Interview with Wheaty Wheat’s Richard VanOver – Part II

Richard VanOver
founded Wheaty Wheat Studios with his wife, Debbie Yoon, with the goal of producing art toys of the highest quality possible.  An artist in his own right, Richard’s passion is helping talented artists turn their 2d art and characters into living breathing 3d toys.  We recently had a chance to visit Wheaty Wheat Studios’ brand new building and talk to Rich about his company and his perspective on anything and everything about the designer toy biz.

This is the conclusion to this interview.  The first half of the interview appeared yesterday (Thursday).

The MAD*L 2k5 show at Oulous was sweet, any chance we’ll be something similar soon?

Let’s put it this way we might be seeing a big show but maybe only somewhat similar. We’ll know more about that later this spring.

Are you planning on ever releasing toys in blind-packaging?

The [MAD*L] minis.

Will there be chases?

There might be.  If we do that, then it’ll probably be a different style.

What’s the biggest challenge in the designer toy game?

Trying to keep the character of the piece when it translates to 3d.  So the 2d art to 3d art and still make it feel like it’s a translation of the artist’s character. To keep that life in it, is fucking crazy. It’s a hard thing.

What’s been the biggest success or the best day for Wheaty Wheat so far?

The best day was moving into our new building.  Biggest success.  I’d have to say, just out of pure numbers, the MAD*L’s, have been the biggest success.  Because in under a year we’ve sold 8700+ pieces. Which is pretty freaking good and they’re not all the same.  We did two phases in one year which I didn’t expect to do. Holy crap.  Those moved and phase three is on the way.  Success wise, that’s been our best.

Were your surprised by  the degree of success of those?

Yeah.  In a way.  Not because I didn’t think they’d sell.  When I think of designer toys, I’m thinking more on the art level.  You don’t expect that many to move, you know?  It feels like it was a lot longer time than a year.  To have something move that much in a year, I thought was kinda amazing to me. Until MAD said something at Comic Con to me I realized that it’s only been a year since Phase 1 debuted and phase 2 already came out and we’re already sold out of ‘em.

Scion tC for Installation ’06


Beyond designer toys, Wheaty Wheat is also involved in several other interesting projects.  You’re involved in the Scion ’06 art tour, can you tell us more about that.

Sure, as much as I know. I guess they did a 12” car before that they had artists do their designs on and just recently they put on the Installation Scion Art Tour. We were picked up by Scion to do the  tC car through our friend Random.  He was a great help in getting us the job. He showed ‘em the 20” MAD*Ls and said we were the people to go to.  I believe the show starts in January with 20 artists doing their designs on the cars and then they’ll be auctioned. It’s the same premise as the recent painting show. MAD is one of the artist on the car

And those are 3 foot cars?

Yeah.  The cars are 3 feet long from bumper to bumper.  They came out beautifully with the help of Joe Brogno on the modeling.  I’m really excited about that because I’m a nerd.

My other favorite toy, 21c has an m1a4.  It’s basically a light tank but it’s 1:6 scale. So  G.I. Joe sits in it.  I’m just a big nerd when it comes to big shit like that. The giant MAD*L’s were so cool. It’s almost like you feel like a little kid, it’s a toy and you’re scaled down.  I’m always a nerd for big stuff, the bigger the better as far as I’m concerned.

Any chance we’ll see 20-inch toys?

I’ve had them priced out so yeah there’s a good possibility. I don’t know if they’d be painted on or they’d be solid colors.  Not sure how it would work yet.  There’s a good possibility down the line.  They would be really limited.

Kathie Olivas’ Custom HoneyB

Does the level of fan interest or collector interest in designer toys and the artists behind them, surprise you?   That it’s getting so big?

No.  It’s art.  People are really into art. They just can’t afford most art.  This is very affordable for people.  Dude, I’ve got a ton of people I’d like to buy paintings from but I can’t afford a Mark Ryden, I can’t afford a Lucien Freud painting.   I just think it’s so popular because everyone knows these are limited pieces and you can afford them.  So you can collect art on the average Joe level.  I just think it’s popular because of great designs and they’re affordable. Even the paintings and prints that people put along with them… — when could you by a  freakin’ print that’s hand numbered and hand signed from an artist for like 60 bucks? That’s what I see.  That’s why I love this whole genre, just because it brings the art to the people who appreciate it I think a lot more than some of the people who buy a 90,000 dollar painting just to buy it and say they bought it.

