1. Any strong current below the surface of a body of water, moving in a direction different from that of the surface current.SH Figuarts Chogokin Hulkbuster, Combiner Wars Titan Class Devastator, DC Collectibles Zatana, Marvel Legends Infinite Series: Carnage, an esoteric assortment of faceless names on a page to some, but to those who titillate their pre-frontal cortex with the thrill of collecting, agents of euphoria.Toy collecting has long since been an avocation of acquisition– seeking, locating, obtaining and storing. Rooms and halls transformed into mausoleums of erected display cases inundated with the scarce and extraordinary. Trinkets of conquest, each piece carrying a tale of triumph. History encapsulated in glass. But what happens when this isn’t enough? When the collector evolves beyond the tradition of hunting and gathering? What happens when they want more..?Enter: Articulated Comic Book Art [A.C.B.A.], a seamless meld of multimedia and action figure collecting birthing a new brand of hobby. Collectors are artists, emancipating figurines from their card-stock tombs, placing them in full scaled environments with props and effects, trailblazing a contemporary visual medium. Functional displaying. Art.I sat down with Kendel Gray, otherwise known as Boog_ACBA, founder of the group, to discuss it’s origin and the rise of toy collecting and display art in popular culture…
AB: When did the collecting begin?
KG: I’d say in 2006 or 2007. Ahh, well I guess I can take it a little bit further than that, I’d say in 2001, when Marvel Legends first came out. I got back into collecting and at the time it was pretty lonely. There were no communities like this. There was nothing going on and between 2001 and 2006. [Marvel] Legends was booming and everything was good and they were, you know, increasingly getting better and more stuff was coming out but it was like… I didn’t have anybody to share the hobby with. So I started searching. Literally everyday I was online looking for people who were not only collecting but displaying. I started searching on YouTube and I found this one kid his name was tonydabeanner. He had a video of his Legends posted up in his detolf… and it was dope. It was just like yo, finally I found someone who was into posing and displaying not just collecting the packaged stuff and setting it on a shelf! He was like really going in and the shit looked amazing to me.
AB: So Youtube was essentially the initial platform for finding collectors?
KG: You can say that. From there, I was watching his stuff and watching other people’s stuff to see if there was anybody else displaying. I came across Shartimus’s videos, and a few people doing reviews and stuff. Everything at this point was real fucking classic YouTube. The shit was awful (hahahaha). Shit was terrible but it was fun. At some point I was like: ‘you know what, Imma show my shit.’ That was right around the time I got my first two or three detolfs. So I set up all my stuff, recorded it, posted the video and soon after, a lot of people just started putting up videos showing their collections and displays. That’s when I found this community of Marvel Legends Collectors.
AB: How dense was this community?
KG: At that particular time it was maybe like 25 or 30 people in this little circle. Every week, pretty much every few days, somebody would put up a video and show new stuff that they got or show a new setup they got or something like that. We started to call the setups art—and it made sense. The figures were a work of art, they’re sculpted, they’re painted and what we’re doing here, displaying them, is an art form in itself.
AB: So this was essentially ground zero of A.C.B.A…
KG: It wasn’t anything major, it was just pure art at that point. Then we started calling it articulated art. You know, I remember sitting here just going through names and going through different stuff and it literally just came to me, we gonna call this Articulated Comic Book Art— that’s what it is. We into comic figures and into articulation and the big thing is articulation now. That’s how we pose and display figures. It’s funny, I remember when people started showing their displays, you could tell it was going to grow. The excitement and enthusiasm were tangible. Displaying was going to be the new thing. It was going to be immensely popular at some point.
AB: These displays must’ve been pretty dope…
KG: Hell no (hahahahaha) everybody was shitty (hahahaha). Tony was really good— there were a few people who were good— but for the most part everybody was fuckin horrible, man. I look back at some of those videos and it’s depressing (hahahaha). But you know it just goes to show we all gotta start somewhere that’s where it began, 10 years ago. Everything was real raw. This was before dioramas an sets. Everything was just based off the posing, it was just really raw, you know?
AB: So when did you decide to legitimize the brand with the trademarking and video watermark?
KG: … What made me think about going into the trademark and really taking it to the next level was when people outside of our core 30 people were actually using the term A.C.B.A. to describe any type of displaying. Dudes saying: ‘I’m doing A.C.B.A’. It started to become a household name, when it was only between us. But the name was perfect and really descriptive and like I said, displaying was becoming more popular so I was just like it’s probably a good idea to jump out in front of this thing at the very least trademark the name. It was a dude that was a part of the community at the time, he passed away, but his name was Mike McBride. He was a writer working on a book at the time and he had all ready written a book and gone through the process of trademarking and knew a lot about copyrighting. He pretty much coached me through all of that stuff; the legality of it and how to legitimize it. He even wrote the first official description for ACBA.
AB: So the description we see is Mike McBride’s work?
