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 ‘ManORMonster? Studios’ and their owner-operator Brandon Michael Barker outta Indiana in the U-S-of-A use the idea of toy-bootlegging as an initial step in a much larger process of creating whole new characters.
Not only that BUT Mr. Barker is an all round pop-culture renaissance man, plying his trade through comics, wood work, resin toys, porcelain statues, stained glass and even amazing life-size costumes.
(Photo below of ‘MoM? Studios’ most famous creation – as of yet – ‘Bog-Nar’)
Get to know ‘MoM? Studios’, and Brandon Michael Barker in the interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Brandon Michael Barker, 08/31/1978
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
Describe– a memory from three stages of yr life… basically trying to piece together Mr. ‘M.o.M’s’ pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, college… ANYTHING man.
(Photo below of Brandon and his mother circa 1984)
* age 10 – pre pubes:
Turtlemania was in full swing. I was preparing to enter the 6th grade. I listened to metal obsessively. Manhood was around the corner. One morning my mother dropped me and my kid sister off at a friend’s house for the day. When she picked us up, she took us to live in another house with another man who was not my father.
* age 15 – pube rage: Spring of ’94. Sophomore year. I spent a lot of time in isolation, reading, drawing, building models and poring over comic books. I visited Europe over Spring Break with some classmates. London, Paris, Madrid. I discovered history, beauty, magic. And I got smashed for the first time on rum & Cokes in a Spanish disco with a pair of adorable señoritas.
(Photo below of Brandon – on left – in his high-school days)
* age 20 – acceptance of pubes:
I moved to Chicago for opportunity, for adventure, for a girl. It was wonderful, and then it was kinda miserable. I learned some very tough lessons about love, communication, loss, heartbreak, and how just how badly my depression had a grip on me. I got better.
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
Clutch, Tool, Deftones, Cake, NIN, The Cure, Jane’s Addiction… those are some of the big ones for me.
Favourite TV show(s)?
Doctor Who. Beyond that I’m really liking New Girl, Whitney and Happy Endings right now. Starting to get into Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad.
Favourite sport(s) + teams?
Top 5 Desert Island All-Time Faves are The Big Lebowski, The Empire Strikes Back, Clerks, Young Frankenstein, and Weird Science. Honourable mentions to Little Shop of Horrors, Donnie Darko, the Tarantino Library, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Neverending Story. I love cinema… it’s one of humankind’s most perfect creations.
(Picture below of a ‘MOM? Studios’ screen-print)
Specifics on Art
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,
Works produced by such skill and imagination.
craft – skill – artifice – science – workmanship – knack
When did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
My mother started drawing with me at a very young age. She would draw a character like Superman or the Hulk in a notebook, and I would try to imitate her drawings on the opposite page. My first watercolour painting was of the Easter Bunny. My second was Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, light saber in one hand, the other a bloody stump. I was 5.
(Photo below of Brandon’s childhood drawings opposite his mothers’)
You went to Purdue University (in Indiana; U.S.A) and graduated with a BA in Fine Arts. How did your formal art training impact on ManOrMonster? Studios + your current practice?
I went back to school because I hadn’t really drawn or created anything in years… I needed deadlines. A reason to produce. I wasn’t a great self-starter at the time. The most important things I learned were how to manage my time, and how to talk about art. With those tools I felt I could try to make a career out of it.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle full time?
I guess it was when I discovered how much I loved screen printing. I threw myself into it, put a website together and started doing shows. That was really only a little over a year ago.
Why the name “ManOrMonster? Studios”?
Frankenstein is my favourite novel. I’m very attracted to the internal struggle of light and dark within the individual, and concepts of reason vs. faith. “Man or monster?” is one of humanity’s most fundamental existential questions… it resonates with me.
I don’t really have one. I just make things that make me happy.
Favourite medium to make art outta? – and you use LOTS of media: stained glass, toys, prints, wood sculpture, porcelain, life-size costumes + masks… dear god!?
(Photo below of ‘Satyr’ a Brandon Michael Barker porcelain piece)
Ha! Yeah, that’s mostly a product of taking studio classes and experimenting with a variety of disciplines. I love screen printing and slip cast porcelain. These days I combine elements from those practices into my work as a resin toy maker.
Favourite ‘other’ artist?
I’m pretty crazy about Kris Kuksi and Skinner. Those dudes really do it for me.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
It’s definitely dealing with a culture that places more value on their fucking phones than on art.
