In a continuing effort to re-brand myself, I am reflecting on and recounting my formative years as a player in the Designer Toy Industry. I aim not only to clarify my biography to new fans who might not know the backstory to the SUCKADELIC enterprise, which hopefully will inspire them to buy more of my products. I also lay it out so I too may understand where I have been so I may better chart where I’m going. Self serving and self indulgent? Perhaps. But fuck you, nobody is forcing you to read it. (or are they?)… Here is the next part of the story. The part of the story where I finally “Make it” in the world of artist created action figures.
It was 2003 and the so-called “Designer Toy Movement” was starting to take shape. The Lower East Side of NYC was starting to fill up with artists who were making all sorts of plastic interpretations of their work, and it was showing up in places like ALIFE, 360 Toy Group, and TOY TOKYO. I had amassed quite a few designs of my own, figures, vehicles, playlets etc, and I knew everybody. I was sure to be able to get a deal somewhere for someone to start producing my shit. I was MR.TOYS after all! But truth be told, it wasn’t really going that well. Lev over at Toy Tokyo was doing a little producing and offered to take a look at some of my work. I showed him a sculpture of something I called ARCADE 666 which was an anthropomorphic Video game cabinet with a TV set eyeball for a head, a game of BREAKOUT playing on his chest, one robot arm, one tentacle arm, treads for feet, and a giant quarter being inserted into his back by another figure; a small dwarfish creature with an Atari Joystick for a head with a giant Bloody eyeball sitting on top. “Too Simple” said Lev, and the deal never happened. Next I went to Jakuan at 360 Toy Group. He was fucking with Futura, Michael Lau, and Kaws; all the OGs in the game. At this time it wasn’t so easy to get access to a factory, and a lot of the old guard guys wanted it to stay that way to keep the Suckers out (LOL) so the fact that he would even consider looking at my shit was a big honor. I showed him a few pieces from my TECHNOFEAR series, which was basically personified personal electronics like a Television and an Atari console transformed into predatory monsters. He was down to make a bunch of them, but didn’t really have the money to pay for it. My own personal attempts to raise the capital fell flat, so I was on my own.
Right around this time, my friend Joseph Ari Aloi AKA JK5 was doing a solo show at the famous old ALIFE store on Orchard street. He asked if I could help make a Toy and some sculptures to support his illustration work he was presenting. I jumped at this chance thinking it would be a great opportunity to showcase what I could do. It began as something simple, just a few kit bashed Star Wars figures and a large scale foam sculpture of his character, but then it blew up into a four month odyessy of me going up to his house in North White Plains and spending days locked up making a giant installation out of thousands of broken toys and massive foam monstrosities. The cap piece to all of this was a series of 60 unique resign figures of a creature he created called the INO. It was a small tear dropped shaped little guy sitting in a lotus flower base. I had never made a resin toy before, but my friend Charlie Backer did. He had been experimenting with casting and mold making for years, getting a little shine for his Rudy Giuliani figure, which turned from a villain to a hero after 9-11. Charlie had a studio, ironically, in the 195 Chrystie street Building in which I would later set up headquarters. He schooled me on how to make molds and do casting with all the pigments and glitter etc. It was hard work, but at the end I had an incredible set of 60 individual toys. Then the show came. It was a big turn out, it got press, and even Jeffery Deitch was sniffing around. This is it, I thought. Now the Big Time begins. Except that it didn’t. Yeah we sold a handful of the ions, but when all was said and done, none of my sculptures, none of my kit Bashes, none of my anything sold. My contribution to the show was never sufficiently acknowledged and when it finally came down, I had no actionable opportunities to follow up on.
