Everyone's got their favorite toy from way back when. For me, it's a stuffed cat with a missing eye from my teething phase. For others, it's action figures of their favorite superhero, or plastic figurines of one of the 101 Dalmatians. But it's almost impossible to imagine what for Ian Burkard's favorite toy is. The artist's tumblr, Genus Toys, showcases the literally one of a kind creations he crafts from pieces of other toys. "I always frequent local discount stores," Burkard says, citing his love for "vintage bootleg toys," which are apparently hard to find amongst crappy knock-offs and remakes.
What began as a collection of vintage toys sprouted into an entirely new creative endeavor for Burkard. "One day [in 2013], after going to several shops and finding nothing exciting, I thought it might be fun to make something of interest, instead of waiting for it to appear," Burkard tells Creators. "Dinosaurs and mammals were only inches apart on the shelf. It seemed like it would be really fun to bring them together somehow."
And bring them together he did. Beyond making videos reviewing his bootleg finds ("Good reviews of bad products," as he likes to call his Black Tub Bootlegs), Burkard splices together pieces of various toys, crafting entirely new "Dollar Store Combine" works—like a golden superhero with a chainsaw for a head, a gorilla-gun-tank hybrid, and a dinosaur topped with a human skull. A freak show at its finest, each recreation is entirely unique, and each piece is chosen with care. Burkard prefers "sticking with off-brand items that I find during my trips." Deliberately staying away from "highly recognizable branded toys and characters," Burkard's Genus Toys is less about "nostalgia or dislike," existing for the purpose of visual amusement.
Not everyone has found these brainchildren totally appealing, though. In winter 2014, Burkard set up a stand and sold several of his pieces for the holidays. "Someone assumed that I was a customer, and that the person selling the work was not around," he explains. "The person looked over my work and said, 'Wow this person has some serious issues.'" Burkard recalls being shocked that people could be "so easily ruffled, [while] others revel in the work."
The reactions Burkard receives are not the only perspectives he's become exposed to. "I have gained new respect for everyone making low-end consumer goods," says Burkard, as he reflects on all the "artists, designers, and engineers around the globe" who struggle against larger companies trying to edge them out. "While I appreciate regulations (fair competition, safety for children, protecting creators' intellectual property)," Burkard can't help but imagine a "wild west scenario with discount goods." Spoofs, spinoffs, he loves them all, "so it's frustrating to see big corporations attempt to take over every market in a slow, fairly invisible manner."
Genus Toys is not simply a mental vacation from the fast-paced, and oftentimes mundane, environment of our quotidian working lives—however freaky some may find the work. Fusing together pieces of plastic, Burkard's creations are a reminder of a forgotten time and place. Who knew that a plastic carpediomsaur (carp + dinosaur) could be more than just a treat for "the adult child brain," and might actually be a sweet, micro middle-finger to the Hasbros of the world?