If you’re like me, cycling isn’t the only facet of interest in your life. Sure, bikes unite us all but everyone’s got their own particular sensibilities when it comes to music and art. Some of my favorite artists are also my good friends. Like a good friend, I want to give my homies some exposure which brings me to a new series on the blog called Facets of Interest. For my first interview, I had a little chat with Ricky from Velocitron. He’s not your typical artist and his work isn’t your typical media.
Read on to dive into the mind of Velocitron!
Who is your daddy and what does he do? Kidding. What’s your name and where do you live?
Ricky is fine, but Velocitron is also OK in my book. Its always kind of cool to see the maker’s referred to by their names for some reason. I live in Koenji, Tokyo. Its basically the best place in the world.
You’re originally from the States, correct? What brought you to Japan?
You got it, from Pittsburgh to be precise. I started studying Japanese in high school because I was a gigantic nerd (which hasn’t really changed that much). I was very deep into kaiju movies (mainly the Gamera series but also Godzilla and other tokusatsu-type stuff). I actually spent about 6 months in high school sculpting a life-size bust of the Guyver to give you an idea just how far gone I was. I kept studying Japanese in college (and kept buying too many Japanese toys) and then moved over here after I finished school.
I’m assuming many of my readers don’t know what Kaiju is. Could you briefly explain what Kaiju is and what it means to you?
Kaiju is a pretty interesting word that seems like it has been thrown around a lot lately, especially among toy collectors. To me, Kaiju refers to giant monsters, for lack of a better description. Basically monsters from any of the Toho, Daiei or Tsuburaya movies and TV shows (Godzilla, Gamera, Daimajin, Ultraman, etc) or variations from those (like the Patchi Kaiju genre, which are basically bootleg versions of the monsters from or inspired by the aforementioned shows and movies). To be honest I wouldn’t really say the figures I make are Kaiju. The style is similar (Japanese soft vinyl), but the designs are more influenced by Western monster/horror movies and Japanese horror comics and anime. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the Kaiju genre and the figures that come out of it – but there are just a ton of other people out there making amazing figures in that style now and the direction I want to go in is just a few degrees removed.
Blank Larvagon via Velocitron’s Flickr
How long did it take you to finalize the sculpt for your Larvagon? Also, what was it like getting your first one back from the factory? Is there anything you would have changed in the original mold?
Larvagon was my second figure, and it was a pretty ambitious leap from the first one (Bechigon). For the first figure I wanted to do something simple, so Bechigon is basically a one part figure (with a cap – so technically two parts). That makes it a lot cheaper to get the wax prototype and molds made. For Larvagon I jumped up to a seven part figure with some pretty complex parts and unconventional jointing.
Getting your first figure back from the factory is always cool, mainly because they look so much better in vinyl than in clay or wax! It seems like an automatic 10 points up on the cool scale from this boring gray clay sculpture to a shiny, clear vinyl figure. Its also awesome because you no longer have to worry about breaking it, so you can play around with the figure. I usually sculpt with polymer clay, which is great for details but is also pretty fragile, so its cool to be able to throw them around a little bit and mess around with the parts. That’s also the first time you really get articulation, so its neat to see how you can pose them.
In terms of regrets, you always look at the figure and see a spot here or there you would have liked to fix or should have cleaned up but hey- that’s what gives it character. I don’t want to make perfectly squeaky clean toys – I like a little bit of roughness and an unfinished feel to the sculpt. I think that’s a big difference between Japanese vinyl and Western vinyl. Some of the Western stuff is great, but I just get a mass produced feel from a lot of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, its just not something I see myself making.
Everyone had toys growing up. How did the toys of your childhood influence the design of your figures?
I think my childhood was more influenced by toys than others, even! I still have hundreds upon hundreds in my parent’s basement in the US (because they are way too nice to throw them out – THANK YOU!). Even when I was a kid I always liked the monsters and bad guys more than the good guys. I think I had about twice as many Cobra figures as GI Joe’s just because the bad guys design was so much cooler. One of the ones that really sticks out as a classic was the Rancor from the ROTJ (Return of the Jedi) line, I played with that thing until the rubber band in his mouth broke. I also had this awesome vintage board game called Mostly Ghostly that had the coolest cover painting of a bunch of skeletons in a cave and was full of glow-in-the-dark bones. I also grew up watching Godzilla movies all the time (the best was Godzilla vs. Megalon, but Biollante was my favorite monster) and I basically exploded when Bandai released the vinyl Ultraman monsters in the early 90’s. Those figures were amazing! So basically everything I am making now is just a figure I would have loved to own as a kid.
Deadly Spawn Larvagon
I know you have to be a horror / sci-fi freak. The Deadly Spawn larvagon is one of my favorites. Who are some of your favorite artists? Musicians, directors (movies), painters, sculptors, photographers, doesn’t matter. Who do you look to for inspiration?
Wow – I could basically write you a book on just this. I guess I pull inspiration from a lot of areas (maybe a bit too much inspiration some times, haha) but I’ll try to be as brief as I can.
