Drbindy Interview

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How did customizing Johnny West figures lead into customizing GI Joes?

You can thank my then new-born son for that on two counts. First, what is now his room used to be my display room for Johnny West, both my vintage collection and my customs. Once I had to box up all of that stuff, I was really lacking in a creative outlet (even if I had my hands full of dirty diapers to make up for it).

Then, while shopping for my son's first Christmas, I made a rare visit to Toys R Us. Keep in mind, when your hobby is a toy line that stopped making anything new in the 1970s (although some great repro stuff is now being made with the Marx license), there's not much reason to go to TRU. But on this trip, I had my first encounter with 25th Anniversary Snake Eyes. I lied to my wife that I was buying it for Luke's future collection, but had the package opened within days. I had made trips down the toy aisle over the years, and always found myself unimpressed with where G.I. Joe had ended up. But that wasn't the case with this figure. It was only a matter of days before I had the 5-pack, and had started on Knighthawk v.1 (which was a really horrible figure that hasn't - and won't see the light of day - lol). At what was then $5 per Joe figure, compared to an average cost of $30 for a Johnny West figure in decent shape on ebay (not counting a ton more for rare vintage versions), I felt like I'd be saving some money by switching the medium of my customizing.

Of course I never knew I'd become the fodder junky I am today, and that I'd spend just as much as before, to acquire 10 times as much junk.

Some people have asked me about the Johnny West stuff, so here's a link to some of what I used to do.

Understand, there are masters in that genre, just as there are here, and I was not one of them. Overall, I enjoy customizing Joes a ton more. They take paint much much easier than JW figs, and they break much much less often. You can also attempt to customize larger groups, and settings with Joes. Overall, my creativity has been really fueled more at this level, than it had been prior.

As a side note, it was during this same time that my mom found two carded figures in her basement, from my childhood. RAH Destro and RAH Firefly. My first venture onto any Joe Board was to hawk these "finds" - which were not so carefully jammed into a container (of Johnny West toys, to be precise) as a child, because I was mad to have got duplicates of each. Who knew such anger would go on to fund the start of an adult hobby involving G.I. Joes?

How did Knighthawk and the Paladin Knights come about?

One interest of mine that carried on even past my teenage loss of interest in toys, was science fiction in general, and the RPG Star Frontiers specifically. Even after I stopped playing it, I often found myself creating characters and stories. Knighthawk was a character I created probably 15 years ago, and the Paladin Knights were a way to have medieval action in a sci-fi setting, without being a blatant rip-off of Star Wars or Dune. The original back story involved the Paladin Knights from a future planet named Avalon. I have some artwork I had done which pretty closely resembles a couple of my Knighthawk customs, thought the art was made more than a decade before I had even heard of toy customizing.

Once I decided to use Joes as a way to tell a story, it only made sense to me to bring Knighthawk and the Paladins into the mix. Truth be told, I started out hoping to simply make some original custom figures that would fit in with G.I. Joes, and maybe be a small contemporary team of soldiers that paid a slight homage to the characters I had made before. But that was before I started seeing the customs at JCs of all my favorite childhood heroes. Once I decided I wanted Batman done my way, and then decided I wanted a one-stop play arena for Steeler, Han Solo, and the rest to join in, my verse became what it is today.

To be honest, I will always add to the EXCAL verse. Because I have so many existing fictional characters I want to translate into plastic form, I don't see stopping. But I am leaning heavily towards some story-line points which will start to phase out the original characters from EXCAL and make EXCAL an all-star verse only, which it has already become in many respects.

The trade-off would be that I am outlining a project now that will take some of my favorite original characters, and some never before revealed, and put them back into the sci-fi setting they were created for, in an all original verse, with all original stories and characters, and figures. That may sound like a big yawn, but for me to fully create parts of a story I started so long ago, and to now have the confidence in my ability to render those characters with both words and plastic, I think I'd regret if I didn't try it.

A teaser pic of a new character for the new story

But just as with my recent Han Solo custom, I expect to keep altering existing characters to fit into EXCAL.

What is your favorite custom?

I'm not going to lie. It's usually whichever figure is the most recent Knighthawk I am tweaking. lol! Beyond that, I think I am happiest with the results of my Green Arrow. There's nothing I would change on that one, and that's a rare thing for me to say. Well, nothing except for how I strung the bow - thanks to bcost for making me feel inadequate on that front. I guess I'm moving him back to the work bench after all.

