Designer Toys 101: Who is Huck Gee?

If you are new to this column, it is truly meant to be read from the beginning to the most recent.
Please start with the first installment, "What are Designer Toys?"

This week's column isn't about a specific toy platform or a company or an industry term or even an explanation of some ambiguous concept, rather it is about a single person: Huck Gee. But in discussing Mr. Gee we will also be delving into the birth of Designer Toys as whole, but especially their Western culture aspect and the Kidrobot company phenomenon as well as the rise of Designer Toy customization. But, before I begin, I would like to express my gratitude to Paul Budnitz (founder of Kidrobot) for his introduction to The Art of Huck Gee, which filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge of those early years…

In the late '90s Designer Toys were a rising underground movement in Asian countries but almost unheard of in Europe or America. Paul Budnitz fell in love with the budding art form and decided to bring it to the States, buying as many of the pieces as he could and opening in a small retail shop in San Francisco. With no proven sales record for the product out of a physical location, no one — including Budnitz — knew what to expect.
When the doors of the first Kidrobot location opened on February 12, 2002, Budnitz almost immediately encountered his first customer: a "really huge and scary guy with a shaved head and a tattoo of a skull on his neck" or, in other words, Huck Gee. Yes, Gee was Kidrobot's first customer. And within two months, Gee was the manager of that first Kidrobot retail location. But it wasn't destined to last. About two years after being appointed manager, Gee — with some urging from Budnitz — quit the job to pursue a career as a toy artist. And it only took Gee a few months to start earning a full-time living creating custom Designer Toys. In a lot of ways, Gee was the father of modern custom toys… And he was quite successful at it.

Gee's typical design sensibilities gear towards pre-Industrial Japanese aesthetics: samurai, ninjas, kabuki, geishas, etc. And while his customs have superbly clean, minimalistic paintjobs, it's the bevy of hand-made accessories that truly make them shine.
As Kidrobot grew up from being a retail store into a production company, Gee went along for the ride: having designed numerous highly-demanded Dunnys for the company, culminating in a blind boxed series solely comprised of his work. And yet Gee's focus remains on his customs, creating wonderful characters that inhabit a fantastical Japan of his own creation.

Next Week: What makes Designer Toys art while normal toys aren't?

Designer toys used in this week's column are all customs created by Huck Gee. Photo of Huck Gee graciously taken from the wonderful Jeremyriad.

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