The first annual Designer Toy Awards will land tomorrow at Bar Basic (410 10th Ave) starting at 9 & I was fortunate to be able to talk to Clutter Magazine’s very own Miranda O’Brien & Jim Crawford about this exciting event.
When Nerds Attack: Can you please provide our readers a little more background on Clutter and what you stand for?
Miranda O’Brien: We started the magazine back in 2004. I was a huge toy collector at the time and had just finished my degree in graphic design. I had imported Japanese and Chinese toy magazines just to find out what was going on and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. At the time there weren’t that many blog sites or news sites that were into these figures that were published in English. So one day while looking at one of the magazines I thought “Why don’t I just start an English Language version of one and get the information out about these toys?” And that is how Clutter was born.
We want to provide more background and reasons why artists try to produce 3D versions of their 2D artwork. There are a lot of news places where you can see what is coming out and when but not really much on the origins and that is where we really try to keep our voice.
Jim Crawford: In parallel to Clutter starting up in 2004, on my end I was one of the founders of a company called STRANGEco which is one of the larger designer toys businesses. Right when Clutter started, STRANGEco had a whole brand of products and a distribution business. We had contacted Miranda to distribute Clutter in North America so in a sense I have been working with her and the magazine on the product sales side before she moved to New York. Now I am part of the Clutter team. Because they are the oldest continually published print source of news on the designer toy market, I have seen it’s quality really rise over the years. I mean, for such a small niche, it is very well connected with the designers and everyone knows Miranda. Clutter really broadcasts at a certain level of understanding about the market and it’s particularly important at this moment to have a print magazine and a quickly growing web presence.
WNA: Can you please explain for those of us that may not know the difference between a designer toy and something that gets released by companies like Hasbro or even something I could find through Sideshow Collectibles?
JC: The real focus of the designer toy market is that the means of production is taken from the classic industrial method that these mass produced manufactures are using. It is changed a bit to allow the individual artists to utilize it to create a hybrid between a piece of fine art and a commercial product, not unlike a limited edition print. The primary difference is that by and large if you go to Sideshow, or Mattel, or even Hasbro, the products are not based on original creations, they’re based on the most recent licensed properties such as Iron Man or for your kid who loves Cars and whines to have that Lightning McQueen. There is a difference. Designer toys are usually limited editions and we work with creators from different subcultures which influence their artistic expression, whether it be comics, graphic art, skate decks, rock poster art or different kinds of illustration in a hybrid of fine art and popular art. And they combine these subcultures with a commercial product.
MO: In the designer toy world we are definitely trying to create a piece of artwork, or our version of it, be it a character or a sketch or a painting. In the commercial business it is not necessarily about that. Other factors like sale and manufacturing water down the product from what the artists were trying to reproduce in the first place.
WNA: So it is really more of a labor of love?
MO: Yes, totally.
WNA: Can you please give us a little more info on how the award ceremony began?
MO: We wanted to celebrate all of the artists who spend a lot of time and effort in an industry that isn’t recognized anywhere else. We thought it was time someone stood up there and recognized the people that really put a lot of effort and heart into creating an amazing piece of artwork. It was an idea that we have been throwing around for many years. After I moved from the UK to New York, it seemed that now would be the perfect time to create an award show and really help support dreams and raise awareness of the Designer Toy Movement among people who otherwise might not have known about it.
JC: Apart from what Miranda said, a lot of it is timing. This is a tight knit market that has expanded a lot and to have a ceremony to call our own so to speak, I think the timing is great. The fact that Clutter is taking this on at this moment feels right considering the maturity of the market. There are companies that have been in business for ten plus years and artists that have created hundreds of pieces. We want to be able to connect longstanding fans and businesses with a new generation of people who are interested in designer toys. The awesome part of this is that it is not just Clutter making the calls, Clutter has organized a tremendous board made up of artists, brand owners, journalists and people who have been part of the market for a long time and have a tremendous level of knowledge. Just to have this board be a major part of the ceremony and awards is great.
MO: This is for the newer fans as well as the older fans alike. To give those who work behind the scenes at the toy stores and the manufacturers the recognition that they deserve.
WNA: Did you find it difficult to create the categories?
