Action Figures Posts

Meet Matias Kalaka, Master of Action Figure Mashups

kalaka toys Bart Danzigkalaka toys matiasOver the past few years, we’ve introduced you to various diecast customizers. We recently discovered the work of Matias Kalaka of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who makes custom action figures and vinyl art toys. His crazy mashups of completely unrelated universes somehow make sense when you see the quality of his ideas and execution.

Kalaka creates single one-off, hand crafted figures, as well as very limited molded figures under his Kalaka Toys brand. “I’ve been making custom figurines since 2001, and serialized toys since 2010,” he said.  But his passion for tinkering with figures goes much further back. His earliest custom model along these lines was “a Jesus figure in a tin space ship made in the ’60s.”

Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. His mashup of ‘80s icons Mr. T and E.T. The Extraterrestrial was a natural given their names. “Mr. E.T., it was a fun mashup, so I’d say it’s fun what drives me and inspires me.” On the other hand, His Simpsons/Masters of the Universe mashup idea came from a friend. “They are characters that were present on a friend’s t-shirt brand, we spoke and I decided they were good enough to be made into toys.”

Other mashups don’t really have a particular theme other than crossing Bart Simpson plus Ronald McDonald or musician Glenn Danzig because… well, as he said, it’s all about the  fun.

kalaka toys Mr. E. T.

Mr. E. T., of course.

The original sculpts are done with a mix of found parts and existing components from existing figures. “Whatever works best… some are from scratch, sometimes I take some bases and work up from them.” Either way, the final product is made mostly of plastic resin. He tends to work fairly fast. “From the idea to the figurine, it can be quick or take weeks, as some ideas come out clear in my mind and others require more work to end them as I like.”

kalaka toys matias matt groening

Matias with Matt Groening of Simpsons and Futurama fame.

kalaka toys shogunFor a sense of scale, most of his figures are in the range between 11 to 25 centimeters (about 4.5 to 10 inches). “I don’t have a favorite, I work on the size that inspiration leads me to,” he said. Since they are limited editions, (and really high quality) they don’t come cheap, running anywhere from about $120 to 350.

Matias says his most difficult project was a Shogun Warlord figure (left). “The Shogun Warlord had a lot of development work, as it was produced in a toy factory it needed a lot of work before the matrix was made.” Being able to make slightly less limited runs makes his work more available to the masses and gives him good exposure. In the meantime, he promotes most of his work through his Instagram account at KALAKA_TOYS. Fans can also follow him on Facebook at KALAKA TOYS.

Other big things are on the horizon as well. “I think that in this year, my most prominent figurine will be released by Medicom.” He didn’t tell us what it is just yet, but it’s sure to be a great execution of a wild idea.

kalaka toys street greyskull

Castle Grayskull comes to life.

Mario Villarroel, a developer in hobbyDB’s South American office, conducted this interview in Spanish and translated the repsonses to English. (Yes, even the devs at hobbyDB are required to be well-versed and interested in various pop culture phenomena.)

Hey, That’s Not Santa! Collectibles in Claus Costumes

santa claus lead

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

One of the greatest, most mysterious super-spies in history is hitting his busy season. He’s been surveying you and everyone in the world ‘round the clock, ‘round the calendar. He’s been compiling notes on everyone’s behavior in order to exact his own special brand of justice. But on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus rolls up his sleeves and really gets down to business.

As Christmas approaches, he has a network of “helpers,” doppelgangers who pop up at malls and shopping centers and street corners all over the world in December to give the illusion that he’s close by. Of course, some of those Alt-Santas have other motives, many of them quite naughty indeed. Here at hobbyDB, we decided to compile a list of Santa’s subterfugers (is that a word?) from the benign to the sinister to the positively evil. And of course, we have our own intel on each one.

yoda darth vader santaHarmless Imitators

There is a long history of fictional characters donning the red suit mostly for good natured hijinks, or simply to sit in the chair at the mall. Generally affable characters such as Yoda, Mickey Mouse, and Freddy Funko have all gone red for non-canonical merchandising reasons. Which really fits the spirit of Christmas if you think about it. Heck, even Darth Vader can be found in Santa garb, but since it’s not in any of the movies, we have to assume he was just goofing around, right? Right?

gizmo gremlinCuddly But Creepy

Anyone who doesn’t think of “Gremlins” as a Christmas movie really needs to have their spirit checked. The Gremlins start out cuddly, but (Spoiler alert for a 35 year old movie) if they get wet, or are fed after midnight, they turn into horrifying little monsters. So it’s tough to say which side of the fence Gizmo, seen here, falls on. Also, is he really impersonating Santa, or just wearing a hat to be festive? Intentions and consequences unclear.

jakc skellington droppoGood Intentions, Bad Ideas

Jack Skellington has to go here, right? Sure, he plotted to take over Christmas, and sure, he usurped the good name and costume of St. Nick, and sure, he actually hijacked the sled (Spoiler Alert for a 25 year old cartoon) and attempted to deliver the goods on his own… but he swears it was all in good fun. Okay, and a bit of jealousy. However you want to judge his intentions, he probably could have done some jail time for his malfeasance if he ever went to court.

funko psycho santaAlso in this category, we have Droppo, the lovable goofball from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, possibly one of the worst holiday movies ever. In any event, Droppo dons the suit to cover for Santa while he… look, I don’t want to spoil this one for you. You really should watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it, though.

