Exclusive Interview with John Caliber – Teller of Toyscapes Tales

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.

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4LOMKUSS: Thanks so much John for chatting with us about your hobby!  We reached out to you immediately after discovering your work.  But for those who are not familiar with it, could you tell us a little about it and yourself?

Caliber: Hello Jake, and thanks for taking an interest in Star Wars Toyscapes. It’s a series of photostories framed around the use of Hasbro Star Wars toys from all eras. I’m interested in all aspects of the Star Wars saga and have lots of fun stories to tell concerning a very wide range of characters good and evil. I have no personal preferences for the original trilogy or toyscapesthe prequels … whichever era drops the inspiration for a new story into my brain presents interesting and differing stylistic challenges, my ambition to match the tone of the characters as they appear in the films or related media rather than to make my own mark on Star Wars, although obviously the stories are of my own invention. I commenced the Toyscapes project in late 2013 with a story called Herald Of Destiny (set between Episodes IV-V), and am nearing completion of The Netherworld (set two years after Episode VI).

I live in Manchester, United Kingdom. I’ve freelanced as a tabletop roleplaying game designer, and lately published a series of Judge Dredd reference books (City Of Dredd 3rd Edition and Worlds Of Dredd 2nd Edition, available from Lulu.com). I’m currently writing and illustrating a graphic novel, and a science fiction novel for older children.

4LOMKUSS: John you are a man of many talents! And of course we here at From 4-LOM to Zuckuss took note of and are enthralled with your photostories.  What is really great about them, as you said, is they crossover the entire Saga and that is a very refreshing take on Star Wars storytelling these days.

Your figure and playset collection is quite significant, when did you begin collecting Star Wars action figures?

The Netherworld 01Caliber: My original run began in the late 1970s, then ended around 1984. I believe I commenced collecting the ‘modern’ range in 2004. I built up two collections before selling them. Not sure when my third attempt began, but by this time I’ve realised I have an addiction to Star Wars action figures so will not attempt to jettison them again. I’m not a completist, but have amassed a sizeable quantity of toys and have very few remianing that evade me. My holy grails are four Action Fleet vehicles from the Episode One concept series – they sell for incredible prices on ebay, beyond the reach of my pocket. They feature craft based upon rejected concept art, and they are all lovely pieces of art in their own right.

4LOMKUSS: Those Episode I Action Fleet concept sets are some of the few toys from that era to retain a high value and were very nice pieces.  It’s no wonder you are sticking with your collection this time as you have been putting it to good use.  Was there any particular event, idea or inspiration that lead you to creating your photostories?

Caliber: I’ve always told stories using Star Wars toys, since A New Hope’s first theatrical release. Because I only saw the movie once at the cinema, and didn’t expect to see it again in those pre-VCR days, my only ongoing Star Wars intake was toys and the Marvel Comics adaptation-extrapolations, which took the form of Star Wars Weekly in the United Kingdom, a black-and-white reprint title. That comic, and the non-Star Wars comic-strips accompanying the main event, had a profound effect on my creativity then and now. Another significant influence was the Star Wars Newspaper Strip by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson.

When I first began collecting Star Wars toys, as an adult, it was a good few years before I started twitching to do something useful with my collection – it’s I think a waste of their purpose to keep them sealed up in boxes like museum artifacts? At first I played with them, but quickly felt embarrassed about it. So, I began pondering a way of legitimizing my adult interest in playing with toys, and eventually combined my Photoshop skills, which resulted in a series of photos … not continuous stories, but snapshots, or hooks, of any idea that dropped into my head at the time.04

I am a devotee of the comic-strip medium, and about 12 months ago, I read a few volumes of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant which deeply impressed me; they used narrative, in prose form, to elaborate upon the illustrations and avoided speech-balloons. I suddenly had the idea of treating Star Wars in the same manner; this allowed me to tear through storylines quickly, summarizing ‘between-panel’ events using prose boxes. My preference for Star Wars is blazing-fast pacing, cutting through the talky sequences, or overlaying them with action, thus avoiding the walky-talky moments that have sometimes diluted the intensity of the feature-films.

I commenced the multi-part Star Wars: Herald of Destiny! in late 2013. It was quite a shock to travel from writing hefty reference books and graphic novels to playing with toys, and took me a week or so to acclimatize myself, but I found it to be a creator of immense joy and satisfaction … most importantly, I could create stories within minutes instead of the many hours demanded by graphic novel work. Then the floodgates opened and I had more ideas than I could work through – it was exactly how I felt as a boy, in life’s innocent golden years. That feeling of elevating pleasure gets stronger with every page of photostory I complete.

