Creating The Great American Kaiju With Bob Conge

utter the name "Bob Conge" and thy brainspace is engulfed within a void of delirium, teetering on that suspended ledge between an unspeakable nightmare and a whispered siren song so beautiful, you cannot help but be enthralled ... in addition to the myriad of Plaseebo creations and personal customs, Bob's darkened aesthetics and even macabre-cuteness had always appealed to me, and yes, even whispered silent nothings to lure my attention and I had to have a long chat with him, embarrassingly bumbling my way thru LOL
CONGE_CREATIONS
an artist, a "tinkerer", a creator of the Great American Kaiju - Bob Conge
shares with us his process, his past and his future /// CLICK HERE TO READ


TOYSREVIL: Was there a defining moment when you realized you wanted to design and create toys, Bob?

BOB CONGE: When I was around 7 years old I can remember playing "Army" in the dirt of my back yard with small die cast tanks and trucks made by Dinky and wanting to make them look more like they had really been in a war. I borrowed a small file and hand drill from my dads tool box and customized some of my trucks with crunched fenders, bullet holes, and then burned some of the paint with matches. 

As for a defining moment, it wasn't a possibility for me until my son Marcus pushed me into the computer age by introducing me to the world of the internet and building my websites. When the NEW vinyl Art Toy thing started a few years ago enabling individual designers to build unique customs and produce limited quantity runs in China. I was all over it and in 2004 I founded Plaseebo Custom.

TOYSREVIL: What is your process of creation like? Do you commit to paper before you start on a sculpt, or is it an evolving hands-on approach?

BOB CONGE: The most important creative part of my day is the first 30 minutes in the morning. Almost all of my ideas for new pieces come to me during this period upon waking from sleep and I spend the rest of the day working out how I can bring the ideas to life. I have no idea where the ideas come from and I do not force or try to direct the process, I just let it happen as if I am listening to the voice of someone else. I make very quick short hand sketches and notes, as some mornings it is fast and furious. 

TOYSREVIL: Subliminal kaiju-fueled-dreams, perhaps? I personally have failed in this habit, always convincing myself I'll get back to it after brushing my teeth and making a cuppa ... decades on and im still clueless as to why i always forget ... I admire your fortitude, Bob. Technically, how long does it take (on average) from concept to incubation to start of sculpt? from sculpt to final painted piece?

BOB CONGE: This is always a difficult determination as I am always working on more than one piece at any given time, sometimes as many as 5 or 6 different sculpts. I find it very beneficial to always have many pieces in the works because of material and paint drying times, not always knowing how to proceed next, to keep from overworking a given sculpt, etc. Because of my approach the elapse time for a piece from concept to final painted piece could be anywhere from two to six months. 

Building the Sarcophagus sculpt to fit the Mummy sculpt:




TOYSREVIL: "Watching paint dry" is something I may never wish upon even my greatest of enemies (well, maybe some ;p) ... Describe your production process, and how long does it take?

"Idea - sketch - figure out how to build thru trial and error - stumble thru with a smile"

BOB CONGE: I prefer to work with non platform stuff. Various bits and pieces of broken or discarded figures, dolls, dentures, skulls, etc., stuff that has been abandoned or found at flea markets. So my customs are kinda Frankenstein-like, in that they are cobbled together of unrelated parts in a process which breathes a new life into them. My approach to building customs is an outgrowth of a series of assemblages or "Shrines" I have been building over the past 5 years for exhibition. You can see some of these at www.bobconge.com. However, over the past year, I have started building and sculpting my customs from scratch more and more. But I have a love affair with the past-over and discarded that compels me to pick up the unnoticed to use in my work.


TOYSREVIL: "One man's junk is another man's treasure" (I've tried to convince peeps and family the amount of parts and junk I've kept thru the years would make fab kitbash/custom-fodder, but no one believes me! LOL) ... In my humblest of opinions, your visuals dredge the murky depths of the subconsciousness, and manifests a veiled horrorscope so hauntingly beautiful, one just can't help but stare - Is it a conscious style?

BOB CONGE: I like my figures to be edgy, quirky, punkish, darkish, more like Franz Kafka than Walt Disney. You see a lot of “cute” figures being done and I want my work to be deeper, heavier, hit ya in the gut rather than all sweetness. So the MONSTER theme is king with me, hence, the Plassebo Custom tag line " GREAT AMERICAN KAIJU "


[Bob's customs done for Monster Mash & ToyKarma]

TOYSREVIL: Monsterz Iz Teh Kool (and I still have a wee "crush" on Son of Sum - aiyoh so cute! LOL). When it comes to creation, what are your materials of choice? Any particular materials you've not yet tried but want / plan to?

