Thursday, October 7, 2010

Artist Focus: Mark Nagata

Mark Nagata has been a tour de force in the sofubi world for about as many years as there are Ultramans (Ultramen?). As the cofounder of Super7, he helped run a company that, through its magazine, toy sales, and collaborations, shed some of the first rays of light on the once mysterious world of modern Japanese character toys.
Now that so many of the shadows have been cleared away and so many roads to Tokyo have been paved (thanks in large part to the Net), it's easy to forget how tough it used to be to find out about companies, releases, and toy shows. A small group of passionate folks, including Mark, did a lot in the 2000s to build the networks we now take for granted.
After leaving Super7 and taking a short hiatus, Mark founded Max Toy Co. He soon populated his universe of original toys with characters like Captain Max, Xam (his arch nemesis), Eyezon, Boy Karma, and others. He also set up the Max Toy website, fan club, and e-mail list to make it easy for fans to keep up with the latest news and releases.

Over the years, Mark has been a fixture at SDCC. He also deserves a lot of credit for expanding the variety of art and artists involved in the East/West character design scene. Mark has done that through collaborations, custom shows, and publications. He has curated or been part of shows in Chicago, Tokyo, Barcelona, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

A couple of show posters:

Speaking of which, two of my articles about Mark's work have been published in years past (when you could walk into a store and choose from 4 or 5 vinyl toy magazines) - in Playtimes and Clutter magazine.

Here's one:
Now here I am in the blogosphere writing about Mr. Nagata yet again!

I like a lot of things about Mark's work. First, there's his unique color palette. Mark's work tends to feature complex designs, and he isn't shy about using seldom-used colors and color combinations. Plus, he's about as inventive and exploratory as you can get (that almost sounds clinical), which means you never quite know what you'll see from his next release (and that almost sounds ominous), which is awesome. But when you look at his number of his figures side by side, there's a cohesion to the group.

Another thread I really like that runs through much of his work is a kaiju space theme. You have to wonder how much fun it would be to see Max and Eyezon battling it out in a cheesy 1950s style live action flic!

On to the toys. Here's a look at some of Mark's customs and one-offs:

Another specialty of Mark's are his header cards, which are based on paintings he does for new toys and collaborations.

Here's a set of an original painting + print + header card (click on the image to see the full-sized hi-res pic):
Mark's background is in fine art and illustrations. Before entering the toy scene on a professional basis (and not just a lifer otaku with a thing for Ultraman) he worked with many of the world's biggest publishers and companies. For example, Mark painted the cover images for more than 40 Goosebump novels.

Here's one from 1997:
So, it's not surprising to see his paintings on header cards and prints (which are often included with his figures).And that may be the thread that brings it all together and makes Mark so important in the modern sofubi scene. With each new toy, collaboration, and show, there's a sense of expansion, of building on what's come before while welcoming new people, companies, and galleries to join in on the fun and build even more bridges to the future.
Speaking of which, don't forget the In Living Kolor show, which is just around the corner. Check back here for my show report, and remember to check out Max Toy Co to see what Mark and crew are up to!

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