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May 9, 2004

{     Interview : Attaboy     }    

Blessed with tons of pure dumb genius, Attaboy has managed to cover the globe with his hallucinatory cartoon-character vision. This renegade toy designer gone AWOL from the industry has recently come full-circle, releasing his first original toy, Axtrx, to high praise from the collectible market. With the "I Hate Cartoons" cartoon festival he curates ready to go on tour, his collaborative music effort Attaboy + Burke ready to throw down a full-length album, and with lots more toys and art in the works, the Attaboy virus is ready to spread.

Adam: Before I even knew who you were I was loving your work. Your redesigned series of classic kid's games for Milton Bradley had a style that just got me grinning. I was at a party and they had come up with a drinking game involving Don't Spill the Beans. I loved that game as a kid and seeing it there in a new context (whilst the brain was soaking in alcohol) was too much. It turned out that the girl who was throwing the party had all the games, and a drinking game made up for each one. (Except Cootie- they were just strewn all over her apartment.) I had so much fun that night, especially after we abandoned the drinking game pretense and got down to just old-school kid-style game-playing. I even accidentally (drunkenly) stole a Cootie from her. So thanks for the good times! I know you kicked it at Fashion Institute of Technology, learning toy design, but how did you end up with the Milton Bradley redesign project?
Attaboy: Pure stupid beginner's enthusiasm. I landed a job at MB right outta toy school. The guy who hired me was a toy maven named Phil Grant (thanks Phil!) who must've wanted to piss someone off..MB was a straight laced division of Hasbro and I was at the time a weird haired guy with strange ideas and zero experience. I moved to Massachusetts, was driving without a license and wearing a tie everyday to meetings about Candy Land and Lucky Ducks. The design people there were rock stars to me- having created Chicken Limbo, Gator Golf, Simon, and Hungry Hungry Hippos fer chrissakes. So I figured I'd better come up with as many ideas as I could before they figured out the mistake and fired me. I noticed it was Cootie's anniversary, drew up my version of the thing complete with lotsa themed parts (the Cootie's hat looks coincidentally similar to Ed Norton's hat in the Honeymooners by the way), showed it to the president of the company and he said "Redesign the whole line!". So there I was- a guy just outta school given free range (with cost constraints) to properly taint a classic line.

Since going solo you've been involved in a lot of different creative mediums- from painting and sketching to musical endeavors, literary ramblings and kick-starting I Hate Cartoons. Was it always a goal to work back towards toy design and production?
No it wasn't. And I never really thought about the cyclical nature of things until I went back to Toy Fair this past year showing the Nub Nub line in the Indy Toy Growers section with Rock America, Strangeco, the Gobler Toys Guys, Friends With You, etc. The whole trip was deja weird. I felt like I was getting away with something, like showing my underwear to crowds of business people. Any time anyone "gets" the personal stuff I'm a step closer to Nirvana (no , not a shot gun to the head , but a place where there's both flavors of Hawaiian Punch always on tap).

How proud are you of Axtrx? I keep imagining you cradling the first one off the production line in swaddling clothes, holding it to your man-breast so that it might suckle upon your tepid milk. Do you feel like a father now, or is my sicko vision completely off-base?
Man, my - teats are sore for sure! But that has nothing to do with Axtrx.

Will you be adding to the family soon? What's up next, toy-wise?
Axtrx's brother Qweshun should be next if I ever find a final version I'm satisfied with... but Pound, Coma, and Ape Ostrophe are scheduled. I'm also heavily involved in a line called the Embryo Project. Lookout, momma. And a mini line of characters with features is also in the works. That and Plush toys that hate their fuzzy selves.

I know that you're a long-time admirer of classic and vintage toys. What toys (or designers) from back in the day are you inspired by?
All the American toys and inventors from the 60's. Mr. Machine, Odd Ogg, King Zor from pioneering toy inventor Marvin Glass�

How about new-school toys? I was hoping you'd list some faves from the collectible market, both toys and designers.
Lemme take a look around this place� Dave Cooper's Pip and Norton, The Woodring toys, Alex Pardee's Bunnywith, and Friends With You gave me a Mr.T T T at Toy Fair & I'm trying to steal back from my girlfriend. Junko Mizuno's dolls are super rad as well.

What's your take on the current mass-market toy industry? What (if anything) do you like out there right now?
I've always liked the unlicensed pre-school stuff, where things can go abstract and strange, that's where a lot of the innovation lies. I've got an extensive collection of water filled teethers hanging off my drawing table but I'm not sure why�grrrrrnnnnnk.

