Thursday, September 22, 2011

STGCC 2011: Interview With Oh-No... Oh-YES! It's Andrew Bell!

It was on the second morning of STGCC 2011 that Red Dot Diva was scheduled to interview artist and toy designer Andrew Bell. There was supposed to be another blogger in the same interview slot but he was not able to attend. So *twoosh!* Red Dot Diva suddenly found herself with a one-on-one with Andrew by default.

Poor Andrew!

Lopping into the room with an easy genial smile, the lanky bespectacled Andrew unsuspectingly fell into Red Dot Diva's squee-trap.

And what transpired in the next 12 minutes became the most fun interview Red Dot Diva had that STGCC weekend. There was just so much amusement and laughter, and the easy rapport that she struck with the affable Andrew firmly assured his place as her STGCC 2011 #1 Squee.

Red Dot Diva: When did you actually decide to make your own toys?
Andrew: I've started drawing for several years before I decided to make my own toys. Mostly black and white illustrations of monsters and different creatures. And then I discovered the designer toy scene. After a trip to Japan actually.. I told myself I had to get into the designer toy scene.

Red Dot Diva: And what is the process like?
Andrew: I started out with a few sketches of different designs and I go through and decide which one will really make a good toy design. Then I'd draw different angles - front, side, back, top. And sometimes I sculpt a smaller version of it to see if it would work properly... if it looks good in three dimensions.

Then after that, for the start of the production process, I'll do a 3D model or a finished sculpture and send that as a prototype to the factory.

Red Dot Diva: How long will that take?
Andrew: Anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. I've had some projects go on for 3 years. Just a lot of back and forth tweaking materials and paint designs and production glaze and everything. Every time you make a change, it adds two weeks to the process.

Red Dot Diva: How did your first toy Groob come about?
Andrew, giving a chuckle: I wanted to do something fun that you could play with. A lot of the designer toys were available just for display. So with Groob you could change his face depending on your mood and I thought it would be fun if you guys should have something to play with and display and have something more unique.

Red Dot Diva: I couldn't help but notice a kind of similarity of your designs to one of my favourite artists, Tim Burton. It's weird and macabre.
Andrew: Yeah, I've heard that before. A little dark, a little cute.
Red Dot Diva: Were those sentiments lurking in your mind when you were young??
Andrew, looking amused: I don't know where this came from. I was pretty happy as a kid. And as I grew up, I became a little more cynical and a little darker. And living in New York helped 'cause you see a lot of weird stuff. It makes you somewhat wary of the world around you.

Both Andrew and Red Dot Diva started laughing on that note. Probably because they shared that same droll sense of humour about the world in general.

Andrew, continuing the thought: But I really enjoy the aesthetic of something that's cute. But sad at the same time.
Red Dot Diva: And I'm sure it appeals to a certain kind of people too. Definitely not the happy-happy kind.
Andrew: Yeah... Life is hard.
Red Dot Diva agreed.

Red Dot Diva: Where do you usually draw your inspirations from? Other than the New York scene that you mentioned about?
Andrew: Other artists. I love going to art shows, gallery shows, museums and online too. I look at a lot of artists' works - toy designers, painters, sculptors and just the world around me. Travelling and seeing different cities, like Singapore.

Red Dot Diva: Have you heard any time to wander around Singapore?
Andrew: A little bit. Not too much. We went to the zoo. That was fun. We got to see some creatures. Some inspirations there. And I ate a lot. I've been a lot of seafood and crabs.
Red Dot Diva: Any hints of what actually inspired you at the zoo?
Andrew: Oh. Have you been to the zoo?
Red Dot Diva: Yes, I've been to the zoo many times.
Andrew: Have you seen the mousedeer?
Red Dot Diva laughs: Yes, I know of the mousedeer.
Andrew, getting animated: They are so cute and they are so adorable. And I like the zebras. My company is called Dead Zebra. And I love all the monkeys with their little faces...

Red Dot Diva: Talking about Dead Zebra.. how did that name come about?
Andrew laughed: It was a joke at first. I was still in school studying and I needed a brand for my projects. I was trying to come up with a funny logo. I drew a zebra lying down, legs up in the air and I thought it worked well in black and white and it was silly. After I graduated and I was working and I needed a real company, it just sorta stuck. I'm glad I stayed with it because it is very memorable and people always ask 'What's Dead Zebra?' and they never forget.
Red Dot Diva, approved: Cool. I *like* the name.
Andrew: It's kinda morbid and goes along well with the aesthetic.