For artists I am a huge fan of Japanese horror manga. I love Kazuo Umezu, Hideshi Hino, Junji Ito – the big guns, basically. But I also really, really like a lot of the super-minor stuff like Tsunozou Murotani, Norikazu Kawashima, Miki Ibara and basically anything published by Hibari or Lemon Comics. I also love Kentarou Miura and Berserk (particularly how he channels diverse influences like Hieronymous Bosch into his monster designs). Shotaro Ishinomori is a big one, too, obviously. On the Western comics side, I really, really love the covers for old sci-fi and horror pulps, as well as old 60’s and 70’s horror comics. There are a lot of other artists and illustrators that I love, but I’d say a lot of my inspiration comes from there.
When I was in high school I watched a ton of bad horror movies. I literally wore through the Psychotronic Guide to Video and had to tape some of my other crappy movie books together. To be honest I don’t watch nearly as many movies as I used to (I basically burned myself out, I think) but a lot of that still lingers. Deadly Spawn and the “sequel”, Metamorphosis, are awesome and in the same vein Galaxy of Terror is another classic. I also love post-apocalyptic movies, especially Robot Holocaust. Lately I’ve been watching a lot more Japanese stuff – I’ve got House (by Nobuhiko Obayashi) on deck and I’m really looking forward to seeing that. I’ve also been LOVING Noboru Iguchi’s stuff (like Machine Girl). Those are basically the movies I set out to make in film school but lacked the time, money and talent to pull off.
Oh yeah! And one other one that is a HUGE influence is old pulp horror and sci-fi. Just about anything published in Weird Tales (unless it was by Seabury Quinn… he’s kind of lame). Lovecraft is a given.
Bull Alien toy from Kenner circa 1992 via Toy Archive
In fact, I guess if I had to boil down my three main influences it’d be Fist of the North Star, HP Lovecraft and Aliens. (Sorry for the thesis paper on things I think are cool!)
Bechigon (left) and Ghoul (right)
When we were in Tokyo, you gave the Mishka crew a new toy. It’s called the Ghoul correct? Is this the new direction for Velocitron? Will you continue to make your older toys?
Yeah, the Ghoul is basically the start of a new “force” in the Velocitron Universe. I’ve been slowly working on a back story/setting for the entire line but I’m still trying to find both the time and the best method for getting it out there. Right now I’m thinking a Japanese-style Light Novel (basically a relatively simple, short novel with some illustrations) would be the most straightforward. I’m definitely going to be continuing with the Bechigon/Larvagon evolution, but the Ghouls aren’t so much a new line as a new group inside the same line. They’re in scale with the other figures, so hopefully that will help build up some continuity and cohesion as well. So please feel free to stage them having fights (that’s the best way to display them).
I wanted to carry on with the more dark sci-fi/creature feel of the other figures but also have a way to bring a more horror influence into the picture as well. So if everything goes well expect to see more releases on each side and a more fleshed out lineup in the not-too-distant future! One of the reasons I haven’t continued with the Bechigon-based set yet is because I already know exactly what I want to do for the next release and its going to be a bit challenging (and also a bit expensive).
Paint and articulation on a Larvagon
The word “limited” is used a lot today. From sneakers, to t-shirts and even bike frames. All of these companies are throwing the word around to generate hype. A lot of the Western Vinyl also uses the word to generate hype and increase demand. Sure, 200 may seem like a small number to produce a run of vinyl figures but the Japanese Kaiju is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Tell us what a “limited” run of Eastern Vinyl toys means. How many pieces do you typically make in a run?
Again, I think it comes back to the way the figures are produced. Almost all Western vinyl figures are made in factories in China. Almost all Japanese vinyl figures (save the stuff made by larger companies) are made by hand by the creators. So if you have a Blobpus figure there is a very good chance Blobpus himself painted that figure. That’s one reason the numbers are so much smaller – its hard to paint a run of 200 figures by yourself. Also most of the stuff done in China relies heavily on paint masks and assembly-line style production, which is faster and makes QC easier. Almost all of the Japanese figures rely heavily on hand spray with a few, or no, masks. That means every piece is going to be just a little different and also take a bit longer to produce but it also means that not only is the original creator involved from the inception to the completion of the project at almost all levels. Again, its not that one is necessarily better than the other – I think a lot of China-produced PVC figures are absolutely jaw dropping – but its just a different production style and a different type of finished product.
Velocitron’s paint area
So for me, a run of 15 is a lot. I usually try to aim for between 5-10, but I’ve done runs of two or three if it was for a small gallery show, etc. Even for most of the “bigger” names in the Japanese vinyl scene a regular run would probably be around 30 or so at this point for a specific color or specific release.
What’s next for Velocitron? Any big plans to make it back over to the States?
As far as I know at this point, I am basically planted in Tokyo. I’d love to jump over to the US for some events, but it would be almost impossible to keep making figures while being that far away from the centers of production. Even the type of paint I use is made and sold only in Japan, so it would be hard to even get the materials I need without being here. But hopefully with a little bit of time and some elbow grease I’ll be at the point where I can make a jump over for SDCC or NYCC at some point – I’d love to do that!
Leather jackets, in or out?
The only question about leather jackets is are you in one (good) or out of one (bad).
Thanks a ton Ricky! For those of you who are interested in Kaiju, you can follow any number of sources to stay on top of these releases. Kaiju Chronicle is a good one to bookmark. If and when Velocitron produces some mail-order pieces, you can be sure I’ll post it here! I’ve also uploaded a few more photos of my Velocitron toys here on my Flickr.