Ringo a Go Go

When Joe Ledbetter and Wheaty Wheat’s Ringo was first shown as a prototype, it was a big deal. Put simply, the translation of Joe’s style into 3D was the breath of fresh air that the toy world needed. It seriously pushed the boundaries of what art toys could be. But while Mr. Bunny and FireCat came and rapidly went – hit eBay if you missed the boat, and bring a big wedge of cash – the towering Ringo never materalised… until now.

While delays aren’t uncommon in the toy world, Ringo’s ridiculous tardiness wasn’t down to any manufacturing issues. If you don’t know the tale, Joe and Wheaty Wheat had a disagreement of some form or another. And while many theories abound as to who did what and why their relationship dissolved, only they themselves know the full story.

As such, it’s not my place to point fingers. Like most collectors, I’m just over the moon that they’ve got matters sorted and Ringo, the last of the Joe’s original trilogy of vinyl characters, is going to come out (and – touch wood – gather dust along with the rest of my toys on my shelves).

Putting my own completist emotions aside, the whole situation of an artist and manufacturer falling out is an interesting one. These sort of bust-ups happen in all areas of business. But in this field specifically, the question has to be who needs who more – the toy companies or the artists?

To be fair, there’s no straight answer. It’s half a dozen of one, six of the other. On one hand, there’s no doubting the finances involved in getting original sculpts manufactured. Nor the marketing and distribution costs. The average artist can’t afford the time or money to finance and oversee this kind of operation. That’s where the toy companies come in – and that’s where the 400 colourways of each toy comes in, too. from The companies need to make some return on their investment, after all.

But without the artists, there would be nothing to bankroll. The toy companies would have no product. After all, it’s the artist’s talents that we’re buying. So it’s a chicken and egg situation and to be honest, I have no idea who comes first. One thing I do know, though, is that the toy companies’ need to make money is a big reason why we end up with lots of releases from the same old artists.

There is some new talent coming through, but you have to understand that any new artist is a risk to a toy company. In purely business terms, why would they pick a little known but highly talented artist when they can work with an established name? It’s a simple fact that names shift units. And that’s the name of the game.

Make no mistake, it’s a vicious circle – one that can make it very hard for an artist to break into the scene. Some get around it by manufacturing their toys themselves – a risky strategy, but one that can still pay dividends with the relative ease of marketing your wares on various toy forums – and a route I think will become increasingly popular.

With toy companies getting blasted for increasing edition sizes, there’s a real opportunity for artists to go it alone and make their own figures. Whether these are hand-cast resin or low run vinyl depends on their budget. But to be honest, I don’t think it matters. If the design is good, if you build it, the punters will come. Well, hopefully. Just don’t mortgage your house for it unless it’s really shit hot. The future is in the hands of the artists, my children. Go forth and create.

Drunken Master

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