Miranda â€˜Mazzleâ€™ Oâ€™Brien and Nick Carrol are the creative founders of Clutter Magazine, one of the few, and longest running, magazines dedicated to the vinyl toy industry. A typical read through the mag features interviews with leading artists, illustrations, comic spreads and general toy lifestyle articles, like how to exact your revenge on so-called â€˜flippersâ€™. These two British cats have been devoting nearly every ounce of their lives to spreading the gospel of creativity, vinyl toys and appropriate uses for the colour pink, so give â€˜em a listen!
â€œThe UK scene is much smaller of course, but its quite tight knit. I find that some collectors in the UK can be a bit elitist, but we welcome everyone to join in the fun as much as possible.â€
Format: How was Clutter founded?
Miranda: Nick and I met at university studying Graphic Design. I was already a toy nut, my house filled with Pete Fowler and Toy2R to name just a few, and my collecting habit was on the up. I used to import magazines from Hong Kong and Japan, ones I couldnâ€™t read but the pictures were enough to give me an idea of what was coming up. Back in 2004, after we had finished school, and I had converted Nick to the new world of fantastic plastic (and a place where money disappears into the collecting hole), one of these magazines dropped though my door. I knew there were plenty of western collectors already out there, with the same need for information as me, and at the time the internet didnâ€™t have the same dedicated sites it has now to fill your vinyl urges. eBay was the only place to buy toys (and some stores if you could decipher the Chinese) when I started collecting. Some stores such as Playlounge were starting to have a presence and I could see the market was starting to grow. The magazine dropped on my doorstep and I thought – â€œShit, we could do this for a Western audienceâ€ – and instantly called Nick up. It really went from there. We approached some well-known industry people and the feedback was amazing. Everyone told us to do it, and offered us as much support as they could (no money, of course, but the links were enough). So we went to the Princeâ€™s Trust for some money, got a bank loan, and robbed our families (willingly, of course. Actually still need to pay them back â€“ Whoops!) and got off the ground.
Nick: Yeah it took a little over 6 months from the end of University to when the first issue came out. That time was spend researching, designing and basically covering every aspect of design that our graphic design course didn’t prepare us for, which it turned out was a lot!
Miranda: The name came from a conversation in a pub with our friend Mike. He didnâ€™t really get the whole toy thing and said it was just a bunch of â€˜clutterâ€™, which stuck. Itâ€™s a bit of an ironic statement really because to many people it is just clutter but to us its amazing art that we love to collect. I think first and foremost we are collectors and fans, just means that occasionally we have to be professional, haha. I actually remember how excited I was when Pete Fowler agreed to do our first cover; it was such an honour since I love his work.
Format: Print magazines have been facing so many challenges lately, how do you keep Clutter going?
Miranda: Blood, sweat and tears? [Laughs] Well our fans know our printing schedule can be erratic and part of that is making sure people have paid us so we can pay our bills and so on. Itâ€™s really not easy, but we get a lot of support and the feedback we get from collectors makes us want to continue. The magazine makes about enough money to sustain itself but it doesnâ€™t pay me or Nick a wage, and I think people understand that we do it for the love first and foremost.
Nick: Of course we’d love it to be out prime source of income but that’s just not the case at the moment although the scene continues to grow more and more. The magazine is our baby and we wouldn’t give up on it for anything. Like Miranda said, itâ€™s tough work – especially when we’re getting down to deadline time and it’s just me and her sat in a room all night finishing all the design work, but it’s worth it.
Miranda: We find it really hard to get advertising, mainly because our clients are small companies, so they are in the same boat. The move to more mainstream companies producing â€˜urban vinylâ€™ styled toys will hopefully help. We donâ€™t feel like we would be selling out if we started to get some big names on board with ads. In the East, designer toys have always been used to promote a lifestyle and cross brand with clients such as BMW, Mini, Xbox, Nokia etc. This has started to happen more over here too, so it would be nice to get some good ads in and really kick start out plans. After all people keep telling us we are seen as the industry standard (which is really nice to know).
Format: What has been your favourite toy of late?
Miranda: I really loved Kathie Olivasâ€™s Hazel figure. She was nice enough to give us one at NYCC so thatâ€™s a really great addition to our office. I also loved the Secret Base skulls. Iâ€™m a Kaiju fan (although my knowledge is limited), anything that makes me laugh is a winner in that department. I really love the Dolbee toys produced by ATP and Jeremy Madlâ€™s company Solid Industries. Barry and Deborah from ATP are really amazing people and they are doing a great job at marrying two of my favourite worlds â€“ Music and art.
Nick: I loved the figures Secret Base made with the Japanese artist Usugrow. I love his artwork and his style makes for some awesome looking figures. I also loved the Coarse toys Paws figure, that was the shit!
Miranda: It takes a lot for us to buy toys now a days, mainly due to lack of space. So it has to be something really special to make us part with our hard earned cash. However whilst at NYCC I did purchase Kenny Wongâ€™s DIG figure. I love his work and was a huge Brothersfree fan in all of their guises (Brothersworker, Brothersjoker etc). I do regret not buying a secret base pinstriped skull before they all went and the mini Zagoran Tank!
Format: Have you designed any of your own toys?
