Comic-Con 2010: The People Behind Designer Toys

It’s been almost two months since San Diego Comic-Con 2010, and my love affair with Ron English‘s Telegrinnies is still going strong. In fact, I’ve set plans in motion to acquire the entire crew. I’ll be sure to post a photo of the reunion here. Or maybe TLC will return my calls, and I’ll finally have that reality TV show I’ve always wanted. Hello, grinning multiples ring any bells, TLC? More is always merrier.

SDCC was pretty crazy in a good way. Talking to artists and other people you’d only known online is the runner-up reason to go to a toy convention. It’s such a great experience being around other people who “get it”. It would be the top reason to go to a toy convention if not for the fact of that spot being occupied by THE TOYS.

You know that famous photo that exposes French president Sarkozy getting up on tip toes to pose with the Obamas? OK well you do now. I’m not judging. Hell knows I’ve pulled that technique in many a photo-op, myself. Anyway, that has nothing to do with this photo where Hiro Hayashi is standing on a box next to Frank Kozik. It just made me think of it. You can see Frank’s SDCC exclusive Cubano Labbit in the background.

Simone Legno of tokidoki is a smart man. His brand is like a next-gen Sanrio. I bought some frozen yogurt with his characters on the cup a while ago, and I still remember it. Fro yo is delicious.

This photo has not been altered. Reality was altered. Alex is such a big guy that it took ages to shrink him. During that time, that 3-inch Dunny really decayed, huh? Honey I shrunk the Dril One. Here he is, hanging out at Dragatomi‘s booth, which was customs central. Later in the weekend, I picked up his first production toy, a Qee from Designer Series 6. He had a total of 50, and I was the first buyer, but I asked for #33, because if the option is provided, I will always pull some super-neurotic shit like that. Congrats on your Qee, Alex!

This is Jim Crawford, co-founder of STRANGEco. Rice is OK and all, but truth be told, I could stand to cut back on my carbs. To that end, STRANGEco is the REAL San Francisco treat. As far as I’m concerned, STRANGEco put out some of the best vinyl art toys of the last decade. I’m talking HOLY GRAIL kind of toys. Their new endeavor is called DOUBLE-SUPER. The name has many meanings, but one refers to the journalistic practice of keeping background sources secret. Naturally, I can’t tell you where I heard that…

This Mars-1 Electric Monkeyman is likely to be one of the most wanted Double Super pieces. If you were priced out of the bronze edition, you should be looking forward to this release. I am.

This is Dov and Sarah Jo of DKE. They work tirelessly behind the scene to supply retailers with toys. Throughout Comic-Con, Sarah wore several different pairs of glasses. Dov, on the other hand, wore one single facial expression. Good people.

The Sucklord is doing his own thing. It’s not for everyone, but I find it interesting. If he wrote a book, I’d read it.

L’amour Supreme: cool guy; great skills.

See above.

Rocketworld is good people: Patrick, Stephanie, Lana, Mason… I’ve heard people dismiss the I.W.G. toys as being too simple. <sarcasm>Oh yeah, I can totally see how that armed mod eco-conscious rhinoceros on a Vespa scooter is a lot less complex than your average urban vinyl.</sarcasm> Sadly, I think this may be one of the last photos of this specific Rocketworld crew, but they’re such a talented lot, I’m not worried about any weak solo albums here.

Whenever I think about how annoying relentless colorways of a single toy can get, remind me to look at this picture. I still reserve the right to complain, but all those Super7 Mummys and Gators and Bats and Vampires sure do look lovely.

I love stuff that doesn’t seem like it would work, and yet it totally does. Matt Walker of Dead Presidents Designs comes to vinyl toys from custom car culture. Mark Nagata of Max Toy Co was once genetically tested, and it turned out his DNA shares the same molecular structure as Japanese vinyl. Together, Matt (Boston) and Mark (San Francisco) make a super team. They’re not only talented artists, but they’re also great guys. Besides their bevy of customized vinyl at SDCC, Matt debuted his Cosmic Squadron.