(Photo below of a ‘MoM? Studios’ wood piece)
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
I’ve met some pretty amazing people and had some incredible experiences. That’s my favourite part.
‘ManOrMonster’ Art Questions
Are all the works by ‘ManOrMonster? Studios’ made by yourself? If you use collaborators; whom and in what capacity?
ManOrMonster? Studios is, for now, just me. Everything that I’ve released to this point has been produced by me alone, with the exception of my toys’ header cards (Matthew Allison and Ben Spencer) and the Angry Ass Earth Warrior, which was a Bog-Nar variant that Skinner painted. I have a staggering number of collaborations in the works now… producing toys sculpted by other artists, creating toys from scratch for others to paint. And then I have the Warlords of Wor comic books, which I’m writing with my friend Eric Scot Lemons, that feature art from tons of different artists like Tim and Steve Seeley, Cory Hamscher, Sean Forney, Brian Level and Dave Crosland, to name a few.
Your creation + figure ‘Bog-nar: the Mutant Muck Menace’ has been getting lots of praise and press. Is the figure a total kit-bash, all sculpted or a combo of each? IF kit-bashed, what figures did you use?
Yeah, he’s a little of everything. I use old Remco toys as a base (Warrior Beasts, AWA Wrestlers, etc.), and I retool all the joints for magnetic articulation, then kit-bash and/or sculpt new elements into their designs.
There is even an advertisement for‘Bog-Nar’ that is campy and great as all hell. How did that come about? And who was involved? Will you be doing more ads for the upcoming ‘Warlords of Wor’ line of figures?
My pal Ashley Raburn approached me about doing a video toy review, and the commercial spun out of that. Just like the Warlords of Wor line is heavily inspired by my love of 70s-80s barbarian fiction, so is the commercial an homage to the toy ads for a certain musclebound blondie. It was a ton of fun, it came out great, and I really hope we can do more in the future!
You have released ‘Bog-nar’ in a DIY version with everyone from Peter of ‘Killer Bootlegs’ + Skinner doing customs. What are your thoughts on the whole collaborative + DIY scenes around toys? Favourite collaboration you have done yourself?
(Photo below of a ‘MoM? Studios’ Bog-Nar as painted by Skinner)
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I had STACKS of colouring books. DIY toys are a lot like that blank colouring page. No two people are going to render that surface the same way, and that’s really exciting to me. I love seeing artists interpreting toys differently. I haven’t seen Pete’s Bog-Nar yet, but I really dug working with Skinner, and this dude Tyke did an animated style paint app that I thought was completely rad. Tim and Steve Seeley are going to be painting up a few of them soon for their Mini Comics Included project and I’m definitely stoked to see those!
Your line of ‘Masters of the Universe Mash-Ups’/‘MOTUMUs’ has also been praised, and was shown at the recent ‘Clutter (In) Action Figures Show’ where it sold out. You have touched on ‘Star Wars’, ‘G.I Joe’, and the ‘Marvel Universe’ with the line. Any more figures in the works? What are your inspirations for this line?
(Photo below of ‘MoM? Studios’ Trooper ‘MOTUMUs’ figure)
I love mash-ups. For me, I see it as something that speaks to our shared cultural experiences and the way we process history and memory. Mash-ups are culturally unifying, which is always positive. And they tap straight into my nostalgia vein, which shoots directly into all my major pleasure centres. They’re fun. So yeah, I was looking at Beast Man one day and it occurred to me that his furry armour looked an awful lot like Destro’s collar, and MOTUMUs were born. I’m working on a couple more as we speak, but they’re a surprise for a (sooner rather than) later date.
Your ‘MOTUMUs’ + ‘Warlords of Wor’ lines use magnets as a way of attaching parts – damn great idea. How did you come up with that? And was the manufacturing process difficult?
I 100% owe that one to Marty Hansen, the Godbeast. I consulted with him about Warlords of Wor when I was still in my early conceptual stages, and when I told him I wanted to do interchangeable parts with a resin toy, he suggested the neo mags (neodymium magnets). It’s worked so well and been such fun that I decided I’d use them on all my toys. It’s sort of become my “thing.” There was quite a bit of trial and error at the start, and I continue to evolve the process and my technique, but I can’t say I found it difficult. There were a lot of hiccups, but it’s really been quite fun.
Describe the method of making a ‘Man or Monster’ action-figure/resin piece? (dot point all o.k.)
(Photo below of ‘MoM? Studios’ Dest-Ro ‘MOTUMUs’ figure)
The quick version is this:
It all starts with a shower. That’s where I get all my ideas.