4LOMKUSS: Its great to hear the early Star Wars Marvel comics had an impact on you as well. We love Star Wars comics as well and plan on exploring those old classics in future episodes of our new comic book podcast The Star Wars Spinner Rack on the Galaxy of Toys Podcast network!

Its not only your skills with Photoshop that make your photostories unique but also your knack for creating cool dioramas, backgrounds and playsets.  What are your methods for creating these kitbashed environments?

Caliber: Primarily, my rule is to never create any playset that I can’t restore back to the ‘factory default’ and employ as the manufacturer intended. I have several large boxes where I keep all the official Star Wars playsets (I say ‘all’ but I am 02 (1)missing a few) in disassembled condition so that I can mix and match as necessary to attempt to create something ‘new’. I quickly ran out of combinations, so have and currently add components from other toy-lines including GI Joe, Star Trek, Micro-machines, dollhouses and sci-fi playsets designed for young children – some have interesting towers and road-tracks, useful for concocting multistory cities. I often buy incomplete playsets, or toy spare-parts, which can have just as much value as modules. I create backdrops using vivarium and aquarium accessories – plastic printed sheets, plastic plants and artificial scenery. I trawl ebay most days, searching for anything that may fit in with a 3-3/4-inch action figure scale, or be arranged as background objects without breaking the illusion. I also, tentatively, collect action figures beyond Star Wars to use to create new characters If I’m pushed to find a suitable aesthetic from my existing stock.

Once I have selected the components I require to begin a photoshoot, I will swap, relocate or upturn them to create matching subsections or to create a better depth of field. Most sets are very small, and after I have processed them using Photoshop and return to my studio upstairs, I am always surprised how small and plain the raw set-up looks. That is part of the magic of creating an illusion – transforming bland reality into an altered state.

4LOMKUSS: As a fellow toy collector, its fun to see the skill in which you use parts of toys and playsets from other lines and series in your photostories in unique and creative ways.  Now, if you are ready, its time to face the 4LOMKUSS in a round of rapid-fire questions that we call:

~ 4LOMKUSS Unleashed ~

Figures: For play or display?  Play!

Your first Star Wars action figure?  Vintage R2-D2 (75 pence!)

Worth more to you: Red or Blue Snaggletooth?  Neither

Your Star Wars “Holy Grail”?  Episode One Action Fleet Alpha Concept Vehicles

Vintage Yakface: Have it, Want it, Pass on it!  Pass on it.

I would sell my entire collection for:  A new house ;)

Best vintage figure?  Yoda

Better girlfriend: Yarna or Jocasta Nu?  Jocasta – more dedicated

Number of figures you have?  Never enough!

Episode _____ is the best!  IV03

Vlix: Have it, Want it, Who the hell is that!  Want it, along with all the Droids figures.

Would rather be: Han or Luke?  Luke

Which lost accessory do you miss the most?  Not lost any

Most desired yet-to-be-made figure?  Father, Son and Daughter (do they count as one entity?)

Favorite Star Wars quote?  “Your focus determines your reality” (Qui-Gon Jinn)

Fight to the death winner: Rancor Keeper or Cantina Bartender?  Cantina Bartender

4-LOM stands for:  For Love Of Money

Who tastes better: Admiral Ackbar or Gamorrean Guard?  Ackbar

Plan on collecting Sequel Trilogy toys?  So long as they are not 5 POA

More desired playset/vehicle: Death Star or Sail Barge?  Sail Barge

Star Wars Rebels, will you: Watch it live, wait for Blu-ray, Probably skip it?  Watch it live, then Blu-ray

Worst character to base a standalone film on?  Lobot

Favorite collecting memory?  Being rewarded with a vintage Landspeeder by my mother for enduring a week of school canteen dinners. Still traumatized by them.

One wish for Star Wars Episode VII?  Don’t bore me, please!

~ 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?

Caliber: The Force Behind Star Wars Toyscapes (?)

054LOMKUSS:  Before we head off into hyperspace, what would be the best way for fans and collectors to read and follow your photostories?  And do you have any upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Caliber: My blog Star Wars Toyscapes features The Netherworld, and the photostory prototype Herald Of Destiny; the next story is called Brain Of The Ark, starring Chewbacca, and will feature exclusively on From 4-LOM to Zuckuss in a few weeks. All future stories will be consecutive and fill some of the gaps in my own personal Star Wars universe between Return of the Jedi and Episode VII.

4LOMKUSS: We are really looking forward to your next story arc and sharing it with the Star Wars action figure and fan communities!  Thank you so much for indulging our questions as we love to talk action figures and Star Wars nostalgia.  Now since we will be seeing your work again very soon we won’t say goodbye but, “May the Figures be with you!”