Red Dot Diva: What was the first thing you did when you won the Fan Favourite Award at the SDCC Design Toy Awards?
Andrew: I wasn't ready for it. I wasn't paying attention. It was the first (award) for the night. So I was still drinking my beer. And then people were saying, 'You won! You won!'. And then after that, I finished my beer. That was the first thing I did!

It was a fun night. There were a lot of friends and a lot of toy designers. We just hung out and everyone wanted to look at it and hold it.

Red Dot Diva: I supposed you have attended many years of SDCC.
Andrew: Yeah I've been there for 8 or 9 years.
Red Dot Diva: How do you feel about the changes that have come about in recent years?
Andrew: I think it goes in cycles. Originally, when I started going awhile ago, there was a lot of comics. Really focused on superheroes and things like that. And then the movie studios came in and there were a lot of big movie presentations. But I think they've realized recently that they don't get a good return on their investments. They put up huge billboards and spend millions of dollars and then the movies don't do that well. So, they are slowly pulling back.

Gaming has been more popular, so I think that is more in line with the comics crowd. And I think comics is making a resurgence. And the toys have been great too. They started out pretty small but you see a lot of designer toys around now have comics properties, like Tokidoki and Funko, who are merging with the characters in the Marvel and DC world.

Diva stalking Andrew at Walk of Fame
Red Dot Diva: Have you met any of your long-time fans here?
Andrew: Yeah. I have some good collectors in Singapore for a long time. I never knew why.
Red Dot Diva, offered sardonically: Life is hard.
Andrew, chuckled and nodded: Yeah. You need to escape a bit. Anyway, very happy to meet them finally. And very nice to finally meet Andy Heng from Toys REvil.

Red Dot Diva: Do you intend to come back to STGCC next year? A bigger booth maybe with lots of plushies?
Andrew: If they want me back, I'd be happy to come back. I had a good time. And yeah, it would be really nice to bring some more things. I didn't have time to prepare this year.

Red Dot Diva: If you were to design a toy for Singapore, what would it be? Don't tell me that it will be the Merlion, please!
Andrew, burst out laughing: It won't be the Merlion. It would most probably be the chilli crab.
Red Dot Diva: A chilli crab!
Andrew: I need to see more Singapore before I decide. I need more time to look around. Next year, if I come again, I'll come early so I can explore more. What do you think I should do?
Red Dot Diva: Yeah, I think the chilli crab is a good one.
Andrew: Chilli crab. yeah! It'll go well with the O-No Sushi and maybe have his own crackers in his own 'hands'.
Red Dot Diva: And looking sad that he's being "chilli-fried".

Red Dot Diva then morbidly suggested that Andrew should discover the joys of watching "Drunken Prawns" (a Chinese dish) being prepared. She hopes he managed to find time to do that when he was in Hong Kong after STGCC. If not, he should probably aim to return to Red Dot Island just for the visual treat and more artistic inspiration.

Red Dot Diva: Do share with us some of your upcoming projects.
Andrew: I'm working on a few more Android designs in the next series, Series 3, for next year. And a few more vinyl toys. And a few more conventions coming up like New York Comic Con. I'm also going to Venezuela for an event with artists Jon Burgeman and Tara McPherson. And I'm going to have an art show in the USA in the Spring. And I want to work on some new books whenever I can find the time.

Red Dot Diva: Other than toy designing, do you have any guilty pleasures?
Andrew: I've been so busy, I should have more. Well, eating is one. Eating and drinking. NY is good for that. I like watching movies. I like sci-fiction movies and nerdy things. Not so much superheroes stuff. And I like to drink scotch. That's definitely a guilty pleasure.

Well, Red Dot Diva definitely places stalking a Squee #1 as one of her top guilty pleasures. As she has already signed up for New York Comic Con, she will definitely be continuing the Andrew Bell-stalking at the Javits Center this October.

Poor Andrew!


Check out the Dead Zebra, Inc website!
For more of Andrew Bell's artwork and news, visit the creatures in my head site right here!

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