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Oct 18, 2005

Interview with Frank Kozik

We learned of his name from our first day of collecting. We have seen him in person a handful of times. We have purchased cases of his toys. We have stood in awe of his designs. His name is Frank Kozik and although a public figure in the toy world,  he remains a mystery to many. However, today Vinyl Pulse is pleased to bring you an interview with the  man himself.  We would like to thank Frank for answering all of our pesky questions in record time (less than an hour!).  Finally, we would also like to thank the master photographer behind our awesome photos, Robert Arevalo.

Most of our readers know you as Frank Kozik, the artist behind the ultra cool vinyl toys such as the Labbits and the Smorkin’ Dunny. Yet prior to toy design, you were already the twisted genius of rock & roll poster art. At one time you were an Air Force radar control technician. Now tell us how in the world did you go from the Air Force to designing music poster/album art to toy design?

Well, about 1 million years ago I got stationed in Austin, Texas, which had a really vibrant punk scene ( around 1980). My first night out on the town I saw a guy with green hair and was like “that’s a punker”!. I followed him to the punk club and was immediately enraptured by it all. I then started doing my little Xerox flyers etc, which led to all the rest. I always collected toys and had been going over to Japan for years to do things and buy like, hello kitty junk. Around 1997 or 1998 I saw a picture of the Kidhunter by BxH and freaked out. Coolest toy I ever saw and it became my very first ‘official’ vinyl acquisition. Luckily my connections knew Hikaru so I was quickly hooked up. He eventually released my first vinyl toy the Black Smorkin Labbit around 2001.

Your art carries a bit of shock to the viewer, but never too much, just enough for the viewer to linger a bit and think about it.  From controversial pieces to warm and fuzzy ones, what is your development process for a piece? You once said “I am not interested in having an artistic style. I’m just interested in the end result.” What do you mean by that?

Almost all the designs over the years have primarily served either to amuse myself or sell a product or idea. I tend to indulge in a bit of dark humor usually. I don’t really over think the process and I tend to always just jam out whatever takes my fancy.

Let’s talk about vinyl toys. What was your first vinyl toy design? How did it happen? Were you pleased with the result?

It was the BXH Labbit and it came out perfect.

When did you decide to focus on toys exclusively?

About 4 years ago, I just knew it would blow up and realized that it was a good financial thing as well. Ever since then it has been awesome. The toys are like my most favorite thing I have ever been involved with. It’s like a dream come true. The first 2 years was a learning curve and I was frustrated a lot due to the false starts but now, it’s all working out perfect. I pretty much can do and release whatever I want with a number of ‘top’ companies such as Medicom, Kidrobot,Toy2R etc. all over the world.

When I Googled Frank Kozik, the first 10 hits were all about your music poster art, do you think your background in the music poster art advanced or hindered your toy designing career? Would you rather be remembered for your music poster art or your toy design work?

It definitely helped, got my foot in the door, but I am really trying to make toys that are their ‘own thing’ and have little or no connection to the stuff I did for the music/lowbrow scene. I wanted a whole new vibe and scene, and I believe it has happened I think, and it’s refreshing. I am basically not a believer in an afterlife, so I really don’t care what posterity says. I am enjoying making the toys NOW, that’s all that matters.

Man’s Ruin Record was your own recording label and according to Wikipedia, its discography consisted of almost 200 releases. Tell us more about your days with Man’s Ruin. What Music are you listening to these days? What were you listening to 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

Man's Ruin was a label I started in 1995. We put out a million records etc. It was fun for a while, then it sucked, so I yanked the plug in 2000 and retired from music to do toys and paintings.

20 years ago? Black Sabbath and Punk
10 Years ago? Black Sabbath and Doom
today?Black Sabbath and talk radio,

Describe a typical day in the life of Frank Kozik.

shit shower and a shave;  coffee and email; errands; paperwork; lunch; Call Of Duty, UO ‘base assault’ multiplayer online game or 2; NAP; Work on toys/sculpts/paintings; Dinner; Work on toys sculpts paintings; Hang out with girlfriend; READ; sleep

Your packaging material often carries the slogan “Death to False Vinyl”.  What’s False Vinyl?

A catchy slogan?

You obviously have a huge toy collection and spend a lot of money on it. What toys do you collect? Who are your favorite artists?  What makes you drop hundreds of dollars on a toy?

A lot of stuff but I tend NOT to collect 12” or ‘urbany hip hop/graff stuff’. I like the more abstract/goofy toys. Heavy on Kaws, BXH,etc...everything really but no Lau/So etc. It’s basically a sickness or some form of mental disease, as far as I can figure and presently I’m all hooked on Secret Base. So now I am spending hours a day swindling for it, at  least I’m not addicted to cocaine.

Rumor has it you travel to Japan quite often to shop for toys. What do you buy there? What is it about Japanese toys that appeals to you?

I go 2-3 times a year for business and shopping. I buy whatever I see and like. Sometimes I’ll have a specific goal and it generally works out well. 

The Japanese are fascinated with your work. How did that happen and why do you think they find your work so appealing?

Well, in the beginning I think they liked the fact I was using an ‘archaic folk art technique’ (silkscreen) to do ‘modern things’. I also got along well with the Japanese and it just became normal to spend more time there to do projects. I like Japan a lot. It’s mellow.