“Looks Kind of Scary, but Who Knows?

Psycho Santa’s main motive is… well, that’s hard to say. He’s a crazy goblin-looking creature, with wily eyes, a mischievous grin, and a creepy tongue dangling out of his gap toothed mouth. The Psycho Goblin character is an original Funko creation, so he’s still building his back story.

santa grinch

Your heart’s an empty hole, Your brain is full of spiders, You’ve got garlic in your soul

And of course, Santa’s most sinister imposter has to be the Grinch, right? His elaborate scheme to steal the spirit of Christmas by stealing the materialism of the holiday was diabolical. He didn’t just wear the suit, he mimicked the sled, the reindeer, the mannerisms. And of course, (Spoiler alert for a 50-year old cartoon) his diabolical plot could only be derailed by… his own heart. Now for a real mystery… in Who-ville, does the real Santa look human, or Who-man?

robot santaWhat if Santa is some kind of Robot?

Oh, wait, you thought the Grinch was the best of the worst? In the year 3000, Santa’s duties are relegated to a harmless four-ton robot from Neptune. Well, Futurama’s Robot Santa Claus would be harmless, except he was erroneously programmed to judge the naughty from the nice with extreme prejudice. (Spoiler Alert for a 20 year old cartoon) He deems just about everyone naughty and worthy of a death sentence. 

Speaking of robotic Santas, over the years, “Doctor Who” has ended many of their seasons with a Christmas special, some of them featuring Santa.  It makes sense: He doesn’t hop across dimensions, and he doesn’t travel in time, but Santa does manage to cover a heck of a lot of square miles in an absurdly short amount of time. So it figures he would know Doctor Who to some degree. But he’s the good guy. In most of those specials, anyway. One year did feature a super creepy Santa Robot, the kind who occupied the uncanny valley, so he was the stuff of nightmares.

eric cartman santa suitThe True Meaning of Christmas is Ham… no, Presents!

The very first five-minute South Park cartoon features Santa Claus battling Jesus to settle the true meaning of Christmas. As bad as that Santa might sound, (and in subsequent appearances he’s not the nicest guy) he’s not an imposter, so he doesn’t really count for this list. On the other hand, Eric Cartman has been spotted in a full Santa suit several times over the years. Whatever his specific motive might be at any time, we can assume that Cartman Claus must be the most truly evil imposter of all.

Regardless of intent, it’s clear that the spirit of Christmas lives inside all of us. So merry Christmas to all and to all… make sure you look closely at who actually slides down your chimney this year.

Do you have a favorite undercover Santa Costumed character? Let us know in the comments below!

Cartoonist, Writer, Collaborator: What I Learned From Stan Lee

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The world of comics and pop culture in general lost a titan this week when Stan Lee, the biggest driving force behind Marvel Comics died at the age of 95. His impact on comic book fans can’t be measured. Neither can his impact on comics creators.

Lee started with a company called Timely Comics in 1939, working mostly with largely forgotten kids fare. The publisher struck gold with their Captain America stories, but didn’t do much to expand the concept. By the early 1960s, however, Timely rebranded as Marvel Comics and Lee was tapped to began crafting a new world of allies for Cap, as well as competitors for DC’s superheroes who had been off and running (and flying and teleporting) for a couple of decades.

stan lee spideyHis first creation was The Fantastic Four, which was an immediate hit with readers. Within a few years, Hulk, Iron Man, and of course, his biggest success, Spider-Man were spinning tales of adventure of their own.

As a cartoonist myself, (insert shameless plug here), Stan Lee surprisingly wasn’t an early influence on me. See, my Grandmother worked for Western Publishing, whose Gold Key comic books included titles from Disney, Looney Tunes, DePatie-Freleng, and Walter Lantz. So that’s what I grew up on. They weren’t Marvel or DC comics, and aside from Super Goof, they didn’t include any superheroes. So I started drawing in the vein of those Gold Key titles. All by myself.

And there was Charles Schulz, whose “Peanuts” comic strip was in its creative heyday. Schulz famously said “If I were a better artist, I’d be a painter, and if I were a better writer, I’d write books — but I’m not, so I draw cartoons!” Made total sense to me. If I was ever going to make it in this business, I would probably have to go it alone. I gravitated towards becoming a newspaper comic strip artist, writing and drawing short, snappy jokes, often in the framework of a longer tale. But still a solo venture.