All that fucking work, making all that happy shit, all that time and…. Nothing. I started to get bitter. I had a freelance job at the time working under sub-contract for HASBRO setting up their showroom during New York TOY FAIR. I was doing thankless fabrication and display work, thankfully a lot in their STAR WARS room, which was still a huge set piece at the time. I didn’t mind it. Although doing it at that time was particularly painful because it looked as though that was ALL I was going to be able to do for the rest of my life, while all these other happy Jokers got shine for their silly, shiny toys. I decided I had to do Something. One perk of working at Hasbro was the abundance of loose, display figures I had access to while doing their merchandising. One day I absently put one of those removable Jango Fett helmets on a Count Dooku body and I was like, Huh, Bounty Hunter Sith Lord… Cool. There was some really cheap silicone and casting resin at the shop in Queens where a lot of the fabrication took place, so I boosted it. while I was waiting for the paint to dry on the Death Star wall panels I was charged with making, I whipped up some molds and began casting, keeping it all under a blanket in case anyone walked in to the room I was working in. I was on the clock after all. I kept casting and the molds got shittier and shittier as it went on; yeilding some really janky figures that were all cracked and deformed. Some of them were missing legs. “I don’t care,” I told myself. Nobody was gonna like these and they are all Assholes anyway. Fuck Toys and the people that buy that cute Happy shit. Fuck them all. When the molds finally gave out, I had 48 gray figures which I gave the most cursory coat of silver spray paintfrom a (stolen) can that was quickly running out. They sucked. I wanted then to suck. And I liked it that was. “Who is this guy?” I wondered. I had already been trooping around in my Hip-Hop Boba Fett gear since 1997, and I was using the SUCKADELIC name for my brand. “He’s me, I guess… Everything sucks, and he lords over all of it. He’s THE SUCKLORD. The SUCKLORD 66” I knew it was a disaster that was never gonna make it in polite society, so I wrote “You’re an asshole for buying this” on the back. And that was that.
I was vaguely satisfied with it. I made a Grey package with a shitty xerox photo of myself in the newly created Sucklord costume under some crappy dented bubbles pilfered from these old Power of the Force figures I had. I put them on my website for $20. A few actually sold and I was able to dump a few more at San Diego Comicon in 2004. It was cool, but not a game changer. Finally in 2005 I got a break. A relative of mine passed away and left me $7000. I had been working and living at my Mom’s house this whole time, and it was really tough. So I took the cash, rented a small Art Studio on lower Broadway, bought a tank and a compressor and all the other materials needed to make self-produced figures, and set up shop. I wasn’t quite set on doing more bootleg Star Wars figures at the time. I had a big plan to develop this line I dubbed SUCKPEGS; little cute peg monsters based off of the FISHER PRICE LITTLE PEOPLE I grew up with. I had dozens of character ideas sketched out, including vehicles and playsets. I attempted to make some runs of them myself. However, my mold craft was still at the novice level and I needed them to have the same clean feel as the toys I was copying, and I just couldn't get there. They came out rough and imperfect, and I was only able to make one prototype set before my patience gave out. I was getting nervous. I had never had to worry about rent before, and my inheritance was running low. If this little venture didn’t start paying off and soon, I was done for. It was just around this time that a little company called KIDROBOT had set up an office nearby in SOHO, and thru some friends I was able to connect with them. They were expanding and I saw my last chance to get a deal. I managed to get their founder, PAUL BUDNITZ, to come to my studio where I presented the Suckpegs to him. I did a big song and dance and had all these materials to show him. He was very nice and praised me and my work highly, but stopped short of offering me any kind of deal. That put me in a black mood. With time running out, I turned back to the SUCKLORD 66, my only marginal success and decided to make a follow up. This is a Bootleg, I thought, and I am working out of Chinatown, everyone in the Toy world sucks so fuck them, they don’t want me, so I am going to be the Villain of the story. I’m gonna make crap toys, blatantly steal from Star Wars and piss on the whole toy game. I thought “What’s cool in Star Wars after Boba Fett? The Stormtrooper, duh. I’ll make a weird Stormtrooper. How can I make it weird? Change the color? What’s a wild color? How about pink? Ok Pink. Why is he pink? Is he Gay? A Gay Stormtrooper? GAY EMPIRE? Sure why not…”
