Just got back from my Kaiju and Toy Making talk at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. First off many thanks to Maria Kwong and Koji Sakai for the opportunity and honor to present this subject in this museum setting.
I’m not sure why I can have a smooth trip of late but this one was another trip to remember ;-P The idea we had was to leave at 6 pm from San Francisco, and take Highway 5 to Los Angeles. We knew it would take about 6 hours of so and we’d arrive after midnight. All was well however as we approached what is called the Grapvine ( a large mountain pass you have to drive over to get to Los Angeles via this route ) we saw signs saying there would be a detour .. from time to time the Grapevine is closed due to snow .. Ok no problem, the signs say there will be other signs leading us to the new route …
Of course, why we trusted those signs is another story … as we get to the base of the Grapevine, all traffic was being turned around with no help or signage pointing us to the new route. We stopped and asked a gas station person, who simply said the route would not open until the next morning at the earliest and his suggestion was to find a room to stay the night … ugh ! Plus all the rooms in this area were booked because of this closure so he suggested going back up the way to Bakersfield … which is like 40 minutes backwards … We had no choice so headed that way .. but as we got off at that town all the room were booked, too ! We found some signs pointing us to an alternate route and I saw a to of cars going in that direction so we decided to keep driving .. it was about 1 am at this point.
Sorry but the lack of pictures was due my concentrating on driving !
The route took us eastward .. and up into another set of mountains … but at this point the temperature had dropped to 32 degrees and the light rain turned to heavy snow ! Now I’ve been in snow but have never actually had to drive in it … so found it a bit challenging to not get hypnotized by the white flakes lit up by the car headlights and flowing into the car window !
As we kept driving the snow became heavier and all the cars slowed from 70 mph to 15 mph …
Lucky Anna called the nearest town and found one room for us, so we headed to it. Cell phone reception was not good and by the time we got off the highway there was so much snow I was getting worried we could even make it to the hotel.
The town we stayed in was called Tehachapi and was i glad we found it ! Several other drivers also found their way to this hotel .. which just after we arrived fully sold out. The lobby kinda felt like a zombie apocalypse movie with people looking for shelter anywhere they could find it !
We made it to the room safe and sound and finally went to sleep at 3 am. I knew I had to be to the museum by 2pm, but had no idea how much longer it would take us in the morning .. or even if this snow would let up enough for us to leave.
The morning was partly sunny and the snow on the ground had partially melted, so we packed up and headed out .. looked like we had another 3+ hours to go .. so the timing would be very tight.We estimated arriving at 1 pm….
Turns out the route around the Grapevine takes you through the Mojave Desert … too bad we didn’t have any time to stop as the landscape looked neat.
At last we reached Los Angeles and with a slight slow down on the freeway, we found our hotel.
View from our room at the Miyako, right across the street from the museum and next to the Little Tokyo mall.
It was about 1:00 pm so we off loaded our stuff quickly, grabbed the Kaiju coloring books
and toys and walked across the street to the museum.
The main entrance to Little Tokyo packed with shops and eating places.
We found met up with our contact, Koji Sakai at the museum and had a short time to look around before the Kaiju talk.
I haven’t been to the museum in quite awhile so it was good to walk around and see all the new exhibits and show Max some of his history. The Internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2 is something that not many people know of … both of my parents, my grand parents and relatives spent over 2 years in internment camps .. actually as I reminded Max about the same age as himself. I told him can you imagine only being given a few days to leave your home and told you could only bring what you could carry with you ? Something like his XBox would be useless … just what you need to survive, clothes some photos, maybe … Visiting the museum was a nice reminder of what my parents and grand parents generations went through.
This event was sponsored by Target Stores and the admission was free, so many kids showed up to do various activities.
We set up a small selection of Max Toys, an iron mold, and paint mask on a table.
Before I knew it is was time for the talk .. now i’m not a public speaker at all, so I hope those who attended could follow my narrative ;-P I think it went well and we had a good turn out, with a mix of toy collectors and non toy collectors.
Max did a stand up job advancing the pictures via the lap top.
With the talk over I spent sometime answering and talking to folks. It was great to see the kids eyeing the kaiju toys … I could see in some of them the same wide eyed look I still get ;-D Perhaps one or more of them will become toy collectors or toy makers in the future !
We made a quick look thru the museum shop ( Anna bought a vintage Kokeshi doll ) which by the way is most excellent and also an exhibit of Origami art .. which by the way, were amazing and crazy cool !
Wasn’t sure if pictures were allowed .. but took these couple of pics ;-P Yes all made of paper !
You can’t really get a good grasp of the tiny details and folded parts. If you are in the area you should check out this exhibit.
As usually it’s all a big blur to me ;-P and the museum closes for the day ! Had a great time and wished I had made my presentation a tad bit longer, perhaps touching on my art work and tying that into the over all presentation, but overall i think it was well received.
After, we ventured over to the Little Tokyo mall area and I went to the Anime Jungle store
… and was able to say Hello to a long time toy dealer, Tetsu. His brother also runs the Jungle store in Osaka as well .. and they put on the recent Osaka Soft Vinyl event that Yo-san attended, too.
I have to say they have a very well stocked store full of everything related to Japanese Anime and Toy Culture… included are some vintage vinyl, so check em out when your in the Los Angeles area.
