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June 30, 2010

Tenacious Toys interviews Jon Malmstedt of Rampage Toys

I heard about this crazy toy called Kaiju Cupcake and I wanted to find out more about the warped mind that cooked this one up, so I contacted Jon Malmstedt and asked if he wanted to be interviewed! So here it is:

TENACIOUS TOYS: Hi Jon! The first thing I'd like to know is a little bit about who you are and where you're from.

JON MALMSTEDT:
Originally from: NJ! Yep, from age 8 'till 22 I hailed from the Garden State. NO art at that time - just mountain biking and BMX (man...I sucked at BMX...). I remember my high school art teacher being really mad when I told here I was opting for language classes instead of art...

Currently residing: in Seattle, Washington. I moved out here about 4 years ago - the mountains and water drew me. It also helps that people out here actually THINK about the world they live in (not knocking the East coast though - they're catching up slowly but surely).

Occupation: Paying the bills working as a data manager and GIS analyst.... I won't last much longer in from of the computer...

Education: BS in Geology. I have no 'formal' training in art. I've always kept a sketchbook, and I used to paint miniatures a lot (I was a Warhammer geek in high school). I basically honed my skills with acrylics by painting miniatures and I still paint the occasional model. Sculpting is new to me in the past couple of years, but I feel like I'm getting the hang of it!

Interest (in order of 'importance'): Rock Climbing (been doing this for 10 years now - hence the interest in mountains in the West. I also teach at a gym); Artwork (Toys, Painting, Printworks, Jewelry, Plush, etc... Mostly I like making my own resin and doing customs); Driving (and fixing) my '82 VW Westfalia; Learning Japanese with the ultimate goal of living abroad at some point (!); Cruising Flickr for inspiration!

Inspirations (also in order of 'importance'): My wife (she's kind of my muse - she bought me my first toy, which started the whole toy thing (2007). She'll drop an idea and I often turn around and make it into a material thing!); Devilrobots! - these guys are awesome, and I really appreciate the fun style they bring to their work (I'm totally not into the 'macabre' or 'gory' thing that is going on these days.... it's just depressing...); Japanese Kaiju - monsters -taking a character, cute or scary or 'inanimate' (in the case of the snack food I do) and make it into a monster! I love the 'man-in-a-monster-suit' look of a lot of the Kaiju out there.

Style: Fun and Cute - often with a 'twist.' E.g. who doesn't love cupcakes? But who doesn't love MONSTER CUPCAKES even more?!

TT: Oh cool! I love Devilrobots' toys! So when did you discover kaiju-style toys?

JM: Yeah, Devilrobots - those guys are great! While I was in Tokyo last fall I stopped by their office - they were maybe a bit confused, but welcomed us warmly and ended up giving me a whole bag of free stuff - stickers, postcards and toys!

I really got into the kaiju style after I took a trip to San Francisco at the beginning of 2009 (so, kind of more recently). We went over to Japan town and stopped in the Super7 shop, and they had such awesome stuff on display. The characters were fun, the vinyl was the most awesome colors, and the possibilities for customizing seemed boundless! Going to Tokyo also provided a lot of opportunity to 'investigate' the style. Honestly, I'm not in a position to buy a whole lot of these toys, so making them (or prints, paintings, etc. of them) is the next best thing!

TT: So at what point did you decide you wanted to do food-themed kaiju? Walk me through the creative process that led you to produce Kaiju Cupcake.

JM: Ummm... that's a tough one. I guess it all stems from a habit of mine, where I do some random doodling in my sketchbook and then look at it for a while and eventually turn it into a full sketch/drawing. I made this doodle that kind of looked like a cookie (to me), and then I started making a whole bunch of sketches of monster snack foods. The cupcake was one of the last ones I did, and my friends kept telling me it was the coolest one (cupcakes being hip and all). When I started making the resin toys, the cupcake was certainly the most successful in local shops, and so I got started thinking about producing a large number of them. The injection molding thing came up when I spoke with a friend in central NJ who manufactures injection molded parts (mostly for display cases and other industrial stuff). Long story short - 3 months into the modeling, prototyping and pricing work for the Kapukeeki Kaiju, I'm looking at resin again - a larger run that before, but still limited. Plans are not finalized, but I'm exploring local options in the Seattle area, and I'll most likely be doing most of the work myself - including the packaging. I'm entirely opposed to working with China on this project - for a number of reasons. I have to admit that a soft vinyl toy made in Japan would be the ultimate achievement for me, but that might be something for further down the road.

