Is It A Toy? Is It A Cartoon? What Is That?

By Marina Anderson

Dcon 2013I remember my first experience entering the curious world of vinyl at Dcon. Contrary to how it sounds, Dcon is not an insecticide. It’s short for Designer Con (vention). From its fledgling beginnings as the Vinyl Toy Network in 2006 with a 1,100 sq. foot area to busting out in a 50,000 sq. foot auditorium at the Pasadena Convention Center, Designer Con is mega. There’s even an app for it!

A curious subculture that is exploding in the States as it has in Asia, word is getting around. It’s the place to network, schmooze and meet manufacturers, artists, designers and vendors in the world of vinyl. From sculpture, toys, art to apparel, printing to plush products and more, each convention even includes live demos. There were over 150 participating vendors with the numbers growing each year.
Once I stepped through the door to the convention center, it was like I had entered into another world. My senses were jammed with an orchestra of sounds, explosions of color and unique designs: silly, edgy, rad, bright, dark and gaming type characters. I didn’t know if I was in the right place at first since it could be mistaken for a type of comic book convention with full sized fiction characters planted in front of booths, people dressed to match, toy displays…. It was difficult to decide where to go first, so I decided to begin at the far side and work my way up and down the isles. Soon I came across a corner booth – Bad Juju. Didn’t know whether to run or continue. The adventurous side prevailed and I grabbed some pics, scrutinized the merchandise and mosied on.
Fast forward, I overheard some teenagers talking about their vinyl collection and they weren’t talking about recording albums either. They were referring to their extensive collections of Bad Juju vinyl. After webbing the internet, I found the company site and decided to contact owner Tony Novak to delve further into that plastic world and get to know more about its designers and culture. Bad Juju isn’t a bad thing! It’s quite literally positively cool! Urban meets street with a bit of an attitude and still very vector with an approach of cuteness. The demographic for Bad Juju’s popularity is wide regarding age group and skews almost equally for both men and women. Artists and developers themselves, they help others shape their merchandise lines. There’s everything from women’s clothing (kind of Zen graffiti), hats, hoodies, to skateboards.
As we chatted on the phone, I pulled up their page with the curious looking, but fun vinyl character I saw at Dcon. I’m told its name is Dripple, their mascot, which is made of resin, but actually feels and looks like glass. Dribble (which looks like a huge paint drip with limbs and face), comes in three signature colors – blue, purple and orange. 
The popular artists like Budog (the artist Touma has a spunky toothy version), Sket-One, who used to be with Kidrobot (series one) are now represented by Bad Juju. Sket-One is renown first as a graffiti artist and branched off into other related areas. Carlos East (who goes by the moniker of The Beast Brothers) is another designer. Touma, also has a huge fan following here and in Asia (fans lineup for blocks) for his design work. At the convention, people were lined up and down the hallway waiting for him to sign their vinyl toys. Not only do people buy “ready made,” characters by these and other designers, but they also can purchase “blanks” that they decorate themselves. Of course to ramp up the value, the artist-designer signs the pieces. 
DevilrobotsT Novak Touma
A newbie to all of this, Tony explained to me that there is a difference between Japanese vinyl and Chinese. Japanese sofubi vinyl, is soft and considered a higher quality vinyl versus Chinese, which uses a much more industrialized process. There’s also an intense process to coloring and decorating the vinyl.
Tony directed me to a page on the website to take a look at a toy called “To-fu Oyako,” which was designed by another hugely popular artist and designer, Devilrobots. It reminded me of a cute food version of SpongeBob SquarePants. There are stores dedicated to Devilrobots’ merchandise, which are found in the high-rent districts, it’s that popular and lucrative to collect. Tony is also in the digital interactive media for more than 15 years. From websites, interfaces for inflight systems to cellphone interfaces. With offices in Japan, he makes frequent trips back and forth to attend to his business and toy festivals.
These are adult toys not kids. Not because of what you might immediately think, but because vinyl itself just by the nature of its properties, should not be consumed. It’s dangerous in many ways. If ingested, it could be toxic, hence why markings on the bottom of the packaging has warnings. 
Flashback to Dcon and getting caught up in the adventure of discovering the detail in each artist’s inventions: characters and products crammed into one display after another. The amount of wall to wall pure talent was overwhelming. I can hardly wait to go back and bring my budding collection for the designers to sign!
Badjuju website: http://www.badjuju.com/
For more info on Marina:http://www.marinaanderson.net
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