Monday, February 9, 2009

Super 7 on the Gorilla Biscuits toy

As many of you may have already noticed, a toy company called Super 7 released a Gorilla Biscuits toy that the band sold on their Japan and Australian tours this past December 2008. Naturally, we here at DCXX thought it would make for an interesting entry if we tracked down the creators over at Super 7 and got the inside scoop on this highly coveted toy. In contacting Alex and Brian from Super 7, we came to find out that they both were readers of DCXX, so they were more than happy to get on board. Check out what both Alex and Brian had to say and if anyone out there has an extra GB toy they want to get rid of, let me know, I'm still trying to get my hands on one. Better than you... -Tim DCXX

What exactly is Super 7 and who is behind it?

Brian: Super7 started in 2001 as a magazine about my obsessive/compulsive collecting of Japanese Monster toys from the 1960s/70s. Basically, it was a glorified 'zine. I took the exact same things I did when I made punk 'zines, but made a japanese toy magazine instead. As it was the advent of digital photography, which dramatically cut our production costs, and I was able to do all the back end technical production, so the finished product looked pretty professional for a home grown magazine. I figured there were probably about 20 other people who would care, but if I could break even, then why not make it? The response was overwhelming from the start, and the magazine took off. We started making our own collaborative figures with Japanese manufacturers, and then designing toys for their companies, eventually designing and manufacturing our own toys.

Along the way, we befriended a lot of artists who were into the same things, and started making toys with them as well. We eventually opened up our own store, started making clothing, published a few books, and generally have nerded out to the highest degree. Originally, all the product ideas were mine, but as we have grown, the staff here has really started pitching in with their ideas as well. Right now, it is me (Brian Flynn), Glenn Pogue, Josh Herbolsheimer, Alex Zavaleta, Chad Hensley and Aaron Gonzalez.

Alex: Super7 is Flynn's baby and he has done some amazing things with it. Before I worked for Super7, it was my favorite toy company. Everything about it felt like a small hardcore label. He was releasing toys in small numbers for a small subculture of fans. You had a good idea of what Brian's style and tastes were by the toys he made, just the same way someone like Sean O' Donnell(Youngblood) or Alex D (Grave Mistake) puts out records. Once I started working here, meetings turned into Brian and I talking about the Cro-Mags on a pretty regular basis. We aren't a huge company but we're also not trying to be Hasbro. I believe we do what we do well, on our terms, we have a very solid and dedicated fan base, and for that we are grateful.

Prior to doing this GB toy, what had you made?

Brian: We have been making toys for almost eight years. At this point we have made over 250 figures, but the GB figure was the first "non-monster" oriented toy we have made. Previously, everything was centered around classic monster toys, like Godzilla, our original monsters, as well as collaborative figures we had designed with companies like Secret Base or Gargamel or other artists that were friends of ours. Last summer we started a new "fight series" of monsters, called the Snakes of Infinity. This size and scale was perfect for what the Gorilla already looked like, so we decided to see about making it into a figure that could stand next to them. They have a mascot who was already a character, we just made it in to 3D.

Alex: I guess it was a small departure from what we "normally" do but the toy fits in well in relation to the rest of the toys we make. It came traditionally packaged, the way all Japanese toy have been since the 60s, with just a plastic bag and a header card. Even a few of our regulars, who have no idea who GB is, bought them. We released about 40 different toys last year alone and it looks right at home with the rest of our toys. Although I would say, of all the projects we worked on in 2007, this was by far the one I was MOST excited about. That is saying a lot considering we had the pleasure of starting a project with Lucasfilm at the same time.

Civ with GB at The Anthrax, Photo: Jeff Ladd

Who approached who in regards to doing the GB toy and what were the steps to making this thing a reality?

Brian: I actually approached Civ about it. I was not sure what he was going to think about the idea at first, but he was really into it, and liked the idea of making it, as long as we did it for fun, and not to make a really big deal out of. He was in SF shortly thereafter tattooing at Grime's shop, so we were able to meet up and talk about it further in person. Once we met, it was easy to get started. I got into Hardcore and Punk Rock in 1985, at the age of 14, and Civ is close to me in age, and I saw GB and Bold on tour back in '89. We had much of the exact same upbringing within the punk and hardcore world, just in different locations, so we thought about these kind of things much the same way. The last thing I wanted to do was make some crappy watered down mall punk version of my past, much less his, so he was not really worried about me doing the wrong thing with it. If the toy had come out crappy, we would not have made it. That said, the sculpt took a few rounds to get to where we both liked it. As an obsessive toy collector and manufacturer, little things that bug me are lost on most people, but I had to make sure it was right on our end as well. It had to function as a toy first and foremost, not just be a statue, and that translation was a little tricky.

