If there were one animal that could represent Canadaâ€™s vinyl toy ambassador, then what would come more naturally than a bear? OK, you might think beaver, but you canâ€™t really stand those on two feet or equip them with snowboards, now can you? Baxbear (www.baxbear.com) comes from the OSO Design House out of Vancouver, BC. The project which started over two years ago is now starting to peak, following a cross-country custom show, which most recently appeared at the Keep Six Gallery (www.keep6c.blogspot.com) in Toronto, Canada. Jason Pultz, creative director of Baxbear, took the time to sit down with Format and give us the scoop on things to come.
“They have guys signing toys on the streets there; itâ€™s a hard core collector scene.”
Format: What goes in to the production of a toy?
Jason Pultz: The main cost for your toy is the shape and plastic, and painting. To make a whole new figure, youâ€™re looking at ten grand and up. You make one figure and you can reproduce it as many times as you want [so that] costs get cheaper. My boss, the founder of OSO studios, Michael Zhu, knows all the factories in China and weâ€™ve set one up in Mexico for some textiles and screen-printing. Weâ€™re also going to have Tokidoki style handbags and patterns that are being set up. For the Taipei show this summer weâ€™re launching that series with Camille Dâ€™Errico. Sheâ€™s a Vancouver based artist. So weâ€™re hitting all the aspects, but, ultimately, the bear is like a gateway drug. A one of a kind piece costs $600, but a figure designed by the same artist might go for maybe $10.
Format: Why bears?
JP: Well you donâ€™t want to be too cute. Some people might not like little bunnies or kitties, and you donâ€™t want to be too scary, so bears are a good mid-ground. I think Michael was a big fan of Bearbrick. He owns a souvenir company and thatâ€™s where most of his money comes from. I think Baxbear started being similar to one of his tourist company projects. He originally did a brown bear and a moose and then sort of â€˜cooled-upâ€™ the figure for this project.
Format: Would you say that the Baxbear is an official Canadian vinyl figure?
JP: [I hope so.] Our first series was a mixture of Vancouver, Toronto and Asian artists. Michael is good buddies with all these big name Chinese artists, like Winson Ma, or Tim Tsui. On the Canadian front we have guys like Wade Baker, who is a famous Inuit artist. He did the Canadian millennium quarter so that has earned him a lot of respect in the arts community.
Format: So this would open up a whole new audience.
JP: Yeah, definitely. With every one of these artists you can collect their other items. Iâ€™m pretty sure that his fans donâ€™t know anything about the vinyl arts.
Thereâ€™s such a vast pool of artists in Canada that we donâ€™t really have to go anywhere else even. Weâ€™re planning a Series 3 to be an all Canadian thing. We might team up with Rafi at the Keep Six Gallery or Magic Pony to curate the whole series and get all the best people we know.
Format: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved with the project.
JP: I met Michael a few years ago at a comic convention when he was in the early phases of Baxbear. Before that, I was publishing my own online comic, and you can find it at www.scarybear.org. These days, I call myself Creative Director of Baxbear, but really thereâ€™s so much more to it. Iâ€™m scoping out artists, setting up global sales networks, copywriting, looking at pictures. A lot of it might seem super boring but it doesnâ€™t matter to me because it always winds down to something about the bear.
Format: Do you feel that you need Asian â€œcredâ€ to get into the vinyl art movement?
JP: Well I definitely donâ€™t have any Asian cred. But my boss is buddies with all those guys and it’s so huge out there. A funny part of it is that our market is definitely North American. Asia is so competitive because youâ€™ll have new figures popping out every two weeks, and creating their own little buzz. Because of this, prices have dropped a lot also. They have guys signing toys on the streets there; itâ€™s a hard core collector scene.
China is still trying to break open the market in North America, trying to explain what the whole thing is. Someone with a casual interest might say, â€œOh, Iâ€™ll buy one if I was guaranteed that Iâ€™d get that figure.â€ Meanwhile, Asian kids will buy a carton at a time. They donâ€™t fool around!
Format: Are there plans for Asian release?
JP: Yes. We will have prototypes and test samples available at the Taipei Toy Festival coming up this summer, and the bags as well. But again, itâ€™s so much of a smaller market there because there is so much competition.
Format: Are there any lesser known artists on your team that you are excited to have on board?
JP: Well, there are a few that come to mind. Camille Dâ€™Errico, sheâ€™s got a Series 1 figure, and she has a secret one in Series 2. Sheâ€™s a Vancouver artist from Italy, and sheâ€™s blowing up really big now. Sheâ€™s been doing all kinds of shows in LA. She has an anime style with images of girls with snakes in their hair, candy and polar bears and all sorts of craziness. Sheâ€™s definitely one to watch out for.
Format: Do you feel that releasing â€˜another bear platformâ€™ is a challenge?
JP: Definitely, but I think itâ€™s different enough that it can stand out on its own. It has a bit of a different face and body. People describe it as combination of a Qee mixed with a Trexi. It has a bit of a robot feel too. A lot of the DIY figures tend to borrow from each other. Looking back, one of the first figures was Bearbrick, that was the starting point, and where a lot of ideas still come from. Weâ€™re planning interchangeable heads, and 1.2 meter bears even.
Format: What are you planning for the future?
JP: Creating all these different platforms can be hard. I think that the Baxbear Tour really showed us what Canadian artists are capable of. You get a bear design; a series of shirts, limited edition; bear related shirts, cheaper; unlimited line shirts; the bags. We just want to connect with really great artists and enjoy their work.
Michel has such access to Chinese factories that anything is really possible. His main connection is through his father who owns a factory. Itâ€™s a situation where as long as you are doing good business with people, word spreads around and others will want to work with you. All these factories making toys are increasing their costs. They want lower and lower minimums (fewer toys) and heâ€™s giving them high requirements. Heâ€™s all about getting the best factories for the best quality. On the other hand, production of the bear can be a bit of a slow process. We sent the designs to the factories for Series 2 and thereâ€™s about a six month turn around time between getting the test prototypes and the actual products. I was just helping with the box design. Weâ€™re getting guys like Andrew Bell and Candy Killer to be involved, so it should be really good!