KG: That description you see everywhere on all the sites, that was Mike’s writing. He wrote up all the descriptions for all of the terms as people were coming up with new stuff. He wrote all of it. I gotta give mad credit to Mike, honestly. He was the one pushing me and telling me how to do it. once he put that in my ear and was like listen Boog you gotta think here and you gotta really legitimize it and imma tell you how to do it. Now I’m just trying to take it forward. At that particular time, once I did the trademark, the next step was to have something to represent the brand, an image, a logo to be visually appealing. So when you saw it you’d know, ‘yo, that’s A.C.B.A’. My mother actually came up with the initial concept of the logo.
AB: … Mom dukes?
KG: (Hahaha). I was talking to her about it and you know she was another person that was involved in pushing it. So she came up with the initial concept for the logo design and it was a really rough sketch. She was like, ‘it should be like a word bubble’. This is when I met my man Ty [Starr]. I gave him the rough sketch and we worked through it for a couple of days. Mike was still alive.
AB: So you absorbed the Marvel Legends Community and grew the core group, but it was just Legends. If someone were to google A.C.B.A. now they’d see so much more. How did you expand to other mediums?
KG: Facebook. Once we got onto Facebook different people came into the group. Imports became pretty popular and A.C.B.A. became much bigger than just Legends. A.C.B.A. was a style of displaying to be used with anything, for the most part. Essentially we’re taking a scene from a comic book, lifting it from the page and making it tangible and in that we create our own original scenes. Facebook brought a lot of collectors together that collected a lot of different things. What was funny is at the time, I wasn’t even really aware of the difference between import domestic and import stuff. I had import stuff back then and it didn’t really click in my head that I was paying more for this figure because it was from Japan. I just bought it because it looked dope and it had some dope accessories in it. It took the Facebook group and interacting with other people to realize what was going on. Everybody who was into Legends didn’t know shit about imports. You know, they didn’t grasp that concept. That integration of those people is what really kicked it off and took us to the next level. One dude who was integral to introducing imports was Darais Prince [D Amazing], a black dude actually. Dude think he’s fuckin’ japanese (hahahahaha). He was into imports from early on. Really, the possibilities for displaying is endless, infinite, with all these characters.
AB: How’d you get into Facebook?
KG: The first people who started the Facebook group with me was this kid Tahmid who’s an admin to this day. He was like: ‘Listen Boog, Facebook, you gotta go on Facebook. Facebook is where we can actually make a group. We gotta go on Facebook’. He kept telling me this and I was like man, fuck it, you make the group, I don’t care about Facebook, you go ahead and make the Facebook group. And he did. It was him and another cat named August, then me and Ty came on. It started similar to YouTube with people just posting their hauls and collections and it was a lot of discussion. It was more discussion than it was displaying then with expansion we started putting rules into place to focus it.
AB: So what distinguishes an ACBA artist from a traditional toy photographer?
KG: I think something that’s been going on for a long time is basic toy photography. The roots of A.C.B.A. is video. Tangible displaying. You being able to see the display on film or camera as if you were in the room. Nothing extra. Except I would be creating the illusion where I’d hit certain angles so you couldn’t see stands and other tricks if it were a simple photo. Where as toy photography, for the most part, there’s a lot of edits and a lot of things people do post-shot. A.C.B.A is about raw tangible displaying, posing, creating those illusions like a mini movie set pre-CGI. You gotta get the lighting right, the props right, the cast, which is the figures and the dialogue, i.e. the cutouts. It’s a miniature production. Facebook took a little of the essence out of A.C.B.A but it also gave it this crazy expansion at the same time. It made A.C.B.A. international. We do the World Tournament every year to bring people back to that essence. The World Tournament is strictly video. That’s when you see the real A.C.B.A. at its best. Honestly the picture-taking portion is a shortcut in relation to where you want to be as an A.C.B.A artist.
AB: Would you like to move forward with a greater emphasis on video?
KG: The photo aspect of it is just much easier. It takes way more time and patience to set up the video but I think what we’re doing now with the community channel and my channel we’re trying to really bring people back to the video format. The community channel has everything from new product—what’s hot— to tutorials on posing, set design and basic A.C.B.A elements by some of the best in the game. We’re about to kick off the World Tournament for this year and that should be interesting. We definitely want to move back into the video realm and get people to start shooting stuff and constructing complete set ups; not just composing displays for basic photos.
AB: Walk me through the cut outs and how that started…
KG: That was just another idea that hit me. We all ready talking about having three-dimensional comic books, why can’t we add effects? Why can’t we add dialogue? Why can’t we make this literally like a 3-D comic book? The first cutouts were literally text from comic books. I put them in a video called A.C.B.A.: Evolution. I hadn’t perfected it yet, I was just throwing this out there because I knew quite a few people in the community who would take this and run with it. Immediately people were like: “oh that’s dope!” So I said listen, ‘you don’t have to cut up your good comics, use the free comics that come with the Marvel Legends’. That’s where it started. And now we have a packaged, pre-cut, cut out pack and they look amazing! It’s funny because Ty and I had the same vision. We talked about this since the first time we met. We wanted to find a way to produce this so people wouldn’t have to go through the tedious process of cutting them and cutting out books that they probably also collect.
AB: When you do videos and photos what goes into your setup?
