The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Things I Have Learned

Toys To Men: Artist Pete Fowler On His Obsessive Collecting Habit
The Quietus , March 31st, 2009 07:46

Pete Fowler explains his lifelong fascination with collecting moulded plastic, and tells us his top three toys

It's about collecting

I had toys as a kid and I guess you have to look back to your youth for reasons why you do what you do when you're a grown up. I had toys but they all paled into the ether once Star Wars came along, the age of movie merchandise had arrived. I remember getting more excited about the toys than the movie and that sealed it for me. The flip side of the packaging showed you all of the figures you didn't have yet, the rumours of who at school had what figure, the fantasy collections... endless must-haves.

It's about collecting more

My teenage attentions moved on from toys to BMX's, skateboards etc and my monster/alien/toy antennae wiggled when I came across Japanese monster movies in my late teens and onwards. I unloaded a box of monsters upon my return home from Japan and was once again hooked on plastic and vinyl blobular creatures and freaks. This time around I accepted that the monsters were really people in suits that you could make in a 70s garage, but the imagination was wild and the basic toy figures were cheap enough to bulk buy. Ultraman had a seemingly endless cast of freaked out monster enemies with little or no social skills and mutant abstraction. I think they must have run out of ideas here and there and thought, 'screw it, why can't it be giant tetrahedran?'

I've got too much stuff

After a couple of moves and faced with a large pile of boxes, some of which hadn't been opened for years, I decided to stop buying so much 'stuff'. Toys came under the new ruling and the perils of dusting and breaking were over in favour of other collectable items. I think that compounded with toys being part of my job, made me move on to a fresh feeling of excitement in search of the next items, the collector gene being apparent in my make-up and completely entertained. I've learned to collect whilst living in a limited space. Maybe that's what happens to you on the road to stamp collecting. A scary thought.

Why would you want to make a toy?

It seems to have been picked up over the years by so many companies and brands and used as promotional items or to attach some bizarre 'coolness'. The 'vinyl toy' is no longer something that you only get from a sex shop but a recognized cultural medium, grown from monster/sci-fi merchandise, skewed and mutated by the 80s generation fed on comics, sweets and dreams of plastic. I see toys as an extension of character design and illustration, making the jump from sketches and vector graphics to 3D and don't see myself as a toy designer as such. I can understand why an illustrator would want to make a toy figure but it's a difficult thing to do, especially when you're funding it yourself, managing the products and have to sell it. That's fun at times and business at the end of the day but I see a lot of very similar stuff out there and start to see it as landfill. A kind of gloomy outlook maybe but perhaps the genre is on cruise control? Maybe everyone should get into woodcarving...

It can be weird in the many toy dimensions
In Japan while looking for a really old model kit shop myself and friends had to cut through an open market type area inside a building past a shop that was selling Barbie/Lolita type dolls and accessories staffed by a guy in insane Lolita drag get up. A very strange atmosphere in another world, hidden away. As for US comic and toy conventions, that's the shit.

I love the smell of plastic

It's vinyl in particular, I remember the smell of a Lone Ranger action figure I had as a kid and it was strangely pleasing and comforting. The same goes when I open the box of a new toy or a record for that matter. I think maybe kid's that grew up in the 80s had a plastic appreciation that has been hard wired early on.

Toys would be better if they were biodegradable

I like the idea of being able to bury a toy in the ground if you became bored with it, or even feed it to a dog. I always imagined that, in the future, you would be able to eat consumer durables when you were done with them. That could be the new boom in the toy scene, taste and nutrition over aesthetic pleasure. That could be good for the music business, a CD doubling as a biscuit or circular energy bar.

I have a top three toys

1.Remote controlled Mothra's larva

I saw this in the Godzilla section (yes!) of a Japanese Toys R Us and couldn't figure out what it did from the box. A friendly translation informed me that 'it wriggles, screams and vomits white thread' I kick myself to this day for not buying it.

2.Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro's Dad sampler

This chap has, like The Residents, a giant eyeball for a head but unlike The Residents he has an in built super short sampler with volume and pitch control. Why? Why the hell not. I've had two and broken them both, life's dangerous when you have an enormous head and a tiny body.

3.Breezy Singer Animated Bird-The Saw-Whet Owl

Being a bit of a birdwatcher this ticks a couple of boxes for me. It's authorised by the Cornell Sound institute (thanks guys) but they failed to get the loud servo noise quiet enough not to drown out the accurate call of the bird. That adds to it for me, like a creepy old theme park whirr and click. The whole series of these birds are pretty cool but then I've collected some seriously daft stuff over the years and continue to.

Pete Fowler is all over the internet, you know. Find out more about Pete Fowler's work, listen to his podcasts, read his blog and watch Monsterism animation on YouTube