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Disneyland of the Damned

The comics, cartoons, and cats behind Frank Kozik's demented-cute art.

SLIDESHOW

Frank Kozic

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This is a masterwork from the Disneyland sign-painting department, done by one of the old guys. It has every bell and whistle, every trick in the book: real hand lettering, cut glass, foiling, shadows—all hand done. There’s only one. Piece of the park, baby.”

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“There’s always been a cat around. First, there was Walter, the rock ’n’ roll cat. He met all the famous musi- cians. Now it’s Eddie. Eddie’s famous. He has his own Facebook page.”

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“Bird Is the Word was my first mass-produced political piece. It led to an entire sequence of similar works—basically the opposite end of the spectrum from the cute stuff.”

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“Everything I’ve ever drawn has been drawn with a Staedtler Mars Lumograph F pencil.”

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“I make all my art while sitting on this chair, which is probably from the ‘40s. It’s the most amazing, durable, comfortable thing ever.”

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“Marvel Comics artist Jack Kirby is a big influence for me—he’s unrivaled. So I have my Jack Kirby posters.”

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“I’m into industrial and pseudo-industrial stuff. When you’re in school and you dissect a pig, they give you this to throw it away. Somebody actually got paid to design a disposal bag for fucking fetal pig parts. And they made it all jolly. How weird is that?”

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“Richard Scarry illustrated the best kids’ books, the rad- dest of the rad. That’s an original two-page spread.”

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“These 70 volumes of Ballantine’s Illustrated History of the Violent Century were a dollar. The way these things looked—the stark contrast, the solid colors on the inside, the combination of line drawing and these really stark black-and-white halftone photos—was super-influential in my graphic design work.”

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“Skull Kun was made by Bounty Hunter, the Japanese company I did my first toy with. They only made like a hundred of these, and I have the only one in North America.”

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“Pretty much the entire first half of my career was based on Animation, by Preston Blair. I stole everything from Preston Blair. It’s different now that you’ve got the Internet. I made a conscious effort about 15 years ago to stop taking stuff out of books and stop doing that kind of collage, and I finally got to where I could actually draw.”

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“One time some Japanese creatives and I were at some restaurant, and they were fucking with me. They were like, ‘You love Hello Kitty so much, you fucking weirdo, you should do your own Kitty and see what happens.’ On a beer coaster, I drew a little shitty proto-rabbit—it’s all dirty and smoking a cigarette: Kitty’s dirty boyfriend. And they’re all like, ‘Oh, actually, that’s kind of cool.’ The toy was supposed to be called Smoking Rabbit, but it came back from the Chinese factory as ‘Smorking Labbit,’ which was infinitely cooler than any name I could’ve thought up.”

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Nestled among the tie-dye emporiums and head shops of Haight Street is a particularly adorable store that sells the sort of toys—cute, strange, not-for-playing-with—that might better be called art pieces. That’s how they’re described by their maker, Kidrobot creative director Frank Kozik, who designs figurines ranging from the sweet (friendly-looking hedgehogs) to the subversive (plastic bears dressed like characters from A Clockwork Orange).

If you’re the type who spent the 1990s obliterating your hearing in smoky rock clubs, you may have encountered Kozik in his previous life, when he illustrated gig posters for bands like Nirvana, Butthole Surfers, Stone Temple Pilots, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Many of the visual tropes now represented by his disturbingly twee toy designs originally appeared on the walls of music venues. “I’ve always been obsessed with weird shit like that,” Kozik says. “Cute bunny rabbits and pigs—but also hyperviolent imagery.”

Working for the Boulder-based Kidrobot, Kozik oversees the development of strange and deranged toy visions that grace bedroom shelves and cubicle corners all over America. He gave us a glimpse into his Inner Richmond studio, complete with snarling demons and cigarette-smoking rabbits.

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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