SKWAK Lets Us Into His Maniac World

SKWAK is back! Technically, he never went away. He’s actually been pretty busy, and his current schedule includes new toys, new tees and a show. Johan of the French art blog Some Cool Stuff recently interviewed SKWAK. If you can read French, bookmark his site and read the entire interview here. Alas, I cannot read French. Luckily my mom is fluent and was happy to translate. Johan asked SKWAK excellent and thoughtful questions about his art, style, mind and world. SKWAK reports back on an 8-inch Dunny with Kidrobot (!), an upcoming mini-figures series with MINDstyle (!!), an American animation project (!!!) and maybe even some porn (???). So with props to Johan and my mom (who is now a SKWAK fan and too-kindly likened my habit of cramming pages with words to Skwak’s style of “too much”), here’s the latest Skwak interview from the Maniac World.

Johan: Greetings Skwak. We’ll start with the toy coming out in the Alpha Element series, produced by Artoyz. You chose to tackle the shape of water, an element which agrees perfectly with your ever dripping universe. Does this character represent Maniac World for you?

SKWAK: Hi, Johan! L’Elément Maniac is the form which speaks most to me: I immediately thought of what I could do with it. “Is he part of the Maniac World?” Certainly, all I do is part of my universe. All I do influences Maniac World, and Maniac World influences all I do. To come back to Elément Maniac, what I didn’t know was that he would represent chewing gum. With mint, my favorite. There will also be a super secret version which has a ratio even more rare than the figure by Bwana (Spoons.)…


Can you tell us more about this universe, Maniac World, that you give more and more attention to in each of your productions, that you seem to make more complex, similar to an author of heroic fantasy, always adding finishing touches to his parallel universe?

Maniac World, there’s so much to say, and I could also summarize it in two words: too much. I’ve been drawing since I was little, and the maniacs came to me as a fait accompli, because from interview to interview, I know they are there, nearly as if by accident. The shape happened in a bar, probably as I was drinking a beer… The depth, much later. It was something ecological at first. Do you perhaps remember the Koogai, (stitched by hand stuffed animals, first step of Skwak in the world of toys), “polution” in Japanese? This later slipped softly towards a mirror distorting the world about me.

To make it more complex? No, to enrich it! I’m the Tolkien of illustration! Don’t write that, people will think I’m, serious! Seriously, the world of maniacs: I try to give it rules, a kind of coherence in an incoherent world. At first glance, it’s as if my work is made up of chance: a giant mess! But for me, all is organized in this chaos. The stories I tell have a beginning and an end, and a sense of follow through. The characters have personality; they have reference points. So yes, I enrich my universe, my second world, by placing in it new codes and new inhabitants every day.


How does it work, the actual participation in a collective series of mini toys of this type?

There’s nothing crazy, you don’t negotiate for weeks. It’s Artoyz, and it’s special.

I am also participating for another mini series with Shin Tanaka and adFunture. Shin writes me asking if I’m okay. It’s always like this – simple. What’s more complex is the production, the waiting. For example, for this series, I know virtually nothing, but I don’t give a damn!

As I’ve already told you, although I find your incursions into designer toys perfectly thought out and realized, I’m still hungry. There’s a simple reason: your style is intrinsically bound to the idea of accumulating, of many characters and elements, tied to each other, difficult for one person to do. My question: do you share this point of view, would you have any future projects more adequate to this dimension of your work? I’m thinking of a complete series of minis which would evoke this dimension…

Exactly, and here’s the scoop: I am preparing a series of minis from MINDstyle. The prototypes aren’t done yet; they’ve been delayed. The crisis is that the factories have been shutting down in China. But a series of mini maniac animals is coming this year (by year’s end) if all is well. Sold blindly, about ten in the series, with some rare ones. A real mini series. Lots of color, it’ll hurt the eyes. This project has been going on for more than a year and a half. I’m on good terms with Tury and Sam, and I didn’t steal their idea. Coincidence.

This is good news, this mini series to come. But to go further, to stay more faithful to the idea of accumulating, growth part of your work, the idea of a model toy itself made up of different characters or of minis associated with each other, doesn’t tempt you?

It’ll never sell!

But you’ll say and the love of art? I’m not alone. Toys are a true market. I would like to create completely crazy forms, a series inside each other which form a monster…but it costs a lot, and sells for a lot…To tell the truth, the maniac hasn’t been a great commercial success; the community welcomed it, but the sales didn’t fly off the shelves; (the proof is that I don’t think the color versions initially previewed: there were to be 20 of each in the world: collector!) Why? First toy…a little big! Too expensive…Bad like MINDstyle? I don’t know…Anyway, to be honest, I turned off. I was hoping to transcribe my world, to be totally free, and the market “hit” me…Now, I make toys with some pleasure, to be amused, little winks of the eye to my world (another wink due in 2010 will be an 8-inch Dunny that I am actually preparing for Kidrobot). But I’m not counting on truly developing it.


