Feb 16, 2014
Kidrobot Creative Director Galen McKamy on TMNT, Munny and More
[With Kidrobot’s recent announcements of upcoming TMNT and Mega Man toy lines, collectors have been wondering what the future holds for one of the original American art toy pioneers. Rather than speculate, Vinyl Pulse reached out to Kidrobot and set up an interview with Creative director Galen McKamy (picture above, 2nd from the left) to ask about TMNT but perhaps more importantly about how licensed toys and art toys mix and relate to each other. Completed a few weeks ago, we’re happy to bring you the interview --- complete with pictures of the new TMNT mini series which was revealed today at Toy Fair in NYC, courtesy of Kidrobot.]
Q: Hi Galen. Before we jump into talking about TMNT, can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Kidrobot as the creative director?
A: In a nutshell, or a half shell... I wear about 50 different hats. We have between 15-20 licenses that we work with, our core brands and collaborations that all happen at the same time. I create the proper pathways for each of these brands or products to speak to the right consumer, while maintaining our brand's ( Kidrobot) integrity. I work with outside partners, artists, and companies to produce product that is compelling and hopefully progressive.
I am a designer/artist by trade, so I still like to get my hands dirty. I also have nearly 15 years in the toy design industry so I constantly try to push our manufacturing and artist partners to go beyond what other companies are doing. I have an amazing team of product, package and graphic designers that consistently rise above expectation. I am extremely fortunate to have such a great crew with me. My role allows me to connect with many amazingly creative people and companies around the world. I'm never not working, that is a fact. I think that the key to my role is to be accessible, honest, and constantly aware and moving.
Q: So we now know that Kidrobot will be releasing several licensed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures in the near future. First, congratulations on adding the Turtles to the KR lineup. Second, can you tell us a bit more about what collectors can expect from the new toys?
A: We are so excited to launch this property. We have a great relationship with Nickelodeon. You can expect to see a lineup of the core classic TMNT characters- heroes and VILLAINS. Maybe a curveball or two. We are launching a line of 3" figures, medium figures and special addition Blister carded figures that really pay homage to the roots of TMNT. We are also producing a limited run of apparel to compliment the collaboration.
Q: As KR's creative director, how do you approach these entertainment crossover projects? Is it important that the toys reflect a distinct Kidrobot design aesthetic?
A: 100 percent. We get approached daily by many different brands and licenses. We have to maintain our integrity and elevate our brand awareness in the proper way. We are a collectable product company. This means that our aesthetics should be ownable to Kidrobot and compliment the license we are working with. The licensing partner also needs to sit well within our space. Turtles has a nostalgic quality that resonates with KR collectors.
Q: Up until the Marvel crossover products, Munny had been strictly DIY. The Marvel Munnys took a hybrid approach -- blank figures with Marvel character stickers. Is that the same approach for the Turtles, or do these have printed/sculpted designs? Is Munny now a full-fledged platform toy with both designed and DIY editions?
A: We initially rolled out Marvel Munny for two reasons. One, we know that artist and customizers purchase Munny to create their own art. The Marvel property skews young as well. We wanted to give the little ones a creative toy that inspires them to make/ create. The second reason, is that Hasbro holds the master toy license. I actually came from Hasbro where I worked on Marvel and many other properties. So based on my past life and our restrictions within the property, Munny was a perfect fit for us. Turtles is our second launch of a licensed property on the Munny brand. There will be molded accessories for sure, maybe even some shells!! [editor: the TMNT Munnys will also feature deco stickers].
Q: For both the Marvel and TMNT projects, Kidrobot chose Munny as the crossover figure rather than arguably his even more popular older brother, Dunny. Why?
A: At this point Dunny is our "Artist platform". It is sacred to our brand. If you look at how we have handled our other licensed categories like Street Fighter, Simpsons, Family guy etc you see that we like to create lines that are outside of our Dunny platform. However, if the PERFECT property for a Dunny interpretation arises, we would be hard pressed not to think about it.
Q: Kidrobot started as a designer toy company and is well-known as one of the American pioneers in creating toys based on the work of independent artists. In the past few years, Kidrobot has also released numerous toy lines based on licensed entertainment properties including the Simpsons, Street Fighter, Family Guy, and now Marvel Comics and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How do you see the relationship between KR's traditional art toys and its entertainment based products?
A: That's a great question. I have been collecting vinyl since the early days of Bounty Hunter and Lau. I was working for Fisher Price when the KR SF store opened. At that time we were encouraged to buy "inspiration". I can't tell you how much loot I spent there. We do make Art in the form of vinyl. But we are also a business that needs to be sustainable. There are real people with families that work for KR. It's our goal to be not only a sustainable company but a prosperous one.
In doing this we can't "sell out our core product". We will never be, nor want to be a Mattel or Hasbro. We like our independence and our ability to turn shit on it's ear when necessary. We do separate our licensed brands from our core art toy business. Also in the future we will be limiting our core product quantities and choosing the right toys to launch. I believe that we can gain back some core trust, grow the brand and possibly invite new fans into our world.
Q: So far, Kidrobot has kept its art toys and its entertainment-based figures mostly separate (except for the recent use of art toy platforms). I think a lot of collectors would love to see Kidrobot release artist interpretations of Marvel or TMNT characters. Why hasn't it happened yet and might we see such toys soon?
A: Oh you just wait!! We did have Kozik's Labbit in the Marvel mix. Based on licesnsing constraints that was as far as we could push for now. That's not to say this won't change in the future. Without leaking too much information... we have secured several new licenses that we have some amazing artists working on. When I say AMAZING, I mean we went out and got some OG blast from the past artists, known and loved, and some whales that have never played in our sandbox. I am beyond excited for latter part of 2014-15.
Q: I have faith (honestly), but I have to ask the question on quite a few peoples' minds. Should we be worried that KR will gradually exit the art toy business?
A: NO, we were founded and based on the principals of limited edition art toys. I think that if anything we had a few years of over indulging in it. We made too many Dunnies, our quantities were off and people lost the drive to run out and cop a figure or suffer triple paying for it on eBay. I want to get back to that. I also know that our art toys drive different kinds of collaborations, outside of our licenses. We have some really exciting art toys that will be dropping with some really great partners this year as well. I would love to have 6-10 toys in the TOTY category this year and next. So my answer is no. We are still an art toy company, that just happens to have some insanely great licenses coming your way.
Q: Before we let you go back to your busy schedule, what's your favorite new art toy coming from KR for 2014 ?
That's the hardest question you've asked!!! Hmmmm, we have one of the most complex Dunnys releasing with Huck, that is so good. Also, we have an insane golden ticket program with that launch. Keep an eye out. We also have a toy coming out with Jermaine Rogers that is the bomb, literally! We have a Junko piece that blows my mind. there are actually a lot I feel.
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