discussed earlier. Then I just admire the DIY ethos of just crafting your own products in the back of your house, like a fanzine just in plastic. Last but not least are you purchasing directly from the artist and the pieces are way more limited and weird than the stuff you can buy in the stores!

Got it? Good…

So let’s talk a little bit about my favorite artists out there and the toys they create…

1) The Sucklord

Let’s start at the beginning: Morgan Phillips, bootleg toymaker extraordinaire hailing from NYC. It kinda all started for me with him. His fusing of my beloved Star Wars with Street Wear and Pop Culture really caught my attention: Stussy lightsabers, KISS Stormtrooper helmets and a PIMP Boba Fett? I am all in!

 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:

https://www.suckadelic.com
https://www.instagram.com/hasnotalent/
https://healeymade.com
http://traptoys.bigcartel.com
http://8bitzombie.bigcartel.com
http://dollarslicebootlegs.bigcartel.com
http://rycastore.bigcartel.com

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

Star Wars Celebration London 2016: Episode I

Conventions like this have a weird effect on me: On the one hand am I very attracted to go to such geek-fests, on the other hand do I still try to tell myself that I am a grown up man ( hahaha, I know! ) and I should rather do stuff like get a mortgage and play squash with my hedge-fund manager.

Whatever, having avoided Cons in the past I thought Star Wars Celebration is the right place to pop my convention cherry, especially as I had a friend and fellow Star Wars obsessive attending as well.

Listen to the Light Side of the Force, you must…

Researching the event I felt pretty giddy and excited: People from all over the world were heading to London to feel The Force! As my ordered trooper helmet didn’t arrive in time I had to brave the celebration of a galaxy far, far away bare as God created me: Wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt!

On the way to the event I ran into the first people who made a bigger effort than me outfit wise: There is just something special about seeing Queen Amidala waiting for the tube in Shadwell.

It’s just great to be able to geek out with fellow Star Wars fans without having to worry about getting anybody up to speed first! There is just nothing worse than trying to have a proper SW conversation with a mate who has no clue about the subject matter. Now this will NEVER happen at Celebration: No apologies, no regrets, just full on Star Wars geekdom at it’s peak. THUMBS UP!

After a quick touchdown with my Star Wars homie Jools aka The Real Boba Fett™ I did what every self respecting nerd does: Head towards the official merch store to get some special celebration items!

After another bit of queueing where I mingled with some fellow Star Wars fans from Germany I entered the official Celebration store area. After a quick scan of the goods on display I quickly picked my favorites. Top of the list: An official Celebration T Shirt. Classic! Nice touch: Each shirt was hand screen printed before your own very eyes!

Another bit of hot merch: The Force Awakens holographic vinyl double album. More on this topic over on Dj Foods blog. Let’s just say it has a Tie Fighter and Millenium Falcon hoovering above the vinyl when you play it, alright?

The other, more unexpected piece of merch was a 10″ picture disc of the Star Wars song “Jabba Flow”, remixed by none other than Rick Rubin and A-Track! As the cover art of LSD Kylo Ren ( with BB-8 on the flip ) just looks great so it ended up in my bag.

Then  it was time to hit the exhibition floor. I didn’t bother with trying to get into any of the panels as the tickets to see Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher speaking on the main stage where long gone. So I just jumped head first into two halls full of Star Wars-ness…

Oh… balls. Space Balls that is!

Some casual outfits on display…

Hey! Who are these two jokers?

I think Disney buying Lucasfilm  was the best thing that could have happened to Star Wars and I am more than psyched for the new movie(s). Donnie Yen kicking Stormtrooper butt? Hell yes! The newly released sizzle reel for Celebration 2016 really had me hyped. Can’t wait…

Another thing was the Rogue One costume exhibition. Man, that white Imperal outfit with the cape? #starswag! Who cares about Yeezys…

Talking about outfits… I do believe the white outfit of main Rogue One baddie Director Krennic has been inspired by one of the most beloved Expanded Universe characters who just made it back into the official canon: General Thrawn. Who? THRAWN! …the blue guy, ok? *sighs*

I just love the feisty look on that kids face! Some people thought Rey was too kickass in The Force Awakens, I personally think it was just the right amount. All the Rey cosplay around the convention seems to support my statement! Can’t wait to see her kick Kylo’s butt after some training by Master Luke himself…

If I am honest, the thing that entertained and amazed me most attending Celebration was the commitment of all the fans who came down in full costume from all over the globe to connect and have fun. When I visited the booth of the Norwich Star Wars Club and checked out the patches on the wall I saw how far the global commitment to Star Wars truly reaches! Plus: #patchgamestrong

There is much more to say about Star Wars Celebration 2016… so stick around for Episode 2 coming soon to a blog to you in a galaxy far, far away!

