An Interview by Dan's ToyBox
How many of us have ever looked at a comic book panel and thought…” Man, I’d love to see that in real life!” With the popularity of superhero movies, comic book fans all over have the opportunity to see their favorite heroes in action on the big screen. However, there’s a medium out there, which has been around for a while now, but is gaining popularity in leaps and bounds. Articulated Comic Book Art is quickly becoming one of the most fun hobbies around. ACBA as it’s more commonly referred to, is in its simplest form photography of action figures. Whether using natural backgrounds or building dioramas, the idea is to take the best shots of figures in the coolest poses and create your own life-like comic book artwork through the medium of photography. Many ACBA enthusiasts will also build their own dioramas, set up their lighting and use every tool in their photographic arsenals to bring their figures to life. I recently started building my own dios, but have a lot to learn about the art associated with this amazing medium.
With that in mind, I have been following an incredible artist on Instagram. His insta-handle is Danstoyart and his work is absolutely mind-blowing. I recently reached out to him to discuss his interest in the hobby, gush over his work, and really find out what makes an ACBA artist tick. Dan was incredibly gracious with his time, and we spent a good 90 minutes talking about the comic book industry, action figures, our love of all things 80’s and, of course, his phenomenal photography. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
Dan’s ToyBox: “Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me today. I want to tell you that I’m a huge fan of your work, just blown away with the ideas you come up with and the design and composition of your photos. Your recent storyline “Mutants Rising” on Instagram has featured not only your amazing photos, but your hand at storytelling as well. I’m excited to see it unfold. So, tell me… how long have you been into collecting and photography?”
Dan’s ToyArt: “Thank you, that’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work. How long have I been collecting? Well, I’m 45 and having grown up in the 80’s, I started collecting toys when I was a kid. I was a huge fan of the 80’s G.I. Joe figures and still have many of the originals to this day. I was influenced by 80’s cartoons as I’m guessing you were. I actually saw He-Man toys on the shelf before I saw the cartoon and thought…’these are cool, I have to get some of these.’ Of course, Transformers, Mask, and… do you remember the Blackstar cartoon from the early 80’s?”
DTBX: “Amazingly, yes… that and SilverHawks, Voltron and Battle of the Planets… all were big influences for me too.”
DTA: “All of those and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends… hours of cartoon watching on Saturday mornings…”
DTBX: “With a huge bowl of Lucky Charms! Of course, we can’t forget, probably the biggest toy line that we both probably collected… Star Wars.”
DTA: “Oh, absolutely. It’s been really tough seeing those retro carded figures that are being released now and not buying every one of them up. I saw the Mandalorian figure and was just… whoa. Remember the originals with the telescoping lightsabers? Funny story… my sister used to bite the heads off of my original Luke Skywalker figures.”
DTBX: “Oh no… poor Luke, what did he do to her? Hopefully you still have one that’s not decapitated!”
DTA: “laughs, Somewhere…”
DTBX: “I think, they really stepped things up with The Empire Strikes Back line, giving Luke the separate lightsaber. Honestly, ESB has always been my favorite movie in the entire series and the costumes were, in my opinion, the best.”
DTA: “I agree, Han’s outfit and Luke’s Bespin fatigues were some of the best designs. They really looked good in figure form.”
DTBX: “It definitely sounds like you and I have a lot in common. I’m 50 and, let’s face it, we both grew up in an amazing time for movies, toys, and comic books. So, knowing that this has been a lifelong hobby for you, what got you into photography?”
DTA: “I’ve always loved art and visual storytelling. In school, I loved to draw and use my imagination to create my own visual stories. I’d sit with figures in hand, constantly posing them, getting ideas as to how they’d look in action and then I’d work on drawing them. I was an energetic kid and couldn’t sit still for a minute. Even at the table eating, I’d be posing figures and getting ideas for drawings. I took up photography because it enabled me to get the idea in my head down much quicker than I could with a pencil and paper. I love drawing, but I love storytelling even more. Photography allows me to produce the scenes I want to see and enjoy them in much less time than it would take me to draw. As I grew more into the hobby, I found several photographers that I enjoy and were an inspiration to me, online. I see their work and think…’this is incredible, their lighting and effects are outstanding’ and it drives me to increase my own skills and abilities. I also feel that this medium is more inclusive as it allows a much greater audience to see and appreciate the stories we create. I’ve been pleased with the responses to my posts on Instagram and am very grateful for the following I have. There’s often a huge misconception about social media… that you can become an instant success and start making crazy money or get big endorsements. I’ve been approached once to be a brand ambassador… what that might net me? I don’t know, maybe enough to buy a figure? Really though, my intent was never about making money at this. It’s something I love and am passionate about. For me, photography is a stress reliever, it helps me think, clears my mind, and helps me relax. When I’m posing and taking pictures, I get lost in the scenes in my mind and am able to release the stress of my 9-5 job.