I’ve known this Brooklyn cat, Steve Talkowski, for a while now, which makes me extra proud to see his Sketchbot figure finally realized in vinyl. Steve gets big props for 1) Doing things his own way, 2) Releasing a product only after he was 100% satisfied with it and 3) Arming his robot with a peace-loving pencil (forthcoming editions will have a paintbrush and a stylus). Look how I’m beaming in this photo (also, I might be sweating).

If I had to choose a single toy that encapsulated my SDCC ’10 experience, it would be Ron English‘s Telegrinnies. Why, you ask?

  1. I just dig them. They make me smile like an idiot.
  2. They were a catalyst to meeting Ron English, who was signing all over the place, from Popaganda mini-figures at Toy Tokyo, to Grins at Dragatomi, to a bust at Kidrobot.
  3. At some point between Ron signing my Telegrinny and me smearing his signature, I was filmed for possible inclusion in a new Morgan Spurlock film about Comic-Con.
  4. Carrying around the purple Telegrinny in the convention center (so as to not smear the signature), I got called out by Frank Kozik for having girly taste. Later, I completely smeared the signature. Still later, Frank recanted the comment citing that at the time, he thought I was holding an actual Teletubby, not the cooler, subversive Telegrinny.
  5. Using Twitter, I found a home for the purple Telegrinny and instantly clicked with its adopter, Matthew. Because life is like this sometimes, it turned out that Matt’s role in this was merely as a foster family, and I have both Telegrinnies again. Matt and I are still friends.

Comic-Con was really a blur of awesome moments, but meeting and being drawn by David Choe ranked high in the memories department. Not too long ago Harry Kim’s documentary about David had really resonated with me. Choe commented on how mind-blowing it was that people were flying him (ie. a Korean delinquent who’d served time in Japanese prison) around the world to paint on walls and put on shows. He said how he was basically getting paid to be himself. If you’ve ever gone through hard times, you know how your brain can skew your perspective, particularly on positive things that come your way. David had to get into Bible stuff to realize he was blessed. Me, I’m currently living my dream job. It’s like: How did I get here? Who’s letting me get away with this? And I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and the line:

Dean: “My dear fellow, who will let you?”

Howard: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

David signed a trio of Munkos and drew me with the caption “Big Jew Nose,” which was a quote of a defining characteristic I’d volunteered. I love it, and I show everyone I can. My mother is the only one who didn’t like it. She says my nose isn’t that big. Someday, I’d like to sit down for a chat with David. He says whatever he thinks. I ask whatever I want. Seems like the recipe for a captivating interview.

This photo was taken immediately before Shawn “Shawnimals” Smith clubbed me near-to-death with his Comic-Con program. He may make cute little soft toys, but don’t be fooled: this dude is a NINJA.

Erick Scarecrow and John “Spanky” Stokes are two big guys who have some of the biggest hearts in the toy scene. This was my first time meeting Erick, and we definitely have a “to be continued” in our future. There’s a photo of all three of us, but I look like an escapee from Little People Big World, so I’ll skip the visual.

There must have been a rift in the equilibrium at this moment because right after running into Erick and Spanky, I met up with three more great peeps with gigantic hearts and passion for toys (and beyond). Left to right: Ritzy Periwinkle, Jesse Hernandez and Man One.

What’s this?! Two more absolutely nice dudes. Somewhere in the world, awful, mean people were running around unchecked because we seriously had all the good guys in San Diego. This is Scott Tolleson and Gary Ham. Not only are they pleasant people and talented artists, but they’re neurotic, which, OF COURSE makes me that much more of a fan. Also: both of them make their own characters and universes, often with wood or resin so they can do it themselves. I don’t see very many platform toys or customs by Scott or Gary, and, you know what? I don’t mind it at all. Scott debuted a new line of wooden figures culled from Stolle’s Neighborhood. A lot of the characters had glasses. I’m looking forward to more.