Let’s stay on this idea of the world which is milling around, an impression of suffocation seems to come through your work, too much, due to the manner in which you systematically fill the space at your disposal. Can you explain this? Is it simply style or the way you see the universe?

First, it is the way to see Maniac World (and therefore our world through a slightly bent mirror) a shrinking, condensed universe…there’s no free space in this world, each square centimeter must have its purpose: no place for dreams. That’s funny because all the maniac stories are as crazy as the wildest dreams. There’s no down time either. The maniacs never sleep. There’s no vacuum. Emptiness is useless and even dangerous for the maniacs.

Other than the will to retranscribe this idea of too fullness, it’s also a graphic signature, I won’t lie. On my canvases, it’s logical and reflective, but when I work for a client, he doesn’t give a damn about this rule, he wants Skwak style: he wants all things everywhere. So yes, in this case, I fill the canvas with somewhat less reflection than for my own art. For example, a cover I recently did for the Jess3 Agency, put together all the company had done: their clients, their way of working, their strong points, their manias…But it’s all thrown more or less logically on the screen. This is why the idea of suffocation has become what you would call style.



Since you are speaking of the monitor, a great part of your work is presented in the form of compositions done on the computer then printed. Do you ever want to paint? Are you not comfortable with this procedure (even though when you begin a shop wall or gallery, the result is rather conclusive), or do you find it simply not adapted to your style of work, and to what you want to express?

For a long time I was embarrassed to not do real canvases, but now I don’t give a damn. For one reason, the public is on my side (my show “Born to be a Maniac” was a great success.) On the other hand, I believe sincerely that digitalized art is truly a major advance for modern art, that this medium is so innovative and pleasant that it would be folly to not use it. You can do such crazy things with a computer that you can’t do with a brush…It is strictly French, the idea that an artist must paint. Mental outlooks are hard to change. But it will happen…

It’s also that I am happiest when I design on my Wacom. When I tried to paint, I found the outcome mediocre, and I was forcing myself. And I think art needs to be natural…

After the walls I did like at the Adidas store, it’s not the same. I took pleasure in it, but it was rote, without a goal, no will to enrich Maniac World. When I speak of my art, and of this will, of this need to use a computer, it is with the desire to evolve my artistic world, and this is the means I choose to express myself. If it bothers some…


Three T-shirts designed by Skwak are coming out this month at Nekowear. This is something you have worked a great deal on. Are you strongly connected with this project or do you just work on it when asked nicely?

I work when I find something interesting. I have to say that this is not my artistic universe, maniacs and all I want to work with. It’s a mix of business and art: I add a pinch of maniacs into my work contract. For some a bit more than others.

It isn’t just the T-shirts that have your design. We can see your work on CD covers, iPod protectors, skate boards and snow boards, even espadrilles! Or dog collars!!! I understand you are even doing a project for Nestlé. Does each one demand a specific approach? Or is it just practical because you have to eat – that you place your point of view on this type of object , or you conceive that your style can be decorative or at least used for whatever effect necessary?

I’ll try everything! There are no good/bad projects. When the thing allows me to try new things I take the plunge. I’m not aiming at the same audience when I do Nekos, Zune, or my own canvases. Diversification is a good thing. Some feel they should content themselves with one type of client, that’s not my point of view: I feel my job is to reach as many as possible, to try as much as possible, to extend myself. I find elitism boring. I’m an illustrator and that’s what I do.


You are having a show next week in a new spot in Lille, le Monde Moderne. This will be an opportunity to discover or rediscover certain of your printed works.

Yes, Le Monde Moderne is where you should be! I will show some canvases, nothing new, but it will permit people to see some of my work.

The passage of Maniac World from 2 D to 3 D seems natural, as your graphic universe has a playful aspect to it. Does animation tempt you, as we can imagine your world taking motion?

Yes, and it will come. I have to find the right time. As I am answering you now, I am in the train and I am going to Paris to meet an American client with whom I have many projects…and one of them is an animation. It’s a medium, a way for me to give my universe life which pleases me even more than toys. I think this is the way for the maniacs to go. Animation vs. vinyl!


Your over-the-top style of color, playfulness, made up of little characters, whose mugs are either menacing or sympathetic, would seem to me completely able to be adapted to childrens’ books – an area filled with talent. Is this something you could see yourself involved with, or not at all?

Yes! That and many other things. I am open to anything that broadens my world. One thing: when I draw, for anyone and for any reason, I enjoy. To make children’s books would be wonderful, but also do a porno, half animated, half real. This too would be an interesting project, and one I think of very often. That would be a great ending, no? Thanks.