BOB CONGE: When it comes to materials, my motto is "USE ANYTHING THAT WILL WORK".  Consequently I do not have a favorite material. I try to always let the idea dictate to me what materials will express it best. This approach has required me experiment a lot with a great variety of materials, which has also been good, as I am easily bored doing the same thing over and over. I think my aversion to this type of boredom came to me from my first job as a kid washing dishes in a restaurant. No matter how many hours I spent washing those fucking dishes they kept coming back dirty, after a few weeks of this you get to know each plate by its imperfections, a chip here, a scratch there. It seemed like I was living the myth of Sisyphus.

[Editor's note: Sisyphus was a King in Greek mythology, who was punished in the Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and repeat this throughout eternity. / wiki]

TOYSREVIL: "Kung Fu" is learnt at the most unlikely of places, IMHO ... Would you describe your work as D.I.Y? And why do it yourself instead of factory-producing your own figures?

BOB CONGE: I make all my own sculpts rather than sending a drawing to some other sculptor or factory to make the sculpt. While it is now common for designers to commission others to do the sculpting of their ideas, for me the experience of building the sculpt is integral to my work process. While the process begins with the idea sketch, the form of the figure continues to evolve all the way through the sculpting of it, often surpassing the  original idea. I love every step of this process and evolution of each piece, as no two are ever the same. The PROCESS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RESULT. I am now working on roto-casting urethane here in the states for production run pieces so I can have hands on for that step also. 

CONGE_WORKSPACE

TOYSREVIL: I personally have never been able to get past the importance of RESULT - a mind-set imbuded since young by thy country's education system and society's demand (not that I'm pointing any blame fingers) - which makes it even harder to go from sketch (where all your dreams come true, if only 2-dimensionally) to actual 3-dimensional piece . I've actually not attempted any sculpting, ever since being told I was crap in arts college actually LOL ... I can only but imagine the joy one would have, in creating a piece of their own ... Independent Creator versus Toymaker - Is there a difference?

BOB CONGE: What is the basic difference between Independent creators and toymakers? As for myself being an IC, I feel a obligation to the collector of my work to try to offer "fresh personal expressions" in very limited editions of 20 pieces or less per color-way world wide, you will not find a given example of my work in every other collection. Whereas the toymaker attempts to measure what the collector market will want based on current trends and uses the findings to dictate the development of their toys in hopes of selling a million of them.

CONGE_ASSEMBLY
[Assembling Plaseebo's 2nd Nite Gamer]

TOYSREVIL: Commerce versus Artist Expression will always a thin borderline be; between Reality and Dreams, IMHO - and most times they overlap seamlessly, although sometimes they slap in the face wontonly LOL - but I appreciate that you consider the Collector, as well as your own pursuits and principles ... tell us about yourself, Bob - who is Bob Conge? What you did before and what you're doing now. Have you always been creating toys? Was it an "evolution" or "diversion"?

BOB CONGE: I don't think I had much of a choice. In grade school and high school I couldn't bring myself to study anything I wasn't deeply interested in. I was always interested in drawing and painting those things in "my world" which often involved some aspect of nature, animals, especially insects, volcanos, outer space ( planets, rocket ships, alien creatures), American indians, the  Universal Studios monsters (Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula).  I was definitely NOT interested in math ( algebra, calculus, geometry), chemistry, history ( other than the native americans who lived in up state NY, whose stone tools and arrowheads I dug for regularly ), and downright hated spelling, grammar, and reading ( with the exception of comics like The Witches cauldron, Mad, EC comics, etc. ).

Un-diagnosed dyslexia helped to make most of my "school" experience a nightmare. I failed everything except the art classes, which I aced, this made no sense at all to me, but I knew for sure the one place where I was comfortable was inside my own head. Pretty much a loner from the get go, I hung with the other rejects and outlaws, a few of whom were also interested in drawing and painting. 

I was 20 by the time met an old outlaw friend who had reinvented himself during his first year in college. He turned me on to reading and classical music that summer and the remote possibility that I might also try this college thing. I was accepted for a probationary period of the first quarter of freshman year art school, solely on the basis of my portfolio of drawing and painting. I fell in love with learning at what seemed like for me the last possible opportunity. Some six years later, I found I had myself somehow been reinvented and left the cloistered world of University life to open my own Art Gallery for the summer in a costal resort town.

