If you’re looking for excessive cosplay and "brogrammer" nerdgasms, look elsewhere. While DesignerCon (or DCon) is a subcultural cousin ComicCon, it's an artist and maker-centric affair. Held every November in Pasadena, CA, DCon combines collectibles and designer goods with urban, underground, and pop art. As they expand into mainstream art collecting, in large part due to the involvement of street art legends, art toys have developed symbiotic mutual influence, making for a vibrant, adorable genre with mass appeal.
Now in its 11th year, the convention's creative leadership comes from the folks behind top-tier art toy outfits 3D Retro, founded by avid collector Ben Goretsky, and Crewest, an urban art incubator helmed by legendary muralist Man One and his partner Scott Power. The team cites a long affinity for DCon’s “chill, inclusive, curious vibe" as the impetus for their official involvement this year.
Amidst all the post-punk sophistication, there's no shortage of weird and wonderful art objects to ogle. The following are some highlights from DCon 2016 to stoke your acquisitive desire:
Mark Dean Veca
Painter Mark Dean Veca, like the Crewest folks, is a longtime DCon attendee but a first-time exhibitor. Though he's known for large-scale murals and immersive environmental installations, in 2015 Veca released his first sculpted toy: variations on Tweety Bird, distributed by Kidrobot.
“I always came and I loved [DCon], but the one thing I wished I had was my own base of operations. I wanted a clubhouse!” Veca says. This year he built himself one, kitted out with bean bag chairs, string lights, and custom carpet cannibalized from previous exhibitions. Over the course of the convention, Veca periodically interrupted the chill to perform live painting demonstrations in his ersatz man cave.
There was a lot to love at the Kidrobot booth, but the wackiest offering had to be the Kim Jong Un babies by Frank Kozik, a titan of pop surrealism and art toys. He took over as Kidrobot's Creative Director two years ago and personally manned the company's booth all weekend. During his tenure, he’s ushered in a return-to-roots era of “colorful storytelling, active recruitment of female artists, and high-profile collaborations,” such as that with his longtime friend Ron English, and a robust licensing program, including coordinated releases with the Warhol estate.
Poposition Press is bringing the pop-up art book into the modern era, publishing excellent group and individual titles with some of the most intriguing and talented artists from the street, fine art, rogue illustration, and graphic novel worlds. At DCon, they hosted the release of a new work by Junko Mizuno. The lavishly detailed, quirky confection came out in advance of her solo show at LA’s Gallery Nucleus this December.
“One day we were just sitting around," says author, illustrator, and designer Tom Neely, "and we had this idea” that what the world needed was more graphic novels combining homoerotic drawings—a la Tom of Finland—with the edgy vagaries of punk rock. Soon, Henry & Glenn Forever was born, chronicling a hilariously epic, so-wrong-it’s-right love story between Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. Soon, a diverse and marvelous universe of gay-metal fan fiction was born, which now exists in zine archive and complete anthology form.
Greg “Craola” Simkins worked with the creative craftsmen at Silent Stage for more than 18 months on Beyond the Sea—an original painting and fine art print created expressly for the purpose of transforming the scene of animal avatar high-seas swashbuckling into the artist's very first resin sculpture in three variations—slick black enamel, aged ivory, and the original colors of the painting.
Brooklyn-based painter Tara McPherson’s booth was a much-anticipated highlight that did not disappoint. Her entirely toy-free presentation showcased a selection of darkly doe-eyed demi-goddesses. In addition to winning for just-plain gorgeousness, her presence underscored the proliferation of female vendors at the convention, as well as the fine-art leanings of its organizers and audience.
One of the most exciting and subversive rock and roll poster artists working today, Jermaine Rogers proved he is far more than the father of Aleppin Sane—aka the Ziggy Stardust Rabbit.
Free-thinking artistic duo Kozyndan’s eclectic output ranges from painting and sculpture to textile, illustration, mixed media, prints, and random experimentation. But their contribution to this year’s Giant Robot array was beguiling even by their standards. Ceramic sculptures of hybrid animals put a folksy, primitivist spin on the fine-art toy. Some even doubled as fully-functional marijuana pipes.
Lastly, the one and only Paul Frank celebrated a recent return to his eponymous design empire with new characters, a DCon-wide branding presence, and a booth with kid-friendly appeal and the sprawling footprint of a mini-golf sculpture garden. If nothing else, Frank is proof that toys are the secret to eternal youth.