Star Wars action figures are awesome! More than just movie toys; they have been a staple in toy aisles for decades, become pop culture icons and are credited for jump-starting the collectability of action figure toys the world over. We here at From 4-LOM to Zuckuss appreciate what Lucasfilm, Kenner and Hasbro have created so much so that we have dedicated ourselves to covering all things Star Wars action figure related and that’s where you come in!
We are seeking out those who share our passion, to share their thoughts and memories of playing with and collecting those amazing little figures from a galaxy far, far away.
4LOMKUSS: Thanks so much Dave for getting back to us! We have been very excited to talk to you since San Diego Comic-Con when our friend Ryan sent us a picture of some of your work. Now for those readers who are not familiar with your work could you take some time and tell us a little about it and yourself?
Pryor: Hello! Nice to hear that Ryan noticed my artwork at Comic-Con. I’m an artist/animator based out of Chicago, Illinois. I started my career working in animation, starting with the series “Tiny Toons” in 1992, and I’ve been working in animation ever since. As a child of the 70’s/80’s, my passions are strong for Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, arcade video games, and much of the entertainment of that time frame. Most of the work I do illustration-wise is directly inspired by a strong sense of nostalgia for my childhood – innocent times and memories of playing with toys and collecting.
4LOMKUSS: How very cool that you worked on Tiny Toons! I remember that show fondly and I must say I am not surprised because looking at the art on your website, it’s very clear that you are a very talented professional. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet with any of the famous executive producers who worked on the show like (my childhood hero) Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall or now Star Wars head-honcho Kathleen Kennedy?
Pryor: The studio I worked for was called Startoons, hired as a subcontractor by Warner Brothers to storyboard and animate shows like Tazmania, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Histeria. Led by Jon McClenahan, a director for Hanna Barberra in the 80’s, it was one of the only studios in America that actually “animated” the 22 minute shows. Everything else Warner’s did during that time was animated overseas because of cost. Startoons competed with those studios and won show contracts because of the talent of the staff and their competitive pay structure. I never got to meet Spielberg, but my boss did during some development parties. We were based in Homewood, Illinois, and only occasionally would the bosses fly to LA to mingle with the execs. The creative that we interacted with the most was Tom Ruegger, who was the executive producer on all those shows. Startoons generated quite a few talented folks, some of which became key Directors/Producers for the Warner’s classic animation staff. Animators like Tony Cervone and Spike Brant, who basically shepherd the quality of the classic cartoons they produce today. These guys were pretty much my mentors, and taught me how to draw in the Warner’s style and several tricks of the animator’s trade.
4LOMKUSS: It’s always fun to hear how artists grow and develop their talents in unique ways by being in the presence of other fellow artists. Now in regards to your childhood nostalgia which you referenced before; it must have been that because I too am a child of the 70’s and 80’s that I instantly found myself mesmerized with your work. The combination of your creative style with subjects like He-Man, Transformers, Superheroes and the Mario Brothers provide powerful images which both bring back nostalgia in me but also excitement as well as they are interpretations which have never existed before. Do you know specifically when you started feeling nostalgic and began illustrating the toys of your youth?
Pryor: It’s the kid at heart coming out however it can. I didn’t really begin illustrating like this until the 2000’s, when digital tools were becoming more accessible – like Wacom tablets. I didn’t consider myself a designer or a painter – but it was fun to try my hand at it after just doing animation with a pencil and paper for 10 years. I started illustrating digitally by participating in blog topics, which seemed to naturally inspire these ideas to come out. I was and still am in an experimental phase – where I’m really just trying to have fun drawing and painting. When I think “fun” – toys and childhood memories overwhelm my inspiration.
I never would have foreseen that I’d draw Grimace with his mouth sewn shut – but it made perfect sense for the topic “X-Ray”, where instead of drawing bones, I could just draw McDonald’s food inside. And really – who didn’t just love McDonald’s as a kid? I had the figures, the train play set and all those happy meal toys – McDonald’s was a big part of being young, as it really caters to all your childlike desires, including the basic hamburger food group.
I guess it’s a way to relive these memories while capturing a new take on this warm and fuzzy feeling deep inside. When I drew the “Star Wars Vintage Free Figures” last
summer, it was my way of recreating these innocent and unbelievably exciting moments – waiting so impatiently for white mailer boxes to arrive with free figures in them. I remember checking the mailbox every day – even the first week after sending away (as if it was even possible to deliver them so fast), even though it said to wait 10-12 weeks or whatever it was. When that little box from Kenner finally did arrive, I was practically busting at the seams with joy – tripping up the stairs to our apartment on the third floor. I guess getting stuff in the mail is still pretty fun – but those days was really the start of it all – and it’s all still so clear! So in my illustration, here are all these figures popping out to say “Hi” for the first time. Spawning a range of masked bounty hunters, aliens, and old men; they were all welcome to join the adventures with all the other Star Wars figures like Chewbacca and Ugnaught, who resided in a tin can (I never had a carry case).