We had a quick Japanese dinner and turned in for the evening .. as we were all tired from the long day before.
The next day a top priority was to eat at House of Pies … so we had a good brunch, my fav eggs benedict…
but of course the Pies, is what it’s all about .. below is a Peach Pie with ice cream … I only managed a few bites … it was awesome !
Max completely devoured it ! He loved it so much that we bought a whole pie to take home !
The Strawberry Pie was also yummy !
With that we headed back up North this time being able to go over the Grapvine with no problems… along the way we saw hundreds of birds nests stuck to the underside of the over passes … while we sped along at 70 mph the birds would swarm in and out of these nests .. seemed kinda dangerous ;-P
With this event done, my schedule does not lighten up .. I have a piece in the May Monster show at FOE Gallery, and must prepare many customs from OneUp store in Tokyo, Wonderfest in July and also Comic Con in July as well.
We have many releases coming up as well ! Phew … The Kaiju Train keeps rolling along, folks ! I hope your enjoying the ride as much as I am !
Over the years Mark Nagata has collected thousands of toys and a fair amount of titles. The man behind San Francisco-based Max Toy Company is widely known as: Toy Collector. Illustrator. Magazine Founder/Publisher. Toy Designer. Artist. Author. Husband. Father. But the one description that might fit best is an unofficial one – Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador.
In the Japanese-inspired art and toy area, as well as throughout the larger toy collecting community, Mark is welcomed and recognized for his personal passion and commitment to supporting artists all around the world and the unique works they create. Beginning as a collector in his youth, Mark has had for years a keen eye for great art and a personal interest in collecting that he has spread through a variety of outlets.
Trained at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, Mark honed his skills working for himself and for some of the most notable businesses in the country. As a freelance commercial illustrator, he completed works for such prominent companies as Lucasfilms, DC Comics, Hasbro Toys, IBM, Sony, and numerous advertising and design firms, both national and international. Mark’s colorful style graces over 40 cover paintings for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book series – Give Yourself Goosebumps.
After hundreds of assignments, Mark made the decision to move in another direction, and that choice has led to whole new career as a successful businessman. For four years, the owner of one of the largest Ultraman toy collections in the world co-published Super 7 Magazine showcasing the finest in Japanese toy collecting.
“I’d been collecting Japanese toys all along and suddenly realized it would be cool to have a magazine of some type devoted to them,” Nagata says.
Mark’s devotion to presenting collectors with a selection of original figures inspired by classic Japanese toys from the 1960s and ‘70s as well as new versions of licensed Japanese characters is at the heart of Max Toy Company. Named for his son, Max Toys specializes in custom and limited editions of “kaiju” (Japanese monsters) toys and artwork. Many of the original toys produced are hand painted by Mark, a tradition that goes back to Japanese toy makers of the past.
“Since our target is the soft vinyl Japanese toy collector, which is a very small niche, our runs of toys can be extremely small,” Mark says. “Runs range from 500 pieces of one toy to just one for a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind custom figure.”
Through Max Toys, Mark has taken great pains to widen the reach of his two passions – toys and art. He played a significant part in the development of the first group kaiju show in the United States. Held at the Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, Illinois in 2007, the “Toy Karma” Show featured detailed work from artists from Japan, the U.S. and South America. Participants marveled at the custom-painted toys and art on display. “Toy Karma” led to Mark being asked to be one of the artists spotlighted in the “Beyond Ultraman: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The October 2007 show, held jointly with the Los Angeles Toy, Doll and Amusement Museum, marked the first time – in a museum setting – that the influence of Japanese toys on California artists was explored. The exhibit featured more than 30 of Mark’s original paintings, toys and a selection of his vintage toy collection.
Mark continued to be at the forefront as interest in Japanese-inspired art and toys expanded in 2008. Prestigious art houses Philips De Pury and Christie’s in New York and London sold Mark’s hand-painted custom kaiju toys in its auctions, spreading this unique art and toy movement into new and uncharted areas of the art world.
In 2009, Mark once again took his love of toys and art overseas this time to a receptive and welcoming audience in Tokyo, Japan. Here, Mark curated the “Kaiju Comrades” Art Show, once again bringing together artists from various aspects of the kaiju toy realm in this first-of-its-kind toy art show. The following year found Mark in Barcelona, Spain co-curating with Emilio Garcia “Kaiju Attack,” the European country’s first kaiju art show.
As the growth of kaiju art and toys increases worldwide, Mark continues in his unofficial role of Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador. He has written and had his artwork and toy designs included in several books and magazines, both domestic and international. In 2010, Mark served as guest lecturer on kaiju and the toy-making process at the Morikami Museum in Florida. The San Francisco resident and his art can also be spotted in the first volume of the “ToyPunks” DVD and the “Toys R Us” DVD, while the video for the number one song by Owl City “Fireflies” featured Mark’s popular Kaiju Eyezon character. During this same time period, Mark has spearheaded the “Toy Karma 2” and “Kaiju Comrades 2” shows and has plans for future shows both in the U.S. and overseas.
“Max Toys allows me to produce original artwork, new toys and work directly with a lot of talented artists,” Mark says. “Max Toy is a synthesis of toys and art, both life-long passions.”