TT: Well, however you pull off the manufacture, Kaiju Cupcake looks rad. Personally I don't really care whether a figure is vinyl or resin or something else, as long as the whole piece looks right when it's finished. And as a retailer, I can't really hate on China, as most of my inventory is made there. Are you into that crazy, amorphous, wildly colored Japanese style of toys? That's a whole huge scene that I never dove into. Mostly I stick to collecting (and selling) toys that look like some sort of definitive character.

JM: Yeah, I hear you about the China thing. Just so happens though, that they essentially OWN the US economy (bonds and all that), so I'm just trying to do SOMETHING to keep some US cash out of their market place...

Anyway, no, I'm not a huge fan of some of the random kaiju toys. It’s sort of a style within that style that gets me. Have you seen Uamou's toys? That sort of thing (a kind of cow but not really a cow - cute but also mysterious) is the kind of stuff that I find really great! I do really dig the colors of a lot of that Japanese vinyl, and the fact that they often make a figure work with very little paint once it's cast. With the cupcake, I'm aiming for a figure that can be just a couple of colors, and that has simple lines and an attitude at the same time.

TT: Sounds delicious! Any plans beyond Kaiju Cupcake? Surely there must be some sort of expansion, variation or another character that you have in mind. Does Kaiju Cupcake have friends? Or maybe enemies?

JM: Kapukeki Kaiju certainly does have friends! They are all members of RAMPAGE series one, and you can read all of their 'profiles' (i.e. comical histories) on my blog. Here and here are a couple of direct links.

Beyond the cupcake, yes, I do have plans for lots of stuff... thing is I work full time, and that takes up a good chunk of my energy (and, umm, well, my time....). I'm trying to put the kabosh on the full time job thing, but that's not going in effect until late fall (I seem to be a vital part of my organization, and I just don't have it in me to burn any bridges...).

Here's a list of projects currently under way in the 'world' of Rampage Toys:

1) Make this cupcake toy! Be it resin (handcast by me or Seattle local) or some other material, this thing is going to materialize in a small and pretty run come Fall (late fall at the latest).

2) I am making TONS of stuff for the Indie Banditas Bazaar at the end of this month - jewelry, toys (various types - picture to come on Flickr), Print art (screen prints and monotypes), clothing and other cool stuff. Leftovers will be up on Etsy and BigCartel come the week of the 28th of June.

3) I've started working with another local artist named Justin Hillgrove. He and I are working on pulling together some 'mini-series' style resin toys, as well as a DIY figure which will be the main platform for a gallery show we'll be doing in November!!! Justin is really talented artist, and I'm excited to be working with him.

4) I'll be doing a Cupcake Monster plush exclusive for Schmancy (here in downtown Seattle), which will be released in her shop and on-line on September 1st. This is exciting, because Schmancy is THE go to place for toys and plush in Seattle.

5) I'm trying to be as involved as possible with the Toy2R 15th Anniversary events. I did a 2.5 inch Qee last month, and I'm working on an 8 incher for the upcoming show at the Spaghetti Project in Virginia. This toy is coming along great, and I can't wait to have it done and post pictures!
 So, yeah. I'm kind of busy! There are never enough hours in the day.

TT: Oh man I love the Choco-Fiend-Trio and your customs too... Sounds like you have a full plate right now!
I think getting the toys into production is a very large step towards world domination.
Thanks so much for all the info! I look forward to stocking your angry food toys in my store!

JM: For sure Benny! Thanks for the interview. It was my pleasure to share.

You can follow the progress of Jon's company Rampage Toys on Flickr, by reading his blog, or by friending him on Facebook!

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