As I got a bit older and MAD magazine seemed less inappropriate (is MAD ever really appropriate at any age?), the idea of separate writers and artists began to appeal to me. But could someone really be a “cartoonist” if they only did one part of that equation? Did it matter if the end result was enjoyable to the reader?

stan lee marvel coversSo in a similar vein, I finally started to appreciate Stan Lee a bit later, in college, as I began collaborating with other creative types on class projects. Lee was primarily the writer of the ideas, but was still considered still a “cartoonist” in the fullest sense. Would Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko have ever drawn those dynamic action panels of The Thing if Lee didn’t feed them the idea, the character, the inspiration? Would those ideas sear such vivid memories without their action-packed art?

stan lee hulk thingSuddenly, for me, the Charles Schulz approach had some competition as a way to do comics. If a solo cartoonist could crank out 7 pages a week, a writer and artist could crank out 14 together. Same amount of work for each, just divvied up differently. And a lot less lonely.

Stan Lee was supposed to be the keynote guest at the 2013 Denver Comic Con, but had to withdraw at the last minute. Fans were disappointed, but for many, this felt kind of urgent. It seemed like he was getting up there in years and might not be able to make it to a future con, due to the inevitability of declining health or worse. We all wondered if we would ever get the chance to meet him.

But he came to Denver in 2016, and all was right with the world of superhero fandom.

I was at that Con, but didn’t get to meet him. As a cartoonist with a table full of books to sell, I couldn’t afford to step away for a few hours to stand in line for a photo, an autograph, and a brief word. As a cartoonist who was inspired by Lee, I regret missing the opportunity.

stan lee dccThese days, it almost feels like actual comic books are a by-product of the Marvel Entertainment machine. And yet comic book stores are full of fans and readers hotly debating the latest developments in new artists or writers being assigned to a particular title and whether a certain pairing worked well. Stan Lee probably would enjoy being there, watching comics being debated as such important fare.

“Marvelocity” Covers The Marvel-ous Career of Alex Ross

alex ross marvelocity

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

It’s been 15 years since the the publication of “Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross,” a hefty collection of his fine art approach to superhero storytelling. But in the last decade, it would seem that Marvel has overtaken DC, certainly in the cinematic world, so it’s a good time his work for Marvel to get the same treatment. “Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross” is the latest pean to his high art. (In between, there have been several other collections of Ross’ work as well as a 2018 art exhibit of his art inspired by ideas from Stan Lee, the Marvel legend who died this week at the age of 95.)

alex ross marvelocityFirst of all, this book is huge and heavy. Even the dust jacket contributes to the heft; once you open it, the cover unfolds again and again into a long gatefold tapestry of alternate covers of super portraits. It’s like a pre-credit honor roll before you even get into the actual book. There’s even a large poster of an alternate cover concept with Spider-Man as the focus instead of Captain America.

Instead of black lines filled with garish colors, Alex Ross’ work is more of a realist painting. While the traditional comics style is full of wonder and fantasy, his more photographic approach actually makes the characters seem more human and possibly vulnerable and relatable. The heroic nature of his style might play more effectively with heroes instead of villains. In fact, the vast majority of the book is devoted to the good guys.

alex ross marvelocityComics critics have always struggled to classify Ross’ art style. To say he’s a cartoonist seems to sell him a bit short, as he’s almost a portrait artist who happens to work with incredibly dynamic subjects. On the other hand saying he’s NOT a cartoonist is kind of an insult to him (and everyone else in the industry as well.) Let’s just say Ross is a fine portrait artist working in a different medium. For several years, his illustrations have been used only on the covers, although the almost photographic quality ensures that the drawings inside will be consistently designed and composed. Beyond the covers, he’s always been heavily involved in the development of the look and the storylines of his comics.

alex ross marvelocityNowhere is his talent better illustrated (literally) than a spread which shows the iconic cover of “Captain America” issue 1, where Cap punches Hitler while Nazis futilely fire back. Next to the original is Ross’ recreation of this cover for “Captain America: Sam Wilson” number 7 in 2016. The overall composition is the same, right down to the vintage look of his costume and the inset of “Captain America’s Young Ally BUCKY.” Except the distorted artistic license of comic characters gives way to a more physically real arrangement. And instead of speed lines and crosshatching and bursts, the rendering looks more like a photo of that historic moment.

alex ross marvelocityThere are several other side by side comparisons that also serve as appreciation for how Jack Kirby and countless other artists had to work with older printing technology that made all those black lines and bright colors necessary. Ross was particularly busy with this sort of homage around Marvel’s 75th Anniversary.

alex ross marvelocityThere are a lot of sketches included, which really helps you appreciate Ross’ talent as a panel composer. The dynamic poses that Kirby pioneered come to life bit by bit, side by side. It’s not just pretty pictures, of course. Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear spells the story behind the art with the knowledge that only comics insiders like them can tell. Add in some outsider perspective with an introduction by J. J. Abrams, as well as reflections by other comics dignitaries, and there’s a pretty broad base of tribute and expertise.

alex ross marvelocityRoss has always been deeply involved in the overall creation and writing of his comics characters and stories. And his talent for composing a panel has been put to good use not only in comics, but also in storyboards for some of Marvel’s movies. Anyone with an appreciation of the Marvel universe in any form – comics, action figures, movies – should appreciate this book.