Chris Ryniak is really exploding. Here he is sketching at Rotofugi‘s booth during another Lake Monster sellout.

Travis Lampe had a polite little sign in case anyone got confused. He did a cool spectacled sketch for me. In retrospect, I wish I’d bought a Tear Drip from him right then and there. Lots of artists (not Travis specifically) have been talking about the issue of sketching for fans who ultimately don’t make any purchases, and I think that’s a valid concern. I’m going to write something about that.

Here’s Sven from Coarse Toys signing posters for fans who purchased this immaculately conceived toy set whose price would make my grandmother swear in Yiddish.

I know exactly what’s going on in this picture of Luke and Amy of Lulubell Toy Bodega, but I’d rather leave it up to your imagination.

Here’s Joe Ledbetter giving me some blue steel at the Munky King party.

Yoskay Yamamoto was the first to finish his Omi at the Munky King party.

David Flores going in for a detail at the Munky King party.

Angry Woebots turning the Omi into a panda at the Munky King party

I geeked out big time when I spotted Tim Biskup at the Munky King party. I try to keep a DIY Qee on my person at all times for moments like this. Not only does it make for a cool souvenir, but it also conveniently camouflages whatever spastic fanboy talk (or even worse, silence) is coming out of my mouth during the encounter. Tim was really down to earth. I ran into him the next day at the convention center, and he took a moment to sign my copy of Art Toys. He’s another artist I’d like to interview sometime.

Mugging with Coarse Toys and SpankyStokes. Folks were getting sauced and sweaty.

Attaboy and Ken Harman at the Hi-Fructose booth. Hi-Fructose is one of the best contemporary art magazines around, and it’s local, too.

Jeff Soto and Travis Louie signing my copy of Art Toys. Notes: Soto used a stamp for that Seeker. Travis Louie has beautiful handwriting (not shown in this picture).

Multiple colorways of Jeff Soto’s eagerly anticipated Seeker toy. The Comic-Con exclusive colorway sold out pretty quickly. I bet I know where you’re going to be able to get the pink version with the headphones.

Jeff Soto and Skinner. Artists can be fanboys too. Some might even say it’s a prerequisite.

Klim Kozinevich of Bigshot Toy Works paid me a compliment that made my day. (You can find a press-ready version of it on my PROPS page.) He’s smiling the smile of a man whose made another man’s day. That sentence is confusing, but you should try it. People really ought to be more encouraging to each other.

Super7 set up these panels where you could pick up a pack of “robin’s egg blue” vinyl Monster Family figures and then proceed through an informal assembly line to get your figures marked up by their designers. Left to right: Josh Herbolsheimer, Jeremy Whiteaker, Arbito and Le Merde.

Here are the results of the day’s doodles. Left to right: SDCC ’10 exclusive versions of Fire Robo, Patty Power, Rose Vampire and Le Turd.

Mikie Graham of Blamo Toys and Leecifer on fashion patrol and crowd control, respectively at Super7’s booth.

Paul Kaiju with custom Partyballs at his Super7 booth signing.

This is one of my favorite pictures. As I queued up to meet Paul Budnitz for his I am Plastic, Too book signing, the Kidrobot staff increasingly seemed to take note of my presence. Everyone tells me my social media icons look just like me, so perhaps they recognized me. Were they expecting me to get all Michael Moore and pull out a bullhorn and make some sort of scene? Or were they thinking I’d open up my trench coat to reveal dynamite ala Christian Slater in Heathers? Oh who am I kidding? People who work for Kidrobot are too young to get a Heathers reference. (Who was it that said, “You wouldn’t know cool if you were naked at the North Pole?”)

Things look like they might be getting awkward here, but in actuality, they weren’t. Paul and I had a really innocuous conversation. I told him the most interesting thing I thought he’d been doing lately was his Jewish bike concept project. He seemed pretty excited about the bikes. I bought a copy of I Am Plastic, Too and my first ever Munny, a Munnyworld figure, no less! Was I being just a tad subversive by asking Paul to sign a figure called Trikky? Nahhhh….