What’s your take on the current vinyl toy scene in the United States? Have we reached the peak of its popularity or do you think we are just at the tip of the iceberg? With so many toys coming out recently, how do you keep your designs new and fresh?

Tip of the iceberg. I think it will grow rapidly for another year or two then it will level off as a permanent niche market. I think it’s a perfect scenario where there’s both a hardcore collector scene AND popular appeal. I also see a lot of very cool new toys all the time. I think it’s getting better and better and as a collector I am excited.

I don’t know how ‘fresh’ my toys are but I am just doing stuff that appeals to me personally and it happened that other people like it too. There’s a lot of stuff releasing in the next year, lets see what happens!

Your toys are very collectable among fans and it always seems like there are never enough to go around. Sold-out toys often end up on EBay, selling for several times the original price. Does it surprise you that your toys are in such high demand that people are willing to pay “an arm and a leg” for them? As a collector yourself and an artist, is this a positive thing?

Yes, it fuels interest and makes my collection of plastic blobs seem more ‘valid’…..heehee. I also have ‘open editions’ so that anyone that wants say a GID 10” Labbit will always be able to get it for the same price.

You are a fixture on the Kidrobot message boards.  I can’t think of a single artist who spends more time online connecting with collectors and his fans.  Do you feel that your presence and willingness to answer any and all questions has increased your popularity?  Have you noticed any noteworthy trends in terms of recurring threads and such?

Yes to both,  I have always been really ‘interactive’. In my previous career I went to see bands almost every night as part of it. Being in this toy scene, it’s an internet-based collective with occasional events, so I want to be personally involved. I’m a collector and fan as well. I like trading and selling and buying and obsessing. It interests me. Most toy people I have met are really cool and it is firmly international. That’s cool.

On October 30th, the first of your 8” Dr. Bomb figures will hit the market.  Collectors seem to be eagerly anticipating Dr. Bomb. You have indicated that you will also have 10” bombs being released monthly for a year with a total of 25 different Dr. Bombs in a year and half.  That’s a lot of Dr. Bombs!! How do you plan to keep the interest going with all the different versions of Dr. Bomb throughout the year?  Do you see Dr. Bomb as being one of your signature characters in the future?

It comes to 6000 pieces total, which is not a lot. I have sold way more labbits for example. I like Dr Bomb because I feel it’s my first ‘pure’ toy (like no connection to anything else) and hope it is be well received. I hope Dr Bomb becomes a permanent ‘platform’ toy.

Toy collectors often express their preferences for original figures as opposed to new releases of existing established platform toys. It seems like it’s a challenge to get companies to approve an entirely new figure.  Is this the case?  How long has Dr. Bomb been in development?

It is harder because of the costs. I like to do both platforms and uniques. The platforms pave the way and make money to invest in the new sculpts which in turn become platforms to fund the next round. It takes about 9-12 months from incept to final product no matter what it is. I have had extra good luck and little or no problems (except for 1 assjack) since the beginning. All the companies I work with now have it totally together and the quality is going up all the time as the manufactures learn the ropes. I also think my previous experience in promotions in the music biz gives me a bit of an edge. I know how to reveal the toys.

Let’s day dream for a minute, describe the toy you’d create if money wasn’t an issue?

Probably a great big vehicle with working features crewed by Labbits. Like a spaceship or a pirate boat about 4 foot long.

Life size characters would be nice as well. 5’ Dr bomb…..

If you could keep only 5 toys, which would they be and why?

1.    Kaws 5yl companion-perfect form
2.    BXH Labbit-my first release
3.    Fiery Jack Elephant-my favorite vinyl toy of all time
4.    BXH Kidhunter-my first collected piece
5.    Dehara I love Pussy Monster in green with tentacles-too funny

The best thing about designing toys?

It’s fun

The worst or most challenging aspect of it?

Not inadvertently replicating a previous vibe

What do you have coming up next?  Any plans for new toys that you can share with our readers? Looking way ahead to SDCC ‘06, are you going to have your own booth and exclusive toys?

Lots of new sculpts, a few CRAZY surprises that have been kept ultra-secret and yes SDCC 06 a booth with LOTS of exclusives.

Photography by Robert Arevalo

Posted by Francine @ 09:00 AM in Interviews | Permalink  | Comments (12) |


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thanks a bunch for that

the mans a bloomin sooper star!

great interview and pics.

looking forward to the future of the kozik empire!

Frank is my idol..for serious

When I grow up I want to be Frank! Also Vinyl Pulse really rocks and is the first button I press every morning.

Great interview. Frank, please make the pirate ship! Big enough for us all to ride aboard across the stormy seas :D

Very cool. It is always interesting to see other artists workshops. Great collection, great story. You ROCK Kozik!
- Boss website vinylpulse!

Nice one! Look at that studio/playground... Thankx for another good interview!

Amazing stuff!
I've just discovered this scene and feel this is the coolest of the cool.
I have found my styleguru now. Thanks!

Not only is Frank an amazing artists but a great guy and one of the easiest to work with artists I've met...He deserves the props he's getting even though he outbids me on Secret Base product on Ebay!

Nice interview. Thanks for posting this.
- Kelly Dee Williams

i want to see part 2 - a tour of Frank's studio room in the picture from one side to the other!

hi i want more information about vinyl toys, and how to make it, if you can mail me, im a designer and have nice designs to convert it in toys please help me.

do we know weather he is going to animate any of his toys?

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