Who made the actual artistic/design changes to the original gorilla that appears on the cover of the seven inch, and why were these changes made?

Brian: A couple of the changes were due to the actual manufacturing process, and a few were aesthetic. The feet had to be smaller to actually be able to pull out of the mold. The super wide feet in the illustration would not distort/compress enough to pull through the ankle widths without stretching or tearing. We made the feet as big as possible before we ran into production issues. The arms were much the same way, and we made them as big as possible. The other main change was the head. The original drawing has a tiny head, and on the sculpt it looked ridiculous. A lot of the things that make the 2D drawing amazing - the distortions of proportion especially, actually look horrible in 3D. Also, it is a flat view, so you really have to imagine how these shapes play out in 3d, and how they connect, which changes things immensely. Believe it or not, the hardest thing was the shorts. If you really look at the drawing, the shorts are crazy. Super short, high waters with a rolled cuff that are high enough that you can see half of the thigh. Getting that to look correct was the hardest part. I think I changed the sculpt four times just on the shorts.

Alex: It's funny because I think people forget how small the head actually is in the drawing. One of the first things people asked me about, in respect to the sculpt, was "Why isn't the head huge the way it is in the drawing?" As Brian mentioned there are limitations with the manufacturing side. So much care goes into the sculpt in regards to such as manufacturing, size, balance and even how it will eventually be painted. We were dealing with something iconic and so revered by many people so we took our time to get it right.

What type of input did the guys in GB have? How close did they work with you?

Brian: Mostly Civ, and he was really laid back. He said "I know you are more picky than I am, so make what you think is right first, and then I will make the changes I feel are necessary". It went really well. Ultimately, we made the toy to have fun, not for a business outlet, so we just worked on it back and forth until we were happy. It was a very natural process, nothing forced. Brian Clark, who actually drew the cover, was really psyched on it as well. Once it was finished the band was really into it, and the reaction from the fans on tour took them by surprise. I think it was more popular and unique than either of us expected it to be.

Alex: The reaction from fans and kids was great. From the day the prototype was debuted at comic con, we got phone calls at the store about it. I also tried to post on message boards about it as much as I could to give people the straight info on it. I think people were excited to see that there were hardcore kids behind it and it wasn't just some faceless company trying to make a buck. As Brian said we made the toy for fun and not to make money. If we wanted to do that we would have made a Metallica toy.

How many total were made and where were/are they sold?

Brian: Normally, we never tell how many we make of any of our toys. That way people buy the toys because they want them, not because they are rare or collectible. How many horrible records have you seen made in editions of 15/25/50 and then touted as "rare"? Something is only rare if 200 people want it and you make 50. If you make 50 and only 10 people want it, it is common. If you look at record (and toy) trade lists, they are full of "only 20 made!!" descriptions next to records/toys you wouldn't want anyways, but people still bought them. People end up buying things not because they want them, but because they are limited. So, we don't say how many we make of anything usually, we just make them. If you want them, cool, if not, that is cool too. Only time will tell if it is rare or not, the edition size is irrelevant. Just buy what you like.

The figures were sold on the Gorilla Biscuits Japanese and Australian tour in December of 2008. For the Super7 fans and collectors, we sold a certain amount of the figures through our store in San Francisco, that way both the fans of the band, and the fans of Super7 had their chance at getting them. The first version was a white vinyl with a blue sweatshirt and grey accents that was made to match the first pressing cover of the 7". There were also secret unpainted black figures for sale unannounced during the Japan part of the tour, and secret clear unpainted figures in Australia. The unpainted black is a tribute to many Japanese toy companies who always make the first edition of a toy in unpainted black vinyl, as a "prototype" and make it only available to the hardcore fans. Since we make all of our toys in Japan, we usually make unpainted black figures that are only available to our Fan Club. The unpainted clear is a tribute to a now-defunct shop called Base Xero Xero in Osaka. Their signature was exclusive all clear editions of toys for their shop. The shop owner Ussun now works at Three Tides tattoo in Osaka, where Civ has tattooed and was the first stop for them when landing in Japan for this tour as their "home base" of sorts. Both the black and clear unpainted were also made available to our Fan Club here in the states.