And there it was. I had 25 somewhat shoddy looking fake pink Stormtroopers. I made another shoddy looking xerox card for it and slapped it under a bubble. I splattered some pink paint all over it to make it look like some sort of accident happened in the shitty sweatshop it was supposedly created in. I tossed them on my website and…. Nothing. Uh-oh. Guess I’m moving back into my Mom’s house. Then one day shortly after that, FRANK KOZIK himself decided to post about this weird new GAY EMPIRE figure on the KIDROBOT Forum, and then BAM! The sales began. Nobody knew what to make of this thing. It sure didn’t look like a Dunny, or whatever cutesy thing everyone else was buying, but I guess the humor and the flagrant copyright infringement was enough of a novelty that people were willing to fork over $25 for this “Joke” figure. But I still didn’t have rent money. Then about a week later I get an email from some guy named Dov Kelemer. He says he has this distribution company called DKE TOYS. He sells a lot of Star Wars stuff and also distributes Artist Toys to stores. He says he would like to purchase all my stock of Gay Empire figures to sell to his retailers. BOOM! The check comes quick, the rent gets paid, and I’m now officially in business. I work my ass off. The Gay Empire stays in production, and new figures get added: The Necromancer, Sucklord 75, Another Bitch you Didn’t get to Fuck, Galactic Jerkbag, Mary Paper$. It was all selling! I moved to a better space in the old 195 Chrystie Street Building, quit all my freelance jobs and started to make bootlegs figures full time. Soon after that, in 2008, a guy Named Simeon Lipman came around. He worked for Christie’s Auction house and wanted to put my work in one of his sales. Man, this shit is really paying off, I thought. In just 3 years I went from nobody to the big league! And the hits kept on coming. 2009 was a breakout year, with figures like THE CREATURE, MISS THING, and THE FATES selling out within one hour of posting. I raised my prices, I got new fans. I would roll into Comicon with a briefcase filled with exclusive figures and I would literally be swarmed by lunatics waving cash at me; cleaning me out in minutes. I could do no wrong, it seemed. Then 2011 was another epic year. Famous Artist LAMOUR SUPREME from MISHKA moved in next to me and we partied and collaborated our asses off, selling shit like crazy. Any old half ass thing we would drunkenly pull out of our asses would sell for hundreds of dollars on instagram. Were were literally spinning gold. I had a fan club called GALACTIC JERKBAGS where all these die hard Suckadelic fans would hash over every detail of ever piece of minutia coming out of my world. The money was good.
And things kept getting better. I was running group shows. I had Hollywood Directors buying my shit. One of the Original Sucklord 66 figures sold on ebay for ELEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!! I had countless imitators popping up, trying to copy my style, I finally was able to make The Suckpegs up to the standard I wanted. The press was relentless. I was so happy! To cap all of this raging, continuing SUCK-CESS, I was cast as a contestant on BRAVO TV’s famous Art Competition Reality Show: WORK OF ART: THE NEXT GREAT ARTIST. And I killed it! All the art I made on there was terrible, but they loved me for some reason. I clashed with famous Art Critic JERRY SALTZ, all the girls flirted with me, and I ran my shtick all over the place. I even got all sentimental over some little girl I had to make art with, which humanized me. Not only was I a successful artist; a God in the Toy world I once despised for leaving me out, I WAS A STAR! Twitter was buzzing, there was mad press all over the place, work was selling. DKE was producing a bulk of product with my name on it. I had a TV deal cooking for my own show. Everybody wanted a piece of me. I did it! I went from being THAT guy; depressed, left out, broke, and bitter to THIS GUY: Paid, laid, Famous, and Winning. The sky was the limit. Big things were on the way. It was all upward and onward. There was no downside. I had finally made it… WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
Stay Tuned for the next part of the story: ON THE ICE