Stick it on the wall and not think about it?
Yeah. Probably not even look at it twice.

So you definitely see the toys you make as art?

Oh yeah. Bite your tongue if you don’t think that <slaps hands together>. 

Chris Lee

Andrew Bell

Did you ever imagine that people would line up more than seven hours in advance to buy the lava bunny?


Did it freak you out?

I think it freaked me out in a good way.  That just shows we’re doing it right.  It’s a huge compliment to the artist and to the people who produce his toys.  No, it didn’t freak me out at all.  I was more amazed. I thought that was bad ass and I’m just appreciative of all the people that took the time to take the day off to stand in line.  That’s just so cool. I respect those people because they’re motivated to purchase something that they really feel connected with.  I think that’s what runs Wheaty Wheat Studios, being able to connect with the people that love this stuff.  Know that they love it because we’re doing a good job and they’re appreciating it and that’s how they show it.  It’s more about that than anything to me.

px When we were talking earlier you mentioned limited edition and how important that was to you.  Could you talk about that a little?

I think it’s important because people don’t want to feel they’re getting the wool pulled over their eyes.  So if we do an edition of 400 pieces, it’s 400 pieces. If we do extra stuff for PR purposes, those become another run which make it special for the people do get ‘em and then you’re taking from the people that are trying to get those 400 and then these people  who are working with you – say advertisers or vendors, they feel more special and it kinda repays you back because they feel  like they are getting something special also.

I just think the number thing, that’s the way people do it in the art world.  You buy a Intaglio print it’s signed and numbered. You buy a bronze piece, it’s signed and numbered.  I don’t feel there should be a difference.   If you buy a Spiderman statue  they’re signed and numbered, there’s limited editions.  As far as I’m concerned these are art pieces and they should be signed and numbered. At least numbered, if not signed.  You can always have the artist sign it at a signing or something.  It should represent that there’s this amount made and that’s how many are made.   I don’t buy into that whole bullshit of “oh yeah we’ll say there’s 2000 but we’ll make 4000 and we’ll slip ‘em out into the market so we can profit off of it”.

And no one will ever know…

You can’t, unless you’re sitting there doing logistics all day long – figuring out where they’re selling them, how many they sold – you’d never know. 

You feel pretty passionate about small numbers?

Yes. Small numbers to us are better.  I think the highest number will ever do is 900 from now on. 

Why is that?

Just because it gives it a better collectibility.  This is all stemming from my art background.  A lot of the times when we did print runs, it was always small numbered because when you go over a certain amount you might as well mass market it.  Maybe a thousand isn’t that many or maybe two thousand isn’t that many but then what’s it going to do, keep going up?  Are you going to keep doing two thousand, maybe up to five thousand, maybe to ten thousand?  I like keeping a cap on it.  People know that they can come to us and they know – 900 is just a good number.  To me it gives it more integrity.

And you mentioned that you’re going to number them from now on?

Oh yes.  All of our pieces will have numbers on it, guaranteed.

What’s your take on EBay and “flipping” – and that whole deal.

But you get that in anything you know.  I don’t really have an opinion on it. There’s always going to be somebody that’s buying it not because they enjoy it but because they know it’s going to be profitable to them.  That’s in all the art levels and anything. Even concert tickets.  People buy ‘em and scalp ‘em.  I don’t know.  I don’t have any opinion on that.  I like it sometimes because they’re flipping it, they’re making the price go up, people get more excited about it, it becomes more of a collectable thing.  So it just adds to the people who hang on to ‘em as far as I’m concerned.

You know what I don’t like though are  the people who sit online and tie up – when there is going to be any kind of raffle – like Myplasticheart when he sells customs from MAD – when they just sit there   and block everyone else out.  I just think that’s not cool.

You mean the online stuff?

