John Santagada is the radiation filled mind behind ‘Radioactive Uppercut’, an independant art-toy company making waves in the scene. John has worked in the mainstream toy scene for over 9 years now, and has recently delved into the world of independant toys with his 8-Ball resin figure, soon to be released in vinyl.
(Picture below of John Santagada + Radioactive Uppercut’s ‘8-Ball’ figure)
Get to know John and ‘Radioactive Uppercut’ in the interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
John Santagada – August 29, 1982
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York!
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together Mr. Santagada’s pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, college… ANYTHING man.
* age 10 – pre pubes:
My grandfather passing away. This was huge! My grandparents were, and continue to be, the most influential people in my life. My grandfather’s passing crushed me big-time.
(Picture below of a drawing by a very young John Santagada – age 7)
* age 15 – pube rage:
Hanging out too much with the wrong people, not caring about school or anybody, all the stuff kids go through. I don’t want to glamourize any of the shady stuff I’ve done, but let’s just say sometimes you have to take it to the limit and fall flat on your face before you can get up and know what direction you’re supposed to go in.
* age 20 – acceptance of pubes:
From 20 and on life got pretty heavy-duty, but the biggest thing I remember amidst all the heavy-duty stuff was being at an internship down in Texas and having an artistic epiphany. It had a lot to do with all the really talented folks that were in the Toy Design program with me. It’s like step up or get out of the way, ya know. I just decided to kick it into high gear and really start to evolve and strengthen my skills. I came back from that internship and haven’t looked back since!
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner
(Picture below of a drawing by John)
Too many to list here, but some of the bands I listen to on a daily basis are: Roky Erickson, Pentagram, Captain Beyond, Monster Magnet, Clutch, Bad Brains, Slayer, Kreator, Sodom, Immortal, Dio, Black Sabbath.The list is pretty endless.I have music playing 24/7, I’m a massive metalhead! hahaha
Favorite TV show(s)?
Don’t watch that much TV, but I love anything Discovery Channel/History Channel and the Walking Dead, of course.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
Not really into Sports, but I do try to keep up on the NY teams.
(Picture below of some of John’s DVDs)
The Universal Frankenstein flicks are at the top of the list for sure! But all the Universal Horror movies are classic! Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, any Hammer Horror (Night Creatures and Curse of the Werewolf are top faves)…. Anything b-movie, slasher and cheesy are all good with me!
Favorite books and comics?
Comics: Anything from Jack Kirby (you can’t top the King!) Tom Scioli’s American Barbarian, old Tomb of Dracula, Atlas era monster comics.
Books: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland.I dig pretty much everything from H.P. LoveCraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert E Howard and Paulo Coelho. I’m also into a lot of Cryptozoology and Occult books.
(Picture below of a drawing by John)
Specifics on Art
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
Well most of what I have been doing is Design; whether it’s toy or game design professionally or character design personally.But all that Design is my Art.My artistic expression just seems to take form mostly through character–centered design artwork.
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, sculpture, anything)?
Don’t really know.I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember, I guess I’m just hard-wired to do it!
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
Since I was real young I just always knew I wanted to make a living doing art. There was really no other option.Art and design are my passion. I can’t see myself doing anything else.
Any formal art training? Or pivotal moment/influence?
Pivotal influence, besides my grandparents, has to be one of my art teachers from elementary school. He was a super cool cat, wasn’t stuffy and clueless like most other teachers.He gave me a good push and the confidence to engross myself further in my art.
Why the name ‘Radioactive Uppercut’?
It really just came out of nowhere. I’ve had the name for well over 15 years now.
The name seemed to just happen, but when I really thought about it, that name defines me, and what I want to be; in regards to my art. I want to bring a radioactive uppercut to all I do. It is intensity, chaos, passion, originality, individuality; all maximized to radioactive levels.THAT is the Radioactive Uppercut!The name itself is a mission statement, kind of a warning to what you can expect with my work.
“Bear Witness to a True Storm of Creation!”
(Picture below of a drawing by John)
Favorite ‘other’ artist(s)?
Again, too many too list!I eat art up and have a pretty broad range of influences.Frazetta, Jack Kirby, John Pound, Joe Madureira, Albrecht Durer, Pushead, SpiderZero, Willam Blake, Matthias Grunewald, Rubens, Carravaggio, Alphonse Mucha, James Bama, Bob Larkin, Gil Elvgren, Reynold Brown, Basil Gogos, Esteban Maroto, Big Daddy Roth, Akira Toriyama, Mercer Mayer, Paul Booth, Skinner, Lamour Supreme…. I really could just go on and on!