KG: For the most part, the people taking it seriously either have a makeshift light box or an official light box that they purchased. It was forty bucks for a pretty big light box with lights and multiple felt backdrops. It definitely comes in handy and takes your photographs to another level in terms of clarity. A lot of people shoot with natural light and outdoors but for me it’s mostly in the light box. The process of setting up one shot could be as long as a 10 hour day. It really just depends on how intricate it is and how detailed it is— props, sets, effects. But the process of setting it up and looking through your camera and shooting 50-100 shots for each scene can be like a full work day, for sure.
AB: You mentioned props and effects. Did you buy theses in the beginning?
KG: No, man. Not at all— for the most part. In the beginning, we were on some scavenger shit and took accessories and effects from random figures. Often times, buying a figure you don’t collect or care about just for the props and effects or we just made them ourselves. Now you can buy the accessories and props alone at retail.
AB: Thats a pretty direct influence on the toy market…
KG: I think A.C.B.A. has been so influential in everything that’s been happening in toys the past 10 years. I feel like not only in what we’re doing but the fact that there were a good group of us at every NYCC and SDCC right there with the people at Hasbro telling them what they needed to do and what we wanted to see. I mean it would absolutely no need for Tamashii Nations to make effects for displaying if they didn’t think displaying was popular. We definitely popularized displaying to the point of “oh shit do you see what these dudes are doing now? There’s a market for this shit now.” Not only that, we help sell. Like if you see somebody in the group that’s nice with their shit and they come out with a Tamashii Nations effect in the display— that’s a rap. That shit’s gonna sell. Probably going to sell out. Once it hits the group and people see it, it’s like: ‘I gotta get that, I saw Pharaoh Black put up this dope display with this— I gotta have it’. If displaying wasn’t popular those things wouldn’t exist. Tamashii is about to make so much bread in the next year its not even funny. They’re gonna make a killing with these effects due in part because displaying is popular and they’re getting free promotion and exposure everyday from A.C.B.A.
AB: If I said you created markets for figures and figure collecting, what would you say?
KG: We carved a new market. It’s a market that was nonexistent until A.C.B.A. started displaying figures and it just keeps growing. We really started seeing it when Hasbro started doing those huge displays at Comic-Con for their Marvel Universe figures. I mean this shit was like a sub-culture of a sub-culture, like a t.v. depicted nerd in his mom’s basement and shit. We took it to another level like people who collect are normal people who have seen vaginas before, like to get fresh and hit the scene and have families and lives. It’s not just some social outcast; like I know street dudes that collect. It’s crazy! It’s so beyond what people think.
AB: Where do you see the brand moving and displaying as art?
KG: I envision it getting to a point where it’ll be like one of those cooking shows you see on television where it’s like you have X amount of time to set up something and it’ll be a live thing. Two or three people on a team or something. Maybe it won’t be an hour but a week or something like that like. I got my three-man team, she’s building a Diorama, he’s doing the cutouts, I’m doing the posing and we’re gonna put together some crazy shit! Not only would it be fun to watch, it’s marketable exposure. Something like that the sponsors would be through the roof and it’s not specific to one company. I think that would be tremendous for the displaying community. It could be that huge and it can appeal to somebody who never thought they’d be into toys. Anybody could see that and say you know what, I don’t collect, but that shit is dope. That’s where I want to take it. We’re gonna get there I’m sure of it. I can see it. Mezco just released a two pack with the Dark Knight Returns Batman and Mutant Leader and the whole thing for it was posed. Five, six, seven years ago you didn’t see anybody doing anything like that. Even Hasbro had the promotional comic covers with articulated figures and that’s some shit we’ve been doing for years. You see it more and more with these companies and we know what it is. It’s getting there.
AB: Now, I heard A.C.B.A. took a huge step forward in its recognition as contemporary art form recently…
KG: We had a gallery show in California. I had to coordinate this from here in New York. I couldn’t make it to the show, so I had a couple reliable people put things together. Michael Whisman, who’s like a genius when it comes to A.C.B.A., pretty much got out all the matte borders and printed out all the pictures and everything. He’s an art student. There are a lot of traditional art students in A.C.B.A. There’s another girl who was an exceptional A.C.B.A. artist her name is Nica, and another dude named Joey. They were a duo in three of our World Tournaments. It’s a lot of people who have a background in art where not only can they pose and set up displays and stuff but they’re building their own sets too. Getting back to the miniature movie or production aspect, they’re building their own set, directing it, shooting it. It’s nuts to think about but its tremendous and takes a huge amount of talent and dedication. Some of the videos that came out of the tournament last year were mind-blowing. CJ, the kid that won the tournament last year, has pictures in the gallery show and his videography skills for his entries were out of this world. On a level I’ve never seen before. I feel every year someone pushes the envelope and takes it to another level. So in the show there were shots from, CJ, Pharaoh Black, Whisman, Darais, I threw in a shot for filler, Jeremy Lee and my man Al Chang who’s got some really dope shots. I really like what he put in. We also had live displays provided by my man Henry Beltran to really push the tangible aspect. The show went well and was great exposure for the brand. How crazy would it be to have a gallery with no pictures just all encasements and set ups? People would go nuts!