INTERVIEW: Justin Ishmael on the "Galligantus" Sofubi!

I knew Justin Ishmael: Creative Director of Mondo, the man who joined the company in 2009 and has been heralded as one of the architects of the company’s success in recent years, but since he left them last year to strike out on his own, it was time for me to meet Justin Ishmael: Maker of Monsters. And, foolishly, I tried to test him.

Ishmael's two-headed giant sofubi figure "Galligantus" is an officially licensed Famous Monsters of Filmland piece, inspired by the 1968 Yearbook cover painting by Ron Cobb. What isn't being mentioned frequently is that this painting was an interpretation of Galligantua, the two-headed giant from the 1962 film Jack the Giant Killer, so I sent Ishmael a clip from the film showing the kaiju. Immediately, Ishmael replied to me, telling me about Jim Danforth, the artist that animated that scene, and how he had borrowed the King Kong puppet's fingers to make the armature able to grasp the anchor. "They were supposed to put them back," he wrote with what I'm sure was a smirk, "but I don't think they ever did!"

Needless to say, Ishmael schooled me. And, as I learned through this interview, this man doesn't do things lightly; he goes deep, needing to know everything, before tackling a project…

Let's start at the beginning… What attracted you to the two-headed giant "Galligantus" design specifically?
The [Famous Monsters of Filmland 1968 Yearbook] cover had been one I had seen before through comic book collecting. When I first saw the BEMON toy, [the "Two-Headed Giant" (双頭巨人)], it was definitely an "Oh, wow, someone made that!" kind of reaction. From there, it was just years and years of calling it BEMON and not really knowing anything about it and not being able to find an "affordable" one.

After I left Mondo, I had time on my hands and looked into it and started to try and find info just purely out of being a monster fan and wanting to know if it had a real name. At first, there didn't seem to be much more than the fact that Ron Cobb had illustrated it and that it may or may not be from the movie Jack the Giant Killer from the '60s. With that information I went looking for the story and then through that found the original painting, found out who had it in their collection, and then started to kinda mentally plan out how I could make this different than the BEMON and tell the story about how that image came to be and why Ron Cobb drew it and also my theory on how an auction [Forrest] "Forry" Ackerman attended and the stuff he purchased might have led to the cover existing. It's all really nerdy/interesting stuff and I can't wait to eventually write a long winded story about it all.

It's amazing you mentioned BEMON's "2-Headed Giant" figure, as that very popular (and rare) piece among kaiju collectors was going to be my next question! Can you tell us more about your thoughts on the BEMON piece?
Absolutely. I hold the BEMON toy and the history of the piece, the shop [Cosmo Knight Alpha], everything about it in really, really high regard. I think the toy is genius and "Galligantus" can never replace it. If you have a BEMON toy in your collection, call me. I want it! (Laughs) I think that one of my goals with the ISH site is to work with artists that I admire, so I actually messaged the BEMON artist myself and have people trying to get in contact to see if he'd like to do a run for himself to sell or possibly be involved in ANY capacity. I can't wait to see a photo of a BEMON toy next to "Galligantus".

I noticed "Galligantus" is a very Japanese heavy release… Japanese vinyl, Japanese sculptor (Handsome Taro), and Japan-based producer (Luke "Grody Shogun" Rook). I guess, in short, why the Japan-centric pedigree? As an American, how was working with people on the other side of the planet to see your vision through?
I wanted it to be authentic to my tastes and what I'm actually interested in. I feel like when I went to Japan for the first time, it was a very emotional experience for me. Japan was something I had wanted to do my entire life and, when I did get to go, it 100% lived up to my expectations and I wanted to go back immediately to the point where now I'm considering going to live there and do toys for an extended amount of time.

I went to all of the shops like BXH [Bounty Hunter], Erostika, Gladhand/Weirdo, Secret Base, Star Case, Mandarake… just shopping, in general, there is so inspiring. The way the shops and items are presented, the way that they package your bag and tape the top, etc. Whether they did or not, everyone at those shops also seemed like they really cared about what they were selling. They had pride in what they were doing and, to me, that was the true definition of "cool". It just all really stuck with me and I try to always refer back to those experiences and make everything FEEL the way or as close as I can to how I felt going.

Luke and I go back several years and we've always just talked and tried to do a project together. I'm a fan. So, while I was at Mondo, I was trying to get Luke to do vinyl toys for various properties and, when I left, I went to him about doing a project again. I had this long list of stuff I wanted to do and just went through and crossed them off until the Famous Monsters project was honestly the only logical one for me. I talked to him about it and he seemed to genuinely care and believed in me and the project. I thank him for this every day.

I love how the debut version of your "Galligantus" figure is a "Make-A-Monster" release, sold unassembled in a vintage model kit style box. It's a brilliant nostalgic touch. Where did the idea to sell the beast in this manner come from? It's very outside the box — pardon the pun — for modern toy retail…
A huge reason was the hope that by assembling it yourself, there would be a kind of look behind the curtain as to what actually goes into these toys. I remember there was a time in Japan where I bought the bootleg Stormtrooper toy ["Dester Commando"] from Star Case and went back to the hotel room and built it. It was hard! My first ever figure and it was actually like a model kit feeling. There isn't any glue, you didn't have to cut anything, it was a lot of heating and pushing and heating and twisting. (Laughs) So, I really wanted to have people who might have not ever owned a toy like this to get a look at how it kinda works so when we do put out a painted one you might be more likely to go "Holy Crap" and think about the painters and guys at the factory and the talented group of artisans that it takes to produce these toys.

Will there be painted and already assembled versions in the future? Or is your vision for this piece that it will always be a "Make-A-Monster" release?
I have a huge vision for "Galligantus". One of the reasons I'm so excited about this project is that it's all based on a cover on a white background; the backstory of the beast and anything around it are kinda up to whoever to make up, so that's what I intend to do. For instance, "Galligantus" wasn't the first name I came up with for the monster. I made a list and some were like "KAHB", as a reference to Ron Cobb, or "THE Famous Monster"… we even had "F-MONSTER-1968" on a dissected painting that I commissioned because we still hadn't figured out the name. Needless to say, I'm glad we ended on "Galligantus", which is from the original [British fairy tale and legend] literature.

I've got plans to work with some of my favorite artists in movies, comics, [and] the toy world to really flesh out this monster and keep it interesting. For instance, we're working with a very talented individual who happens to be a jeweler to create an armor set for "Galligantus" that will actually be metal and fit onto him with chains and all kinds of cool stuff.

So, for sure, [there will be] painted figures, but I'm going to try as hard as I can to come up with interesting things surrounding certain releases as well to make it that much more special.

Reserve your copy of the "Make-A-Monster: Galligantus" kit now from HERE!

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