Alex: This was probably the most asked question over the months before the toy was released. On a daily basis I received frantic emails that just said "HOW MANY ARE BEING MADE??" As Brian said, we encourage people to buy what they like. If you like it painted, buy it painted. If you like the unpainted, buy that one. I would agree that is pretty uncommon for American toy companies to not release run numbers but we do things on our terms. I think our customers respect us for that. At the same time I understand the need of a manic collector to want every version we made and just wants to know what his chances are of getting them. So I did my best to give the people who emailed me about it before hand a heads up when they went on sale. Although the ones we did sell out of our store, sold out in hours.

Any future plans to do more GB toys or other toys like this that are HC related?

Brian: We are working on a couple other GB editions right now. We have a banana yellow vinyl with purple sweatshirt 2nd press edition in the works now, but that will probably be the last version that is tied to the 7". Civ is really into making a few versions that are just toys, not repackages of the record. You have to remember all those guys collected 12" GI Joe back in the day, so they have a history with toys, which is why I think this toy has not felt forced or fake.

We have talked about a few different toy collaborations beyond the GB figure, but I think we (Super7) have to be wary of making too many band toys, otherwise you end up looking like Hot Topic or something. We make monster toys first and foremost. We have been trying to do one other collab project, but have not worked it out quite yet. We have a few other ideas as well, but I want to wait until later, after we are done with the GB figure to make them. I think one HC toy at a time is enough for now, otherwise we end up diluting how cool and unique of a project this really is for both of us. If every band had a toy, how lame would that be? I wish I could tell you what the other projects are, but the moment I do that, a ton of crappy companies that copy everything we do will try and come along and swoop it up, making fake junk of our history instead of something nice. I would rather keep those ideas where they belong.

Alex: Yes, our lips are sealed about future releases. Too many snakes in the grass. Although we have some great things planned for 2009.


ProfaneMethane said...

I wanted to get these at the Melbourne show but I missed out. I was pretty pissed
It was still awesome to see GB in Australia, obviously.

Nick said...

Me too! Great,great show, but would have loved to have gotten one of these.

Geert VH said...

Great read!!

And I too would have loved one.. But, as they said, they sold out in hours in their store and I was a little late...

eric said...

Great entry! Fun read. Unfortunately missed out on these things as well :(

david Jr. said...

i was on this like white on rice. thankfully arthur made sure i got one. thanks friend!
i have ordered from super7 in the past and its awesome. just like a hxc distro (only in the best ways, hahah). awesome stuff done with the proper attitude.
if your into this kind of stuff, support them.
i keep this figure at my shop and everyone who knows what it is are really stoked when they see it. its a nice little "secret handshake" when people who dont appear subculture on the surface recognise something like this.
another great entry tim.

Jason said...

Its rules that these guys are having fun making cool toys they want to make and even pay homage to a great hardcore band like Gorilla Biscuits. Alex is an awesome dude and all-round good guy to boot.

Head2Wall said...

I got an email the day they went up and slept on it. Good to hear I might be able to get one in the future.

The Crippler said...

Grown men playing with toys ?!?!

Maybe little Billy down the street will bring his over and you can play with his in the sandbox at 4:30 right after Power Rangers ends.

Neckdeep said...

Screw that thing...check THESE adidas out:

Anonymous said...

Great post, Tim. I'm not a toy collector so I'm not familiar with Super 7 but this piece was very interesting. Kudos to Brian and Alex for providing us DCers with a great and insightful interview as well.

Tradition said...

I ordered one in the mail, and mine came with a special note that said "There's Only One Truth!" Haha.

Bleeding Edges said...

I ordered the GB toy as soon as I could, and also ordered one of their Ghost Land figures and a magazine. When I opened the package I got 5 Ghost Land figures and 3 magazines. Super 7 also did a promotion recently where if you were laid off within the past 6 months and could send them proof, they sent out a free toy to you. great company!

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krakit said...

I'm a toy collector so this
interview is something that
definitely lands in my interests.
After reading it I must say
that it was a great interview.

I absolutely love the fact
Super 7 doesn't tell what
their run numbers are.

Thanks for asking about the
changes to the original 2D
artwork. Brian Flynn's answer
made a lot of sense.

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