These last few years i have gotten into the seedy, degenerate world of bootleg/custom/self-made-action-figures-as-art. “WTF?” I hear you say… Well… BASICALLY dudes collage, create and/or custom one off pop-art-sculptures/action figures. Simple to do, BUT damn hard to do well.
‘The Mark Ultra’ and their owner-operator Mike Kirchoff are making major waves in the scene – being shown at the recent ‘Toys Are Us‘ show, collaborating with companies like ‘Killer Bootlegs‘, and getting major press…
(Picture below of the man behind ‘The Mark Ultra’, Mike Kirchoff)
Get to know ‘The Mark Ultra’ and Mike Kirchoff in the interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Mike Kirchoff: August 5th 1980
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
I grew up in the Bronx, but I currently live in Philadelphia- I always see myself as a New Yorker though.
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together Mr. Mark Ultra’s pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, college… ANYTHING man.
* age 10 – pre pubes:
1990 – I was wearing a hypercolor batman shirt-it was pink and black-and some kids told me I was a fag, I told them batman rules and they should go fuck themselves….I got beat up pretty bad that day, But I still loved that batman shirt!
* age 15 – pube rage:
1995 – I went to a flea market and got an ultraman model kit for five bucks and I did a terrible job putting it together and an even worse job of painting it- but as I reflect on it,this was the moment when I knew toys and geek stuff were going to be my life!
* age 20 – acceptance of pubes:
2000 – I was in art school for industrial design – I went to a lot of hardcore shows, smoked a lot of weed, took all the hallucinogens I could get my hands on and got tattooed every chance I got. It was a crazy time… it was also at this time when I got an internship with a pretty big toy company and it was really fucking disheartening, After that I didn’t know if toys were going to work for me…
(Picture below of some ‘The Mark Ultra’ packaged figures)
Audentes fortuna iuvat or fortune favors the bold, its something I’ve believed in for a long time and it’s always served me well
I listen to so much different music that it’s hard to say. I love certain styles of music from different periods; 60’s ska, 70’s metal, 80’s hardcore, and 90’s rap. as for current music I’ve been listening to ghost bc, das racist, Danny brown, ASAP rocky and doomriders a lot lately so they’re my favorites right now
Favorite TV show(s)?
I really love sci-fi shows like Dr. who, red dwarf, Star Trek tng, battlestar galactica, stargate, exosquad, macross, firefly, farscape, cowboy bebop, and evangelion. Lately I’ve been watching lots of game of thrones though, because that shit is amazing!!
Favorite book(s) and comic(s)?
I always keep a copy of snow crash by Neal Stephenson, the futurological congress by Stanislaw Lem, the illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, slaughterhouse five by Kurt Vonnegut and diary by Chuck Palahniuk, I read and re-read these books all the time so I need them on my shelf. I also love comics like dmz and the whole Martha Washington saga, watchmen and lone wolf and cub to name a few!
Yojimbo, aliens, robocop, the fifth element, a night on earth, taxi driver, 12 monkeys, dune, the big lebowski and dr strangelove are some of my favorites
Specifics on Art
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
(Picture below of some ‘Mark Ultra’ mixed colour figures)
I really don’t think any of those terms are mutually exclusive or more specifically I believe my work is art and design, made from rehashed crap…
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (toys, drawings, paintings, anything)?
I was a kid in New York during the 80’s and 90’s so I grew up seeing graffiti and early street art everywhere, so there really isn’t a point when I didn’t think about art. I can remember drawing he-man dudes before I could write so its definitely in my blood.
Any formal art training? Or pivotal moment/influence?
I went to an art junior high school, did plenty of art in high school, but going to college for industrial design really rounded out my skill set. So now I can fuck around in many different mediums!
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle full time?
After art school I was pretty disillusioned about toys so a good friend of mine convinced me to go into tattooing and that was great for a while (I’ve been tattooing for about 11 years now!) but something about toys never went away so that led to where I am now.
(Picture below of a tattoo by Mike Kirchoff, the man behind ‘The Mark Ultra’)
Why the name “The Mark Ultra”?
In the 1960’s the us government experimented with LSD and called the project mk(pronounced mark) ultra- this idea of controlling perception to change what people think and believe really resonates with me on so many levels… I thought that would be a good umbrella to work under.
Rerum Concordia discors or from disorder,order. I’m a history nerd so these old Latin altruisms remind me humans have always been trying to make something outta nothing.
Favorite medium to make art outta – I notice you paint as well as bootleg?
(Picture below of a painting by Mike Kirchoff, the man behind ‘The Mark Ultra’)
I go through phases where I paint, draw, sculpt, tattoo, and bootleg. Making stuff that I think is cool is the ultimate goal, but when other people appreciate it, that makes me really happy – if I can make someone who is lonely not feel so alone or someone who is misunderstood feel like somebody gets them that’s what really inspires me.
Favorite ‘other’ artist?
Man, there are so many! Right now my favorite artist is skinner because that dude has his own freaky TSR/heavy metal wavelength that I want to be on, the best kind of artists come up with their own language that we all learn to speak eventually- that being said artists like Masami Teraoka, Charles Burns, Chris Ware, Scott Harrison, Charles and Ray Eames Steve Powers, Frank Lloyd Wright,John Blanche, Theo Jansson, mike mignola, Jim Phillips, Phillipe Starck, And Bill Sienkiewicz are all great examples of amazing world builders…these are people who took the box other people wanted to put them in,stood on top of it and saw further than most mere mortals.