Here’s another great shot. I don’t remember what I said, but I made Paul laugh. In some other universe, maybe Paul and I could laugh ourselves stupid and find out we had shit in common. Maybe we do. We both like toys and artists. I’d like to talk to him again sometime.

Last frame. SpankyStokes took all these photos for me with my camera. I’m looking at Spanky, and Paul’s looking at the KRonikle camera guy, Wheelbarrow. I think we’re both rocking genuine smiles, though. Also, in the center is a 3D portrait of me by Paul Budnitz.

These people have opened more blind-boxes than anyone else on earth. They are the tireless toy evangelists known as Toy Break and October Toys: Ayleen and George Gaspar. They’re crazy nice folks and, in this picture, they’re holding the Edward Gorey-esque resin they made together.

Scott Wilkowski and Ferg of JAMUNGO don’t look super-stoked in this photo, but their Budcat played a big part in why I decided to make the trip to SDCC this year. I had to have this piece.

Here they are, those rad, resin Zymoglyphic Budcats. I split the set with Scott Tolleson. Do I wish I had them both now? Sure do. But it’s cool.

This is me wearing a SKWAK T-shirt and standing next to the Grand Poobah of toy photography, Brian McCarty. Brian’s book, simply titled Art-Toys is terrific. I spent a day at SDCC tracking down artists and getting them to sign it. Buy a copy. It’s required reading.

Ayako Takagi made the trip to SDCC from Japan. Her UAMOU character is kind of addictive. There’s colors and versions for every flavor. It’s kind of like Skittles. It’s also a gateway vinyl. I picked up a couple. Now it’s only a matter of time before I turn into Ray doc18

Brosefs Bwana Spoons and Bert Gatchalian. Bert made the mini-canvas Bwana’s holding as a gift for him. I am honored to have witnessed this moment of brotherly love.

Dude, Mike “Le Merde” Kelly really is the shit. Whenever I run into him, he always puts something in my hands. He’s such a giving guy. I didn’t used to “get” his art, but now that I get it, I can’t stop getting it. I’m dialed into his wavelength. It’s not a bad place to be. It’s pretty good, actually.

Le Merde and Arbito made these resin vehicles with real rolling tires. Each vehicle is manned by one of their signature characters. Mike’s cars are equipped with mini Burger Buns pilots, and Jesse’s tanks feature mini-Seekers in the driver’s seat. Jesse has some mad science skills. I can barely do basic math. Just saying.

Here’s Yoskay Yamamoto again. This time, he’s signing my copy of Art-Toys.

Here’s sculptor, Dave Pressler, and artist, Luke Chueh, signing my copy of Art-Toys. Luke was about to release his Black in White bunny.

Buff Monster draws a buff monster in my Art-Toys book while an army of SDCC exclusive Buff plushes look on. Whoa…

This was another fanboy moment for me. And also another instance where I wish I’d bought a toy because 1) Jermaine Rogers did a cool sketch for me (not the one you see above, that’s someone else’s) and 2) Jermaine had a bunch of variant colorway Deros and Squires that I sure would like to have in my collection right now.

Jermaine rendered some awesomeness unto the back inside cover of my Art-Toys book. Another dude I’d like to chat with again when I am less overcome and can form coherent sentences. Jermaine did drop word he’d have a bunch of new toys out in time for Christmas. Hmmmm….

David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim are as cute as their characters, and really nice and approachable any time I talk to them. Unless they’re keeping some major dirty secrets under wraps, I’d say Uglydolls are the model for how to grow your homemade toy company into a global brand–and do it with ethics.

You definitely have to suit up if you’re going to use a convention center bathroom toward the end of the day.

Mega toyfam photo. Our crew took over an entire room in this restaurant. There’s me at the lower right corner. How many other faces do you recognize? See you in 2011, San Diego!

P.S. This post has something like 60 photos in it. Thinking to yourself, “That’s IT?” There’s hundreds more in my Toy Conventions Flickr Collection.

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