MO: Our nomination process was open to the public so it wasn’t like we sat in a room and came up with who was in what category.
WNA: Were there some nominees that you felt should have gotten in this year but did not receive enough votes?
MO: There are always a few people who don’t make it in but being open to the public we certainly left it open for all. Hopefully next year the nomination total will be even higher.
JC: Certainly here were a few items that I have seen over the year that I thought would have made a cool nomination. I don’t know if anyone got upset that they were not nominated but when you open it to the public there are certain things that might not have been remembered or maybe they were to shy to nominate themselves.
WNA: How long was the online voting process live?
JC: About two to three weeks but the nomination period was open for a long time so anybody that had a favorite that they felt should be in had the ability to log on and do so. And there were a lot of nominations, we had to bring the lists down to the top five from each category.
MO: We also wanted people to nominate themselves. We keep the nominations private so people would feel more comfortable doing that.
JC: There is a difference between the voting process and the nomination process. Because it is the first year, we really wanted to encourage participation and having a lot of nominations is something that we did not see as a big deal at all.
WNA: Since this is the first year how far back were nominations allowed to go?
MO: We opened the time period from March 2009 to February 2011 just to cover a couple of years and give us a wider stance. It would’ve been nice to go back ten years but that would’ve been overwhelming I think.
JC: It would have been opening a big can of worms!
WNA: Jim, I know you are up for the Lifetime Achievement award, how did it feel to barb the nom for that?
JC: It was flattering and embarrassing at the same time to be nominated for that. For the record, I certainly did not nominate myself.
WNA: Are there any early favorites going into the event?
MO: There are a few favorites that I hope will win but I do not want to go on the record mentioning any particulars, though.
WNA: Is this an event that you plan on doing in San Diego during Comic-Con every year?
MO: We are definitely going to switch it around. San Diego seemed to be the most obvious option and we really wanted to make a splash but we are definitely looking at some possibilities for next year of where we might bring the awards, maybe New York Comic Con.
WNA: Onto the post ceremony party, can we learn a little more on the location and how that came about?
JC: San Diego Comic-Con, like it is with a lot of other popular genres, is kind of the epicenter, you know? And at all of the events a ton of fans are there, a lot of the brands are there, and it becomes a place on an annual basis where an international group of people involved in designer toys gather. So for the inaugural year to have the ceremony take place in San Diego during Comic-Con week made a lot of sense. We have partnered up with Munky King, which is this toy brand and store from Los Angeles, and they have been doing this party on Thursday nights in San Diego at a bar and restaurant in the Gaslamp right around the corner from the Convention Center called Bar Basic for four years. That party is the epicenter of the epicenter for the designer toy industry. All of the artists and brands who are in the business go to this party so we thought it was a no-brainer to partner up with Munkey King who have graciously incorporated us for this great ceremony party.
WNA: What can you tell me about these live paintings that are scheduled?
JC: The live painting is something they have done every year. They have a section where they invite different artists to come and paint on-site and you can watch the process as it emerges.
WNA: Is the event open to the public or is it invitation only?
JC: It is open to the public but it is at a bar so you need to be 21. You also need to get there early because it will be packed. Every year it is packed and there is a line to get in and this place is also a brick oven pizzeria so there may be a line just to get in for the food as well.
MO: There are also some gift-bags for the first few people so get there early.
WNA: Will the bags contain items from sponsors?
MO: Exactly. Items from some great artists too.
WNA: Miranda, I know you are a big fan of karaoke. Will we see you rock out?
MO: Not at the party but I will on Friday night!
JC: In San Diego you spend all day at the convention center and you spend all night going to parties, there is something to do every single night and usually five things to do at once.
WNA: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?
MO: I want to talk about how exciting the award itself is. It was designed by Pete Fowler who is a Godfather of the scene out in the UK. We were very excited that he could do this for us.
JC: The award looks great. It will be a coveted item in and of itself.
WNA: How tall will it be?
JC: It’s about 16 inches tall.
WNA: That’s pretty big! Can you please let us know where we can go for more information on the event and check out who the winner are?
MO: You can follow on twitter @TheToyAwards as well as on the website of the awards, which is www.designertoyawards.com.
WNA: Thanks guys, see you there!