Well these last few years i have gotten into the seedy, degenerate world of bootleg-action-figures-as-art. “WTF?” I hear you say… Well… BASICALLY some dudes collage existing action figures, into ‘new’ art-pieces. How? By taking apart existing action figures, casting the necessary ‘parts’ wanted, adding a bit of extra sculpting to the casted parts, then BAM! A new ‘bootleg’ art piece is created. Simple to do, BUT damn hard to do well.
…That’s some. Other’s like Brad Rader + his label ‘Battle Babies‘ outta Kingsport, Tennessee, U.S.A; take bootlegging to a vastly weirder level: they collage one-off pop-art pieces, using baby-toys!
(Picture below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece)
Get to know ‘Battle Babies’ and Brad Rader in the interview below….
Getting to Know ‘Battle Babies’ + Brad Rader:
Name + D.O.B?
Bradford Rader. I go by Brad though even though now I’m older Bradford seems better. June 5 1976
What Country + City you reppin’?
Since I’m from the USA I didn’t realize there were other countries. I’m from a little city called Kingsport in the State of Tennessee.
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life – age 10, age 15 + age 20…basically trying to piece together Mr. ‘Battle Babies’ pivotal moments. Toys, games, women, kids, school, college… ANYTHING keep it honest…
* Age 10 –
Well at 10 I could put my hand in a box of toys and parts blindfolded and tell you what anything was even if I didn’t own it. I could feel the accessory or actual figure and just know. Toys really developed my tactile memory and it never went away. It’s either my greatest or shittiest Superpower.
* Age 15 –
At age 15 it was 1991 and I had left toys behind for sports and Masturbation even though secretly I still loved them. I guess if maybe there were more toys of masturbation quality level at the time I wouldn’t have been as ashamed of loving toys…or maybe more ashamed, who knows.
* Age 20 –
Fast forward to age 20. I’m still 5 years away from meeting my wife and I’m maybe as stupid as I’ve ever been. Every single decision I’m making at this time is so other people will like or accept me, these feel like wasted years but they led me to where I am so I wouldn’t trade them. I was seriously a sheep on SO many levels though.
Why the name ‘Battle Babies’ for your statue/figure brand?
I made Grenade baby first from a bag I found at the flea market that had the baby, a grenade, a dinosaur in it. Then a month or so later I found an entire bag of old little babies at a toy show and made a batch of about ten more. No one had seen them but me and my wife and they were all riding cheap dollar store animals with vintage toy parts and guns crudely attached so “Battle Babies” just kind of came out.
(Picture Below of Mr. ‘Battle Babies’ – Brad Rader)
As cheesy as it sounds, my only goal is to keep making things that just make people laugh or smile. If I make something that makes me happy it usually makes someone else happy too.
“Live your life how it makes sense to you” I wish I could claim coining, that but I heard it said like that first at the end of Clerks 2 by Jeff Anderson, “Randall Graves”. When my wife and I heard that in the Theatre we were just married and it really changed the course of our life.
(Picture below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece)
I have so much music I love I don’t think I couldn’t nail it down that easily. A band? Geez. I’ll try…ok, here goes, one Band…Johnny cash, Cake, Billy Ocean, Talking Heads, Wreckless Eric, the kinks, the Beatles, Jack White in any band, TV Show theme songs, The Monkees, Etc. That’s my favorite Band.
Favorite TV show(s)?
Currently, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad. The past, Night Court, Transformers, Star Trek of any kind, Different Strokes, Mr. belvedere. I like lots of things.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
NFL’s Green Bay Packers. I seem to care less and less about watching sports the older I get though.
I could name about 1000. Ill stick to my all time favorite though. Raising Arizona. Greatest movie of all time to me.
Favorite action figure(s)?
Again I have to answer this my way. All 5 vintage G1 Dinobots. They exist as one toy to me.
What do your friends + family make of the whole perpetual adolescence/Peter-Pan/man-child aspect of toy art + toy collecting?
We have done a great job of surrounding ourselves with people that are like minded. Stacey’s parents thought it was odd at first but when I started making some money doing Battle Babies they started to understand our love of all things toys more.
(Picture below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece)
Specific ‘Battle Babies’ Art Questions:
Describe the method of making a ‘Battle Babies’ piece – step by step, from idea to finished creation?
It usually starts with two or three parts that don’t necessarily seem to belong together that I want to see occupy the same space. More stuff eventually is “welcomed to the party pal” Die Hard style and then you have a BB.
(Photo below of Brad’s desk mid creation)
You get a lot if not all your ‘parts’ from flea-markets. Best flea market find?
We’ve found so much Cool stuff together but easily it’s the Speclatron Dethlor we found in a basket for a Dollar.
Best flea market story?
Gonzales comes to mind. We found a Massive Dor Mei Godzilla with no price a while back. This thing was perfect. We asked the guy how much and he said he was just watching the table for his boss. He gets on the phone and askew him “how much is this “Gonzales” toy?”. He was 7 bucks. He now “lives” with us and is forever called Gonzales. Although going to the Cane County .fair in Chicago this last year blew my mind. You should really try to make it to that show some day.
Yr pieces are all one-off collages, BUT you also use lots of ‘fire’ and ‘ice’ effects in your pieces… Usually in clear plastic. What is this stuff? And do you make it, buy it, sculpt it?
(Photo below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece using clear plastic effects)
Most of it are modern Hasbro star wars blast effects and accessories. I search for them, buy them and have lots of amazing toy friends constantly sending me stuff. I am always looking for those pieces though. They are my plastic gold!
Some of your newer pieces involve a mini mecha style ‘Battle Baby’ that looks specifically sculpted. What is the story behind the little guy? (Literally as in the sculpt itself, and who he/it is as a character in your overarching ‘Battle Babies’ narrative).
That Baby is named “Cry-Borg”. It’s from OMFG series 2 by October Toys. The figure is sculpted by the amazing Andrew Scribner. He is a top notch Toy Professional. When the voting for series 2 ended and I saw his sculpt for CRYBORG I flipped. I asked my Buddy Charles Marsh, aka, the incomparable, Monsterforge, who this guy was because he didn’t really have a name for it yet locked down. I called him up and told him Stacey and I had come up with Cry Borg and he could just have the name if he wanted it, toy friendship made!
(Photos below of ‘Battle Babies’ pieces using “CryBorg” sculpt by Andrew Scribner)
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
Some people say all of those, so I guess it’s all of those. Here’s the douchebag answer…My creations are joy juxtaposed with social commentary of youth colliding with concepts there are ready for. Add Fart noise now! I just like making them and l love when people enjoy then.
When did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, sculpture anything)?
When I was young I loved to Draw, sculpt, whatever I could do to create something, making wire sculptures, all kinds of stuff. When I was a teenager and worried about having the right kind of shoes or brand of shirt to be cool I left all that behind like a dumbass.
Any formal art training?
Nope. I would say I wish I had but my life would have been different, and I love my life and all the incredible people in it.
Why + when did you start making toys?
Touched on it a little earlier in the questions. Stacey and I were at a community yard sale at a local college annex parking lot. There was a bag that contained a 60s brontosaurus (60s because it had a monster face), a little cake topper baby, and a grenade in it. Stacey wanted the Dino and it only cost a quarter. When we got home she layed down for a nap telling me not to screw up that dinosaur. I was fixated on those 3 random things being in the same bag together. It seemed like I was supposed to glue them together. So in true strong marriage fashion I did the opposite of what she said. She liked it though.
Favorite medium to make toys outta?
This may seem like a cop out but anything.
Going to get all Psych. 101 on ya now… So. You told me you don’t have children, and yet the focus of your toy line is babies, battle babies to be precise. Are your pieces away of purging any desire left to procreate? An extension of the desire to procreate? A comment on Ugandan child armies? (yeah could not resist that last one…)
(Photo below of a Mexican-Cartel style ‘Battle Baby’)
It’s as simple as that first bag with the grenade, Dino and baby. It just kinda happened that way. Like it was supposed too. Maybe some day we will have kids or maybe not. Who cares. If it happens it happens. If it makes sense for us to make a real baby instead of a plastic one with a with a knife riding a dolphin with a Gatling gun in its mouth then we will…eventually, or not.
Why the schism in your toys between the technology based pieces and the fantasy based ones?
Simply because I love so many different things. This Morning we are watching the old Planet of the Apes movies. Later we will play Halo together and with friends. Tomorrow we will take pictures of Conan toys fighting with a Mr. T figure. Anything goes at the Rader house.