My favorite custom by someone else changes daily. It's hard to not still be envious of Keenan's Colonial Marines APC though, or headandhand's ridiculous Cortez and his intricately detailed figs though. Plus I recently traded for some of gijoey's wolfmen, and they are superb. Pictures don't do them justice.

What is the one item you wish you had?

A lot of the people say the Flagg, but I honestly was never obsessed with needing one. From my childhood, I wish I had my WHALE back, with the crew I had given it, including Steeler, Flint, and other faves. Today, I wish I had lucked into a good price on the Big Millennium Falcon - especially now that I have a Han figure I like.

"Wanted: Looking for a ship that can make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, must be priced reasonably" - H.S.

Which characters outside of GI Joe do you find interesting?

That's too long to list. Every day I discover a new character that I had missed out on previously, that someone here at JCs introduces me too. I like most of the same stuff everyone else does - Star Wars, Superheroes, etc... I am a big Lord of the Rings fan, fan of Dune, and hot on my to-do list are the monster hunters from my current favorite books, based on the fictional organization of Monster Hunter International. But I admit I am a sucker for characters and stories that combine elements of fantasy and sci-fi.

Do you go to anybody for feedback when you are stuck on a custom?

Definitely. If you want to know what I'm up to before I post something, you can bet either gijoey or Chief know about it. If I need input on props or dio bits, then I'd talk to Cap for sure, as well. Sometimes if I have a specific character I need input on, I might talk to someone who I know is a big fan of that character - like asking for input from Mysterious Stranger on a RockNRoll custom. But overall, I really feel like the critiques section at JCs is a big reason for my growth in customizing, and with it, I find it hard to ever be truly stuck. I can't count how many great ideas I've got from a critiques post, or how many times I've been shamed into turning a short-cut into doing something the right way. And I feel like I'm much better for it. I'm the critiques section's biggest fan, no doubt about it.

How do you decide which project comes next?

If only I were able to work on one project at a time...

As it stands, it's all a matter of where my apparent attention deficit disorder takes me. Some people get obsessed and can't stop until one figure is done. I usually can't complete one figure before I've started ten more. Basically I finish the ones that I feel like I'm ready to do right. I sat on my Green Arrow project a long time, waiting til I knew I could finish with a quality figure. Same with Solo. I make myself go slower now. But it's less about which project do I "start" next and more about which project do I feel I'm capable of "finishing" next.

Have you had an area of customizing that was/is a sore spot for you and what have you done to improve?

Scultping used to give me fits, then I realized that I don't need to be so grand in my objectives. Now that I've scaled back the size of my sculpting projects, the quality has improved a ton (since I'm known by some for scultping large female anatomical parts, you can take that comment however you please...) ;)

An area I want to push myself in is doing more non-figure work. I'm waiting for a move to a new house though, before I start anything too big. I have some huge dioramas laid out in my mind though, and I remain jealous of Cap and of JFAK075/Keenan for some of the exquisite pieces they've been creating.

The one area I want to really amp up my game in though is in photography and presentation. I can't wait to try to recreate the photo set-up that DanOfTheDead has, for example. His outstanding customs are outweighed only by his ridiculous photography and presentation. I think the same has always been true of Rateeg and Jin Saotome as well. That's one thing I've always felt behind on, and I hope to improve upon that at some point.

What advice can you give to those who are picking up a paint brush for the first time?

Well the first answer has to be to set that brush back down and cool your jets there turbo! lol. Seriously though, I think I improved the most once I started to slow down the process. Ask yourself, are you really ready to put paint to plastic yet? Have you thinned out your paints? That's the most important thing I learned early on. Thin out the paint and apply in thin coats, not all at once. Have you picked the right parts and/or prep'd them so as to minimize chipping? That's the other thing I do - I'm bad at painting joints, so I try really hard to find parts that match the desired color in advance. So before you start painting, ask if the parts you have will work for that. Will you have to interrupt your painting later on to replace a joint or sand down one that wasn't ready?

The other thing I've been doing a lot more of is Rit dying pieces to a base color more compatible with my ultimate desired look. It's a little more work, but has so far really proven to be worth it, in terms of playability.

If you went on vacation and had room for a few toys, what would you bring?

The biggest leap here is me actually getting a vacation, lol. On vacation, I think I'd pack up as many of my son's Imaginext toys as would fit, and get my toy-playing vicariously through and with him. I think my wife would kill me if I did anything more than that on a real vacation.

Thanks for letting me talk about customizing. I really get a lot out of my involvement in the customizing community - it's a great creative outlet and stress relieving outlet for me, and Joecustoms, especially is a home for me in that sense.

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