I just heard Attaboy + Burke, your collaborative Science-Ninja-Team-esque musical undertaking. (1000Robots is now officially my favorite song by the way.) It looks like you have a lot of fun, and your performances have become somewhat renowned. Any plans for a tour?
We took some time off (a whole year actually) and have a return show in June planned and we are finishing off our first full length which will be released soon after, this time with an emphasis on doctors, filing cabinets, tractor pulls, puddle jumping, and errr. ..Mary Poppins. I await another A+B tour with these here marbles in my mouth, so someone figure out show dates quick. mmmmfff�its hard to drink liquids.

I noticed the rather large poster of Spike Jones in your studio. Aside from the Clown Prince of Musical Comedy, what are you listening to these days?
The Bouncing Souls feed my stereo nicely, as do the Magnetic Fields, TMBG, Rancid, Tom Lehrer, Tenacious D., Sifl and Olly, Morphine, Dead Milkmen, and MC Chris, for sure. Stereolab is naked time music.

Whether you're reading your poetry to school children or putting in time as a workshop panelist to help others in "Being Seen as a Visual Artist", you're a regular damn pillar of the community. Is this community service for some undisclosed crime, or are you really the nice guy I've been led to believe?

Your South by Southwest posters are really nice. Did you attend the festival? Do you have any desire to do more rock/gigposter work?
Thanks. That was a blast. I plan on doing more silkscreened prints, but not too many posters�oh wait, it says I have to do one next week for Laughing Squid,,,oh uhm yes, I'll be doing one other poster with words on it.

You seem to have a knack for whipping out endearing characters, and much of your work seems character-oriented. Do these characters each have a backstory? Is narrative structure and dialogue something, as a writer, that you inject into your work whether the audience sees it or not?
Yes. More so because things need reasons for me .. honestly its free therapy,, Except made into vinyl or put on paper. Its how I deal with things�it helps straighten things out... makes sense of it all. That's why I'm amazed when people respond the way they have been.

I understand you have a pitch for an animated series- what can you tell us about that?
Not yet�but soon. Ok, heres something:
One episode deals with an over abundance of butter.

What's going on with the "I Hate Cartoons Festival"? Are you planning to take it on the road?
Yuppers, check the site for updates� I'll be touring with the film fest as host, with the Yo-Yo King and Daniel Smith, the Rubber Boy.

With all that you've been involved in its no surprise to find your work turning up in gallery shows. Is it any harder to face a gallery crowd than it is to know that millions of people are viewing your work through Tower Record's distribution of Gush and your 2004 calendar?
I never really thought of it that way. Now I'm frightened. Damn. I hate you. You've ruined it all.

Your stand-ups draw a weird line between sculpture, canvas and installation while also calling to mind the cheesier end of point-of-purchase marketing. How have people responded to them?
I started making those for my first solo show back in 2001 at Culture Cache Gallery with the idea that I wanted the characters to , for the first time, be larger than the people viewing them. It's an idea I had since I was a lil kid�I'm working on a punch - out Diorama book (aka paper doll book) of them called Abusement Park with Tower Records that should be out this summer.

Are stand-ups something you would like to eventually offer alongside affordable prints, or are you keeping those strictly one-offs on the fine-art tip?
Hmm. I kinda like them being hand painted versions of mass produced Character schlock. But who knows ? Schlock can be good if it's honest shlock. Plus one of the character's names is Shlocky, so I guess he would be first. Because that makes perfect sense now... right? I've changed my mind now.

As someone who has been considered both a commercial artist and a fine artist, where do you see yourself and your work?
My intentions have always been the same and even when I was doing commercial work, I always thought at the end of the day, that I worked for myself. So it's all very similar to me. How you survive and manage not to kill anyone today is the true art form. People dealing with jobs they despise to feed their kids are high-end performance artists and deserve grants and awards. I consider myself a creator�. Nowadays artists tend to have extensive bios and statements about who they "studied with"... I can give you a list of the candy in my closet which is as equally un- or ultra- important. Just a guy trying to "verb" and get away with it.

Any closing comments, rants or shout-outs?
I wish I had a posse to shout out to. Maybe now's the time to make one Up� G-good, Mecha Lecha- sport it low cat�Muffin Eater, Axtrx, Qweshun, I gotcha back. A word to Precious Roy: Weasel's on your breath, man, weasles on your right.. Make mine Minolta. Lickem High Y'all. Graduate from Lickem High. Class of '00 ought know better. Peace in the Middle Yeast. Risem and thighzem. Wesley Willis: Ride that Bus ride, straight to heaven.

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