Interview: Toy Customizer John Harmon of Mint Condition Customs

Comics and toys go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and today’s subject of our Toy Customizer Spotlight has smashed both worlds together through his Mint Condition web comic, which brought to light the highs and lows that befall a toy collector. John Harmon is a talented cartoonist to be sure, but his real claim to fame comes from his craftsmanship of incredible custom action figures. In fact, he’s managed to keep so busy with custom commissions that the comic is currently on hiatus. Not to be pigeonholed with any specific line or style, John makes everything from Bat-Vader to Triple Changer Transformers. Read on as we discuss his process, sculpting, paint, and even lacerations!

MTV Geek: John, you make some incredible custom figures. How long have you been customizing, and what got you started?

John Harmon: Well I remember when I was a little kid, I would take some figures apart and try to make something new out of them. I wouldn’t call that customizing, but it’s certainly helped get me where I am now. I didn’t even learn the term “customizing” until about 2003 when my friend introduced me to it. He liked making customs, but at the time I didn’t really get it. Once I started doing it myself, I really understood the fun and the artistry behind it.

I’ve been making customs for almost 10 years now, though I’ve only been making them professionally since 2007. That was about the time I started talking to some of the big name customizers and realized they made a living selling their work. Once I realized that I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started off with a crappy free website and I put my customs on there and started selling them on eBay. It was a slow start, but it’s definitely been worth it.

Geek: What’s your process when starting a custom? Do you list out the parts, draw up a plan, just hop right into the sculpting, etc.?

Harmon: I definitely list out the parts. I kinda have to, I need to plan out what parts I’m going to use first. Sometimes, on particularly challenging customs, I’ll draw out some concept art first, and make some mockups in Photoshop using pictures of the figures I plan to use.

I never just start out sculpting and painting though. I prep each of my figures by sanding down the joint discs to eliminate the paint rubbing off, and I give the entire surface area of the figure a light sanding to remove factory oils and paints. This helps my paint and Apoxie Sculpt adhere better.

After that, then I start any sculpting, if the custom calls for it. And then the painting.

Geek: What kind of paint and sculpting material do you use most often?

Harmon: For sculpting, I use Aves Apoxie Sculpt exclusively. In my experience, it’s the best thing to use for sculpting for customs. It’s easy to use, and cures really hard. I love it.

For painting, I mostly use Testors Model Masters acrylics, because of how well they cure. I never have to use a sealant for Testors, so that’s nice. I also use some of Tamiya paints, and Citadel. But mostly Testors, it works extremely well.

Geek: Any horror stories about a custom just refusing to go as planned?

Harmon: Horror stories? Oh yeah. Back a few years ago, I was working on a custom that required me to crack open the torso. To do so, I was using a knife. Well, the knife had a lot of pressure behind it, and it slipped…slicing open my left index finger. I had to go to the hospital, wait in 7 hours before being seen, and finally got some stitches for it. When it’s cold outside, that finger gets pretty stiff and hard to bend. Even after all these years.

Needless to say, I’ve upped my safety standards and take tons of precautions, even more than I did back then.

Other than that, there are occasions where no matter what I do, nothing goes right. If that happens, I’ll usually rework the project, or put it on the back burner. That, or just work while being completely frustrated until I make it work, ha ha.

Geek: On the opposite end of blood loss, what has been your favorite custom to date? Not necessarily your favorite character, but one that just turned out exactly, or better, than you planned.

Harmon: That one’s easy. One custom that I can remember quite vividly where everything went 100% according to plan is with my custom Kraven the Hunter.

I was going to make a custom Kraven in a “movie style” of my own design, kind of what I would think Kraven would look like were he to appear as a villain in a Spider-Man movie. I had my parts list, and everything fit perfectly, the painting went perfectly, as did the minor sculpting I had to do. I’ll always remember that one, because I couldn’t believe how perfectly everything fell into place.

Geek: What are you currently working on? Anything you’re especially excited about seeing completed?

Harmon: So many things, ha ha. I’ve got some commissions to get through, and some personal projects as well. Every once and a while I’ll do something that I just feel like I need to get out of my system, and I’ll usually sell them on eBay.

Right now, some of the things I’m working on include a Marvel Legends Moondragon, a Mumm-Ra figure, some “X-Men:First Class” figures, and even some life size prop replicas (something I’ve never done before). I’ve also got a list of those personal projects I mentioned earlier I’d like to get to. I’m not comfortable listing those, since I honestly have no idea when I’ll be able to get to them, but I am really excited about them.

Geek: Where’s the best place online for fans to see more of your work?

Harmon: The place to see everything I do related to customs is: http://www.mintconditioncustom.com

There, anyone can see every single custom I’ve done in the past, as well as read action figure reviews by me and keep up on toy news as well.

Below is a small gallery of John’s custom action figure awesomeness:

If you’re an action figure customizer and would like to possibly be featured in an upcoming Toy Customizer Spotlight, link to your work in the Comments section below or send info to @lemonjuicemcgee on Twitter!

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