Building a Better Action Figure — Interview with Toy Customizer Glenn Webb
“Where does he get all those wonderful toys?” Ever since I first heard this quote in Tim Burton’s seminal Batman flick, I knew that I would never be too old for toys. I mean, if it was cool for Batman to play with his “toys” why would I ever be ashamed to play with mind. Granted, Batman’s are on the more expensive side and help him fight crime… but I digress.
Whether you enjoy collecting them, taking them apart or trading them with friends toys have timeless quality that can be suppressed, but never forgotten. Today’s guest wouldn’t have it any other way. A self proclaimed “Action Figure Customizer & Connoisseur,” Glenn Webb has taken his love of toys and turned it into a way to not only earn some income, but create some kick-ass custom figures too!
Hey Glen, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from.
I’m an action figure customizer and general toy connoisseur based in London, UK. For those not familiar with action figure customizing I usually ask them to picture Dr. Frankenstein making his monster. I do exactly the same thing as Dr. Frankenstein, but on a much smaller scale and with action figure parts instead of human ones.
Toy customizing has become a rapidly-growing art form in the past few years. Why do you think its become so popular?
Well, I think action figure customizing has been around as long as we’ve had action figures; starting from kids decades ago splashing their GI Joes with red paint to show the bloody toll of their various battles. So, the customizing “ball” has been rolling for a long time. I think the rapid-growth you mention is more a snowballing effect of the internet. It’s allowed forums for customizers to showcase their work, ask for or offer advice and share “recipes” and really form a cohesive community.
Now creations crafted in makeshift workshops set up in the corner of bedrooms or garages can been seen around the world [and] that inspires. If somebody wants to give their favourite super hero action figure a fresh repaint to match an obscure costume they wore for a single issue in 1972 then they only need to venture in to one of the customizing forums to find what brand of paint offers [the] best coverage. Then if they want to develop the craft further and sculpt new additions to existing figures then they have a whole community ready to embrace them.
How did you get into customizing and collecting? Do you remember the first custom figure you ever made?
I’ve just always had a passion for action figures, from being a kid and engaging in all the imaginative play my plastic playmates inspired to navigating adulthood unaffected by the stigma that “toys are just for kids.” Even now, when I release a new action figure from its packaging, the fresh smell of plastic takes me back to childhood. Plus, I get to combine that warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia with the craft I’ve spent years honing.
I studied Sculpture gaining first my Bachelors and then my Masters Degree so it was only a matter of time before my passions for figures and art would combine in customizing. I can remember the first figure I ever customized and I have to say it wasn’t the most lofty of beginnings. I took a WWE Trish Status figure and ground away the sculpted details of her clothes. I think I called it a one of a kind Playboy variant. *Laughs* Not the most mature project, I know, but at that time I had just got a Dremel. A power rotary tool like that is to a customizer what a lightsaber is to a Jedi and that was a good project for learning how to master the tool.
Where do you get inspiration for your work, especially when starting a new project?
I’m inspired to start new projects in a two ways. Firstly, for instance, a recent project I just completed was a Tik-Tok custom made essentially from scraps including, of all things, a table tennis ball for a head. A project like that comes around as I’m left stunned with how a great character like that has never been immortalized in plastic by a toy company. So I take that responsibility on to my own shoulders. I feel its my responsibility to fill gaps like that.
The second way is that customizing over the years has created huge piles of action figure parts that I now live among. I dig deep into this fodder and just play around with combining parts – these legs combined with this other figure’s body reminding me of that monster the X-Men fought in a comic I read as a kid. That sort of thing. The combining of parts in that way is called “kitbashing” and many a custom is born in that way.
What are a few of the biggest challenges when it comes to making new customs?
Each new custom figure represents its own unique challenges, but my big challenge is patience. Each project is already complete in my mind’s eye so it can be frustrating waiting on materials. You hear people complaining of stuff being so boring it’s like watching paint dry. Well, I can verify that as sometimes I literally watch paint dry. My solution to that is to have a number of projects running alongside each other so I’m always occupied with something.
Is there ever a lot of sculpting involved or is mostly repainting?
Most my customs involve a lot of sculpting, but then that’s my background. The brilliant thing about customzing is it doesn’t discriminate based on skill sets or even skill levels. Some people repaint figures [while] others, like myself, often only use a base figure for the engineered joints then sculpt completely over them so the look achieved is completely different but it still retains the articulation from the figure’s joints.
So what sort of materials do you typically use?
Well, as I already mentioned some type of rotary power tool is essential. That really speeds up all the basic hacking, grinding and sanding. Then for sculpting I use an apoxie clay. The apoxie clay does take a lot of practice to master as its much harder to work with than regular clay that you may have used in art classes back in high school. For painting, I use the same model paints you would use for painting Warhammer-type miniatures.
Out of all of your creations, which custom(s) are you most proud of to date?
Hmm… one project that springs to mind is a recent Gorilla Emma Frost custom. Emma Frost is the sexy telepath of the X-Men and this guy suggested a figure of her but turned into a gorilla, perhaps the concept was X-Men meets Planet of the Apes.
It was such a juxtaposition and while I don’t usually take requests in this way it was such a creative challenge that I just had to customize the best darn alluring gorilla I could, darn it!
Have you ever attempted anything beyond action figures, like vehicles or entire playsets?
Not as yet. I think once I buy my own house I will go all out with building scaled down tri-level (rooftop/street/sewer) dioramas for all my figures to exist in. [Maybe] dedicate an entire room to creating that world for them, they deserve it.
Is there anything exciting coming down the pipeline?
Always lots down the pipeline and unfortunately more customs on a list in my head then I have time to bring to life and that’s just with my list. From showcasing the projects I’ve completed I get flooded with suggestions; comic book characters to more Garbage Pail Kids. One thing I would like to do eventually is create my own unique characters.
Where’s the best place people go to see more of your work online?
Best place to check out my customs is on my YouTube channel: Glenn Web – Figure Customizer & Connoisseur.