Collector's Corner: Interview with Joe Allard

PREVIEWSworld ToyChest proudly introduces Collector's Corner! Here, we'll highlight anyone and everyone with a love of toys and collectibles. Whether it's a hardcore collector with no room on their display case or a veteran sculptor who makes a living in the industry, we'll talk to anyone who lives and breathes toys! 

This week, we talk to Joe Allard, a designer for Diamond Select Toys. 

Allard talks about working on the Legends in 3D bust line and how he got into the industry. 

What’s the design process for a ½ scale bust? Where do you start?

Research. Most jobs start with research. Like Indy says: “Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library”. Except now we have the internet. I like to immerse myself if the subject matter for a while before I start to design. If it’s based on a movie, I’ll try to watch it, or read the comic. Google is always your friend as well. All the Wiki’s out there provide a lot of good inspirational material. I find that even though I have a slew of good art books, I still jump to the internet first. It’s just more efficient when you have deadlines. It’s also always a good idea when doing your research to take a look at what’s been done before so you do something new and different and not repeat what’s out there. There are a lot of superhero collectibles out there, so part of the challenge in designing these pieces is coming up with something different and refreshing.

You’ve designed action figures and statues as well. What’s different about designing a bust?

It’s half the job! Ha! Actually, I do like to imagine the bust as a full figure at first, just to get an idea of what the rest of him is doing, so I get the top part looking interesting, rather than just straight front and center. Also the face and expression are super important in a bust because it’s where your focus is and it’s much larger than a statue or figure. You want to capture some sort of expression or emotion, but not so much that it takes away from the character likeness. It has to be subtle but noticeable. Even though Captain America may yell or grimace a lot in the films or comics, you don’t necessarily want a bust of him mouth wide open ready for a dental exam. Something more stoic and iconic usually works best with this type of collectible. You’re trying to capture the essence of these characters with one image. For Cap since I brought him up, I wanted to express his optimistic and honorable personality. So, he’s glancing up, maybe at the flag, feeling all warm and fuzzy for his country, confident he’s there to meet any challenge.

How did you get into the business of designing toys?

I started out coloring comic books for Malibu and Marvel Comics in the mid 90's. My original goal was to become a comic book penciller, The Next Todd McFarlane, and sit at home in my underwear drawing comics all day. Eventually the industry took a dive and Marvel closed the West Coast coloring office so I found myself looking for a new job. I took a product designer position at company called Applause where I was designing gifts and collectibles for everything from Marvel and Star Wars to Disney and Muppets. Right away I fell in love with the process of creating toys and collectibles. The joy of seeing something I designed produced in 3D form that someone could hold and play with or collect was such a thrill and still never gets old to me. I love collaborating with the sculptors and other artists to bring these things to life. I love that I get to play in this sandbox of characters that I grew up loving and still do to this day. So, I continued to work at various toy companies over the next decade learning as much as I could and making connections. Then, about 16 years ago, I made the leap to freelance designer and eventually started up Design Devil, my independent design and development company. Now I’ve come full circle, and basically get to sit at home in my underwear and draw comic book characters all day! Over the years I’ve worked for all the major toy and collectibles companies and have had the pleasure of working with Chuck and Robert at Diamond on many fun projects for over 12 years

How does experience as a comic book colorist help you in designing collectibles?

For one, definitely the subject matter. Most of my design work revolves around comic book characters, many of which I’ve colored books for, and am a fan of myself. Also, I think years of coloring and studying many different amazing artists work has helped me improve my own skills for sure. I learned about anatomy, dynamic poses, composition, mood, drama, etc. Not to mention story. With each statue we try to tell some sort of mini-story, so I think being immersed in that world for so long definitely lends a hand there as well. I really consider it the same sandbox or playground as comic books, I’ve just moved from the swings to the monkey bars so to speak.

How did you create the design for the Gwen Stacy bust?

I’ll be honest here, Spider-Gwen wasn’t a character I was super familiar with. I know Gwen Stacy of course, Spidey is a favorite of mine and I use to read the title for years. But I’m a bit out of the loop on some of the newer storylines. So much good stuff out there it’s hard to keep up with all of it! So Google was my friend. I did research. I got a few issues of the Spider-Gwen comics to catch up on the character before starting the design. Maybe a bit overkill for just a bust, but it’s how I like to work. Then since I was also designing the Spidey, and Venom busts, I wanted all three to kind of work together, and all be looking different directions. That’s one of the benefits of working on an entire line like I was fortunate to do here, you can make sure they are all cohesive and work together as a set.

With the Muppets’ Animal bust, you designed a non-human statue… Was that a challenge?

Actually, Animal was one of the easier ones. Humans are the toughest in my opinion. The cartoon or in this case Muppet characters are simpler and easier to capture. I knew right away I wanted the wild open mouth expression and he had to be on his drum for the base. Some of them just come together quickly. He was one of those. I grew up on the Muppets so I was super familiar with the character and that always makes the design process easier, and in my opinion results in a better final product. When you can put some real love and appreciate for the character into the piece I think it shows.

The bases on all your busts have a design that is unique to the character. How do you go about creating a design for a bust’s base?

The base was something Chuck had some ideas on up front going into the Legends line in general. He wanted a base that was representative of the character itself, something iconic or recognizable. So that was the second challenge for each bust. First - what pose, expression and outfit, then - what’s the base going to be. For some like Animal I mentioned, or Jack Sparrow, the idea came fairly easy. Though I was worried the compass might be too obvious for Jack, Chuck liked the ideas and I think it came out perfect. Some others, like say Rorschach, were more of a challenge. He had no real iconography or settings that really screamed Rorschach or told a good story you could identify with him, that I could think of anyway. So, since his gun was kind of his main and pretty much only accessory, I decided to riff off of that and give the base sort of a steampunk feel which I felt fit the character and piece fairly well. For Iron Man, I knew I wanted to do some lab tech from Stark Labs, and since we were doing a more classic version of him, I went with some very Ditko styled techno gizmos as the base.

Do you have a favorite character/franchise you’ve worked with so far?

That is TOUGH! I love them all! I’ll say Jack Sparrow was fun, because it’s always good to get another dread-head some collectibles love. Even though the dude totally stole my look.

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