Thanks goes out to DanOfTheDead and drbindy for making this interview with chewie possible.
This interview is coming from a site about customizing G.I. Joes, and is being asked of a guy who is well known for his place in the Star Wars community, including customizing Star Wars figures. That scenario isn't nearly as weird today, as it might have been 5 years ago, is it?
First, I really appreciate being approached for this interview.
For those that don't know me, I was born in 1977, and like so many kids in the 1980s, I was blown away by Star Wars and GI JOE. I've been a Star Wars collector in the modern era since 1995, and began simple customs around that time too, but really didn't get too involved in that aspect of the hobby until 2005, when I finally landed a career that gave me a normal work schedule. With a normal work schedule, I found I had more time to devote to that part of the hobby, and also became very interested in photonovels.
I am currently an administrator at www.yakface.com - I work on news features with the Star Wars hobby, but my primary role is involvement in the customizing community. Your site is a lot of fun, and while Star Wars is more of my passion, I still enjoy GI JOE a lot and collect quite a bit of the figures myself. Mostly I use my son as an excuse to still make GI JOE purchases these days, but I truly love this stuff. In fact if in the mid 1990s, Hasbro had handled GI JOE more along the lines like they do now, I might actually be bigger into GI JOE than Star Wars.
Also I agree with you - I really don't think it's weird at all, as there's such a huge crossover these days in the Star Wars and GI JOE fan base. I think a lot of it has to do with how a lot of us grew up in the 1980s - we got into 3-3/4" scale figures with Star Wars, and then moved to GI JOE. And as customizers, so many of us are always looking for good parts across different toy brands for our creations.
I can't speak for others, but I personally do look at GI JOE customs from time to time across different sites. I am always interested in seeing good customs in the 3-3/4" scale regardless of the toy line. Of course though Star Wars and GI JOE are the most interesting to me.
It seems like the biggest distinction these days between SW customs and Joe customs are some simple construction differences. What is one thing you like better about SW figs, and one thing you like better about Joe figs?
Yeah, I definitely feel there are major differences in the construction of the figures. Personally, I prefer the Star Wars style from an aesthetic standpoint for the look of the figures are well as for customizing. Unfortunately a lot of GI JOE figures end up with wobbly hips (my 3 year old son even gets upset by it and I have to fix them by making the metal leg hinges or whatever they're called thicker by applying super glue and letting it dry).
The style of the legs really causes another problem for me as a customizer - I like the traditional boil-n-pop method that can be done with most Star Wars figures... you know, how on the Joes, their arms are soft plastic, as are their shins... I wish the whole figure was made like that. The plastic on the Star Wars figures is usually softer, which is so much easier to work with (but back in the 90s, the torsos were a harder plastic, which I don't like). And to be honest, I can be quite lazy with figures from time to time. Knowing I can simply heat up a figure to take it apart easily helps motivate me to start on new projects when I've in a customizing drought.
However, that's not to say that I don't feel there aren't some advantages with GI JOE figures... I think the most obvious one is that it's very easy to do head swaps with them. That's such a great thing... hands can usually be swapped out too without any effort. So that is such a nice starting point for any one I think. After that though, I have to admit I've never delved into customizing a GI JOE figure to much detail other than a head or hands swap (yet!). And as far as articulation goes, GI JOE rules... and as a matter of fact, I feel the Pursuit of Cobra line is the best line of action figures available these days. But I do wish they'd change the hips/thighs some.
A majority of those of us who customize today are children of the 70s and 80s. What were the toys that inspired you as a child to still stay in the hobby as an adult?
Well, Star Wars and GI JOE for sure. As a kid I also was into Transformers and Masters of the Universe, but Star Wars was what really inspired me through most of my early years as a child.
I believe it was 1985 when I really started finding GI JOE interesting, but it wasn't until 1987 that my parents ever got me any GI JOE figures, which was on my 10th birthday. I always got Transformers in 1985 and 1986, even though I remember asking for GI JOE for Christmas in 1986... but that all changed when I finally was able to get my first GI JOE figures. For the next three years I amassed quite a GI JOE collection and was also able to backtrack and get some of the older GI JOE items that were no longer in stores by making trades with friends. I can still remember being ecstatic over have three of the blue Cobra troopers... even back then; I preferred the early style Joes and Cobras...
Like a lot of kids, once I became a teenager, I decided I had to get away from toys... that was really in the early 1990s. But then I remember in the Fall of 1995, stumbling upon a POTF2 Han Solo and Chewbacca, and bought them. Next thing I knew, I was knee deep in Star Wars collecting. I was 18, and was past the age of being scared to buy toys.
Your photonovel work has been one of your calling cards. Obviously a lot of your customs are made to fulfill specific roles in your story. But does it ever work the other way around? Has a figure you made independently of your photonovel ever inspired you to work it into the plot, or have you ever reworked where the story was headed to accommodate a new custom you were particularly proud of?