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The worst aspect has to be the fakes out there, the downers, the backstabbers, the cats with shady motives, the dudes on ego trips. Let’s just lump the entire game, mainstream toy, designer toy and comic scenes all into one Industry for now.Some people have a genuine passion for the Industry, while others are in it to cut people down to get ahead, or don’t really care about the people around them.I see the Industry as one massive community. If some rise, we all do.There isn’t anything wrong with helping others along their way, cus we are all going in the same direction.A massive group of genuine, creative souls makes a louder noise than just a few money hungry fucks wanting the super bright spotlight pointed only in their direction.It’s about creating a long-term movement, not a passing trend.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The best aspect has to be the good folks out there and the creativity that shines from them.There is a lot of exciting stuff happening.This year’s Comic Con is a perfect example. The show was jam packed with killer exclusives and insanely awesome new product.
Good folks pumping out great product; it doesn’t get better than that!
Toy + Art Toy Questions
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
It is certainly the changing nature of art.I’ve discussed this topic with buddies of mine a bunch of times.I think the last 10-20 years have been a shaky time for the Toy Industry. The 90’s couldn’t match the 80s, McFarlane changed the game and basically created the Collectible Toy Industry, as that faded from the favor of massive retailers like TRU Licensing took over very heavily, the Designer Toy scene sprang at that time and started to grow.Technology has played a huge part in the Art Toy scene getting bigger.The Art Toy scene has trumped anything mass market-catering toy companies could ever produce!The scene, right now, is the closest thing to the creative boom of the 80s.It’s a pretty bold statement, but I’ll stand by it! I see it all getting much bigger.There is room for lots of indie artists to make a statement and show the mainstream toy community how it should be done.
Favorite toy/figure? (I’ll allow self promotion)
(Picture below of some of John’s toy collection)
It’s always tough for me to just pick one favorite of anything! Hahaha! Ur killin me here!
Favorite toys since I was a kid: Madballs, MOTU, M.U.S.C.L.E., Inhumanoids, Starriors, Roboforce… anything 80s!
Favorite vinyl toys as an adult: Gargamel’s Deathra, Secret Base’s Obake Dog, Real Head’s Chaos figures…anything from Blobpus, Splurrt, MVH, Butcher Brand, Grody Shogun. Too many to list, we could be here all day!
Favorite Resin toys as an adult: I love the entire resin scene! For fear of leaving any friends out, just do a friggin search on any toy site and snag some resin toys! There is a TON of great great product out there!
(Picture below of Johns’ interpretation of Trap-Jaw from Masters of the Universe/MOTU)
What does your wife/girl/woman/family make of the whole perpetual adolescence/Peter-Pan/man-child aspect of toy art + toy collecting?
Most people would think it’s crazy! The girlfriends have all dug it. It’s certainly a unique gig when you tell someone about it. My folks still think I’m nuts because I’m into toys! But you see a lot more people into all that now (comics, toys, games). San Diego Comic Con is the perfect example, you see people from all walks of life there, all sharing a piece of that ‘perpetual childhood’ that toys, games and comics bring.
Real life can suck sometimes. It’s full of disappointments and real harsh stuff, so if you can make a hobby out of your escape from reality, there’s nothing wrong with that! I’m super lucky, a bit of that ‘perpetual childhood’ just happens to be my job.
You have worked within the toy industry for over 9 years – working for such major companies as ‘DC Direct’ and ‘Mezco Toys’ amongst others.
– how and why did you enter the mainstream toy industry?
Well, it was kind of a fluke.I was sitting in a guidance counselor’s office in senior year of high school and she was asking me about what college I wanted to go to.At the time I really wanted to get into animation.The counselor pulls out a catalog for the Fashion Institute of Technology here in the city, she goes, “They have an Animation major here, they also have Toy Design”. I had always been into toys, so hearing her say that kind of set off a light bulb in my head!
Towards the end of college, close to graduation time, the Toy Department was helping everyone get placed at jobs (the class was small, we were only like 15 people) and I just knew that at point in my life I didn’t want to end up at a Fisher Price or a more ‘kid’s toy’ style toy company. I was hell bent on working for Mezco.I wa a big fan of their product since the beginning and bugged the chairperson of the department for a long time about it. I found the number to Mez’s office myself and gave it to the chairperson.Her and I called Mez one night when I had a late class, I remember it was a Thursday night around 7 or 8 pm. She helped me set up an interview.I just happened to be the right person at the right time, cus they were looking to bring on a fulltime Designer.
The rest is history!
(Picture below of Johns’ art direction for a DC Direct Green Lantern figure)
– what did you take away from your years within the mainstream toy industry?
Since leaving DC Direct, I’ve done a fair amount of toy design work for mainstream toy companies (none that I can really talk about until the products get revealed) so I’ve kept one foot there and another in the indie Designer Toy scene. I’ve also been designing a ton of mobile video games.
The work ethic and style of direction/design I have, I have definitely carried over into my freelance work.All the years of experience workin fulltime at both DC and Mezco certainly come in handy. Every experience over the last 9+ years are invaluable and are tools you take with you across any platform, into any type of work.
The biggest thing, whether in games or toys, or freelance or fulltime: Be genuine, help others, bust your ass and work hard, keep learning and evolve. You put those things deep into your soul and you are set!
– FAVOURITE toy you worked on, and why?
This is a tough question, man!It’s like asking who your favorite child is! At DC and Mezco combined I must have worked on over 400 individual items, so it’s super hard to pick a favorite!
There are a lot of favorites and that mostly comes from a smooth flow between the sculptor and i. on the project.When the rapport is right, the lines of communication are totally open and egos totally out the door then even a lame character or project can be a home run, ya know.
– MOST HATED toy you worked on, and why?
Ha! ‘Most hated’ is a tough one too, but when you’ve worked on so much, you’re bound to slip up once in a while.I think the projects that suffer from schedule constraints or from having “too many cooks in the kitchen” or from the talent not being focused or on the same page with you as an Art Director, those are the ones that may be lackluster compared to others.I don’t want to call out any specific project, but there are 2 or 3 projects that make me cringe a bit when I think of them! Haha!
(Picture below of a custom Living Dead Doll by John, from 2007)
You are currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to release a soft-vinyl/sofubi of your ‘Radioactive Rumblers’ line to life, starting with the 8-Ball figure.
– why the decision to use Kickstarter?
I have seen other projects succeed on there and figured I’d give it a try. I wouldn’t be able to fund the project all on my own so it just seemed a super logical route to take.
– BEST aspect of Kickstarter?
The best part of Kickstarter is the site itself! It’s a platform for artists that would otherwise never be able to bring their ideas to life. I love the site, I’ve backed a big handful of projects on there, the site excites the geek in me, ya know. You discover some awesome underground indie projects pop up.
– WORST aspect of Kickstarter?
For me, the worst part of it are the people that post up campaigns that HAVE the means to do it on their own, but just don’t want to take the risk to come out of pocket.I mean, you have some big shot names on there raising big money for their projects and you KNOW they have the loot to just do it without Kickstarter. Leave the site for the people that actually need (and truly appreciate) the massive assist that the site is!
Your aforementioned 8-Ball figure – originally released in resin – is a great sculpt and figure.
(Picture below of 8-Ball, by ‘Radioactive Uppercut’)
– what was the inspiration behind the figure?
Well, the first designs for what would become the Radioactive Rumblers line were done back in 2004-2005. I was really into the fight scale figures being produced by Secret Base and loved the nods back to old 80’s toys like the Madballs head poppers. Seeing those figures was like a kick in the pants, it totally had me reliving all the stuff I loved as a kid, Madballs especially. I had always wanted to do a Madballs/GPK type line and mix all the monster movie characters and art I loved.
(Picture below of an unpained 8-Ball)
– what was the process involved in producing the figure – from initial sketches, through to Mr. Joshua Sutton’s sculpting, to resin production, to the current desire to release it in soft vinyl/sofubi?
The first few characters I designed were heavily influenced by Secret base and those got scrapped as I moved forward. I kept doodling out characters until I had a clear image of the concept in my head. 8-Ball was the first design I was happy with, he was designed very early on.He is a total homage to Madballs; being one part Oculus Orbus and one part Hornhead. The design came out on it’s own, I thought the look of him was really strong after sitting with it for a bit. I only did one drawing of him, but that one had the perfect cross between homage and something original, I didn’t want him to look 100% like a rip-off, ya know.
The initial design for 8-Ball has slightly different proportions than the final sculpt. The decision to tweak out the proportion is just about the only directive I passed along to Josh with the character sketch. I basically told him the vibe I wanted and he converted my art from there.It all went super quick. I’ve known Josh since I first started at Mezco so our rapport is pretty good. We have a real smooth flow when working together. I think I only saw two stages of the sculpt, the first rough and the final piece; I knew what Josh was going to give me and was confident enough to just let him run wild til the end.
8-Ball is only a first figure in a much larger tapestry I am trying to weave with the Radioactive Rumblers, so the decision was pretty much set in stone that I needed to go into sofubi for the production of the figures.6+ years later, I’ve waited out licensing deal I had with a toy company that went nowhere, and now I am here trying to rock and roll it on my own; with a little help from my friends of course!
The process designing other characters is pretty straightforward; I just sit and let out all these lil monsters into sketchbook after sketchbook. I try not to think and just let it flow, let the subconscious kind of take over.There are over 100 other designs waiting to see the light of day, as well as some other fun surprises!
What are your thoughts on Peter Goral and ‘Killer Bootlegs’? I ask as Peter is a relatively new gun in the game, who is becoming a big player in the scene, and I know you collaborated with him on a release of his ‘Frankenfett’ figure.