Those ideas, if they’re good enough, become crippling obsessions.
I finally get so tired of thinking about it that I draw it out and/or begin assembling it using whatever means the piece requires.
I make silicone moulds of the toy parts, cast the parts in resin, clean and paint them, glue the magnets in place, and viola! This process takes DAYS, by the way. It’s rather time-consuming.
You have begun a comic series for your creation ‘Bog-nar’ illustrated by the talented Mr. Cory Hamscher and with Mr. Tim Seeley doing the covers. How far are you going to push the series? A regular monthly comic? Just one-offs to introduce new characters for the figure line?
(Picture below of ‘Bog-Nar’ as drawn by Mr. Cory Hamscher)
The Warlords of Wor mini comics will each be 8 pages long, full colour, written by me and Eric, and will each have art by a different team. I have planned 7 minis for the first wave, each one packaged with the character whose story it tells. So for the first toy/comic, we have a story about Bog-Nar (who is just a supporting character in the larger saga), returning to his old home where he is confronted by Clawbber, the head of Wor’s security forces. The minis will tell a cohesive tale that sets up a much more grand adventure that we’d love to do as an ongoing or a series of miniseries’.
Your stained glass work really plays into the whole Superheroes as modern myth idea. What are your thoughts on that – as in the status of the contemporary heroic myth and its role in society ?
(Photo below of a ‘MoM? Studios’ stained-glass piece)
That’s a whole other interview, man! Basically, I grew up going to Catholic mass and made a very early connection to Christian stained glass as a means of telling the same kind of big, heroic stories I was seeing in my comic books. To me, there is no difference between Jesus and Superman. Dude with amazing powers gets sent to Earth by his father, discovers said powers in his youth, spends his adolescent years in exile, returns to civilization as a young man to save the human race while working an inconspicuous day job.
We all want heroes… We want to be rescued, to be saved. We want someone to take away our worries for us and to vanquish evil. Some use religion, others use caped crusaders, but it’s all just two sides to the same coin.
Do you use digital technology in your work at all? If so how, and what has it added to your practice?
Not so much… I’m a pretty traditional kind of guy. I’ve been known to use Photoshop for colour separations when making screen prints, and I use my iPad for sketching ideas quite often, but for the most part I make analog art.
People in the toy-community, such as Mr. ‘Battle Babies’ – Brad Rader, have nothing but praise for you. With Brad even calling you his “guiding light” in the toy-art world. Does all the constant praise get to you? And what on EARTH have you done to deserve it?
Life’s a lot cooler when you’re not a douchebag. I like being kind to people, I appreciate when they enjoy my work, and I go out of my way to help people who need, or who simply ask for it. I can’t get away from it… it’s who I am. It’s why I became a paramedic. I guess you could say I’ve got a bit of a superhero complex, or something. Brad’s a kindred spirit in that philosophy and a great example of how a mutual love of toys and art, coupled with a desire to NOT be an asshole, can bring people together and forge strong, meaningful friendships.
(Photo below of Brandon’s desk mid-way through creating a life-size TMNT costume head, circa 2009)
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Tons. And maybe with some people you’ve heard of! I’m currently neck deep in silicone and resin, cranking out backer incentives for Mini Comics Included, the super awesome new comic Kickstarter from Tim Seeley, Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley, who do fantastic comics like Revival and Hoax Hunters. I’m working with Ben “Galaxxor” Spencer and BigMan Toys on a couple cool new toys that’ll debut at C2E2. I’ve got a handful of my own toys coming out for C2E2 as well, including Clawbber, the next Warlords of Wor character. And I’m working with Ryan Browne of God Hates Astronauts fame to bring one of his creations to life! So yeah, I try to keep busy.
Any major projects you want to hype man?
(Photo below of a prototype of the latest ‘MoM? Studios’ figure, Clawbber)
The biggest thing right now is the comic book and moving Warlords of Wor to factory production. I’ll have a really cool full-size printing of the first two mini comics with me at C2E2. It looks incredible and hopefully everyone will dig the stories we’re telling and want to read more! And it’s all-ages fun, so you can get one for your kids to read, too! I’ll also be at Heroes Con, NYCC, and PowerCon this year… and hopefully D-Con. Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all my appearances, releases, comic news, and details about the upcoming Warlords of Wor Kickstarter campaign. Thanks a ton for the opportunity to blabber on about myself! It was fun!