Saturday, September 8, 2007

[Review] Cronic Rumblings, Part I

Mark Nagata has been a busy man in recent months, as the owner and operator of Max Toy Co. (among other occupations), releasing new collaborative works nearly every other month, it seems. This includes not only the periodic Max Toy Club (MTC) releases, but also a bevy of pieces sold at the San Diego Comic Con, and the exclusive items currently offered at the opening weekend of the "Toy Karma" exhibit in Chicago (technically, these are not Max Toy Co. collaborations, but Nagata is curating the exhibit).

This week, we have part I of a three-part series of reviews, looking at a few of the recent Max Toy Co. releases, and other related items. Part I features The Rumble Monsters' 2007 collaborative release with Max Toy Co. and 2005 collaborative release with artist Rockin' Jelly Bean.

A long, long time ago- a long time in 'vinyl' years, that is- company Inazuma-Go began producing a line of soft vinyl toys under the name of "The Rumble Monsters" (TRM). One of its first characters was a burly, tusked dinosaur-like beast named "Pharaohs." From what I understand, the concept of the Pharaohs' design was a joint effort between Inazuma-Go and Rockin' Jelly Bean (interesting fact: RJB is responsible for the artwork in Velvet Revolver's music video for "Dirty Little Thing"; in fact, if you watch carefully, you can see the Pharaohs pop up in the video). The first colorway was a dark green base with silver teeth/tusks, red nails and a yellow eye (dubbed [GL-GR]). This colorway would be replicated in a later 'reissue' [GL-GR'] which is nearly identical, sans a blob of spray on the tail spike. Believe it or not, people will pay very good money for that little blob of spray.

As one of its earlier releases, TRM put out a set of two Pharaohs as a limited release sold exclusively at Erostika's shop. The first, [RJB-Custom 1st], was sold in May 2005 and cast in vivid orange vinyl, with bright blue accents, gold tusks/teeth and a painted white eye. This version always reminds me of the later Thrash-Out Pharaohs, although the two look nothing alike side-by-side. The second, [RJB-Custom 2nd] (featured here) was sold in November 2005, and cast in robin's egg blue vinyl, with purple highlights, yellow tusks/teeth and a white eye. I have always suspected, though have not been able to confirm, that the two RJB-Custom Pharaohs were actually hand-painted by RJB himself. The apparently low production numbers, combined with the uneven look of the spray and paint on the teeth and eyes, suggest a hand-paint, but I could be wrong (and often am). Pretending that I bought a hand-paint helps to justify the amount I paid for it.

I am probably, at best, a casual TRM collector, but the colors on the RJB Custom 2nd Pharaohs are outstanding. The combination of the blue vinyl and purple spray reminds me of those malted eggs sold by the carton at Easter, and all other manner of happy springtime things. I am always surprised at how compact the sculpt of the Pharaohs is when I hold it in my hands. On screen, it has the tendency to appear a bit chunky, but it is a very tight, if muscular, sculpt in person. Those really are two words that should not be used together in a sentence about toys. The vinyl is also very solid and glossy, which feels nice in my hands. OKAY. Moving on.

In June of 2007, Max Toy Co. announced its first club exclusive collaboration with TRM: a red Pharaohs with iridescent sprays. I receive the e-mail on a slow, balmy afternoon and hesitate for a bit- red really isn't my color. But I am ultimately swept away by the moment- and perhaps the $30 I just forked over for my club membership- and I place my order for one of the Pharaohs.

One of the cool things about any MTC exclusive is the huge glossy header that tops off the toy. Although I forgot to photograph the header this time, you can see it on the Max's Brain blog- it features a drawing of the Sphinx (not the stoic character from 'Gone in 60 Seconds'- Sphinx like in Egypt) with a Pharaohs' head. Clever. Although Nagata is probably best known among toy circles for Max Toy Co. and his immense Ultraman collection, he also is an accomplished artist. His resume includes, in addition to toy-themed art (featured originally in Super7 magazine!), many notable examples of commercial work, ranging from the covers of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series to the cardbacks for Batman toys. Batman toy card art! Surely that is ample qualification to illustrate sofubi headers.

What then makes the MTC Pharaohs such an interesting toy is that every one of the 70 pieces sold was hand-sprayed by Nagata himself. Painstakingly so, if you read the extended account of the production process on geozilla's blog. There's just something indescribably awesome about owning a toy that was hand-painted by an artist. And this Pharaohs is really something special. As a perfect contrast to the bright blue RJB Custom Pharaohs, it is cast in a deep, peppery red. The iridescent sprays were layered by Nagata, who laid down golds and silvers first, and covered those with a metallic blue. The effect is a sort of an oily sheen- somewhat like the M1Go Pharaohs released a few months back- and plays off the traditional "Max Toy" colors well. The thing that makes this one a real keeper in my book, however, is the way it pairs up with the RJB Custom Pharaohs, which pairing is almost reminiscent of Tim Biskup's hot-and-cold Big Pollards.

And because you didn't come here to watch me wax poetic on the winning qualities of my toys- seriously guys, this is hard work- here are more pictures for your enjoyment!

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