The illustration for “Star Wars Free Vintage Figures” went through a lot of variations. When I first had the idea of paying homage to these toys, I originally thought of a kid with his friend cutting out proofs of purchase from the cardbacks. They would be talking to each other with word bubbles and describing the amount of proofs they needed to cut out – it was like a language that only old time collectors could understand – 4 proofs would equal one figure. I did some drawings of this and, like a lot of ideas, it was a bit of a struggle to pull it all together. I was going to have one kid cutting out proofs and talking about Boba Fett, where the friend was beside him cutting out proofs for a Bossk figure. A cute visual, but a few things got in the way – like you could never mail away for 2 different figures at the same time. A silly detail to argue perhaps, but when you are sitting there drawing for a while, these kinds of things pop in your head. Later on I had the thought of representing all seven of the mail away figures, and combining the kids with all these figures just got too crowded. I realigned my thoughts and redesigned the layout to represent all the figures with implied “proofs” in the center. This new illustration was more design and less like a comic story, something more like art you could display in your modern living room.
4LOMKUSS: I’m so happy you shared the story behind your “Star Wars Free Vintage Figures” poster because that is the artwork that caught the attention of my friend Ryan Biese (of Galaxy of Toys Podcast) at Comic-Con this past year! It’s such a great piece because it’s so subtle in its nod to the mail-offer Kenner figures in addition to being a great illustration. I love your dedication to authenticity by not going with your initial idea as it was not chronologically accurate. Your “Star Wars Free Vintage Figures” art is truly a great piece but it’s not the only Kenner action figure art on your Blogger page. What I really found interesting was your explanation of your pieces entitled “Collect them all!” and “Dissect them all”.
“This new art piece is a fun/macabre statement on collecting. On the left, I have the vivid and colorful memory of the original 12 Kenner Star Wars Figures – with the words “Collect them all!” The purest way I look back on and cherish these figures. On the right, I’m depicting the other side of collecting, where it’s all about value and variants, and less about being a kid. This is accompanied with the tag line “Dissect them all”. A much less attractive representation of being a collector, and a loss of innocence in the toy itself.”
Now I completely agree that there are less fun and even in some cases gross aspects (scalping) of collecting action figures in the modern era than when we were kids. Do you find yourself able to relive any of your childhood nostalgia when you collect Star Wars figures today or has it taken on an identity of its own now that you are an adult?
Pryor: Collecting now is definitely different, but I do still feel those childlike emotions when appreciating the toys. Sure, I don’t “play” with toys any more – it’s all about the likeness accuracies and sheer amount of characters now – but I do like pulling a few figures out of my collection and putting them on display. Take Hasbro’s FX-7 figure for example; what a great job they did on that medical droid with all the pose-able arms, shape details, and paint applications. The toys have evolved as we’ve grown up, and truthfully adult collecting has evolved with us due to lines like Hasbro’s Star Wars.
As far as the original Kenner figures, nothing can ever compare or compete with those. The Gentle Giant Jumbo figs are a great homage, and Hasbro’s vintage line surely hits a nostalgic note, but those original figures that are all beaten up by years of play remain supreme. I pull them out of their tin can every now and then for appreciation and illustration purposes.
The interesting thing about the “collect” and “dissect” illustrations is that I only intended to do the piece with the action figure skulls. Why I had this skull idea originally, I’m not sure – I do have a bit of a “dark side” when it comes to my art that seems to creep out every now an then. In the process of drawing and painting it, I found the collection of 12 figures too charming to just cover up with skulls, so the idea evolved into a set. As I worked on these, the ideas of innocence and what collecting means emerged as well, giving more purpose to each piece, and inspiring the titles. Adding the variant messages in “dissect” gave that artwork a character all it’s own that I hadn’t considered in the conception phase. The journey I took on this piece was, in the end, very satisfying.
4LOMKUSS: It is a very satisfying piece indeed! I agree that FX-7 is a fantastic figure. I have been known to soapbox on how FX-7’s line, The Power of the Jedi, is by far the best modern series of Star Wars figures lines to date. But in regards to playing with toys, I must admit that from what I have seen, you are very good at it. The custom paint job you applied to the new Amazon exclusive Slave 1 is quite remarkable. I’m sure having an artist’s eye makes it very easy. Is customizing figures and vehicles something you do often?
