Interview with Mikie Graham - Undead Monday

Posted by Grey Monday, December 3, 2012

We covered Mikie Graham's solo exhibition, The Return of the Zombie Art Project, at the Toy Art Gallery in Hollywood, California, late last month. This Undead Monday, The Daily Zombies checked in with the toy artist who brought Playmobil, one of our favourite childhood toylines, to life by ironically turning them full-fledged undead.

For the record, the cherubic fellow in black standing beside the handsomely (and appropriately) attired toy artist, Mikie Graham, AKA Zombie Monkie, wasn't me or any other members of The Daily Zombies. Unfortunately we were unable to attend the show but nevertheless we get to check in with the toy artist that first gave us something to cheer about last Halloween when he introduced the Zombie Art Project

An exhilaratingly innovative and often unrelenting presentation of a balls-to-the-walls, full-scale zombie apocalypse, the Zombie Art Project featured customized figures from Playmobil, one of our favourite childhood toylines, in elaborate playsets with the humor and gore element tuned to the maximum.

With The Return of the Zombie Art Project, the toy artist is back with his solo exhibition from November 24 to December 8 at Toy Art Gallery’s showroom located at 7571 Melrose Ave. Hollywood CA 90046. We here at The Daily Zombies are obviously big fans of the project and we are truly thrilled to talk to Mikie to have a better insight into the mind behind the awesomely twisted Zombie Art Project.

Without further ado, here's the transcript of the interview and head back after the interview to take a look at some of the pictures from the show as well as the show-wrapping press release.

The Daily Zombies: To kick things off for those unfamiliar with your works, let’s start by telling us a little about yourself: Who you are and how you came to be? 

Mikie Graham: My name is Mikie Graham (aka ZombieMonkie) and I am an inexpedient toy artist living in San Francisco, CA. I have been customizing toys since I was in High school but have only started to focus on it as an artistic practice in the last 5 years. With my spare time I also work for Blamo Toys - painting figures and putting together art shows / vending events. 

TDZ: Being longtime fans of both Playmobil and zombies, we here at The Daily Zombies absolutely loved the Zombie Art Project and thus felt compelled to know the story behind the origins of this awesome concept of a “Playmobil Zombie Apocalypse”. How did you come up with this idea? 

Graham: The Zombie Art Project started over 2 years ago when I first customized one of my extra Playmobil figures into a zombie. It was fun, different and got a lot of attention on the toy message boards so I decided to keep going. Through the years I ended up customizing quite a few Playmobil zombies and for Halloween last year I decided to put them all together and release one a day on my website. It went over really well and through a series of long and confusing events eventually led me to a gallery show at the Toy Art Gallery Los Angeles. 

TDZ: We assumed from your works that you are a big fan of the zombie culture yourself. Care to share with us your sentiments toward this gradually popular sub-genre of sci-fi/horror and your opinions on the zombie culture’s rise to the status of indisputable influence and popularity it now holds over pop culture? 

Graham: I have been a big zombie fan since freshman year in Highschool when I first saw Night of the Living Dead. Since then I have ingested every form of zombie media I can find - from B films to video games to comic books if there was a zombie in it, I sought it out. As I have aged it has been intriguing to see this new rise in zombie culture. When I first became interested in zombies there was very little zombie media to choose from and zombie culture was a very cult thing. Nowadays zombies are everywhere from the Walking Dead on TV to the endless stream of zombie video games; Zombies have come out of the subculture and into the mainstream. 

Not that I am complaining, it's nice to have such a plethora of zombie media to enjoy... its just getting quite hard to keep up! 

TDZ: Still talking about zombies here. Do you prefer the good ol’ fashioned “slow, lumbering and unintelligent” types made popular in George A. Romero’s earlier films or the maniacally splinting types introduced in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later? Any personal favourite representation of the undead kind? 

Graham: Slow and stupid! No questions asked. 

Zombies are re-animated corpses, they would be dealing with rigor mortis and probably a great deal of brain damage from the dying process, they wouldn't be running around or driving cars. They are dead bodies plain and simple. 

As for my personal favorites: 

#1 - The Romero Living Dead Trilogy 
The undisputed best of the best. If I had to pick I would have to say Day is my favorite of the three. 

#2 Dead Alive. 
So over the top and gory it's impossible to turn away from. 

#3 Cemetery Man. 
This movie pushes boundaries of what a zombie movie can be in a very positive, very artistic way. 

TDZ: We are big fans of how you slipped in some pretty tongue-in-cheek humor and/or Easter egg into the Zombie Art Project. Can you name us three of your personal favorite works you have conjured for the Zombie Art Project so far? 

Graham: Favorite Gags / Easter eggs 

#1 The Hippy and her California Cheeseburger. 
Pulled directly from the Simpsons S8 Ep 25, this was always one of my favorite Simpsons gags. It was fun to recreate it and even more fun to see who got the joke! 

#2 Zombi Vs Shark 
This set was inspired directly by Lucio Fulci's 1979 movie "Zombi 2" or just "Zombi" in America. An incredible zombie film with some very over the top gore. 

#3: Bath Salts T-shirt Zombie 
This little guy sits on the side of my customized Police Station Playset. He's small, he's kind of hidden but he so tasteless and topical that he makes me laugh every time I see him. 

TDZ: Apart from your work for the Zombie Art Project, we noticed that you have a vast portfolio of works. Can you decide on some of those works from your massive body of work that you are most proud of? 

Graham: I am very proud of the Trojan Pony that I did for Hasbro's My Little Pony custom show last May. 

This was a fun project on which I got to try a new technique... and if you look closely you can see that I was able to keep my Playmobil influence via the scale Trojan solders hidden inside. 