By that Fall I had "broke even" for the the summer, the operative part of the expression being "broke". So when I got the phone call from the College where this all started with an offer of a teaching position, I was back in the comfort of that cloistered world of the University. I spent another five years on this side of the education fence falling in love with teaching and painting in my studio for gallery shows.

In, I guess what would be chapter three, I left the University life for good, to embark on a new career as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator to replace the teaching salary and continue my own work by painting evenings and weekends in my studio. After a slow start for the first few years my illustration / design studio took off from being only local clients to national and then International, some of this work can be seen on this website  http://illustrators.chili.zaks.com/conge/default.asp. All the while I was still working on my own stuff in painting and exhibiting nationally. 

(In Chapter four) After too many years of creating the images for other peoples ideas I quit the freelance thing in 2003 to concentrate on doing my own work. That work now is an on going series of assemblages I call "Shrines" which can be seen on my website www.bobconge.com


BOB CONGE: In 2004 I founded Plaseebo Custom and have been producing limited edition vinyl figures and customs since then.  

The two principals that have driven my career are:

(1) "FOLLOW YOUR BLISS" (Joseph Campbell)  and (2)  "RE-INVENT YOURSELF EVERY 10 YEARS" (Bob)

TOYSREVIL: Cheers for sharing with us so candidly, Bob - What are your influences and inspiration? And how do they affect your work?

BOB CONGE: I am a sponge. I am literally influenced and inspired by by everything I dream, see, hear, feel, touch and have previously made. When you are in love with what you do every day, it is not "work" in the usual meaning of that word, it is "life". My life and what I do every day ("work" in this other sense ) are intermingled seamlessly. Frank Zappa said "you are what you eat"  for me "you are what you do". My job is to discover  who I am and how I fit into this universe on a daily basis. 

TOYSREVIL: Your "groundedness" is very humbling, Bob (IMHO). "The Creator as a Collector", has always intrigued me - Do you collect toys yourself? And what do you collect? Any secret collections no one knows about?

BOB CONGE: I am a collector, and have always been as far as I can recall. I remember, as a young boy, my most prized possession being a small box in which I kept colorful or uniquely shaped stones, butterfly wings, bird's feet, dried flowers, a skull I had carved from wood, a small red plastic A-Bomb, and a wave-washed piece of deep blue glass. This first collection was a micro cosmos of my world at that time. 


BOB CONGE: As for toys, I have been a compulsive collector of various model kits and Japanese vinyl and many other toys for years, beginning when I was in collage, I took out a student loan that I really did not need and went knocking on doors asking folks if they had any old toys the attic they would like to sell. It was a gold mine, all sorts of early american cast iron horse drawn fire wagons, pre-war wind up german tin litho vehicles, and on and on. Then moved on to MIP action figures, vintage Japanese tin robots and space toys and in the 1980's vintage Japanese vinyl kaiju to now the designer vinyl stuff made by others. 




TOYSREVIL: *faints from toys~glorious~toys* - quite an eclectic and diverse selection tho = *v.noice* ... What do you think of the current Creator's Market? With regards to US-based, as opposed to International (specifically kaiju or general designer vinyls)

BOB CONGE: I am excited about maybe 3% of the stuff out there and that is most likely the case with most collectors, luckily it is a different 3% from one collector to the next.   

From the viewpoint of the creator, both US and international alike, the extent of product now available is mind boggling when compared to just 4 or 5 years ago.  You see a lot of new designers come and go in the blink of an eye. Its almost as competitive as the music scene, if the first piece you put out isn't a hit you don't get a second chance. If as a designer you play it safe and make a derivative piece of a already successful toy you will find most collectors only want the original. I think you must have faith in your own vision and pursue that with the comfort of a horse wearing blinders.

TOYSREVIL: I reckon tis both as exciting and scary at the same time - becoz the "result" (ie: bottom-line) is as important (and for some, i suspect to be THE most important) compared to the "process" - not much leeway left for the evolution of an emerging toymaker, in which evolution is split into two categories: "sustainability" and/or "growth" ... "survival" is a bitch, I can imagine LOL ... And what do you think of the current Toy Culture, in general? Evolving or Devolving?