Pryor: I have customized a few of the Hasbro’s toys. I’m digging the new post-Kenner sculpts and paint apps in general, but a few were just a tad too clean for my liking. I added a fairly simple wash to the super AT-AT, the new AT-ST, and the new Slave 1. I haven’t pulled the trigger on doing anything to some of the other new vehicles, like the Falcon, X-Wing, or AT-TE, but I might break down at some point. Anyone can do this weathering effect fairly simply – you don’t need to feel intimidated or think you need to be an artist. Just choose a dark tone that suits your preference (I use an acrylic paint) and get it to a runny consistency. I choose a range between medium to very dark browns – whatever simulates mud, but some straight black is also good in spots. Paint with a brush (or dab with a cloth) into the areas you desire. I seek out the natural cracks and crevasses in the toy and make sure to get the paint deep in there. As soon as the paint is applied, wipe any excess away from the raised areas. You may end up leaving some paint on the flat surface, but with water you can easily remove any paint that seems like too much. Hasbro’s modelers do a nice job with the details, but often just cast them in one simple plastic tone. Getting paint (or grime) into the natural pits and valleys brings out the dimension nicely. The wings on Slave 1 are a great example of this. The end result is a toy that looks more like a film model. Those who live for detail can take this further and mimic more exact color subtleties and mechanical highlights.
4LOMKUSS: I could see you teaching a class or panel on customizing toys in your future. Possibly at a comic-con. Now, if you are ready, its time to face the 4LOMKUSS in a round of rapid-fire questions that we call:
~ The 4LOMKUSS Unleashed ~
Figures: For play or display? Play
Your first Star Wars action figure? Kenner R2-D2
Worth more to you: Red or Blue Snaggletooth? Red Snaggletooth. I never had the blue one, but I do dig his silver boots.
Your Star Wars “Holy Grail”? Kenner Death Star Space Station
Vintage Yakface: Have it, Want it, Pass on it! Want it
I would sell my entire collection for: Not for sale
Best vintage figure? Tough one. Hammerhead
Who smells worse: Walrus Man or Yakface? Walrus Man. He’s got that butt-face mouth.
Number of figures you have? Too many to count. Quite a few pounds worth.
Episode _____ is the best! IV – A New Hope
Vlix: Have it, Want it, Who the hell is that! Not a fan of the Droids cartoon.
Would rather be: Han or Luke? Luke. I’m not much of a scoundrel.
Which lost accessory do you miss the most? I haven’t lost it, but I have had trouble finding Leia’s gun in the past.
Favorite Star Wars quote? “…most impressive.”
Fight to the death winner: Rancor Keeper or Cantina Bartender? Rancor Keeper has my vote.He looks like a brawler.
4-LOM stands for: I always thought it meant “For Lots Of Money”
Who tastes better: Admiral Ackbar or Gamorrean Guard? I prefer seafood over pork. Ackbar.
Plan on collecting Sequel Trilogy toys? No plan yet but I’m sure it will be hard to resist. The cooler it is, the more I’ll be on board.
More desired playset: Death Star or Sail Barge? Both awesome – but Death Star wins.
Star Wars Rebels, will you: Watch it live, wait for Blu-ray, Probably skip it? Watch it live.
Favorite collecting memory? So many. Getting the Kenner AT-AT in 1982 was one of my fondest memories. I saved my allowance (took a long time) and bought it at Toys R Us. This was followed up by dinner at Showbiz pizza for the first time. I stayed up late putting it together that evening.
One wish for Star Wars Episode VII? Let’s try to avoid the goofy voices this time.
~ Final Question ~
4LOMKUSS: “Fans of Force Figures” or “F oFFs” for short is a pathetic name for this interview. Do you have any better suggestions?
Pryor: When you put it that way it does sound a bit harsh. Since your blog features bounty hunters, maybe it should be called “Fett Fans”.
4LOMKUSS: Before we head off into hyperspace, what would be the best way fans and collectors could find out more about your work and possibly see and/or purchase some of it? And do you have anything upcoming you would like to plug?
Pryor: You can find me at my blog, www.davepryor72.blogspot.com. If you are interested in anything art-wise or just want to chat Star Wars, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be in a few upcoming gallery shows that I’ll keep as a surprise for now, but I’m at San Diego Comic Con again this summer, so I hope folks will stop over to say hello.
4LOMKUSS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk Star Wars action figures with us. Your work is really fantastic and we look forward to seeing more of it in the future. But for now we will say good luck, good bye and, “May the Figures be with you!”