Miranda: We have a Qee which we designed and produced with Toy2r, that was a Venus flytrap design. More recently we have two Dunny, one in series 5 and one in the Ye Olde English Dunny series. They seem to have gone down really well. We would like our own sculpt one day.
Nick: Designing toys has been a great bonus to doing the Magazine. Having our very own versions of the figures that Miranda originally exposed me to is amazing! We’d love to do some more figures but with production schedules being tight it took 2 years for our Dunnyâ€™s to see the light of day.
Format: Can you tell us about your Yoka Competition?
Miranda: Iâ€™ll leave this one to Nick.
Nick: We put together the Yoka Competition in collaboration with adFunture. It’s an open competition for people to get their own designs transformed into a mini-figure. Yoka is essentially a Bear shaped platform toy and we’ve had tons of entries and soon we’ll be putting all the designs to a public vote to determine the winners!
Miranda: Yeah, we have had a few technical difficulties with the vote on this one. Itâ€™s hard to juggle everything. The designs were excellent though!
Format: You were recently at the New York Comic Con, how was that experience? Did you see anything that particularly impressed you?
Miranda: This was our second NYCC, and we had a great time. We met up with a lot of old friends and made some new ones. Itâ€™s always good to put a face to that email address J. I expected the con to be much quieter than it was due to the â€˜global recessionâ€™ or â€˜credit crunchâ€™ as they like to call it here in the UK (sounds more like a breakfast cereal to us). People were definitely out in force and seemed to be buying, the line for the Pushead and Secret Base signings were incredible and Toy Tokyo sold out of all of the Secret Base toys (unsurprisingly). It was great to see this kind of thing first hand, as we donâ€™t really have anything like it in the UK. The Kidrobot meet and greet was an eye opener too, the line was around the block! We see it in photos all the time, but it still blew us away.
Nick: Yeah in talking to a few of the shop owners it seems like the Comicon was a recession free bubble with everyone buying as much stuff as last year. I was looking forward to seeing kaNO’s new Hi-Def figure produced by ToyQube, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Kidrobot event was crazy, we don’t get events like that much in the UK and it’ll take a few more before we get used to it.
Miranda: Iâ€™m glad we made the trip out to NYCC as I was feeling a bit like the designer toy community was at a loss to find a direction. That the art was starting to fall by the way side in favour of people making cute little toys with no real reason, and I think that NYCC really picked me up. It was great to meet the guys from Kuso who have some really interesting projects in the making.
Format: Are there similar events/conventions in the UK?
Miranda: Not really but we would like to change that. Anyone wanna help? We have shows like memorabilia but nothing in the same kind of league.
Nick: A UK Con would be amazing, but unfortunately it would probably be pretty expensive for the worldwide Vinyl Community to travel here.
Format: Clutter is UK based. Do you feel the toy scene is different in the UK from the US, or other parts of the world?
Miranda: Oh definitely. The collectors Iâ€™m not sure but the artists do. We have a far more illustrative perspective in the UK, with a more varied sense of humour. The UK scene is much smaller of course, but itâ€™s quite tight knit. I find that some collectors in the UK can be a bit elitist, but we welcome everyone to join in the fun as much as possible. It would be nice if in the UK more people got behind events like they do in the States. Itâ€™s starting to happen, but people in the States will travel to a show, people in the UK will just moan. I think itâ€™s bred into us. Queuing and moaning.
Nick: I think the UK artists characters belong to worlds. James Jarvis, Pete Fowler, even Tado all have these ideas of a world in which their characters live and I think this gives their creations extra depth and perhaps makes them even more respected.
Format: What do you do when not working on Clutter?
Miranda: Not working on Clutter? Whatâ€™s that? To be honest we donâ€™t get much free time when your hobby is your job itâ€™s pretty hard to escape. I also do some teaching to help pay the bills, we also have a design agency (all be it small, factory82.com) as another source of income. When I do get time off I watch bands, listen to music, watch movies, bake, watch my fish (not all at the same time of course) and PLAY ROCK BAND, which is fucking awesome.
Nick: Hah! Free time is not a luxury we can afford with Clutter, although as Miranda says a quick rock out is all thatâ€™s needed to dust away the cobwebs. And while she’s teaching and paying far too much attention to her fish, I work on a little illustrative side project called SourBones which was born out of my doodles while working on the magazine.
Format: Do you have any predictions for 2009 in the toy world?
Miranda: I think Kathie Olivas and Brandt Peters will be favoured artists this year, much like a few years ago it was Joe Ledbetter. I think itâ€™s well deserved Kathie and Brandt are amazing and their work is outstanding. More people will self produce and use resin to keep costs down. I wish I could tell you the horror stories we have about some companies, but unfortunately we canâ€™t. I would say to artists beware and donâ€™t sign away your rights, ask other artist experiences they will be honest with you.
Nick: I think we’ll see some more independently produced figures this year. We saw at NYCC that hand painted Resin figures were a very popular choice for artists to produce short run figures. I think some fans out there want to see some new artists attack the vinyl scene, in the current climate releases could easily become stagnant and safe and we wouldn’t want to see that in a community that is essentially progressing and boundary pushing.
Format: Are there any new releases coming up for Clutter?
Nick: Yes! We are just about to release an exclusive pink colour way of a new toy youâ€™ll have seen before (Much like the King Ken exclusive colourway). The figure is limited to 100 pieces and we love it. Watch www.cluttermagazine.com for more information.