BOB CONGE: I think the toy culture globally is an attempt to personalize the individual collector by the choices he or she makes about the things they surround themselves with. We have fewer and fewer opportunities to make choices in our lives that say something about who we are or wish we were. It is more and more difficult to find something unique, something not everyone else has a copy of, something that says something about who you are simply by your saying "I like this and want you to know I do". In a society where most every one can have a car, a refrigerator, a Big Mac and a Pepsi, all this stuff of the everyday becomes a monotonous blend that leaves many of us with a craving for some unique trophy to remind us of our individualism. The Art Toy can be one of these.

TOYSREVIL: The Individual Pursuit of Individualism, saited by a Piece of Plastic. I see a growing trend in the DIY-aesthetic, where folks are subliminally nudged to "create their own art", not just in terms of monetary savings, but to create another sense of "individualism" = *create your own* - Altho ironically, tis like purchasing a homogenoized wooden shelf from IKEA, but there are different wood-stains available for you to "create your own individualistic version-of", heavy or light stains, YOU DECIDE ... LOL

As misunderstood and under appreciated by the "masses" (ie: Designer Vinyldom) and as overwhelmingly embraced by Kaiju-fanatics - What do you think can be done to bridge the differing genres? Is there even a need for acceptance and/or intergration?


BOB CONGE: As noted in my previous answer, I don't place a great deal of value on either acceptance or integration.  They both are levelers and contribute to the "monotonous blend" of all things.

TOYSREVIL: And let's not even get into the argument between "Art" and "A Piece of Plastic" LOL - What/Who is Plaseebo and what is "American Kaiju"?

BOB CONGE: Plaseebo is the legendary ten year old Japanese dwarf "Tsu" who in the year 2049 BC single handedly  sailed the uncharted waters from Japan to Egypt and became the Pharaoh "PLASEEBO"  And in 2004 Plaseebo became the namesake of Plaseebo Custom.  You can read the complete "Legend of Plaseebo" story on our website  Plaseebo.net.

The Plaseebo Custom tag " GREAT AMERICAN KAIJU " is an expression that implies while I am inspired by the traditional Japanese monsters, I make them with an American eye and hand.

TOYSREVIL: What's up next for Bob Conge/Plaseebo? What can folks and fans look forward to, in 2008 and next? I remember seeing WAR on Skullbrain.org and being utterly blown away LOL

BOB CONGE: Well the "WAR" figure is next and will debut at the "Kaiju Invades New York" invitational show at the Showroom Gallery in New York in April during the NY Comic Con. 

This sculpt is the most complex piece I have ever made and is proving to be VERY difficult to pull more than one casting from a mold. I am sure it will never be a vinyl production run. In fact it is so labor intensive to produce in cast urethane, I can't imagine ever making more than a few of them.


BOB CONGE:We have in production 4 new Ultra Limited color-way editions of the Night Gamer figure that will be released this year. And I am working on a new sculpt of side kick that will join the Night Gamers in their travels.

The SUM and Son of Sum figures will be released in a few more 1 up color-ways and I  have some new 1 up customs in the works. The one I am just finishing now " BANK AMERICA" is a statement about our morally bankrupt system.

TOYSREVIL: Definitely looking forward to all of them, Bob (no b.s.) ... In rounding off the interview, let's get back to the current "roots" = An Artist or Designer? Craftsman versus Artist - Where and who do you see yourself as? Or is there no divide?

BOB CONGE: I am a "tinkerer", I make visual stuff that I try to design and craft to the best of my abilities. I do not think it is up to the maker to proclaim that what he has made is "ART" or that by making this thing he is an "ARTIST".  This is a determination that should only be bestowed upon the the maker or what he has made by others. While I do not think of myself as an Artist, I am most pleased when others do.

TOYSREVIL: While it would be totally dismissive to label you as "just a toy-maker" (and we do label becoz some folks may not be able to comprehend fully), What do you hope to achieve with your craft and creations?

BOB CONGE: To always be involved in the process till death do we part.  It is not about getting to some goal out in the future, for me it is about being aware of the path moment by moment.

TOYSREVIL: Do you think you have achieved what you set out to do?

BOB CONGE: I hope not.

TOYSREVIL: Thank you for your time, trouble and candidness, Bob - And may your path be fruitful and filled with invention and creation :)

Comments

krakit said…
great interview and photos

I really like Bob Conge's
attitude of letting the
design/concept determine
what kind of materials to use.
DMS said…
Great interview with an inspirational artist who isn't trying to fit into any trends, just to create.

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