Interview: Mark Nagata for STGCC 2012

Ballpark figure—how many toys and toy collections do you have?
To be honest, I stopped counting after around 4,000 pieces, and that was six years ago! I have actually slowed down my toy buying and focused on key pieces I need to complete certain vintage parts of my collection.

What inspired you to get into collecting toys?
I think the inspiration came to me in the early ’90s when I found a box of my old Japanese toys and displayed them on a shelf. I also started going to local antique and toy shows, and realized that there were many more of these types of toys than I knew of. From there, I started trading online with fellow collectors and once eBay started, it was “game on” for me!

As a commercial illustrator, you’ve worked with almost every important publishing and production house there is. Which project stood out for you the most?
The times I spent painting children’s horror books like the Give Yourself Goosebumps and Graveyard School series really were my favorite. For the most part, I was given free range to come up with images that would fit the content of the books. So as an artist, I was able to come up designs that were fun to paint and also scary for the kids!

You seem to be doing something you really love right now with Max Toy Company. How’s that going?
Max Toys is really the nexus of all the abilities and experiences I’ve had to this point in my life. I use my art skills everyday, whether it’s designing a toy, painting art for the packaging of my toys or hand painting the toys themselves. I constantly refer to my toy collection for inspiration and insight into how toys are made and painted. I know I am very lucky to have this career plus a very supportive wife who doesn’t mind my crazy toy collections!

Is your son Max, whom you’ve named your toy company after, into Kaiju?
Max is actually more into video games like Halo and MindCraft, and also Yu Gi Oh cards. He enjoys the Kaiju and toys, but I think since he grew up with so much of it around him, it’s not as special as it would be to someone who does not see it so much.

Is there a particular Japanese toy maker—dead or alive—you admire?
Without a doubt, the person that has influenced me the most is Yuji Nishimura of M1Go in Japan. Mr. Nishimura not only has a world class Japanese toy, art and prop collection, he also has his own toy company and in my opinion, produces the finest retro style soft vinyl toys. Many years before I started my toy company, I visited Mr Nishimura and watched him sit on the floor for hours hand painting eyes on the hundreds of toys he was making. This meeting made me realize that no matter what, toys are a result of a handmade process. So you really should appreciate any toy for the amount of work that goes into its creation—even if the end result is not great, at least you know that people were involved in the process. Nishimura also taught me that even the way you staple a bag is important. Fans may not be aware of such things, but subliminally the close attention to detail will influence their feelings for the toy.

Where are some of the most unexpected places you’ve seen your toys being displayed?
Quite a few of my toys were in a music video by a musician named OwlCity a few years ago. The song and video actually went to number one on all the American charts.

Inspiration—what do you do when you just don’t have it?
I guess I’m pretty lucky I don’t seem to have a lack of inspiration, maybe just a lack of funding to make it all happen! I have many projects and collaborations with artists in process or in planning over the next two years. I’m always trying to push myself to think out of the box and not just do the same thing over and over. While not everything will be a unique project, I still strive to try a new painting technique or even work with an artist whose style is not at all like my own. In this way, the work never grows old and I continue to be interested in making toys and art.
What do you think of the creative scene in Singapore?
I think the artists in Singapore are incredibly talented and bring a fresh approach to the toy scene. My only advice is that they retain their own point of view and not change it just to fit into the American toy scene. With the internet, we are now more connected and aware of what other artists are doing or creating, which is amazing. But I worry that each culture will lose its identity, so I hope that whereever you are that you try to keep what’s unique to your style or creations. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more Singaporean artists at STGCC.

Will any of your work be featured or available for sale at STGCC 2012?
I’m so honored that STGCC has asked me to be a guest, and am working on many small runs of exclusive toys to bring. I also hope to debut a very new Kaiju called Zanga at STGCC. It’s the largest vinyl toy we have made to this point, and I think the fans will like it. But most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting the fans and eating really good food in Singapore!
The Singapore Toy, Games, Comic Convention 2012 happens September 1-2, 10am at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Center. Tickets are $15-50 from the STGCC website.