Frank Kozikâ€™s cute, pack-a-day smoking animals have now become iconic in the vinyl toy scene. But before anyone had even dreamt of the possibility of a thriving toy collectors market, Frank was one of the most in-demand rock poster illustrators in the world. Making the jump from rock â€˜nâ€™ roll freak to plastic toy geek may seem like a stretch, but Frank has been a collector his entire life. Read on to find out the origins of his incredible powers.
“I have no claim to know what Iâ€™m doing, but I know that it is contrary to what everyone said I should do.”
Format: How was it making the transition from poster art to vinyl art? Was there some kind of stepping stone between the two industries?
Frank Kozik: Yeah, maybe six or seven years ago, I was approached by these advertising guys to do some work for them. They came to my apartment and saw all these toys, so I explained that it was something up-and-coming that I was trying to get off the ground, but there was not much access to China at that point. And the people that I knew in Japan werenâ€™t ready to divulge their sources. So they told me that they actually wanted me to design some toys for them for their vending machines. I did that for about two years. Basically it was a combination of Kubrick mixed with other kind of stuff. It was nothing to be proud of, like it was strictly commercial work, but what I did was learn the process of finding contacts in China, and how not to do stuff. It was a pretty good learning experience.
After that I hooked up with Kid Robot. At that point, I already had the ability to design toys cinched. It made making toys with Kid Robot and other companies that were much more successful because there werenâ€™t a lot of mistakes or problems. I had almost zero manufacturing problems because I already knew how to make my own toys. A lot of guys take a 2-D idea and donâ€™t really understand the limitation of making a 3-D item. I would just send the files over and they were correct. That really commercial gig was my training ground, if you will.
Format: So are you working in the music industry anymore?
Frank Kozik: No, I did that for almost twenty years. I did a million posters and got involved in every level and even had a record label, but life goes on. I stopped enjoying it. We did manage to launch a new genre of music with a somewhat successful label, but nobody wanted to hear it really. We were the first guys to do the whole stoner, psychedelic rock thing, like Queen of the Stone Age and High on Fire. I did all the first records.
The label was interesting, but I had about fifteen employees, and it just became an insane hassle. We had distribution problems and stuff like that. By that time I was forty. Itâ€™s like, you know, itâ€™s time to get out of the music scene when youâ€™re forty. Thatâ€™s a young personâ€™s gig.
Format: Have any bands come to you to make a vinyl toy for them?
Frank Kozik: Iâ€™ve dealt with tons of bands and itâ€™s not the most pleasant experience. Itâ€™s complicated. Unless you want to be a total rampant asshole, you have no control over things in that business because youâ€™re dealing with so many different parties. You have to take in the fact that youâ€™re dealing with other peoplesâ€™ intellectual copyrights, other people, their public image, their management, their record label, their promoters etc. When you deal with a band, youâ€™re dealing with fifty people and they all have colliding interests. It can be a major pain in the ass. I like doing my own toys because the only person I have to deal with is me, and I never argue with myself, so thereâ€™s no reason for me to go and do a band toy. They should just do their own toys. I do my own stuff; I like to do my own stuff.
Format: Do you have toys that do better in one market than in others?
Frank Kozik: Yeah, sure. I play the field. I have a wide range of interests. Basically what I do is offer four kinds of toys. I offer cute animal toys that are a little weird, like smoking rabbits. Those are popular pretty much everywhere, except for the hardcore kaiju collector scene which comprises about a hundred people. So thatâ€™s what I consider my mainstream toys, the kind that cost about $6.00–the little bunnies, and the mongers. I love them because I collect that kind of stuff myself. Iâ€™m a big Hello Kitty collector, and I like weird little animals, so I like them a lot. Theyâ€™re also easily the most popular because theyâ€™re accessible to everybody, mentally and economically. Everyone likes a cute little animal, and everyoneâ€™s got $6.00.
So then there are the Western toys, which are the things that cost you $20-$80–the 8â€ size. They seem popular everywhere. I do a lot of stuff with Kid Robot, Qee, Adfunture, Muttpop, etc. Those are smaller editions, and a lot of them tend to retain after market value. I do all the colorways for all those companies, stuff like the 10â€ Labbits, full sized Dunnies, and the Dr. Bombs. Once again, those sell well everywhere because I do the exclusive thing.
The next level up is a really different genre. I do the made-in-Japan kaiju influenced toys with Wonderwall. Stuff like the Ika-Gilas: squid monster in the business suit. Thatâ€™s me riffing off of classic kaiju. Those do ok everywhere. They donâ€™t do outstanding, maybe because theyâ€™re little expensive; they cost $200 and up. There are more collectors for those in the US or Europe because the Japanese collectors want the authentic stuff. I will also occasionally collaborate with guys like Real X Head but those also do better in the US.
And then I do the high-end stuff, like art pieces They draw on the techniques of the toy thing. Iâ€™ll deal with really expensive high-end bronzes, rabbit furniture chairs, busts, etc. I would consider all the clothing part of that, because most of that is at a pretty high price point. That stuff tends to sell well too with the higher end toy collectors and real art collectors. I sell more and more of my political busts to people that own actual art galleries and boutique stores, rather than toy collectors. The hardcore Kozik collectors of course want them all, but those pieces were really intended for the art people. That was my purpose for them; I wanted to introduce my work to another world. I like to hedge my bets and see my stuff everywhere. By and large, everything I have done has done really well. Iâ€™ve probably made over 300 or 400 releases since 2001 and theyâ€™ve all sold through on a store level. Most of them have retained after market value, with the exception of a few, but maybe that was because they made too many of them. I have no claim to know what Iâ€™m doing, but I know that it is contrary to what everyone said I should do.
I do tons of stuff, and they sell all over the place. Just go to the Kozik Flicker pool and you can see tons of photos. Thereâ€™s no real statement involved. I like toys, I thought it would be a cool thing to get in to, and it ended up being successful. I get more offers to do toys than I can fill. I get to select what tickles my fancy. Thereâ€™s a certain level of forethought, but itâ€™s more of me going with my gut instincts in the different genres. I like mixing genres over too. Cohesively, if you collect my toys, a $5 toy looks pretty good next to a $2000 one. Itâ€™s a world unto its self.
Format: In the future, are you planning to make your toys more interactive, like the Bob the Slug from Kid Robot?
Frank Kozik: Iâ€™ve been trying to push that but nobodyâ€™s really gotten down with it. Kid Robot has some stuff like that, and they do a full series like the chumps with twelve different characters, but they didnâ€™t make, like, the jail. I keep trying to push that kind of thing, like a piece of furniture, but itâ€™s so complicated, so I thought maybe we could do it by cross platforming, like you could swap parts with a Kid Robot toy. Itâ€™s kind of happening a little bit. Someday I hope to sell an inclusive circus theme or something, where you could get a tent and all the characters. Iâ€™m interested in doing things like little toys for collectors, but at the same time, Iâ€™m not making representations of my paintings or my weird clothing line. Itâ€™s a reverse; Iâ€™m trying to design these things to just be their own things, like a collectible toy. I do want to have as much play value as possible. I want people to pose it and take interesting pictures, and be like, â€œoh I can put it in my Castle Gray Skullâ€ kind of thing. That is the long-term goal, but financially, itâ€™s huge: a ten million dollar investment. The one guy thatâ€™s been able to pull it off is Patrick Ma from the Insurgents Wilderness Gruppo (IWG). Heâ€™s done a rocket ship, UFO, and all the animals. That guy is doing it.