January 09, 2015

Clutter interviews Frank Kozik

The man, the myth, and also our creative director Frank Kozik celebrated his birthday this week, and that is perfect timing since Clutter just interviewed him for their 10th anniversary issue. You can read the entire issue online for free here, but we have Frank’s part  for your eyeball pleasure ready to roll now.

This just in… Frank Kozik has been named the Creative Director of Kidrobot! In light of recent events – namely the brand, becoming part of the NECA company family – the longterm potential for Kidrobot seemed brighter than ever, but where would this newfound financial freedom take the company?

A true bedrock of the Western designer toy movement, with its line-up of archetypal figures, it seems every fan wants to know where Kozik is hoping to steer the future of Kidrobot.


So is it strange for Frank Kozik to have a corporate job?

No, because I don’t have a corporate job, dude.

So you don’t see this as a corporate job?

It’s not a job. I didn’t interview, it’s not really structured that way. We have a team here, we all know each other, we’ve all been working together for a while now… some people here I’ve worked with for seven years. So it’s not like a weird job, it’s all odd, it ls not like that at all. It’s more like my thing and their thing has finally come together the way I always wanted it to.

I guess the perception is that Kidrobot is this large company…

It’s not really set up that way…

[Steve Elmes, Kidrobot l s Marketing Director, interjects:] People refer to us as a corporation, like we’re Google, but it’s kinda funny to talk about Kidrobot as a corporation. We’re a pretty small team. Large is relative; within a space we’re a well-known and recognized brand, to many a leader in the industry, and if that makes us a corporation, I guess we’re a corporation.

You know, I have a corporation too. l i ve had a corporation for twenty years, but just because you have a legal standing doesn’t mean it has to work according to certain rigid rules internally. And you know me, 1 1 m not about that anyways. I wouldn’t be here if that was the deal.

Is this going to be a full-time, hands on position or a consultancy?

It’s more the former, but I’ve been doing stuff remotely for twenty years, through — you know — these awesome things called computers and telephones. Every job I do I talk to dudes on three continents at the same time. Like, I will be spending a lot of physical time here in Boulder [Colorado, where Kidrobot ls headquarters is located] every month, but I will remain based in San Francisco.

Are you going to stop being a curmudgeon and start being cute because you work for Kidrobot?

(Laughs) I’m always cute, baby, you know that!

(Laughs) Are you going to start smiling and acting cute or can we expect the same ol’ Frank, the one that we love?

I’m not going to change what I do, it’s just that 1 1 m playing the game on a higher level now. We have real backing here! Here’s the situation, people are worried — I’ve read every single thing that people have posted on the forum and the internet in the last few days — so here’s the deal: Kidrobot will remain autonomous. It is not being absorbed into a mega corporation, we have the full logistical, manufacturing, and financial support of a really big company, but that company itself is not a traditional corporation. It’s a company is owned by a guy, who is a really smart guy, who happens to be in love with collecting toys and other interesting things, and understands what Kidrobot was, what it is, and what it should be.

There are no managers or knobs coming in, no, no, no… This is like if me and you were sitting down and going, “hey, we can do whatever we want to now, what are we going to do.” That’s the situation. It’s a really good situation, but — since we live in the real world — Kidrobot will be run properly and profitably.

So, based on what you just said, what should Kidrobot be?

Kidrobot should be the leader in the art toy scene. Kidrobot should be working with artists to make really great things, cool things, fun things, interesting, new things. Kidrobot should be part of the community; it should support the community, it should work with the community. It should be the top of everything, it should be what it always kinda coulda been and has been at times. Something for everyone to have a focus around that creates good things for everybody.

It’s like you guys, right, with the Designer Toy Awards (DTAs). You stepped up with the DTAs, and you’ve really made something special happen there, that gives people a sense of higher purpose. Kidrobot should do that for art-driven objects. That’s why I want to be here, I want to make these things and I want to see these things happen. We want to do this.

That’s fantastic. It’s kind of amazing news for the industry, so I congratulate you on pulling that off.

The people here at Kidrobot worked really hard under super brutal conditions to get to this point. They saw it through and they made it happen. I made my decision a long time ago to stick with them, because I knew it would end well. And this is so much better than the scenarios that l id considered before that it’s unreal. The partnership with NECA, like, is a really… even though they’re all licensed action figures, but they are the kings of that. What they have, dude, is total clout with manufacturing and licensing and they can make so many things easier. And they are willing to let us do our thing but give us the support. So, basically, somebody just gave us a really rad race car. You know what 1 1 m saying? It’s a really rad situation.

Was your relationship as the new creative director in the works before the purchase? Did Kidrobot approach you or did you approach them?

I’ve always had a very close relationship with Kidrobot since the first day it opened doors, right. There’s been periods where I worked super closely with them, there’s been periods where I didn’t work so closely with them, but I always sorta wanted a bigger role within Kidrobot dating back to 2006. The more we talked about, the more it made sense. Me coming onboard made things possible for them, them bring me onboard made things possible for me, so it’s a real good team partnership kinda thing.

I’ve always wanted to do this, because it’s always made sense for me personally, for the genre in general, and for Kidrobot. It is about art within a community that we want to expand and working together makes total sense to me. And it’s going to make my life a whole lot fuckin l easier, I tell you what. I am not going to be frustrated anymore, and that’s a really great payoff. I can get people to make the things l ive always wanted to see them make. And I will be able to help the community that’s been really great to me. Everybody wins, nobody loses here. That’s the main thing and that’s a really great situation.

Howls this going to affect your store and your personal release schedule?

so I might not be pumping out as many hand-painted editions in the next couple of months but overall it’s not going to affect my other things. 1 1 m still going to do what I do, there’s no limitations on me there. I’ve worked with Kidrobot x amount of hours a week anyway for the last ten years and that’s just going to go up a little bit. It’s not an entirely new situation.

So you’ll be like Gordon Ramsay, where you’re like sitting atop your organization?

No, I mean, I’mm being a real creative director. We’re going to hire a full creative staff, so 1 1 m not going to be sitting here doing the spreadsheets and all that kind of stuff. But 1 1 m not going to be daily wandering around pointing at things either. 1 1 m really interested in this stuff, you know, so what 1 1 m going to use this opportunity to do work with a lot of new artists that I think are really great. I really want to do this correctly. Amateur hour is over.

There is going to be a focus on new voices in the industry and not a reliance on the old guard?

Completely. Everybody has gotten too complacent, including myself. What you’re going to see now is us doing a lot of stuff with outside artists, but a lot of those artists no one’s ever heard of before, they just happen to be really fucking good. A lot of them happen to be people that I’ve seen a custom by online and thought, “why isn’t this a production piece?” You’ve asked yourself that question a million times in the past, right? Well, now, those are going to be production pieces, because it’s not about the status of the artist or if he’s my buddy… it’s about his design being fucking rad. If it makes sense to make it, if people are going to love it, it’s going to get made.

Will there still be a broad price point spectrum of releases, like the blind boxes up to the Kidrobot Black?

Yes. All the core price points will still be there. And I’m actually thinking about adding another size and price point to take advantage of Japanese vinyl. So, we’ll see…

Can you say more about that?

We need a category of item that allows small retailers to have really limited runs in unique colorways with unique packaging, and I think sofubi is the way to do that. That’s good for everybody too… it’s good for the collectors, it’s good for the specialty retailers, it’s good for us.

So actually produced in Japan?

Yea, not China fake, but actual made in Japan vinyl. I’m already doing that with all my stuff anyways, so why not give that a shot too. But that’s just a wild idea, not official policy. I have some ideas for new stuff that makes sense, that no one’s really done.

[Elmes interjects:] I think it’s important to temper all this, we’re in a marathon now and not a sprint race. You know how long it takes to produce anything in vinyl and the truth is that some changes are beginning now, getting product in the pipeline flowing again, things of that nature. We’ll be focusing on our website. Currently our website is not a great experience, but the backing of a company like NECA allows us to layer on their IT department to make the shopping experience great and include things like international shipping options. All the basic things that people have been asking for years, that’s what you’ll see quickly. The product flow, it’ll be six months, twelve months, eighteen months, that’s when you l ll see the changes there.

Basically, you know, in my creative director role, I’m not imposing any limits. I want to give back to the community, I want to make the experience for fans better at conventions and stuff. We’re going to invite people into the party. We’re going to do more personal outreach kinda stuff. That’s my way of dealing with this and that’s going to expand more for Kidrobot. We want Kidrobot to be a good experience for the fans of the stuff.

Is there going to be some direction from Kidrobot into homewares? It’s something we’ve heard rumored for a while…

It’s definitely something that’s been talked about a lot and I think it would make a lot of sense, we make these really nice sculptural objects, they should have a second use in the home. They should be made in other materials. That’s certainly a program that we’re going to totally investigate and remain open to. Everybody here has good ideas about that. We’re going to keep doing the best vinyl toys we can, but there are no limits… there’s room for those too, I think.

So the focus won’t be strictly on toys now, it will remain multi-tiered?

The core focus is going to be on artcentered toys, but there’s always room for other things that are associated with them if it makes sense. We’re not going to make a set of dishes and not make a toy, we’re going to do both if it makes sense.

When do you think we can expect to see some of the new releases from Kidrobot?

Oh, I’m hoping that you’re going to see brand new stuff that’s not already in the pipeline by next spring, [San Diego] ComicCon at the latest. I’ve already triaged some existing stuff and brought some new stuff to the table, we’ve already started some new stuff but it takes six to eight months to get stuff made, if it goes really well. Right now, like Steve said, we’ve already cleaned some clogs in the pipes, some stuff that was going to get made, I decided we’re not going to make it. Other stuff that was passed on, was actually pretty cool and we’re going to make it. I’ve brought some new things to the table. On the backside, I’m reaching out to artists… of course, can’t name any names. That process has already started.

All the problems have been fixed. All the shit that was broken has been fixed. We’re ready to roll, so now we start rolling. It’s all in place, now we move forward.


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