(Photo Below of a Mecha Dino ‘Battle Baby’)
Is there a reason all your pieces are one-offs?
It’s just how I started and what I’ve stuck with because people seem to like it that way.
Any desire to start molding and making larger runs?
Definitely. Working towards that now. Not making some myself but building my property into something that others will want to make into toys.
I know you have worked with the damn talented Jeremy Massie on the ‘Battle Babies’ comic. How do you know Jeremy? And what was he like to work with?
(Photo Below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece + The ‘Battle Babies’ Mini Comic)
Met him at a local toy shop handing out a self published comic called “the deadbeat” about a superman archetype who was a deadbeat dad. It was genius. Saw him again at a toy show or two then got to hanging out a Local comic shop he managed at the time.
The comic was great in setting out the origin of the ‘Battle Babies’ mythology. Any future plans to do more with it?
That’s what I’m working on hard right now when I’m not doing commissions or making stuff for the store.
General Art + Toy-Art Questions:
Kit Bashing Vs. Self Sculpting?
If I had nurtured the sculpting throughout my life I’d definitely be doing more of it. I love both so much though. Great sculptors should really be appreciated because what they do is such an amazing talent and honed skill. I love Kit basking though, because it’s what I feel most capable of and there is just something about combining toys you love into new things. Giving them new life so to speak. Also, making people not forget about how great old toys are!
(Photos below of a larger ‘Battle Babies’ piece)
Favorite ‘other’ toy artist?
Big company, I love the Four Horsemen. I don’t buy all their stuff, but have a vintage Super Powers Collection paired with all their Dc classics and DC superheroes versions on a giant yellow shelf that looks like an old Kenner cardback. I don’t mean to continue my long windedness, but this is pretty important to who I’ve become as an -artist if that’s what I am and collector. I had EVERYTHING dc classics. That whole completist thing. When I started my nice vintage sp collection I pulled the horsemen’s version out of my display with all the other stuff to put them together. Then I realized I didn’t need the other stuff. This was all happening at the same time as BB was just beginning. Then we started our toy house museum where the only reason a toy comes to stay is because we want it too. Not because its part of a line we feel like we have to collect. We got rid of lots of stuff and got more to replace it. Now our house is a living breathing toy museum. Not cluttered, mind you. I’m a bit of a neat freak. Toys in the bathroom, kitchen, and every room. My favorite indie artist Is Brandon Michael Barker. He’s become a great friend. He first approached me to commission his giant Greyskull Piece. We then discovered we might be the same person from alternate realities. Through him and my wife’s amazing toy friends and contacts we’ve met so many others too!
Do you think the market for art toys only exists due to the internet? (as it spurs desire with all the posts and updates on blogs, + it allows easy sales to the whole world by creeps from their bedrooms, to other creeps in their bedrooms)
The Internet is to blame for everything! Sure it’s made most people even stupider if that is even possible but it also gave me the opportunity to do my thing. So it’s destroying the fabric of the world but it’s also bringing us together through mutual loves and interest. Yin and yang bitches!
Worst aspect of the online nature of toy sales? + Best aspect of the online market for toys? (Got any specific stories too?)
Recently a lot has been made of about what’s better art, this, that or whatever the hell. I don’t like the negativity online or in life for that matter I guess. Life is too damn short to spend huge chunks of it talking about what you don’t like or hate. Shove that hate up your ass folks and get to what life is supposed to be about. Living it yourself on your terms. Sadly toys, even though by their own nature being things to be played with and enjoyed, are the subject of hateful bitching and ranting. Buy what you love and support people that make you happy. Everything else will sort itself out.
(Photo below of a ‘Battle Babies’ piece)
The Future of ‘Battle Babies’:
Any collaborations on the horizon, or dream collaborations?
Working on getting a full time comic out there and I’d work with anyone who would have me…that doesn’t blow.
Anything on the horizon you would like to hype man?
Not really. I will hype my Wife Stacey Rader Though. She is this reason for all this. She loves toys, comics, movies, art, and all that is best in life. She is supportive, beautiful, kind and the smartest person I know. She is the hype. It’s all true. Her Breasts are also fantastic. I know because I get to see them whenever I want. Well, maybe not WHENEVER. I can usually make it worth her while though. Well, that got off track. On that note, I’m outta here! peace!
(Photo Below of Brad + his lovely wife, Stacey)