Yeah.  If there is an online thing I guess there’s a lot of people who will just sit and <reload> constantly.  Then they end up blocking out people that really truly want to get a piece and then they flip it.     That to me is not cool.  If you’re buying it and then you decide to flip it because the price is going up, [then fine].  But if you’re being an asshole about trying to get it, then I just don’t appreciate it.  That’s not cool. I’m passionate about this stuff.

What will designer toys be like in two years?

It could go either way.  I think in two years it’ll be pretty big. I think it’ll be a lot more in the mainstream but I think it’ll be pretty broad spectrum.  I don’t think it’ll be so much boutique stores only handling it.  Whether or not the stuff that gets mainstreamed is actual artists or is just other toy companies like Mattel or Hasbro doing their own thing to be kinda on that [same level].  I feel that it’s going to get a lot bigger but there might be a lot more [whispers] crap.

Do you feel that big companies entering into this is inevitable at some point?

Yes. Oh hell yeah.

How do you feel about that?

Well, I can understand it.  Because if it’s something popular that all the people are into, then of course they’re going to try and branch out and pull that into their realm. Not necessarily – I don’t dislike it because I understand it. But, there’s that level then… “Are we doing art, or is it just mass market?”.    That’s where my art background takes over and I don’t like it because it cheapens the product that’s there already and that’s on the collectible level. 

That’s not to say that mainstream [is necessarily bad].  It’s hard because there are so many companies.  Like let’s say Sideshow came out with something.  Now there, there would still be a collectibility to it.  Even though it’s more on a mainstream side.  But I respect them so heavily because the product they make it’s more on the level of an art piece.

Brandt Peters’ Custom HoneyB

You mean in terms of quality and attention to detail?

Oh yeah.  Exactly.  But if you go onto the other side, not to bash mainstream toy companies because that’s what they do, they mainstream everything. If somebody like…  Who did the DC things –  those action figures that came out in the tins?  I don’t know if that was Hasbro or Mattel or somebody.  That to me is just a bunch of conglomerates trying to jump on the bandwagon because yeah kids think this is cool and this is cool, and let’s put it together and try to sell it as a toy.  But I think they are missing the point. I think they’ll try, but I don’t know if they’ll get there.  If they hang on to the point of why vinyl is vinyl and not totally corrupt it, I think it’d be better than what it will probably end up once it hits that corporate level.

Is it possible to hang on to what vinyl is and why it’s cool if you crank up the numbers too much?

As long as the quality is good. If the quality’s good and it’s just not a slapped together kind of thing.   Let’s say if Mattel picked up the Horvaths, David and Sun-Min,  The Ugly Dolls.  If they picked them up and mainstreamed it, as long as they didn’t cheapen the quality of the pieces – that works for me.   Perfect example.  Target at Halloween had these great exclusive little [figures] – kind of on the vinyl edge but they were just little things for Halloween.  But oh my god, they were simple shaped, they were beautiful and I bought ‘em because the design was there, it was good quality, and it just a really attractive visual.  So now if somebody does something like that, I can understand that.  Even if the numbers were really insane that they did, they were still really cool, and really collectible and still unique in their own right. And these were designed by someone with the intention of making a good product.   Yes, they could do it if someone wants to take the time to do it.  We shop a lot at Target, but I was blown away because I didn’t think that could ever come from a corporate place like that.  Not because they’re not artists or nobodies an artists, but because there are so many levels of art directors and everybody’s got opinions and corporate and it just kinda turns to mush after awhile.  I thought they did a really good job on those.

So what’s next from Wheaty Wheat.  What are you willing to divulge?

More vinyl.  Vinyl plush.  Some super surprises and maybe some tentacles coming out into different realms of the world.  That’s about it.  You’ll understand that down the line.

We’d like to thank Richard VanOver for taking time out of his Saturday morning to sit down and talk toys with us!

9 Replies to “Interview with Wheaty Wheat’s Richard VanOver – Part II”

  1. That’s because it’s a Wheaty Wheat Interview and not a Jled interview.
    BTW this interview was GREAT just shows you the deadication and heart behind the work both Rich and Debbie provide for the artists.
    Big ups to the whole WW Crew for busting your asses to make great products!

  2. That makes sense, except all of the other artists in the WW stable were mentioned, pictured, shown, discussed, etc., and it wasn’t their interview…
    Not a big deal. Just thought it was strange.

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