Which Holiday Owns The Nightmare Before Christmas ?

nightmare before christmas

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

If you want to feel old this upcoming holiday season, here’s some good news. Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion movie The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 25 in 2018. But when we say “holiday season…” well, which holiday? Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?

nightmare before christmas pop

Awwww, look at those two, celebrating… which holiday, exactly?

Consider this list of films that folks watch in the spirit of October: GhostbustersNighmtare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th… What do they all have in common? They’re all kinda scary/spooky to some degree, and also… they technically don’t have anything at all to do with Halloween. In fact, aside from the Halloween movies, very few movies do. Heck, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial has more Halloween content than most horror films.

As far as Christmas movies, there are tons to choose from. Die Hard leads the list, of course (you disagree? bah humbug, I say!). And Lifetime/Hallmark have filled the broadcast waves with mushy romantic movies that have only the tiniest bearing on Christmas. It’s A Wonderful Life gets a lot of play, but really, it’s only kind of coincidentally related to Christmas.

nightmare before christmas santaThe Nightmare Before Christmas straddles a curious line between the two holidays. The main characters are ghosts and goblins and ghouls of all sorts who live in Halloweenland, preparing year round for their one special day. Sort of like elves making toys year round, right? Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, wishes his holiday could in fact be more like Christmas, so he decides to take over the Yuletide season. In fact, most of the movie takes place after Halloween, during the buildup to Christmas.

The monsters are generally more gothic and cute instead of creepy and scary, and act good-naturedly in most cases. Instead of a hostile takeover, the plot to take over Christmas involves a sincere desire to understand the Christmas spirit in order to embody the nature of the season. Does this all sound kind of like a Christmas movie? It does indeed.

In fact, the stop-motion animation technique gives the whole thing a toy-like feel reminiscent of those classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials. (In an ironic twist, Rankin-Bass gave us an Easter special with the scariest stop-motion villain of all, Iron Tail.)

Since this is hobbyDB, let’s try to settle the issue by looking at some of the collectibles from the film…

nightmare before christmas hot wheelsnightmare before christmas snow globe

Well, Santa Claus does get a lot of screen time in the movie. Not as much as Jack, but he’s pretty pivotal to the action. And when the chips are down, he gets pretty vengeful, kind of like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard, which we have already declared the greatest Christmas move of all time. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Zero the ghost dog has a glowing nose sort of like Rudolph. And he files. Very Christmas. On closer inspection, that nose is a tiny pumpkin. So Halloween.

Consider this Jack Skellington snow globe (right). Okay, stop right there for a second. Snow globes belong to winter, not any other season. Totally Christmas, right? Now look at the base of the sculpture. Sure, people give away candy for Halloween, but those peppermint sticks are a bit too much. In fact, there’s an entire series of these snow globes, all leaning heavily on the yuletide spirit. Christmas all the way.

nightmare before christmas jack skellingtonLet’s take a closer look at Jack himself. He is, by title, The Pumpkin King, which is about as Halloween as you can get. And he’s quite comfortable in the role, in fact, darn good at it. But he longs to be something, not different, but more. He wants to be Santa.

The list just goes on… Socks? These are decidedly Christmas themed. Or this sculpture? Well, if everyone in Halloweenland is on the naughty list, that means Santa has them on his radar. Or how about this video game? When did you get a copy of it? Your birthday, perhaps? Or as a Christmas present?

nightmare before christmas misc

nightmare before christmas ornamentHow about this collectible? It’s Jack, who is a skeleton, rising from a jack-0’lantern. What could possibly be more Halloween than that? Well, technically, this object is in fact… a Christmas ornament. So there ya go.

Despite the overriding gothic tones, the dark color palette, the fact that it takes place in Halloweenland… well, The Nightmare Before Christmas is really more of a Christmas movie than a Halloween movie. But since it covers both bases so well, the solution is to cue it up sometime in early October and watch it several times through the end of the year. Really, it’s that good.

In the spirit of both holidays, Jack Skellington lives inside all of us… like, say, a skeleton. Which is what he is, of course.

Do you have an opinion regarding which holiday this classic movie belongs to? Let us know in the comments!