Art Snob: A Talk With Vinyl Toy King Frank Kozik
By Matt Cohen on July 9, 2013
When I first discovered the world of vinyl toy collecting, there was one man who I can thank (or blame) for what would become a now decade-old obsession; Frank Kozik. Rock-star of the toy set, Kozik is best known for his work with KidRobot, including his uber popular Smorkin’ Labbit series, but has always kept a toe firmly planted in the world of more “indie” art, featuring politically biting, morally questionable or even downright weird work. Throughout it all, Kozik has remained a constant in an ever shifting community; With his signature cigarette dangling from lip, Frank is one of the faces of the medium, and a pretty damn cool ambassador to those – like myself – who’ve finally realized that they love art after all (it just so happens said art happens to be a bunny smoking a cigarette).
I recently got the chance to check out the launch of Kozik’s new A Clockwork Orange inspired toy, A Clockwork Carrot, at the mind-blowingly awesome Toy Art Gallery on Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles. While I felt lucky enough to just check out the release, I also got the “total geek dream fulfillment” added bonus of getting to sit down and chat with one of my art heroes, a man who’s work I’ve been collecting for nearly 10 years.
Matt Cohen: Frank, thanks for taking the time to stop and chat with me. A lot of people know you got your start doing concert poster designs and album art, but most people know of your work through your vinyl endeavors. How do you feel about working in vinyl, as a medium in general?
Frank Kozik: Well, you know, I’ve been doing stuff for about 25 years now, and even though I started out doing music related stuff, that got kind of old after a while, and I totally quit that sh*t around 2000 just to do the toys. The toy thing is way more satisfying; The objects are cooler, it’s more fun, and, believe it or not, you get a much wider range of people involved. I really dig it. I’ve had way more success in the last 10 years with the toys than I did in 15 years with the rock sh*t.
MC: You bring up the word “toy,” which is kind of contentious sometimes in this community. We’re at a place called Toy Art Gallery; do you think there are different definitions of the word toy? Some people say because a lot of vinyl art doesn’t move and you can’t technically play with it, it’s not a toy. What’s your feeling on that?
FK: This is like splitting hairs. If you go “Oh, this is an art multiple,” you sound like a f**king a**hole. Actually, a lot of my lines – like the cuter stuff – kids actually buy them and play with them as toys and make dioramas and photo essays and all this weird sh*t. So a certain percentage of my stuff actually is played with, by kids and adults. I am going to make a playset someday, so the play-factor definitely is a future thing; It’s just expensive to do something like that. I don’t really care what they call this kind of object; call it whatever you’re comfortable with. I just like making ‘em.
MC: With the proliferation of this artform in, let’s say the past 10 years or so, where do you see it going? Do you think it’s peaked, with stores all around the world, and major corporations putting out their own vinyl toys? Do you think it’s “jumped the shark”, a bit?
FK: It’s a steady niche market in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, North America, Europe. I go to South America a lot, and it’s opening up; there’s toy manufacturers down there now, in Venezuela and in Buenos Aires. I just went to Peru and Chile, and there’s local dudes making their own toys down there. It’s really awesome, and the thing is, one or two people will get lucky and go main-stream; like Kaws, he’s done real well for himself, and he’s like a quote-unquote fine artist guy, so it worked for him.
I’m having really good luck with the stuff I do for KidRobot, and it’s actually becoming a mainstream product, in, I guess, the real world, which is nice for me. There’s a constant upswelling of new talent, and new people, and new people doing stuff. The last year has been really active; It’s been 10 years now, and there have been cycles, but in the next couple of years, I really think you’re gonna see an upswing. The economy’s come back a little bit, there’s a lot of new designers and toy-makers. A lot of people have got it figured out, and a lot of the new stuff is really interesting and really cool. It’s gonna be one of those things where, there’s always been a comic book shop, there’s always been a record store. There’s always been sort of a Spencer’s Gifts thing at the mall or a head shop, and now there’s always going to be these little toy store things. Is it going to be in every f**king 7-11? No, which is fine. I think it’s a thing that exists now, and it’ll be around for, I’m sure, decades.
MC: Most people know you through your work with KidRobot and the Labbit line, but you’ve actually been making your own toys recently. Can you explain what that process is like?
FK: These days I’m making a pretty good living off of this, so now I’m able to actually just manufacture my own stuff. I’m making my own, kinda, weird, artsy, fringey sh*t. I’m getting it made in Japan and China, and I set up a resin-casting facility in my studio. I can sort of be really nimble, and have lots of really small releases that have a hand-touch to them, that I can drop direct in between the commercial releases with KidRobot.
MC: We’re here for the release of “A Clockwork Carrot,” but this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with A Clockwork Orange as a theme. What is it about that film that captivates you and inspires your art so much?
FK: When I was about 12, I read the book; it blew me away. I saw the movie, when it came out; and everyone’s got some sort of media thing that really changed their world view. People are like, “I saw Mad Max and it blew my mind, and I wanted to be a punk rocker,” or, “I saw the Grateful Dead.” Everyone’s got something they saw. I saw A Clockwork Orange when I was a little kid, and it blew my mind, and that got me reading science fiction, so it opened up a whole thing for me, and then I discovered all of Kubrick’s other movies. It’s just a really seminal piece of pop culture that really heavily influenced how I perceive the world, so I do a lot of stuff related to it.
MC: Are there any other upcoming projects you’re excited about? You also do fun ComicCon exclusives and smaller releases. Do you have anything planned?
KC: Yeah, there’s two things happening right now. I’m finally about to get a lot of sh*t made in Japan with good sculptors, so there’s a lot of really cool Japanese “monstery” sh*t coming out. Conversely, at ComicCon, we’re gonna launch the first Marvel tie-in Labbit toys, and there’s a huge amount of those coming out. There’s kind of like big news on both fronts, so whether you like the weird stuff and small runs, or you’re into Labbits and more mainstream pop stuff, both ends are covered this year at ComicCon.
MC: Earlier, you mentioned how exciting the artform is, and how people are doing unique and captivating things. Is there anyone you can think of in particular that’s really blowing your mind lately?
FK: In the last year and half, Paul Kaiju – for my money – is better than the guys in Japan. His sculpts, his characters, his paints, his manufacturing quality; that dude is f**king killing it.
MC: Where can folks catch up with you online, see your work, order some art?
FK: It’s so easy, I’m a total social media whore; I got two Facebook pages, both of them under my name. One is the personal page where I’m an a**hole, and the other is the product release information page. I have an Instagram under my name, where you get to see what I do on a daily basis. There’s FrankKozik.Net, where you can buy sh*t, and there’s a blog I will occasionally put a post on. But mostly Instagram and the Facebook pages, where I’ll talk to you; whatever you want.
A great chat with a great artist. Check out the photo gallery below for more sights from the evening, and a peek into the too-cool Toy Art Gallery (or TAG), which if you haven’t visited in Los Angeles, I suggest you do. It’s an art gallery meets a toy store, and you won’t be able to help but smile upon entering.