Jared Zichek became infatuated with Fletcher Hanks’s Stardust the Super Wizard, and with no prior toy-making experience, created a high-quality figurine of Stardust on par with many of the super-hero figurines produced from licenses from Marvel or DC. Capitalizing on the positive buzz around the Stardust figurine, Zichek continues to produce classic heroes under the banner of Golden Age Comics Figurine Collection.
We speak to Jared about Golden Age comics, marketing and producing collectibles.
Action Figure Fury: When did you first become interested in 3D modeling and toy production?
Jared Zichek: I first became interested in 3D modeling in 2001 when I attended a Seattle computer graphics school to learn Softimage XSI, which I still use for hard surface modeling. I became proficient with the software doing advertising art in the decade that followed. I got interested in toy production in 2012, when I became aware of 3D printing. I looked at my collection of Eaglemoss figurines and arrived at the idea of creating some Golden Age comics characters in the same scale; it’s been nothing but fortune and glory ever since.
Action Figure Fury: We have seen a lot of interest in Stardust, Black Terror and other public domain super heroes. When did you first encounter these characters? Why do you think there is such fascination with these characters now?
Jared Zichek: I first encountered Stardust when I purchased Paul Karasik’s I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! in 2007. I think I became aware of The Black Terror through the Terra Obscura comic miniseries of 2003. I’ve become familiar with many other characters thanks to great sites like The Digital Comic Museum, Comic Book Plus, Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine, Four-Color Shadows, etc. Reprints by Dark Horse, PS Artbooks, Fantagraphics, Titan Books, and other publishers have also been inspirational.
I think the fascination with these characters is driven partly by the availability of the material – prior to the internet, only a small number of die-hard collectors had access to these comics, many of which are extremely rare and expensive. The fact that a lot of characters are public domain is an added plus – it allows creators to utilize them without paying onerous licensing fees. Finally, we are in tough economic times and there is a tendency to become nostalgic for the pleasures of simpler times, even if they weren’t actually so simple.
However, I don’t think one should overstate the popularity of these old characters; it’s a small subculture that appreciates this era of comics history. I would guess that the worst reviewed video game title of 2013 has a far larger following than that of the Golden Age of Comics, for instance. As an enthusiast of moribund pop cultural artifacts, I find it a bit sad, but that seems to be the reality.
Action Figure Fury: Your Stardust and Fantomah sculpts look like they stepped right out of a Fletcher Hanks page. Can you describe your process and how you are able to remain so faithful to the score material with your sculpts?
Jared Zichek: I collect many reference images and do a lot of sculpting and resculpting until I arrive at something that hopefully looks true to what the artist drew. I will often render out an image of the sculpt and overlay it on top of a drawing from the original comic to see how close I’m getting, making further adjustments as required. It can be challenging to translate a 2D drawing to 3D; what looks good in the former doesn’t necessarily look good in the latter. A classic example of this is Mickey Mouse’s ears, which are always drawn as circles regardless of the position of his head.
Action Figure Fury: If you had your choice of any character to add to your Golden Age line who would it be and why?
Jared Zichek: It would be Timely’s Blazing Skull, though I would have to buy the license to make and sell it. I like him because he is the original flaming skull-headed hero and is relatively obscure. Other favorites from the Timely/Marvel stable of obscure Golden Age characters are The Thunderer, Black Toad, Challenger, Armless Tiger Man, Falcon, Python, and Butterfly, among many others.
Action Figure Fury: In your Boing Boing article, ” How to Get a Figurine Produced in China and Not Lose Your Shirt “, you speak about the questionable results of online advertising and the need for social media for promotion. What have you found to be the most successful channels to talk about your Golden Age Line?
Jared Zichek: The best channel is the direct email newsletter, though it can take a long time to build up a good list of customers. Getting your press release featured on a major site can bring in a lot of new blood, but you’re lucky if they publish it. With Facebook, your posts are “throttled” unless you pay to have them reach more of your followers, and I refuse to give them my money. They already make money off my personal data and that’s enough.
I’ve actually been working on several ads over the last couple days, including some online ads. I got a Google AdWords credit which I couldn’t pass up; how effective it is, I don’t know, but you can’t turn down free money.
Action Figure Fury: What is upcoming from Golden Age Figurines?
Jared Zichek: The digital sculpt of Spacehawk is done and I will be releasing images of him soon, along with a survey to gauge the level of interest in him. I think the majority of my customers are Fletcher Hanks fans, so we’ll see how they take to a Basil Wolverton character. I’ll be asking if people are interested in a secondary line of larger figures as well. There have been some improvements in 3D printing which should reduce the prototyping cost for a larger figure, making it more of a possibility.
Depending on the results of the survey, Spacehawk will be followed by Gorvak the Space Pirate, his nemesis from the original “Spacehawk and the Creeping Death from Neptune” story. After that, I’d like to do some Wolverton monsters like the Brain Bat of Venus and the creature from the Nightmare World story. These could be followed by a female character like Miss Masque, since Fantomah did so well.
Action Figure Fury: One last question, what is one toy that you either couldn’t bear to part with or haunts your dreams because you never owned it?
Jared Zichek: This is totally unrelated to the Golden Age of Comics, but I have a natural metal version of the Soul of Chogokin Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor) that I really love; it’s made mostly of actual metal and the finish looks like stainless steel. It has a satisfying heft to it and looks beautiful in my display case.
I actually buy very few collectibles these days; between the cost of producing my own line of figurines and the insatiable demand of my children for real toys, I just don’t have the disposable income for it.
See all of the Golden Age Comic Figurine Collection at Jared’s Storenvy site.
Jared also has a survey up for the forthcoming Spacehawk figurine. Go vote on your favorite color variants, the scale of a possible line of larger statues, etc. Those who complete the survey get a special 5% off discount code good at the site.