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Fwoosh Interview – Josh Izzo (gntlmn1220)

interview.gifRecently I had a chance to sit down to chat with Fwoosh member gntlmn1220 – aka Josh Izzo. Read on to get the rest of the story on this jack of all trades as we discuss his customs, his new website, the state of the action figure industry and a lot more. Plus, you might just learn how to win one of his customs for your very own!

So Joshua, just who are you? Where do you come from for those that don’t know?

Josh! – Firstly, I want to thank you guys here at the Fwoosh for this amazing opportunity.  The Fwoosh, in all of it’s incarnations, has been and continues to be a fantastic and welcoming online community for comics, toys and the art of the customized action figure and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Originally I’m from Jersey.  I grew up in a little Norman Rockwell-ian town called Maplewood.  I had an extremely normal childhood, wherein I watched way too much television and spent an inordinate amount of time at the movies and at comic book stores.  Much like every other person in their early thirties I grew up on a steady diet of Transformers, GI Joe, Star Wars and reveled in the 1980’s toy landscape.

Where do you live?

Josh! – Rhode Island.  About ten minutes south of Providence.

Who is in your family? Any pets?

Josh! – It’s myself, my wife, my 2-yeard old daughter and two little Pomeranians named Chewie and Bandit. 

What are you doing professionally right now?

Josh! – Right now I’m the Director of Licensing and Product Development at a video game accessories company.  I manage all of our licenses like Batman: The Dark Knight, Halo, Nintendo, Disney, Hello Kitty, Naruto and others.  I acquire the licenses, manage the day-to-day relationships with the licensors and make sure all of our products move smoothly from initial concept to finished goods from China.

Any past positions/projects that you are particularly fond of?

Josh! – I was really, really proud of my animation work while I was a Producer at Hasbro.  I produced something close to 150 episodes of kid’s animation entertainment.  I was the Producer on Transformers: Cybertron, GI Joe: Sigma Six, Duel Masters, Transformers: Animated and some other various and sundry projects.

It was an amazing experience to work on some of the largest brands in the world and have a hand in the creative direction of some of the classic and iconic entertainment brands that helped shape me as a child.  Just being able to sit at a table with Takara-Tomy and the Hasbro designers was an honor and a privilege.

What is the new website all about? What are your hopes for it?

Josh! – For a long time I had been wanting to aggregate all of my creative endeavors into one place.  I have hundreds of custom action figures, clips from my animation experience, my on-air and voice over work and all of my personal illustration work that I want to be able to showcase to the general public.

I’ve been inspired by one of my best friends, Matt (Iron-Cow) Cauley, for SO many years and his astounding web presence, that I figured it was time to buckle down and actually stake my claim on a small chunk of internet real estate.

I suppose I have a few goals for the website.  As I stated above, I really want a place that can serve as a virtual museum for all of my creative endeavors.  I also want an easily navigable place that people who enjoy looking at my customs can come and stay awhile and really dig into what my work is about.  Lastly, I almost want the site to serve as one, huge resume.  If a present or future employer is interested in what I’m about, what I can offer and what I can do they can just hop over to the site and check me out.

Where did the screen name gntlmn1220 come from?

Josh! – That goes way back to my days of using AOL on the family Dell computer in about 1994.  I was neck-deep in vampire literature at the time (I was well on the way to going full goth in a few years…that’s another story) and the word “gentlemen” was in my mind when our family first logged-on.  The “1220” is simply a numerical analogue to “IZZO” and that has been a staple of our family for years and years. 

What do you think of the current state of the action figure world?

Josh! – I think that all of the big guns in the industry are having a VERY hard time trying to keep the attention of the kids that they are going after.  With the meteoric rise of video games as a leisure pass time, kids have far less time to really, really become invested in action figures. 

Also, I think the manufacturers are hamstrung by the ongoing need for branded entertainment.  Kids are SO conditioned to having movies, cartoon shows, video games and web content that it’s extremely hard for toy makers to really be creative and try something new and outside of the “box on a shelf in Wal-Mart” formula.

What is going right? How about wrong?

Josh! – What is going right is definitely the manufacturers trying to find the balance between kid and collector toys.  This is such a modern phenomenon and the big two have really found a great way to cater to these two very different consumer sets.  Between 6” super-articulation, kids media-driven lines, sculpt and paint it’s an age like none other.

The bad part about today’s toy landscape is something I mentioned above.  It’s the lack of original content and toy intellectual property.  The big two toy makers (and even the third and fourth tier) are held over a barrel by the retailers and media companies with SO many restrictions and regulations. 

