Geeks of Doom sits down with action figure customizer Ray Carro Roel to discuss toys, painting, and zombies!
Many years back I’d hang with this kid named Jay. Jay was a six-foot-two, thin-as-a-rail bass player who owned two original Gene Simmons basses (the fucker had a signed Axe bass from the Creatures of the Night tour). At the time that seemed pretty impressive to me, but even more impressive still was Jay’s video game prowess (he could beat me at Street Fighter II with only one hand on the controller… and I was no slouch), and how using only a medical scalpel and a set of enamel paints he would turn all of his G.I. Joes into members of KISS, the X-Men, and characters from various video games. Now, other than switching Zartan‘s hook and rubber-banded torso with Cobra Commander’s (so C.C. would have cooler legs with chaps and pockets) and a few other experimental limb/head transplants, Jay’s stuff was my first real experience with professional-looking customized action figures.
In the many years since then, action figure customization has grown from a back-room, glue-sniffing hobby into a viable sub-culture of the phylum Geek. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the process with one of the premier customizers in the field, Ray Carro Roel. Seriously, just take one look at his Zombie Superman (at right) and you’ll know he is not fooling around.
Anyhoo, enough of my blabbery… on with the interrogation.
Geeks of Doom: Tell us about your artistic background:
Ray Carro Roel: Not much really, I have had little formal training. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend college on art scholarships, however I decided school was not for me and opted out. I am mostly self-taught give or take a few techniques here and there. I do mostly canvas work and sometimes murals. I worked for an artistic glass company here in Tampa for a few years then decided to start my own company Roel Arts & Entertainment Inc.
G.o.D.: Who are some of your influences?
RCR: I like creative people. The ones that think outside of the box. Those people give me a charge. You know, the type of people who don’t care about the criticism and go on to achieve happiness. Todd McFarlane for example. I’m not really a fan of his writing or his Spawn stuff, but I give the guy credit. Despite the nay-sayers, he set the bar with the formation of Image comics and set the gold standard for the production of action figures today.
Alan Moore is brilliant. Chuck Palahniuk genius.
G.o.D.: What are some of your favorite comic titles, artists?
RCR: I still love the Xmen and The Amazing Spider-Man. Frank Miller is my all-time favorite. This guy can do it all. Write. Illustrate. You name it. The work of Alex Ross is phenomenal.
G.o.D.: How did you first come up with the idea to start customizing action figures?
RCR: In the mid 90s, I was dealing in comics and toys pretty heavily. I had seen custom mego figures done by Charlee Flatt and was amazed at his work. I got to know Charlee through the conventions and he definitely planted the seed. I had a huge personal Star Wars collection and was frustrated that certain characters weren’t being made, so I made them for myself. It started out easy, pop a head off one figure, glue it to another. Simple stuff. My figures became more complex and next thing you know I was making custom packages for them. One year at the FX show in Orlando I had a dealer table and set some of my customs out for public display. People went nuts. Many of them thought that they were the next wave of figures and wondered where I had gotten them. I had a lot of different inquiries about those figures. I even got offered money for them. I kept telling everyone the figures were customs and not for sale, but the cash offers kept rising. I ended up selling every one of those figures that weekend.
G.o.D.: Did customizing figures come naturally to you?
RCR: Yes, because I enjoyed doing it. I never did it for the money. It was a relaxing hobby for me.
G.o.D.: What kind of tools do you use to make your modifications?
RCR: I use Xacto knives, a Dremel tool, 2 part hardening clays, good quality paint brushes, and a lot of patience.
G.o.D.: How long does it take to customize an action figure? How much longer does a zombie Superman take to complete than say, a Constantine?
RCR: It all depends on the figure. The more detail a figure has generally the more time it will take. I can knock out a figure in a few days. Mostly due to the fact that the clays and the paint primers take time to dry. I’m never in a hurry to finish a piece, I’ll often start a new one and let it sit (sometimes for months). My favorite part of the customizing is the painting. I hand paint everything, NO AIRBRUSH, so I like to take my time and get it right.
G.o.D.: What’s your favorite figure to customize and why?
RCR: I don’t really have a favorite. If I had to pick one that stands out I would say the Zombie Superman because it has gotten so much attention. I like all of my customs.
G.o.D.: What part do you see action figure customization playing in your future?
RCR: It’s purely a hobby for me. If I get noticed by a big toy company and it ends up landing me my dream job, then that would be awesome. Otherwise I’m gonna continue to enjoy customizing figures and maybe start doing some seminars at comic conventions or local shops.
G.o.D.: What do you forsee for the future of the genre of action figure customization? And where do you see yourself within it?
RCR: The future is now. There are a lot of talented figure customizers out there. A lot. I’m gonna keep trying to improve my work cause just when you think you’re on top of your game, here comes the next guy ready to knock you off.
Gentlemen, I’ll be waiting.
And now, 5 Random Geek Qs:
G.o.D.: Battery powered or Wall-socket? RCR: Wall
G.o.D.: DC’s 52 or Marvel’s Civil War? RCR: 52
G.o.D.: Star Wars or Star Trek? RCR: Star Wars
G.o.D.: Single issues or Trade Paperback? RCR: Single
G.o.D.: Heroes or Lost? RCR: Fuck Lost
Check out Ray’s myspace page to see more of his incredible action figure customization.