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On the eve of their first toy launch in London, Jim Crawford sat down with Dudebox’s founder Robert Beecham and its creative director, Sichi. Read on to know more about Dudebox and take a glimpse at some upcoming products!
By now, just about everybody interested in Designer Toys has heard of DUDEBOX, a new UK-based toy brand that’s poised to jump into the Art Toy market with big enthusiastic feet. Dudebox has slowly been revealing its product lines and artist rosters over the past few months and are hosting a big kick-off tonight in London. I had the opportunity to talk with Robert Beecham and Sichi, two of the four-person team that is molding Dudebox into the next big thing in Designer Toys. Here's the scoop on where they come from, and what to expect from Dudebox in 2012:
Sichi, you seem to be the long-time participant in Designer Toy culture. How did you get your start?
Sichi: My involvement in the Designer Toy world started way back, probably to 2002. I was really interested in an obscure Japanese anime title and while stumbling around on the Internet looking for merchandise I landed on the website for Magma Books - a really cool store here in London. Once there I found a piece of vinyl - Eric So's Edison Chen figure - which I thought was the coolest thing I'd ever seen and I just had to have it. A couple of years and a lot of collecting later, I met up with the editors of the website Vinyl Abuse and I signed on as a writer. In 2003 I met Eddi from AdFunture Workshop while writing about the Flying Fortress show in London, and then after meeting up with him again while covering the Taipei Toy Festival for Computer Arts Magazine a year later, I designed a funny little shape called a Bukka that AdFunture produced as a toy.
So I started as a collector and fan and then evolved into a writer and designer.
Robert, can you can introduce yourself and own background?
Robert: Sure - well I've been involved in making products for many years and I'm probably old enough to be your grandfather! In my early 20s, after spending a couple of years going to school in America, I went to work, selling various things, all of which bored me to death. Finally I went to work for a bubble bath company, which I actually found really exciting, but by that time I was about 22 years old and I decided I didn't like working for anybody at all.
Because of my time in America, I had friends over there who kept asking me if I'd heard of this new movie called Star Wars. I don't like science fiction, so wasn't interested, but I was persuaded that it was going to be the next big thing. I got it into my mind that it I could make Star Wars toiletries for kids.
20th Century Fox's European headquarters was located in SoHo in London and got the name of the managing director at the time, Mr. Peter Beale. After two days of harassing him and his secretary, I convinced him to talk to me and he loved the idea.
So this was late 1970s, prior to manufacturing in Asia and before licensing was such a huge money maker.
Robert: Yes, this was when Britain actually had an industry and yes, at this point, in 1977, there were no licensees - the business that we all know today didn't exist at that time. I got the first Star Wars license in Europe.
Wow - how did it go?
Robert: 20th Century Fox allowed me to show the film at a special premiere about five weeks before it was scheduled to open in theaters, so I rented the BAFTA cinema in the middle of London and invited all the press I could and every single customer that I really wanted. I made up some product samples - Darth Vader, R2D2 and two others - showed them prior to the film starting and said "may the goods be with you". Interest was so huge, that it made my business and for 30 years I have done all sorts of licensing: Disney, Barbie, GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo… you name it, I've done it.
How did this lead to Dudebox?
Robert: Well, Roll forward 28 years. Hasbro, one of my licensors, offered to buy my business. and after a year of saying no to them, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. For a couple of years I didn't quite know what to do with myself because I'd lost my baby.
One of my daughters was studying in New York and, while I was visiting her, I walked into a downtown art toy shop and really loved what I saw. I wanted to order specific toys, but when the shop clerk explained the concept of blind box to me, I turned my back and walked out of the shop in a huff. That night, I was absolutely furious myself and was back in line again at 10:00 the next morning. I was hooked, and I got it immediately - the importance of the artist, the creativity, the quality, the color, that you can think about it as an ornament, as a collectible.
And having done a similar thing practically all my life, only filling these things up with bubble bath, I thought - wow - couldn't I do something just a little bit better, if I surround myself with some really great people? So that's how it started.
How did you meet up with Sichi?
Robert: I was introduced to Terry Guy, our artist liaison, who had been running a cool little company called Secret Wars throwing underground art battle events for many years. Terry liked my general ideas but thought that he could help refine the concept. He enlisted Sichi, and the two of them, along with my wife Claire, helped create a vision for Dudebox that helped focus things for the right generation. Sichi, Terry and I couldn't be more different people from each other, but we're all on a mission to do something different.
Sichi: Terry's and my paths crossed over the years via various East London art and culture. He sent me an email one day, with the title "This email will change your life"., and encouraged me to meet this guy Robert Beecham. After talking for a bit, Robert thought he needed me - and I suppose I thought I was what he needed too - someone that had been there in the toy world from early on.
How is Secret Wars related to Dudebox?
Robert: Terry, who's extraordinarily talented, has been running Secret Wars for about five years, creating these artist and illustration battle events that are really vibrant and fun. I thought, how amazing it would be to pair this element together with Dudebox, so I partnered up with Terry and now own a part of it - although for various reasons we've changed the name to Secret Walls.
Secret Walls it is. So, the two brands support each other.
Sichi: They're similar in concept, Secret Walls is 2D and Dudebox is 3D. We present an artist with a blank template in both cases. The pressure with Secret Walls is to create on the spot in front of an audience, with Dudebox the product is ultimately presented in front of an audience, too. Both can be challenging, but rewarding as well.
Dudebox is jumping into this market with a big splash. How do you see Dudebox's vision in the Designer Toy market?
Sichi: For me, the goal of Dudebox is to get back to the feel and excitement of the early days of the Vinyl Toy thing, We're not trying to re-invent the platform toy, which is already so cemented in the culture. But we want to step back and have people consider Dudebox itself as the platform. We want to give artists a lot of options in terms of shapes, approaches, release ideas, etc., to play with.
Robert: our tag line is "Inspire to Create", which is really what we want to try to do. We want to make things that people just have to have.
What's are Dudebox's upcoming releases? There have been a few things out there, but not much detail, but the one product that's really out there is the Fiends by Pete Fowler.
Sichi:Yeah, we're really proud of this one. It's been a while since Pete has released any new toys, so we hope that this re-invigorates his interest. We asked him to specifically create some shapes that other artists could contribute to. So - you've seen the shapes but you haven't seen the artist line-up yet. We asked Pete who he'd want to work, and reached out to huge new pool of artists with the Design-a-Fiend competition at the end of last year, so we're really excited.
And now there's The Dude, premiering this week.
Robert: Yes! Everyone will see it this week, too.
Anything else to share?
Robert: Watch this space my dear - we've got a lot. But we want to gently lift our skirts.
Check Dudebox out out online, www.dudebox.com