Making Monsters for Kaiju Fans!
Interview with David Oaks, Toy Freakz
Author: Bob Johnson
Special thanks to Kevin deAntonio
Let’s start with you. What is your background and how did you start Toy Freakz?
I spent my first ten years in Hawaii. I think I was watching KIKAIDER and MAZINGER Z before I knew who Mickey Mouse was! My love of Japanese toys comes from my older brother. He traveled quite a bit and always seemed to find the most amazing robots for me. He has since passed on, but I remember how these toys made me feel and it stuck with me.
I started Toyfreakz because I think Japanese design is amazing. Unfortunately, it can be both difficult and expensive to get hold of these spectacular toys. My goal with the website is to make these toys readily available here in the U.S., without the crazy retail markup. We also ship every order using Priority mail, at no charge, which makes it even easier for collectors.
How long has Toy Freakz been around? Has it been doing what you expected or has it been a nice surprise?
We actually started in 2001 under a different name – “Roboculture”. While we didn’t have much of an online presence, we did have an amazing store in Orange County, California. It was part gallery, part retail store. We closed up in 2005 in order to focus more intently on our online sales and have been going like gangbusters ever since! We had to make some adjustments during the recession, but hopefully with the economy slowly growing now, we can expand our offerings and take a larger role in the creation of original products.
What has been the big seller? Is there a particular toy or toy line that has done really well?
Godzilla, Godzilla, GODZILLA! Toho films and Tokusatsu in general have a huge following, both young and old. Products based on these mega monsters are always great sellers and my personal favorite. I am especially impressed with the new S.H. MonsterArts line from Bandai/Tamashi. These figures are extremely articulated and feature amazing detail. I can’t wait to see more vintage characters in the offering.
Did you always want to focus on Japanese toys? Or did the company take itself in that direction?
Japanese toys always have been and always will be our main focus here at Toyfreakz. I grew up on monsters and robots and I am simply crazy about Japanese art design! I think the Japanese are very creative in their designs and they are totally unique. Maybe this is because these products are also designed with adults in mind or perhaps it’s because they are made by grown ups with a fondness for childhood memories. Either way, we love them all!
Do you collect toys yourself or is this strictly business?
I am not a collector per say, but I will hold on to a piece if it really impresses me. People would often come into my store and ask me about my collection, and I would tell them, “you are standing in it”. I think that is the best part about being in the toy business. I get to play with all this stuff as it passes through our inventory. I am actually in the process of opening up a new location here in Oregon. It’s going to have many of my favorites on permanent display.
What made you decide to start a line of exclusive, limited edition toys?
I have been a fan of Y-MSF toys for a long time. I love the fact that they choose seldom used characters and put a lot of detail into them. I also think it’s great that they are still made completely in Japan, which is rare these days. We started selling their existing figures and I thought it would be really fun to put a bit of a spin on them. The idea is to have a popular artist come up with his own, unique color design and then create a collectible header card to match.
I know you did the Matt Frank Gabara, but what other artists are you considering for paint jobs/header cards?
We are in the process of finishing up a new “flying Hedorah” with art design by Mr. Bob Eggleton. His work is spectacular and we had a great time on his design. That one is available for pre-order now and will be followed up with an all new Gorosaurus and Minya set. No artist has been decided upon yet, but I am thinking of going with someone a little less traditional.
Many of us are fans of your Limited edition YMSF Kaiju collectibles, what is your affiliation with the people at YMSF? How often do your two companies collaborate on these Limited edition figure runs?
Y-MSF are very good about letting us go wild with the design of the Artist EX series. Once they have decided on a character and sculpt, we are free to run with it. I prefer for the artist to express their own personal style and vision of that monster. Once I receive the artwork, Y-MSF will come up with a couple of “test shots” and we choose the one that feels right.
When a Toyfreakz L.E. is decided upon, what is the typical turn around time from production to release?
The typical turn around time for this process is about three months. The edition size is limited to fifty pieces to maintain the integrity and value of the line. I think the collectors and fans tend to appreciate a product that is a bit harder to come by and not sold by every retailer!
Do you decide on the Limited Edition figures and approach YMSF, or does YMSF approach you with a limited run of figures they would like to sell through Toy Freakz?
Mr. Fumiaki Kawakami of Y-MSF has his favorites and typically makes toys that he would like to own, himself. When he figures out what he wants to do, he will send us some prototype images or sketches, and we go from there.
I also noticed that your L.E.’s usually have a run of 50 pieces, like your “Matt Frank Electric Blue Gabera” for example. Is 50 a standard release number, or is this a licensing issue?
Smaller runs are easier to manage and tend to be a bit more valuable. Occasionally, Y-MSF will go back and revisit a character with a slightly different paint scheme. Our particular designs are only done once.
Speaking of licensing, do you license these figure runs from Toho, or are all the licensing “headaches” taken care of by YMSF?
Luckily, Y-MSF handles all the licensing and royalty payments to Toho. We get to work on the fun parts.
Can you tell us a little about the casting process? Like what kinds of vinyl are used for casting the figures? What kind of molds are used, are they metal, or some other kind of rigid material?
Y-MSF begins a new project by commissioning a model. Once they are happy with the size and details, it goes through an approval process with Toho. If Toho signs off on it, a wax mold is made, which will later be converted to a metal mold. The vinyl used on these figures is a “soft” vinyl, very similar to the type Bandai uses. It is easy to work with and does a nice job articulating details. When it comes time to design a paint scheme, the artist for that particular edition basically takes over. I will send over images of the unpainted monster and hopefully inspire them to go a bit crazy with it. The second edition that we are working on right now is being done by Science Fiction artist extraordinaire, Bob Eggleton. We are thrilled to have him involved, and I think the fans are going to love what he came up with! Once I receive the finished header card from the artist, the task of interpreting that design into an achievable paint pattern for the actual toy begins. The staff over at Y-MSF is very good at what they do and can typically come up with the right look with one or two “test shots”.
Who decides on the figure’s paint scheme, and are these figures painted individually by hand, or are they mass painted assembly line style by machines?
Y-MSF has released unpainted figures for other retailers, but we prefer the process of collaboration. Bringing the header artwork together with the finished toy to create a truly special collectors piece is unique in this industry and a heck of a lot of fun!
What kinds of paint are used on vinyl figures?
These monsters are painted with a type of acrylic paint formulated specifically for this type of application. It works very well, because it actually contains some of the same compounds found in the vinyl itself.
There are fans that like to give these figures their own custom paint jobs. Have you ever thought about releasing a limited run of an unpainted figure and have these fans post their finished figures on the Toyfreakz site?
I have been thinking about a possible contest where visitors to the Toyfreakz site could submit their own designs for a particular monster. I would create a voting system, and the winner would be released as a special edition. If I can squeeze it in, I may do it in 2013.
Have you ever commissioned an original L.E. Figure from YMSF, or has it always been one of their pre-existing figures?
We do have plans to commission a series of artist created original monsters, but that series is a year off. In the mean time, we will keep working on the Artist EX Series which began with Matt Frank’s Gabara and continues this with this fantastic Hedorah set by Bob Eggleton.
If you could commission your favorite kaiju, which one would it be, & would you have it painted in that kaiju’s colors, or do a crazy paint scheme on it?
If I have the opportunity to commission a classic Toho character from Y-MSF, I think I would have to go with the classic Mechagodzilla. I love it’s exposed rivets and sharp edges. I think it would look great with some weathering effects and battle damage. Than again, maybe neon green!