Who would have thought that Nathan J.’s madness came out of some good old fashioned family values? For those who don’t know, Nathan is the creator of the internationally acclaimed Scary Girl series of graphics, comics, and vinyl toys. He is also involved in shaping the face of MTV Canada with his creepy, goo-dripping Fauna series of kaiju toys. He now lives in Toronto, but his accent is unmistakably Australian. Read on for insight into his creations, mythological inspirations and his little-known admiration for Olivia Newton John. (Am I joking? Keep reading.)
â€œI think a lot of people don’t really realize that many of the vinyl toy designers began in more mainstream fields and then later branched.â€
Format: How did you get started with toy making?
Nathan J: Commercially it began in 2001 when I was approached by the HK design company Flying Cat. I received a phone call in the middle of the night by the owner who’d been following my stuff and thought it was appropriate for toy designs.
Format: What were some of your favorite childhood toys?
Nathan J: I used to play with Lego, Masters of the Universe, Smurfs, Star Wars, Six Million Dollar man, silly putty.
Format: Were Kaiju, (Asian monster toys) more available to you, growing up in Australia, due to its proximity to Asia?
Nathan J: There were a lot of cheap plastic figures around – usually bulk sets of dinosaur creatures in clear bags or buckets. Though I can’t recall if Kaiju was really that much more accessible.
Format: Your work on Scarygirl has some dark fantasy and lowbrow themes. Where are those coming from? Outside influences?
Nathan J: My father’s side of the family is Lithuanian/Latvian/German and I used to get stories told to me about the myths and folk tales of those regions. My grandparents were quite influential. Human nature and the way we deal with various situations in life seem to come out in my work possibly due to a strong religious background.
Format: You did some work with MTV Canada for their Fauna project, designing graphics and actual vinyl kaiju toys for them. How did that come about?
Nathan J: It was a great project to work on and first began by MTV asking me to do some internal show and tell spots for their art department. I was later asked if Iâ€™d like to collaborate on a character based series of TV spots and at the same time got Klim from Big Shot Toyworks to help consult on turning some of the characters into resin figures.
Format: How do you feel about your work being consumed by the mass market through venues like MTV? Do you think that vinyl should stay underground or do you enjoy the pop-culture recognition it is starting to get in the West? Do you think it will ever achieve the same level as it has in Asia?
Nathan J: I think a lot of people don’t really realize that many of the vinyl toy designers began in more mainstream fields and then later branched. I was mainly an editorial illustrator who was used to seeing my images on the cover of magazines or for advertising campaigns so the idea that my work appeals to a broader audience doesn’t bother me at all. That being said we have really pushed the MTV figures into a niche market by only releasing a very small number and creating them in a more sculptural form. The whole vinyl toy thing has actually gotten bigger than in Asia. The market in Japan in particular has reduced and we are now seeing many Japanese designers crossing over into western markets.
Format: How did you feel about the Aussie fad coming to North America in the ’80s? Did Australians even know it was happening?
Nathan J: I knew that Olivia Newton John became quite popular in the 80’s but I wasn’t that up with North American culture.
Format: Who are some other Aussie artists that you are down with?
Nathan J: Lots of really interesting and diverse artists are from Australia, though not many remain there. People like Rinzen, Marc Newson, Brett Whiteley, Pro Hart, Princess Tina, Huntly Barton, Phibs, Deane and Gypsy Taylor and many more.
Format: Do you find that your work is influenced by Australian aboriginal culture?
Nathan J: A little bit. Australian suburban ‘culture’ has a really unique sense of humor and I’m really into the painting techniques and story telling of Aboriginal art.
Format: Are there any toy shops in Australia that our readers should know about?
Nathan J: Outre Gallery, Ruben Rat, I can’t think of too many off the top of my head.
Format: Can you tell us about your future plans?
Nathan J: Iâ€™m working on multiple Scarygirl projects in 2008 including a graphic novel trilogy, online game and a couple of solo exhibitions. The game and graphic novels are based on Scarygirl’s journey to discover who Dr. Maybee is. The book will be published by Allen and Unwin in Australia and distributed worldwide. The online game will go live hopefully by mid-2008.