He bought lots of toys, mixed and matched the parts, sculpted headgear and accessories, and meticulously repainted each part to create, for example, Lion-O from Thundercats out of a Skeletor figure from He-Man.
He even goes so far as to make box labels and design the packaging — reusing other action figures' plastic boxes — "to make them look like they're from the store."
Now, after roughly a year, he has finally settled on a kind of paint that both looks right and sticks to the plastic figures, and is getting requests for specific characters from fans around the world.
Bishop sells some of his custom-made figures to help fund his hobby; he recently took an order for 100 Sgt. Slaughter figures, combining the GI Joe figure with aspects of the '80s-era professional wrestler by the same name. (A tip for others who might be interested in starting this kind of work: "People are dying for Thundercats," Bishop says.)
Often Bishop comes up with ideas of what figures to make and then sorts out how to do it, with what parts from what original figures. But sometimes new techniques or even new toys open other opportunities, as recently happened with a Jack Knight Modern Starman figure, which has pants on and makes it much easier to create other figures that have pants (as opposed to shorts or bare legs).
Bishop has a love-hate relationship of sorts with this hobby. It takes a lot of time and creative energy from other work, like comics (yes, he made an action figure of Nathan the Caveman, the star of his graphic novel). But then again, "this is really fun."
Which is why he and Ben Asselin, a friend and fellow character-builder (who does more sculpting than repurposing existing toy parts), are considering partnering with a couple of other friends to form a concept-art business capable of designing and prototyping characters and figures, laying out storyboards, handling Web comics, cartoons, and even packaging materials. "We're all sort of doing all the stuff that would be required," Bishop says.
But then the conversation shifts back to fun. Bishop and Asselin are planning on making a façade of Castle Grayskull scaled to fit the 3.75-inch-high action figures. And Asselin, a huge GI Joe fan, is busy creating all the characters from a specific scene in the 1987 animated film GI Joe: The Movie — which means getting or making the more generic figures of each character and then adding clothing and accessories to match the movie.
Bishop says a lot of the appeal for him is "having something that you've created — and something that no one else has." He laughs: "I want to be able to stop doing it, but it's too fun."
Where can I find it?
• COMPUTER AT SEA will be releasing an album in early 2011, downloadable online (myspace.com/computeratseamusic) or you can buy the 12-inch white-vinyl record.
• BEN BISHOP's work can be seen at bishart.net. BEN ASSELIN's work can be seen at benasselin.blogspot.com. They will have a joint display at Fun Box Monster Emporium (656 Congress Street, Portland) during a First Friday Art Walk in early 2011.
• CHRISTIAN MATZKE's work is harder to find, but is sometimes featured in short films shown around the area.
Jeff Inglis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.