Now I need to take a quick break to go to Toshi station… to get some power converters… 

Ok so Urban Vinyl is kinda over but…

Hi kids!

After breaking down the sneaker queueing game I thought I address the next essential puzzle piece in a street geeks identity: Collecting expensive toys.

Now when I am talking “expensive toys” I do not talk Porsches or Rolex watches here, I mean actual TOYS made out of plastic or vinyl! Now how did that become part of the Hypebeast DNA you wonder, well, let me enlighten you…

Ok so why do grown dudes collect toys in the first place?

There was this small underground movie getting released in 1977, you might have heard of it… Star Wars? Not only did the movie blew every kids mind back in the day but it kicked off one of the biggest toy franchises on this planet.

As the product design of Star Wars was so damn iconic and awesome it translated like a treat to the toy lines. Basically every person ( guy? nerd? ) that was born around that time got caught up in the Star Wars toy blizzard and has fond memories of the pieces owned.

Then came puberty and most of us sold their Star Wars collections on for peanuts. This should later be revealed to be a massive, traumatising event that lead to many men later in life mumbling: “I used to have that one” through salty geek tears.

So yes, I blame the urge to collect on the trauma of selling on the childhood Star Wars toys!

Ok, so how did certain toys become cool and hip then?

Fast forward and the boy from back in 1975 is the Twentysomething of 1993 who witnesses the birth of street wear and other cool shit: Records, Sneakers and Graffiti. Brands like FreshJive, Fuct, Holmes and Stüssy and nerdy Breakbeat labels like Ninja Tunes and MoWax appear and go big. The traumatised boy from back in the day suddenly has the consumer power to buy all the geeky shit he wants without getting told off by his parents. Yay!

Meanwhile in Tokyo man-boys started to connect their love for street culture with their love for toys. Japanese fashion label Bounty Hunter ( yep, Star Wars reference, told ya! ) created together with BAPE designer Sk8thing 1999 the first “Urban Vinyl” toy: Kid Hunter.

An evil riff on American cereal mascots, this lump of plastic is still on many collectors “must find” lists and signalled the dawn of what we would call Urban Vinyl. Personally Urban Vinyl for me means any toy that has been created to appeal to adults instead of being aimed at kids.

Next thing you know Japanese Toy companies, Western Graffiti artists, Music Label owners and Streetwear hustlers all embrace in one sweaty geek group hug and birth a new category of nerdy collectable that references all the stuff that makes street culture cool and taps directly into the Star Wars shaped hole left from selling all those childhood toys: Urban Vinyl aka Designer Toys!

From top left clockwise: Martin toy for UK street wear label Silas, first Companion toy by US artist KAWS, P.A.P ( PEACE AND PROSPERITY ) toy by US fashion brand Stüssy.

Damn son! I didn’t know that. So who produces all this crap?

When we talk toy companies actually producing these things look no further than Medicom Toy in Japan. It became THE toy company of choice for artists to release through and their iconic Kubrick and Bearbrick shapes kickstarted the blind pack and artist toy edition culture Kid Robot made extremely popular in the West years later with their own spin on the Bearbrick concept, the Dunny.

With more and more known artists creating editions for Medicom toys and global tastemakers pushing the medium, Urban Vinyl became less of a toy and more of an art sculpture that was affordable for the regular collector.

Medicom upped the collecting game as well by introducing the “Blind Box” concept where collectors didn’t even know which artwork they would get, with extra rare “chase pieces” thrown in for good measure. So in order to get the whole series one had to buy a lot of doubles in order to get lucky with the rarer pieces.

Fashion Label A Bathing Ape launched their own toy company Bape Play and the British record label MoWax regularly created promotional collectables for their record releases. Very unsurprisingly both NIGO of BAPE and James Lavelle who ran MoWax were massive Star Wars nerds.