Favorite toy/figure? (I’ll allow self promotion)
I obsessively collect the thing (fantastic four) figures in all shapes and sizes- bootleg, classic, and modern…my girlfriend says I look like him-though I always tell her “I have green eyes!”
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
I’m pretty terrible at correspondence. So that could be the worst part for me… I try to stay on top of it but sometimes it gets away from me!
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
I have the chance to inspire people! That is so crucial to me, because art in a vacuum is fine but when someone says I made this cool thing because of you, that makes everything worthwhile… Plus trading toys with other artists rules!
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?
The people who design products are artists- so every consumer product is art in its own way-that being said the nerd point can’t be denied if we didn’t love this shit most of us wouldn’t do it.
What are your thoughts on ‘The Sucklord’, and his role in the art-toy scene? (I ask as he is kinda the ‘ur’ toy-bootlegger)
His vision is what inspires me – to build a whole universe around the suckiness of his own creations makes him a genius as far as I can tell.
What are your thoughts on Peter + ‘Killer Bootlegs’ – I ask as he is a new-gun in the game doing great things like hosting shows, collaborating + generally being a big player in the scene; and I know you have collaborated with him yourself.
(Picture below of Dave G. a ‘Mark Ultra’ x ‘Killer Bootlegs‘ collab)
Pete is a really good dude – it was his encouragement that took this from a small project to something much larger for me, so I owe him a lot. his work is very clean and as I watch his creations get better and better I can’t help but think “damn it! Now I gotta step my game up” so he’s definitely a driving force for me and for the bootleg community.
What does your wife/girl/woman/family make of the whole perpetual adolescence/Peter-Pan/man-child aspect of toy art + toy collecting?
We both make art in very different ways and we both have studios in home so we kind of have to be each others critics but she digs it most days. My brother loves it and has done artwork for my header cards, but other than that, My family mostly doesn’t get it.
‘The Mark Ultra’ Art Questions
Are all the works by ‘The Mark Ultra’ made by yourself? If you use collaborators; whom and in what capacity?
I design everything and make the figures myself, Eric Guntor does my graphic design and makes my crazy ideas print ready. I also have headers with illustrations by Edwin Vazquez and Illegal Cable and some stuff to come with Alexis Zirritt so I’m all for collaboration.
(Picture below of a ‘Mark Ultra’ x Edwin Vazquez piece)
Describe the method of making a ‘Mark Ultra’ piece? (dot point all o.k.)
First I get an idea
Find the pieces anywhere I can (eBay, flea market, toy shows)
Cobble something together using these parts
clean and assemble
…These steps are usually layered over a few projects so I can do a little bit of everything everyday, I like to keep the process really simple and straight forward so I use very few tools mostly x-axcto, flush cutters, and file.
Do you think once an artist has re-used a piece of pop-culture, it becomes harem for another artist to use it/spoof too? E.G: I am thinking of ‘The Sucklord’ + ‘Boba Fett’; you + the hangman mask head etc.
(Picture below of ‘The Mark Ultra’ Intruder figure, which utilises a hangman mask)
We stole them anyway so I guess it’s all fair game-but once someone associates a certain thing with a certain person it becomes harder for someone else to do something original with it.
Your moon-man bootleg piece is a classy piece of pop-art. What was the inspiration behind the piece? And what was the process in making it?
(Picture below of ‘The Mark Ultra’ Night Moves figure)
Mac tonight definitely gave me nightmares as a child and was by far the creepiest character McDonald’s ever came up with and I wanted to make a weird robot out of it… So Night Moves was born
Your piece for the just ended ‘Toys Are Us’ show is great – what was the inspiration behind the piece? And what was the process in making it?
(Picture below of ‘The Mark Ultra’ Space Pope figure)
The space pope figure came out of my love of wizards and mystical shit, they just seemed like a perfect fit- the cat, the shroud and the pyramid they all project the type of character I was trying to create
You state on your page that you are influenced by many things, including the occult. What role do you think occult thought and practices play in today’s increasingly atheist society? And in your own personal life?
I think organized religion is is a scam for the most part- but I find atheists to be just as bad. Neither actually have any facts to back that shit up, so why decide? I say use what works for you and leave the rest, there’s a rhythm to the universe that can’t be easily explained away. Find your path and stay on it!
Does your self-directed work all exist in its own ‘universe’; such as the ‘Mark Ultra’ universe? (Yes; I am basically asking if you see your characters all interacting in your head. IF so, what do they get up to?)
Absolutely, in fact my friend Mike Romeo and I just wrote a comic for illustrator Alexis Zirritt ‘s fistful of fumetti and it’ll be a sort of primer for my universe that will be out this summer.
(Picture below of Alexis Ziritt’s interpretation of ‘The Mark Ulra’s’ Night Moves character)
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I’ve been very fortunate to get to collaborate with some great people: I have an entry into the hustle universe thanks to tru:tek that is available now, a special project for a new company called Doom United, some really weird shit from myself and baltimore’s Andrew Geddes plus the comic of course! And more stuff from the usual suspects like Novelty Haus Baltimore, Killer Bootlegs, and Tru:Tek
(Picture below of ‘The Mark Ultra’ x ‘Tru:Tek’ Intruder San figure)
Any major projects you want to hype man?
I’ll be making bigger and better stuff so just keep an eye out and we’ll see what the future holds!!
Thanks for letting me do this! It was a lot of fun!!