Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Interview: Jim, maker of incredibly strange and profane toys.

Obviously, this is not Jim

Friend and sometime commute pal Jim comes from an incredibly large and talented family of musicians, authors, editors, and other sort of fancy pants bohemians.

Jim himself is an author, but the kicker for me is he is also a toymaker. Jim is a co-founder of StrangeCo., “Purveyors of the Peculiar”. He’s also a bit of an art toy evangelist. Here’s a briefish email interview with Jim. He’s cool.

G: So you make… dolls? Toys? Objects d’Art? Thingies? What do you call them?

J: We make collectible vinyl toys, based on original designs by independent artists. They're known by all sorts of descriptive terms - Designer Toys, Urban Vinyl, Art Toys, Fashion Toys.... I do like Thingies, though, certainly the most concise.

In our host high falutin’ moments, we like to think that we are creating accurate, fun 3-D representations of a particular artist's 2-D character design, an in the process making affordable pieces of sculpture art - kind of like a vinyl limited edition print.

G: Who designs them?

J: We work with quite a number of artists, actually, most of whom have had some success in one form of subculture art mode or another - street artists, independent cartoonists, illustrators, etc. To bat around some names for your avid readers: Mars-1,Jim Woodring,Ron English,Friends With You,Gary Baseman,Tim Biskup,Todd Schorr,Kathy Steico-Schorr,tokidoki.... there's a ton more and even more that we'd like to work with, but hey - can't take up too much room in your blog, eh?

G: Do you have an art background?

J: I'm more a man of letters, but I certainly appreciate good visual art.

G: Is “playability” considered when creating your stuff, or is it meant for the shelf?

J: It's actually more about "poseability" than playability - the toys we make usually have a few points of articulation (arms, legs, and neck are the general standard), so you can move the character into a couple of different postures. But we see the advantage of playability, too - we'd like to make the perfect desk fiddler for those nervous moments of pause between typing on the computer and answering the telephone.

G: You’ve commissioned some heavy hitting underground and fancy pantsy comic artists, like Peter Bagge and Jim Woodring. Do they dig what you’re doing? Do the artist ever get hands-on with the production stuff?

J: Yeah, both of those guys like what's going on with the weird toy
thing. It's an opportunity to take ideas that would otherwise only
exist in 2 dimensions and turn it into 3-D, and still retain some of
the feel of a mass-produced publication.

G: How big is the market for art toys in the US versus, say, Japan?

J: Japan, I think, has a more established toy collector culture, and is always "cooler" than the United States. But for what we do, the US
and Europe are bigger markets.

G: You just got back from the San Diego ComicCon. It’s interesting to me because your stuff has more of an urban culture feel in contrast with the whole men-in-tights thang that I associate with Comic cons. How do the more straight ahead comic fanboys approach you guys?

J: Well, Mr. Mills, it just ain't your granddaddy's comic con any more. The San Diego Comic Con is huge now, encapsulating way more than the normal superhero fare. A lot of people attend comic con specifically for the contemporary art angle. Ralph Bakshi has a booth at Comic Con, and this year I met Moebius. How cool is that? With that said, the folks in Batman costumes either like what we do or are indifferent to it. There's something for everyone at comic con now.

G: So, at your desk, it’s late, no one is around. Do you bust out some figures and start making explosion sounds?

J: I have a new USB hub on my desk that makes an auto-destruct sound when you flip a switch, I suppose to stand in for those times when you really feel like blowing up your computer. It makes a nice explosion sound, without me having to screw my face up and risk spittle all over my desk.

G: Can you guarantee that none of your figure will come to life and stab me to death in my sleep?

J: No Chuckies that I'm aware of. You're in good shape and can rest easy.

G: You’ve got smallish kids in your home. Do you play the “Dude, I’m a freakin’ toymaker. You are living with a goddamn TOYMAKER. Do you even comprehend HOW RAD THAT IS?” card very often?

J: Nathaniel, my eldest, who's in 2nd grade, took one of the toys that we sell to his class sharing day. He's already spreading the mystique around without any prompting be me, so I'm saving this card for an occasion of maximum effect. In the mean time, I prefer to rule with an iron fist - with an occasional boom explosion sound, runaway spittle and all.

Next up: possibly the promised Mojo Nixon interview?? We shall see. Mojo is a talker not a typer, so friend Dave is going to interview him over the phone. I’m going to China on a business trip, so Dave is handling the interrogation, which works out because I have a horrible, nasally voice.

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