 Futura x MoWax toys produced by Medicom to celebrate the second album by British band UNKLE

  Futura x MoWax toys produced by Medicom based on the cover art for British band UNKLE

From top left clockwise: Futura x UNKLE x BAPE, Policeman by James Jarvis based on his comic “World of Pain”, Kubrick toy by Graffiti artist Stash, Dissected Companion toy by Artist KAWS. 

Ok awesome! What happened next?

After the first wave of Urban Vinyl from Japan, US based Kid Robot made Designer toys a household name in the West pushing artists like KOZIK, Ron English and Gary Baseman and they own spin on Medicoms customizable Kubrick and Bearbrick toys called Munnies and Dunnies…

 via  avroko
via avroko

From top left clockwise: Toby toy by Gary Baseman, A Clockwork Carrot Bunny by KOZIK, “Grin” Evil Charlie Brown by Ron English and various Dunnies by Kid Robot.

This unholy marriage between art, fashion, music and collectable toys can be highly addictive. With the easy access to merchandise via eBay and online stores and the never ending flood of cool stuff getting released it’s hard to stay sane. You just can’t Collect Em All anymore. Well, apart from when you a super collector Selim Varol. Apart from having the luxury to run his own toy and art store he has amassed one of the most amazing collection of art and toys on the planet…

And then… when you least expect it… suddenly the whole thing flips and goes full circle and you end up collecting Star Wars again… DAMN! But this time the Vader costs £1,250 on eBay because KAWS designed it and that little monkey with the Boba Fett helmet £100 because it’s a collaboration with fashion label A Bathing Ape. Raising the stakes here!

So Solaris, still on that vinyl?

My big epiphany regarding collecting actually came to me in the home land of characters and limited edition: Japan! After spending three days in a row in the Nakano Broadway Toy Mall I was just a shivering, sweaty mess…

The sheer amount of amazing stuff that was available just blew my mind and didn’t correspond with my financial situation or display space availability. At that point I realised I can’t have it all and that I need to get off the crack.

And when even Mega Star Wars Fanboy NIGO get’s rid of his collection you know it’s time to size down!


Times have changed and I am not really collecting toys anymore. There is just too much stuff out there and the golden age of collecting in early 2000 is definitely over for me.

STILL… there are companies and artists out there that excite me… so here we go!

My Top 5 toy things that still rock in 2016

1) Hot Toys

Slowly but surely Hot Toys from Hong Kong seized the toy crown from Sideshow Toys in America and Medicom in Japan by producing the craziest detailed licensed toys out there! The head sculpts look so freakishly real you might think they decapitated Robert Downey Junior and shrank down his skull using some toy voodoo magic. Is it cool to have Hot Toys? I doubt it get’s you laid but respect from your chubby mates is guaranteed! These are definitely BRO toys… and still awesome…

 

2) 3AA Toys

Like a fucked up dark version of Hot Toys, 3A are creating crazy detailed figures but with an added art edge. Founded 2008 by Kim Fung Wong and painter and illustrator Ashley Wood 3A’s appeal lies in the withered and distressed look, the post apocalyptic feel and unique design of their characters.

I still need to own one of their pieces someday…

 

3) Homemade Bootlegs

Toy Hustlers and one man bands like The Sucklord8 Bit Zombie or Streets of Beige might be stuck deep in nostalgia but bring enough freshness and mutation to their hand made pieces for them to be awesome. Being it splattering each toy with paint, creating the best Masters of the Universe toy that never existed or creating a gay empire: Bootleg toys are unique, awesome and damn funny!

 

 

4) Cute shit that can’t be ignored

What can I say, I still have a weak spot for cute, well designed characters. Three designers who come to mind are Fluffyhouse, Friends With You and Pete Fowler

5) Super 7 

In 2001, Super7 started as a magazine about vintage Japanese toys. In 2004 they opened their first store in the Japantown district of San Francisco to carry not just toys, but everything else that they wanted: t-shirts, posters, books and more. Told ya it’s all connected!

Somehow they are really OG to me and I love all the weird toys they are stocking…

So there you have it!

My super quick rundown of the toy game. I know I left out many toys, artists and companies and I apologise. Plus I like to acknowledge that women collect toys too! It’s just from my own experience that mostly men sweat over the latest toy releases…. #dontjudgeme #itsacompliment

For more things related to being a toy looser check out: 

www.vinylpulse.com, www.kidrobot.comhttp://toysrevil.blogspot.sg and Toybreak

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!