When I was a kid, we had tons of toy lines that were original and fantastic.  Starriors, Dragon Riders of the Styx, Manglors, Zoids, Crystar.  Some of these had comic book lines and possibly a few children’s books to support the I.P., but other than that, they exited because kids were interested in them.  The toy aisles were filled with imaginative toy-lines that were not tied in to the summer tent pole films or the 7-day-a-week animated series.

Of course there was Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers and He-Man (among others) but toy makers were not afraid to take a risk, spend money on tooling and try something home-grown and new.  Of course, the economic landscape of today is SO different than it was in 1984 that it’s VERY hard to do this, but it would be nice to see more XEVOZ-like lines on the shelves.

Do you have a favorite toy line or figure of all time?

Josh! – Of all time!?  In terms of a vintage line, I’m partial to Star Wars.  I think I’m missing all but 8 of the original Star Wars – Power of the Force line up from Kenner.  These figures were such a part of my childhood – they were SO defining.  From that line, Luke as a Jedi Knight has to be my favorite, no doubt.

In terms of modern toys, I think it has to Mezco’s Comic-style Hellboy line.  I’m a HUGE Mignola fan.  The man is a master of his craft and I love his work.  When this line was announced, it was a dream come true.  These figures, Hellboy in particular, are the perfect realizations of the art of Mignola WITH amazing articulation, accessories and character selection.  It still stings that the Rasputin and Frog Monster never made it out…

What do you find to be the best toy line going these days?

Josh! – I’m actually really partial to DC Universe Classics.  When a new wave comes out it reminds me of the hey day of Toy Biz and Marvel Legends.  Great character selection, functional and well-balanced articulation and a breadth and depth that really looks awesome on a shelf.  They are hitting a great stride with this line and I truly hope Mattel can keep it up, because this could be a perennial toy line for them. 

Best figure you have purchased in the last six months?

Josh! – I think it has to be the NECA Teenage Mutant Turtle figures.  As a stand-alone series these figures are works of art.  Like the Mezco Hellboy line, these are perfectly realized action figures.  There is nothing – NOTHING – that I would change about them.  True to the source material, great paint and articulation, in scale…just amazing.  The folks over at NECA really knocked that one out of the park and I REALLY am hoping the Shredder, Foot Elite and Foot Soldier make it out.

What company do you think is doing the most innovative things right now? Why?

Josh! – In terms of pure toy innovation, it has to be Hot Toys.  Those guys are making the most astounding works of 1:6 scale art I have ever seen.  The moving eyes…the articulation and engineering…the attention to detail…it’s just mind-blowing.  I know that these are technically not really “toys” by any standard definition – they’re more like moveable maquettes – but they really are pushing the boundaries of what this segment of consumer products can achieve.

So, let’s get a little more into the custom corner- when did you start customizing?

Josh! – I think I started customizing in high school – maybe around 1993 – Right around the same time that the first Toy Biz Marvel Heroes line came out.  A good friend of mine, Jamie Malcolm and I began taking G.I. Joes and other figures and adding to the roster of Marvel heroes. 

I distinctly remember taking my old Crystar figure and painting him white with a silver belt for Iceman and taking a Spiral Zone character and painting him silver to be Colossus.  Another memorable custom was using the original Playmates TMNT Foot Soldier and painting him into Sleepwalker.

These were all mainly repaints, no actual resculpting or add-ons.  Except for one notable exception – I took a G.I. Joe figure, drilled two holes into his torso and made X-Force’s Forearm.

My ‘modern’ customization was started in about 1999 or 2000.  My first few customs were very rudimentary with minimal sculpting and simple paint.  I remember creating a set of 5” Thundarr the Barbarian figures using some Toy Biz Hercules and Alpha Flight figures and a Playmates WildCATS Maul figure.  In 2001 a friend named Michael Breaux was kind enough to host my figures on his site, The Toy-Room-Redux.  The figures are still there ( so this is a big shout out to Michael – thanks man! 

The other three initial customs that got me back into the game were an X-2 Nightcrawler in the X-Men uniform – this really showcases some of my EARLY works on page 01, the Phantom and a Return of the Joker figure for a buddy of mine in New York.

What inspired you to get into customizing?

Josh! – Initially, when I was younger, it was to make toys for myself to fill out the ranks of the manufactured toys. 

Recently, I got into customizing to make representations of characters that I really knew that no manufacturer would actually sell.   I had followed the original incarnation of Iron-Cow Productions, when Cason and Matt were still tag-teaming and it those guys really kicked my ass six ways ‘till Tuesday with their prolific customization.

Their creativity really egged me on and I reached out to Matt to talk about the craft.  We e-mailed on another about customs, how to get started, etc. and it was all downhill from there.

What would you say your specialty is?

Josh! – I think its Victoriana.  I’m a HUGE fan of 19th Century Literature and that totally bled over into my artwork and customizing.  I love to research and create period costumes, literary characters and pulp heroes and villains.  I think Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill really made customizing horizons broaden with their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book.  They took the best of EVERY book I love and turned them into an astounding visual feast.  From the first issue, I knew I had to make those characters in three-dimensions.

How do you choose who to make?

Josh! – I work as if I’m using a bibliography.  If a character makes an appearance in a League of Extraordinary Gentleman comic, even as a footnote, I add it to the ever expanding list of characters I want to customize.

I have a few distinct segments of customs I like to make –

1.  League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – This includes all the comic books and the various original source materials.  I’m also branching out into other book-related characters to fill in those ranks.

2.  Pulp Heroes – I love the look of these rough and tumble heroes and they are just so visually arresting.

3.  Golden Age DC Heroes – I’m nostalgic for an age of comics I was not born for.  I love the look and feel of these heroes, and my DC Shelf is primarily filled with these characters.

4.  Madman – As like Hellboy, my other favorite comic book is Madman by Mike Allred and I have plans for a huge custom library of Allred-verse heroes and villains.

5.  Hellboy – These are primarily in the 3.75” scale.  The Mezco 3.75” Movie Hellboy line was so much fun that I wanted to grow that line.

This is the primary list of themes and characters, but there are others that pop into my head and have to go down on the books.

Are there any characters that you absolutely love to make, as many versions of possible of?

Josh! – Madman, no doubt.  I have four or five costume variants done thus far and another six on the table right now.  Allred is a master at tweaking and redesigning the Madman costume in almost every issue, so I have plenty of inspiration.

What do you like most about customizing? What do you like least?

– I have two things I like the most.  I like cobbling the figure together.  Finding parts, tweaking figures, sculpting – that’s just so much fun.  I then love the final product, the finished custom.  It’s a sense of accomplishment and pride to have that 6” or 3.75” scale work of art on the shelf.  My least favorite part is painting.  I’m extremely anal when it comes to painting my customs and it takes my days and days and days to really get what I want.  It’s so laborious and tedious for me…I have close to 3 dozen primed and finished customs sitting in my studio waiting to get painted.

What type of process do you go through as you customize?

– I usually find a character that I like and then do online or in-print research to find good reference.  I then go through my voluminous fodder to find as close a match I can for the character – if I can minimize sculpting, all the better.  Then it’s simply glue and piece together, sculpt added and/or missing costuming, prime and paint. 

The initial step of researching costume details and finding fodder/parts is totally my favorite step.

What does your workspace look like?

Josh! – I have a small studio in our home that is filled with fodder and display cases.  I use grocery store meat trays to hold all the various custom parts for each individual character so I don’t lose any bits.

Do you own any one else’s customs?

Josh! – I do.  I have a TON from Matt Cauley and Glorbes.  I have some from Airmax, Lars, Doubledealer, Cal and a really great customizer named Neil Posis.

Who is your favorite customizer?

Josh! – It’s a veritable hit list…I love Iron-Cow, Airmax, Swass!, Glorbes, Sillof, Lars, Jin Saotome, DarthLeon and Talon SoulBender (from the Doosh).

Do you have any words for customizers just starting out?

Josh! – I think new customizers need to practice and to look at as many customs online as possible.  My first ‘new’ custom was of the Phantom, and it was rough.  I showed it to people, got feedback and worked on my craft.  I think that’s one of the BEST parts of the Fwoosh – it’s an extremely helpful and supportive community.  New customizers can showcase their work and get astounding creative criticism. 

Do you have an ultimate goal in regards to your customizing?

Josh! – I do…I have maybe 100 plus customs in various stages of completion in my studio.  I would love to finish them all, have my drafting table be clean, neat and free of Magic Sculpt, Kneadatite and fodder.  I know that day will never come since I’m constantly imagining new customs to cook up, but it’s a long-term goal I look to achieve one day.

Okay, parting shots?

Josh! – I guess in closing, I would again like to thank the Fwoosh for this opportunity.  I also want to thank all the Fwooshers – and other online readers – who take the time to read this interview and take a look at, I really do appreciate it.  If anyone has any questions or comments about me or my work, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at .

*We want to thank Josh for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to drop by his site to check out his work, you will be glad you did. Also, as a bonus treat, Josh has offered up one of his customs for a Fwoosh Giveaway! That’s right, you can be the proud owner of this fantastic DC Universe Classics-styled Ra’s al Ghul! Follow the link below to enter the giveaway!


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