INTERVIEW: Toy Customizer: John Mallamas

Hello toy lovers, and random readers! We’re here today talking with John Mallamas aka: Jin from jincustom.com or Jin Saotome's Dangerous Toys. He’s a man of many aliases, and we here at MTV Geek! totally respect and understand that. However, whatever name he goes by, there’s no denying his talent as a toy customizer. His work has been seen all over the web, and even in the hallowed pages of Toyfare magazine. Now its being featured here, on MTV Geek! for all of you to enjoy. Let’s get started!

MTV Geek!: John, about how long have you been customizing action figures? What was your first?

John Mallamas: Just thinking back makes me realize it's been a long, long time. Technically I've been customizing action figures since I was a little kid, maybe 6? I use to unscrew the backs of the 3 3/4" GI Joe figures, swap limbs/heads, and paint them with my mom's fingernail polish, heh. But I think I really started at age 16, after getting a job at my friend's comic book shop. There I started to make Star Wars customs, the first...I believe was a Cyborg Jawa with an extendable robotic arm. I'm 33 at the time of this interview so it's been a good 17 years where I have been making true customs that could be displayed and sold.

Geek!: Well, you can definitely tell that time has paid off by seeing the quality of your customs.  What's your process when deciding on a new figure project? Do you plan the figure with the base body in mind and map it all out, or is it more of a spontaneous thing?

JM: Most of the time it's spontaneous. I'll see a part or accessory from a new figure and think something like, hey, those hands would look great for so-and-so. Case in point, the new Omac figure in the DC Universe line sports a mohawk so his head could be used for a custom of Marvel comics Gladiator. Fans also email me all the time with suggestions so I may already have a character in mind. First I'll start digging through my bins to see if I have a good base body or browse a website with a database of figures like marvelousnews.com. Then I'll dig around and look for the best head and hands to attach. After that I decide if anything needs to be sculpted like costume sections or armor, then get to assembling it.

Geek!: I'm sure that some characters require a lot more sculpting than others. Which of your customs has received the largest amount of unique tooling?

JM: Marvel's character named Shuma Gorath has a very unique body type so I ended up having to sculpt his entire body from Aves Studio's Apoxie Sculp, a 2-part modeling compound. You really can't find anything out there that looks like a giant tentacled-eyeball right off the shelf. Shuma required quite a bit and three stages of layering the Apoxie Sculpt on him. There's a lot of work involved when it comes to sculpting on a custom because you need it to be a permanent part of the figure, making sure nothing is going to break off or chip when its posed.

Geek!: That is definitely a nice piece of work! A lot of customizers tend to stick with one scale or figure line once they hit their groove; however, you are all over the board from Transformers to Marvel, G.I. JOE, etc.  What has been the toughest line for you to master so far?

JM: For me the Transformers line presents the biggest challenge. With other superhero/human character lines you can basically swap parts and add sculpt to create a new character, The design aspect about Transformers however requires you to make sure everything you add, or remove, can work seamlessly along with their transformation. The new head you choose has to be the perfect size to fold up into the hood, the mouthpiece you need to sculpt can only extend out 2 millimeters before it smacks against the engine and the character can't transform properly. So every step you end up measuring parts, testing them, and then trying to attach everything to form a working figure. It can take months!

Geek!: Well, you sir must have accrued years worth of customizing time, cause there are tons of Transformers on your site!  Your paintwork on the Transformers, as well as your other figures, is very well done.  What’s your painting process like?

JM: That's true and I had to learn the right steps through trial and error at first. To start I'll wash the assembled figure off in warm soapy water to remove any hand oils or dirt that could keep the paint from sticking. This is probably the most important step, what good is a great paint job if it doesn't stick? After the figure is dry a base coat of whatever the character's main color(s) will be applied, the arms, body, boots, that sort of thing. I'll then do a paint wash or wipe by diluting a darker color and letting it seem into the cracks and muscle detail. The next step would be to highlight the raised areas of metal, leather, or clothing using a lighter color on your brush and very softly running it across those areas. This is usually called 'drybrushing' because you use very little paint, wiping most off. After that's done I'll add the details, paint the eyes, hair, and then decide to seal it with an acrylic based sealer. The painting process can differ depending on what line you're doing but that's my basic plan of attack.

Geek!: You have lots of awesome figures on your site, but have there been any figures that you just gave up on or simply trashed due to frustration? Surely you've had a few hard luck cases, right?

JM: Oh there's been a few actually! Fortunately in almost every case I can salvage parts and pieces for something else so the project isn't a complete loss. My first real failure was back when I was trying to really make the name 'dangerous toys' angle work. I tried to install a zippo-type lighter inside a Ghost Rider figure using a metal skull and wick fibers around it so you could light his head on fire. Even though I lined his collar with ceramic the heat was still to much and caught the fluid container inside the body on fire! The figure caught fire and started to melt, forcing me to drop it and stomp it out. I believe only one foot survived. The other notable time was when I tried using enamel silver spray paint on a Silver Surfer custom. The whole figure became a sticky mess and never dried, the chemical reaction from enamel on soft plastic dissolving the detail. I threw that one into the trash pretty hard, but it was a valuable lesson.

Geek!: A dissolving Silver Surfer and a combusting Ghost Rider can certainly be called "failures", although an actual fiery-headed G.R. would have the best action feature EVER!  On the flip side, what's been your greatest accomplishment?

JM: I'd like to think my Kingdom Come Bat Sentry I made for Wizard's ToyFare magazine is still my greatest accomplishment. It took me one month to make and is to date the largest custom I've taken on, standing over 13 inches tall. I had the interesting experience of learning to work with die-cast metal when hacking up the 1940's Batmobile and it was a real challenge to fabricate all the arm panels, shoulder sections, and other car parts required to make it look like the comic. The plan was, or at least we were all hoping, it would convince Mattel to make a Bat Sentry build-a-figure for a future figure assortment. That hasn't happened yet but the Bat Sentry still tops my list of great custom accomplishments.

Geek!: On that note, where can people see more of your work?

JM: People interested in customizing action figures can check out my site at www.jincustom.com, from the experienced hobbyist to the person just looking to get their feet wet. I have a large selection of guides that give detailed, step-by-step instructions that range from basic painting steps to installing an LED light-up wiring system in a figure. You can also find just about every customizing resource in my links section including a list of websites and forums where you host your own customs like FigureRealm.com. Currently I'm also working with BrokenArrowToys.com to bring you hand-cast weapons, figure heads, accessories, and parts to help finish your custom creations!

Geek!: Thanks for your time, John! I'm sure that you've just won a lot of new fans, and have just excited tons of up & coming customizers. Oh, and we high highly recommend that everyone reading this check his site cause its worth it for the Negative Zone Iron Man pics alone!

JM: Hey, thanks for having me on, it was a blast!

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