Actually, I would say that is rarely the case where I made a figure and decided to make a big role for the character. It has happened before with one character though. In the story arc of Rykrof Enloe, I had always envisioned that his mother was a Jedi, but never fleshed much out beyond that. When I made the custom of a certain character, I came up with the idea that this guy was a former Jedi, had defeated Rykrof's mother when Rykrof was just a child, and thus was too young to ever remember her.
Is your story-telling style one where you have it all mapped out like a movie script, then do the shoots in line with that? Or is it an evolving/dynamic story?
Well, early on, I created very simple storyboards and then shot the pictures. That was actually more organized in a sense, but I really rushed my work back then.
In the later chapters, I always had an idea of the story arc, but my main method of planning was just creating the customs and dioramas, and then shooting all the scenes with as many photos as I could muster.
Then I would take the photos, and work in the dialogue/text. Because it's a lot easier for me to edit text to try and match the story being told in the picture than vice versa. I kind of let the photos dictate what the dialogue and text will be... because even for a scene that only has 10 pics, I might take up to 500 pictures to try and get the most crisp/clear ones that I can... and also do as little digital editing as possible as I am terrible at it.
Customizers often sell off, trade, or recycle pieces they have made. Is there any one item you regret not owning today? Pics?
Well, I rarely sell anything but have in the past when I need some money for a future purchase or when bills are tight. I never have made a custom with the intention of making money off it... usually when I do sell something; I try and look at what I would be willing to pay for it. Would I pay $40 or $50 for a custom? Probably not, because I could just try and make my own.
So in the rare occasion that I do sell something, I don't like to charge more than $20 for any custom if I can avoid it, because that's about the maximum amount I'll pay for most custom figures - a lot of that has to do with knowing I can roll up my sleeves and try my own hand at a custom if I want it badly enough. However I don't think less of anyone who makes good money off their custom work - more power to them.
I've seen Rykrof Enloe customs made by customizers other than just yourself. How does it feel to have created an original character (first) and figure (second) that others become fans of enough to want to recreate for their own collection?
I'm a little indifferent to it, I guess.
I think it meant more to me a few years ago than it does now though, because in perspective things in my life have changed a lot over the past few years. Before I had a child, I have to say that customizing really was my favourite thing to do for several years... but now it's being a dad. So while the spark is still there, it doesn't have the impact on me that it used to.
How much of the set building for the Enloe photonovel was done by you personally?
Well, looking across 32 chapters, I did a lot of it, but quite a few of the sets were made by my friend Owen Driscoll, who runs www.owenscustoms.com - without the pieces that he made for me, this series would have probably not have been nearly as fun. I suggest anyone reading this check out his site... this guy should be working for Hasbro.
A lot of customizers dream of being able to take their work to another (i.e. paid for doing it) level. Your work is often high profile, in addition to being high quality - have you ever been approached with offers to take your style of story-telling to a professional realm?
No, I haven't been approached by anyone for that. I always have had a wishful dream that some day I might work for a company doing some sort of film work, but I never took the initiative to pursue it. There's countless people who have talents that have never been able to be shared, and countless who have more talent than I ever could dream of having. I think I have a bit of a unique story telling vision, and if I had the resources and time, I'd be able to put something together that would be very cool... but I realized when I was younger that the odds of something actually coming of it career wise were so slim, that I chose to pursue a life that was more attainable. If I was approached, I would be ecstatic and would absolutely consider it, but I have no regrets.
Is there a custom or project that you're particularly proud of, or one that surprised you with how well it came out?
To be honest, I've never been all that impressed by my customs. There's very few that I feel really capture what I am going for... it's not like I do much sculpting - what I do is buy a lot of figures, and take them apart and see what could go together with parts from other figures, and then repaint them. To me, almost anyone can do that if they just have enough desire to. So I've never felt talented in that area at all. I just practice at it, a lot.
But I do have to say I'm proud of the photonovel series; for having virtually no background in editing, photoshop, etc., I'm pleased with it. I could go back and read all the chapters and nitpick them to no end, but that might just drive me nuts so after I completed my final chapter, I sat back and exhaled. It was a long road that took several years... so many people who have tried their own series ended up quitting because all the time that goes into them, so I was glad that I did finish it. And it's actually quite nice not having the series hanging over me right now... that's not to say that I don't have an itch to someday tell the rest of the Rykrof Enloe story, but for now I am content with where it's at - over. But if I could make it a full time job, I'd be all over it - because it is FUN. Real life however has to come first (family, work, health, etc.).
Again, thank you for the interview. I really appreciate the opportunity and hope that your readers found some of this insightful. And as my son gets older, I can see myself getting into GI JOE customizing quite a bit so I can make him more figures.
Update: Links to customs and dio stories
Ok - finished up a figure - Rykrof Enloe - Code Name: Night Strike
If you want to show any pics of my Star Wars customs/photonovels, I just grabbed a few URLs... you can direct people to www.yakface.com if you want, that is up to you. But here's some links to a few of my favorite custom shots, from photonovels:
Also the photonovel series is all hosted here:
I also have some older customizing work hosted here: