Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 367

Day 367 January 2nd

            Ushering in the 10th anniversary of the Minimates I have conducted a series of interviews with people that were involved with the creation of Minimates ten years ago as well as the people involved with keeping them going strong today!  Here is the first of these interviews.

10th anniversary interviews – Digger Mesch

Part 1 - 
First off let me thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me for Portrait of an Addiction, I am glad to hear that you are enjoying the blog!

Digger - I love the fact that Minimates is still alive and kicking. People like you and the other fans of the brand have really made the effort worthwhile over 12 years later - I feel like it's just getting started! 

 Seeing how this is coming at the start of 2012 I thought what better for the start of the 10th anniversary year of Minimates then to chat with the man, the myth and the legend behind them.  Can you tell me a bit about what your initial thoughts were behind creating minimates?

D - Art Asylum was still quite young at the time and we were doing everything from creating concepts for entertainment to invention. Art Asylum was not a toy company; we were a design house that was striving to be an entertainment company. After a few years of freelancing for other companies under the Art Asylum banner and a few bad investors we finally got investment money to get in the game with our own products. Adam Unger came in as a new partner to AA and we needed to dial in what we were going to do year one. 

I was developing as many concepts as I could with my team that my gut told me might be worthwhile. Minimates was one of many things that we had on the development table. MINIMATES, "N' The Box, Standard Action figures,18 inch figures with full articulation and sound an urban vinyl line I can’t remember the name of off hand. Lots of stuff and most of it way ahead of every other company on the scene at the time. McFarlane was doing semi articulated action figures that were highly detailed and unlike all the other wanna be companies out there I wanted ART ASYLUM  to be unique. 

I was inspired by a lot of things that were going on in Japan and even though we were known for doing highly detailed action figures I really was and still am bored to death with realism. Nelson Ascencio and Manny Jesus were the core of my design team and MINIMATES was a group effort by the team. I knew more or less what I wanted but we really did more work than you would think to arrive at the final design that would be the template for the thousands of figures to come.

 I was inspired like we all were at the studio by Kubricks and everything that was happening in Japan. Everyone kept comparing us to Lego and we really didn't think much of the Lego figures. Kubrick got out ahead of us and I wanted to do something similar but better. More movement, more paint operations and most importantly something that would work in the American market.  I rarely looked at the other companies in the USA when we were creating. Nelson was an Animae nut (you can see it in Minimates eye designs among other things) and Manny was a super high tech Trek freak among other things so a lot of our group aesthetics were similar. Games, animation and in my case I gravitated a lot towards fine art. Minimates was more of an art experiment than a product at the time for us. Minimalism. 

I remember when I first saw the 3 inch Minimates in my local Wal-Mart and how I was instantly struck by 2 things – 1 the styling of the body, and 2 the size.  Was there a particular reason for the smaller scale at a time when the general toy market was going in the other direction, ie larger figures?

D - That first line up we did was the size we thought would work best. They had a lot of movement and the smaller you go the more difficult it is to deal with joints and details. If you look at the first waves of Star Trek, KISS, Ozzy, Rob Zombie, Alive Cooper, Iron Maiden and more the style is different. They have less going on - a bit more like Kubrick in terms of paint operations. WE had them packaged in collector tubes so you could stack and display them. WE put a lot of heart and soul into the lines. Take note that they had a full credit list for all the artists on the package as well. I had already started making waves for artists getting credit in the USA in the toy world and I remember this was one of the first projects that we did that was not a traditional highly detailed action figure sculpture and many people were saying that this is for kids - we don’t need to do credits . A few of the indie companies had started giving credit because I was making everyone look bad if they didn’t do the same. MINIMATES was even more important to me to put credits on it because I looked at it as this truly unique project that could cross over to both the kids and the adult market. I wanted kids to have our work and recognize that it was art. MINIMATES was the perfect vehicle for that. 

Sadly - this first line didn’t do well. It was too new; our sales team was really shit at selling eclectic products. It was our first year and our financial partners were making millions off of their girls products but really didn’t know what the F$#K to do with us. They kept using straight mass sales formulas for everything we did and we didn’t have mass licenses yet. MINIMATES like "N' The BOX (another one of my babies) was deemed a failure and we were told to dump it and move on because we only sold like 30 k units or something. Numbers by today’s collectable standards would have been deemed more than OK.  

It took another year to get Minimates back on the grid and it took my good friend Chuck Terceira at Diamond and the Marvel license to resurrect it or it would never be what it is today. 

There were some great licenses in the 3 inch lines!  Were there any of those that you were particularly a big fan of, released or unreleased?

D - We did so many things back then and honesty I can't remember most of it. We did at least 3 other versions of every rock star, Eminem I think and that got canceled during the madness with his public image blowing up in a bad way for mass retailers. They banned everything we did at the time. We had the news coming to the studio to cover our Eminem products and make us look like we were bad people for making toys based on a drug addicted rapper blah blah blah. I ran with that press as far as I could take it but MINIMATES was something that EMINEMS people actually canceled on us because his management was afraid his image was going too Britney Spears pop and they desperately wanted to play the bad boy card so no matter how much I tried to explain to them that this was art and it was for an adult most people I dealt with they didn’t get it until everyone else did it . Art Asylum was ahead of everyone by years. That’s not a theory, that’s a fact. It's just as bad to be too early with something as too late. Timing is everything in any creative field whether it's art, film, music whatever and I was moving at light speed hoping the market would get it in time. LOL - I was delusional in that regard more often than not because we had zero advertising dollars to spread a clear message. We were in all the trades and mainstream press because I was good at getting press and finding some angle or human interest story to associate with our work and get people to take notice but straight up ads would have helped for sure. 

The designer lines we were trying to do just never got off the ground. Nelson had tons of cool things with our design team that they were pumping out way ahead of the whole designer toy craze in the USA but we couldn’t get our investors to agree to anything that was risky or art house. We did a lot of promotional figures for other companies - printing logos on the chests and injecting them in solid colors - give aways for companies that Adam was building relationships with. I liked a lot of that stuff and if there are collectors trying to have complete collections out there I think it might be next to impossible to find most of that stuff. 

 MINIMATES broke through because of Marvel and anything Marvel was so hot that it was selling itself. I started my art career with Marvel pretty much...the part of it I consider seriously anyway and it seemed appropriate that Marvel would be what helped us get Minimates next level. 

Stay tuned for more with Digger as well as more interviews in the days to come!


  1. Agreed, great interview and insight into MiniMates. Can't wait to see what's next!

  2. This is great stuff, Jeff. Good work fella! :)