(Picture below of the Killer Bootlegs x Radioactive Uppercut, Frankenfett V2)
Pete is a super talented dude. I think we’ve only seen the beginning of what he has to offer the bootleg toy scene. He is ambitious, man, and not afraid to be real bold with his product; and it always pays off! His castings are always clean, His mash-ups are seamless in final form and his clear resin figures are some of the best out there. He is one to watch if one is not watching him already!
What was it like working on the art for the ‘Tree Garr’ resin figure by BigMan Toys?
(Picture below of John’s art fot the Tree Garr figure)
It was a total blast!I was really digging the TreeGarr figure when Lee was first promoting it before it’s release. It was a massive trip when he asked me to provide art for the headers. The style of the figure has a lot of elements I love. That crazy gnarly, organic detail, and that design is just killer!Lee’s a real good dude with some serious skills.He’s another guy that we have only seen the surface of his talent and what he has to offer.His work is always super ambitious, you have to love that!
John Santagada Art Questions
Describe the method of making a typical Santagada/’Radioactive Uppercut’ piece? (dot point all o.k.)
– your sculptural work
– your paintings + drawings
(Picture below of a zombie by John)
Most of the time with my personal art there is no method, it has a very ‘automatic writing’ type of vibe when I sit to draw. It’s chaos and speed, coupled with just letting the art flow without really thinking about it.
If I’m doing artwork for a client, there is some planning that goes into it, but the key to it all is speed and spontaneity, that’s when the best designs come out!
When I’m Art Directing a project and working with a sculptor or painter I plan the hell out of that and cover all the bases, but try to leave as much room for the talent as possible to bring themselves to the table. You get the best work when you give the contractor some freedom on a project.
Are all your works by made by yourself? If you use collaborators; whom and in what capacity?
All the 2D art is me, the toy projects I have shown and that are/will be in the works will be handled by professionals hahaha!I am by no means a sculptor so I leave that job in the hands of the incredibly talented sculptors I am super fortunate to know!
(Picture below of some sketches by John)
Do you use digital technology in your work at all? If so how, and what has it added to your practice?
I really love traditional art most, so I’ve always tried to keep my art pretty simple and if I were going digital with a traditional piece I would use it very sparingly. So it’s either all digital or all traditional, but I have been experimenting with mixing the two a bit further so we shall see how that all evolves.
The key is to use technology as a tool, not a crutch.Some artists become dependent on it. They may be creating some beautiful, slick painted digital works, but give them a pencil and they become a deer in headlights! I much prefer traditional mediums; I love seeing tool marks in a sculpture, scratchy pen or pencil lines in a drawing and brush strokes in a painting.
Does your self-directed work all exist in its own ‘universe’? (Yes; I am basically asking if you see your characters all interacting in your head.) IF so, what do they get up to?
There are several universes going on in my head all at the same time. I’ve worked in toys so long I tend to break some ideas up by look, almost into a category. So each idea that may have a different look would fit into it’s own universe.
My plan is to create countless worlds for people, not just one. There will be a little something for everyone!
For example, the Radioactive Rumblers project is it’s own universe. How deep that universe goes, we don’t know yet, but it’s a self-contained universe.The look is distinct and the personality behind the stories and characters will be different from other projects I have planned. Within the Rumblers universe, there will be some variety, but I’ll reveal all that when the time comes.
I can’t talk too much about what I have in mind, but there are several other projects across several different platforms that I want to get to.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Well, after the first run of 8-Ball figures I want to do some micro runs in new decos as well as some collabs with a few artists. Not going to reveal too much just yet, but on the collabs I want to do new decos and also include new resin heads by the artist I’m collabing with. So it would be like a full production 8-Ball in new deco plus a new resin interchangeable head. Still pretty early on, the success of the Kickstarter will dictate how far I go….but I have a ton of cool things in mind.
Any major projects you want to hype man?
I have to hype the 8-Ball Kickstarter campaign up now, of course! We have a month left and are pretty close to reaching the funding goal!
There will be another batch of custom resin one-offs coming to the campaign page on August 6th, so everybody should definitely keep their eyes peeled for that!
I am beyond stoked at the 2nd batch of artists that will be contributing to the project.Motorbot and Dubose Art are back for a 2nd round and are joined by some super talented folk:SeriouslySillyK, Tim Stephson, Monster Island, Manny X, Blurble One, Tony Simione and Johan Ulrich.There will also be a ‘radioactive’ clear tinted orange resin 8-Ball and a custom from Josh Sutton (who sculpted the figure).
The red painted version of 8-Ball you see on the campaign page will ONLY be available there, so it’s sure to be a limited release that will NOT happen again in those colors!
Here’s the link to the campaign:
I have a few more things happening this Fall, so stay tuned to my Facebook and Instagram for the latest news on all that. Some super exciting stuff is coming!
(Picture below of a rough sketch of 8-Ball, by John)