DTBX: “I can understand and agree with that. Work life can be super hectic… collecting figures and writing reviews is my stress reliever as well. I can come upstairs to the GeekTower and honestly, sit in my chair, look around at my collection and before I know it… an hour or so has passed… but the relaxation and enjoyment I get from being in here, surrounded by the things that interest me is a real help. You have such a wide variety of photos and subjects, what would you say is your favorite toyline?
DTA: “Around the middle of last year, I really started collecting Marvel Legends heavily. I prefer the 616 universe, comic accurate figures to the MCU lines, I guess because as much as I like the movies, the comic books are really, still, my source material. I’m a big Superman fan, but I don’t take nearly as many pix as I’d like, because I don’t want to saturate my page with my favorite and then drive my audience away. One thing I’ve started to do recently, is to post my “recipe” for figures. I do a lot of kitbashing and immediately in the comments, I’ll get questions like…”What hands did you use for that?” or “Where’d you get the head on that figure?” I really enjoy creating new looks by mixing and matching and part of the fun is coming up with the figure that I really want to see… even if I have to make it myself, so to speak. I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to list the parts in the description, rather than having to answer each question with the same response. I still get surprised by how many people ask, but probably the best feeling I’ve had was when I kitbashed my own Ghost Rider, was asked about it… and then a few days later saw other posts by people who made their own GR figures, using my “recipe.” That’s what this is all about… growing the hobby, seeing people take ideas and make them their own, and seeing designs I come up with because I like them… liked and copied by other people. This hobby is really about connecting with other fans and sharing what we all enjoy.”
DTBX: “That’s one thing I really love as well… seeing artists like yourself that give credit to other artists and designers. Do you also build your own dioramas? I recently started building them myself, but they are very time consuming… and I tend to be a bit impatient.”
DTA: “I like the dio you built. I would love to build my own, but I just don’t have the time. People who do that have a tremendous amount of talent and I salute them. I have pre-built dio’s that I’ve acquired for my shoots… *turns camera, allowing me to view his office* “As you can see, I’ve got a lot set up and it’s all kind of in disarray. I got tired of getting up repeatedly to go get figures or accessories, so everything is kind of messy, but much easier to get at.”
DTBX: “We’ve spent a lot of time together and I’m super grateful for your willingness to talk with me… if it’s cool, I just have a couple more questions for you…First… as you’ve seen by my comments on the page, I’m a big fan of your X-Men “Mutants Rising” ongoing story… what was the inspiration for this?”
DTA: “I read House of X and was very intrigued by the Krakoa storyline that unfolded. It inspired me to give my own take, kind of paralleling the story in the comic books.”
DTBX: “The layouts and story are amazing… what’s your process?”
DTA: “I’m always thinking, planning, and plotting. I’ll lay in bed at night and my brain kicks in, and I’ll jump up and go write things down. For the actual photo work though, I’m actually plotting and storyboarding my scenes. I have a particular vision in mind for what I’m doing and will draw out my storyboards for the photo set ups. I’ve got the story plotted out, through the end, but I’m constantly thinking and re-thinking. There was a scene recently, that I wasn’t entirely happy with because of how I laid it out and I’ll go back and do re-shoots until I get the image that I’ve got in my head.”
DTBX: “Well, I for one, cannot wait to see how it turns out. I’m really enjoying the story. Have you thought about creating your own website to display your work?”
DTA: “ If I were to do that, I think my long term goal would be to use it as a platform to try and help influence toy companies. As I mentioned earlier with the kitbashing, there are so many things that toy fans want to see and want to see improved. I don’t know how much attention those companies would pay to a website, but I like to think that it could be a voice for us to show toy companies how they can improve what they are doing.”
DTBX: “That would be amazing! I would be more than happy to contribute thoughts and ideas, let me know if you do pursue this. So, lastly… outside of toy photography, what other interests do you have?”
DTA: “I’m into running and bicycling and I’ll be running in the Boston Marathon. All things considered, toy photography is much easier on the knees, but I really enjoy the fitness aspect and the competition, knowing that I’m pushing myself to compete and complete these events.”
DTBX: “Wow! That is huge, I’m impressed. I have, over the last year, lost a significant amount of weight and work hard to keep in shape… but by no means am I anywhere close to the level you maintain. I tip my hat. You are definitely a man of many talents and this has been a delight for me. I just realized that we’ve been online together for 90 minutes… it definitely doesn’t feel like it! I suspect we could sit and talk all night!”
DTA: “Time flies when you’re having fun!”
DTBX: “It sure does, thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed for Geekositymag.com.”
We could have probably talked for another two or three hours! I asked Dan for a selection of his favorite photos, which have been interspersed throughout this column. I definitely recommend following him on Instagram @danstoyart. You won’t regret it.
Thanks for checking out the toybox and, until next time… Geek Out!