I am also still a huge fan of the Krampus Dunny I did last year for Xmass. 

Along with zombies I am also very interested in traditional monsters from all over the world. The Krampus is one of these great old world monsters that is just so interesting he deserves to have his story brought over to the new world. I think I did that in a fun playful way with this piece. 

TDZ: What are the main influences of your works? Are there any particular artists that have had an impact on your work? 

Graham: Like I mentioned above - monsters, especially traditional folklore characters like the Japanese Yokai. 

As for artists, Sam Kieth is my all time artistic idol. His work is dark, strange and exaggerated but he has an artistic style thats unrivaled to this day. 

Let's see... Who else... H.P. Lovecraft, Berni Wrightson, Jamie Hewlett, Eric Powell, Andrew Bell, Jean Pier Jeunett, Tim Burton, and a million more that I don't have space to list. 

TDZ: You sir, certainly have a most unique profession as a toy customizer. On the behalf of the hordes of up-and-coming enthusiasts interested in the business, do you personally see a reasonable future and career in this line? 

Graham: To be honest not really... 

I truly hope that this artistic medium will continue to grow and eventually toy art will be seen in the same glorified light as "traditional art". That someday my work and the work of my fellow indie toy artists will be highly sought after.... but realistically I'm not sure if that will ever happen. 

Wow, what a downer. On the other hand, I am an artist and I do what I do because it's what I love and what I'm driven to do, whether I get paid or not. So there is some happiness in that and who knows maybe if I am super lucky someday I'll be designing toys for Playmobil instead of customizing them! 

TDZ: Your latest show, “The Return of the Zombie Art Project”, will be opening later this week (November 24, 2012) at the Toy Art Gallery in Los Angeles. We understand that there will be thirty brand-new customized scenes on display. Care to give us a heads up on what to expect from the exhibition? Will everything be bigger and badder than the awesome stuff we saw last year

Graham: Yes indeed, Z.A.P. 2 opened Last Saturday night and it was a huge success! 

The show (which will be up until Dec 8th) includes a collection of 30 fully customized Playmobil zombie sets. From affordable single zombies up to highly detailed dioramas, this year's Z.A.P. is bigger and better than last year in every way! 

The Toy Art Gallery was a big space to fill with tiny Playmobil figures so I decided to additionally created 3 giant resin / fiberglass severed Playmobil heads and a gargantuan 6 ft x 10 ft painting. If you are in Los Angeles and have the time please drop by the Toy Art Gallery (7571 Melrose Ave.) to check it out, I am truly proud of how this show came together and would love everyone to get a chance to see it! 

TDZ: What can we expect from Mikie Graham later down the line? We would love to see your take on some other genres of the sci-fi/horror. What upcoming projects can we look forward to in the future and where can your fans see more of your works? 

Graham: I have a stack of figures that still need to be customzed for different group shows so keep an eye on my blog HERE , my Twitter @Zombiemonkie or my Facebook page HERE because there will be at least 1 new figure a month for foreseeable future. 

Past that I'm doing a wave of 16 blind box Andriod mini figures for Dragatomi and I will be starting work on the designs for what I hope to be my first production figure! 

And as always I'm looking for new projects so if anyone has ideas or wants to commission me they can contact me through my website HERE.

Many thanks to Mikie for taking the time in answering our questions in spite of his understandably hectic schedules.

Once again, for any self-respecting zombie fans or enthusiast of the toy customizing craft who happened to be in Los Angeles, The Return of the Zombie Art Project will be exhibited till December 8 at Toy Art Gallery’s showroom located at 7571 Melrose Ave. Hollywood CA 90046. 

For those who like to check what will be in store for the exhibition, you can check out our earlier coverage on the show for a sneak preview. Better still, Mikie has helpfully put together a video slideshow of pictures from the show's opening night. Hit the jump to check out the clip, followed by some of the pictures from the opening night.

The 6 x 10 feet painting Mikie did for the show.

The mega Playmobil heads. Nifty.

Nifty.Pictures from the opening night.

Here's the show-wrapping press release:

Saturday 11/24/12 saw the opening of "The Return of the Zombie Art Project" at the Toy Art Gallery Los Angeles. A collection of 30+ customized Playmobil playsets by San Francisco based toy artist Mikie Graham. After taking a well deserved week off to re-cooperate, Mikie is back with a complete show review for anyone not able to make the opening. 

From tongue in cheek single zombies to ornate playsets, this year's Zombie Art Project is bigger and badder then ever. Just a quick look a this plastic horror show and you can see the deep love Mikie holds for the genre. From cultural references like the "California Cheeseburger" to miniature interpretations of classic zombie icons to completely original creations, The Return of the Zombie Art Project has something unique to offer horror and Playmobil fans alike! 

In addition to the 30 custom play sets, Mikie also handcrafted a set of 3 resin / fiberglass mega Playmobil heads and a giant 3 ft x2 ft police station playset for the window displays. 

The entire show is now officially available for purchase through TAG's online store

With L.E. prints starting at only $25 and over 20 one of a kind figures available under $100, this is a great opportunity for cheap, unique holiday gifts for that zombie or retro toy fan in your life! Each and every Z.A.P. custom that is sold comes with its own hand painted / signed wooden display base and a framed print that tells that characters personal story. 

If you're in or around Los Angeles over the next few weeks The Return of the Zombie Art Project will be on display at the Toy Art Gallery 7571 Melrose Ave until the 8th of December. 

Or if you're interested in following Mikie's artistic journey online, make sure to follow him on twitter @zombiemonkie or watch his now regularly updated blog HERE.


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