Frank Kozik"I trained myself to do everything."
Sounds pretty reasonable.
It's never adversarial. My job is not to cause the clients a problem, which is why I've gotten a lot of work over the years- word gets out. I'm doing it for money so I don't want to be problematic and agonize over the panel - I can do that on my own dime. They need something to help sell their product or their image. They trust me to solve their problem, and to do the best job possible. Since you can never really tell if advertising works in good ways, what really matters is making the client happy.
And this doesn’t have to threaten your creative work?
You can still have a weird career and be an artist, because nobody cares that you did an ad campaign a month later. This commercial work allowed me to do things like start Man’s Ruin Records. We put out 212 records that otherwise would not have been produced.
How did Man’s Ruin start?
I was doing really well financially, and felt an obligation to pay my scene back. I also had a lot of friends in bands that were always complaining that "no one would put out our record." Or, "They want to come in and produce all the songs and tell us what to do," or "no one will put out vinyl." And these were all bands that I liked.
So you started putting stuff out?
Well, what I liked doing was silk-screening album covers. So I told my artists that we’ll make a budget. You guys record whatever you want to do, and I won't tell you what to record. You don't tell me how to design the package, and we'll just put out something that's real. The profit will be a 50-50 split between future publishing. Completely cool punk rock square deal, and I can pay back all my friends’ bands whom I loved, whose posters gave me a career.
How did it go?
It went great until I started doing CDs. Bands wanted to make money so we did CD’s, and that got really big. I had to hire a bunch of people, and had this big elaborate distribution system. Then, one day, Sony Distribution went bankrupt and left everybody holding the bag. When they went out of business, they owed me $1.5 million. I never saw a penny of that. The month we shut down the label was our biggest sales month ever, but no one was ever going to pay us for those sales. I pulled the plug on it and walked away.
Was Man's Ruin your first brand that you were running independently?
Pretty much. It was consistent logo work and concepts. There were several genres of music we were releasing. Each genre had its own conceptual/art approach to the packaging. We did a lot of promotional events, a lot of showcases. It was a hard sell at the time but now I get people emailing me, offering $2000 for a 7” that was 7 bucks. The label was a critical success, but because of the distribution collapse and the advent of online, it was a commercial failure. I applied those lessons to the current brand I have with the toys.
How did you get involved with collectible toys?
I've been collecting toys forever, since the 80s. Then in the mid-90s, when I went to Japan, I would see this little Bounty Hunter toy around. It was a punk rock version of the Captain Crunch character. I was like, "This is the coolest thing ever. What is this? Who makes this?"
What was his name?
His name was Hikaru. We went over to his little store, and as it turned out, he collected my posters, so we hit it off. I had developed this Labbit character in the interim because I was obsessed with Hello Kitty, and he made my first toy in Japan. I ended up making toys in Japan for a few years, bringing stuff back to the states. Nobody cared, but I thought it was cool. Then in 2004, Kid Robot opened up over here and we started working together. It dramatically blew up for four or five years, peaking around 2008 or 2009. Now it's plateaued a lot online; a lot of my competition is gone, so I have a really stable market niche.
Do you feel like you’ve had any influences that have remained consistent over your career?
You know where it all comes from? I would see shit that I thought was cool, and would try to copy it. The shit I thought was cool and tried to copy changed over time. I don't think I ever developed anything innovative or new.
This reminds me of something you said in a previous interview about artists finding a context.
If you want to be any sort of creative person, you have to find a world to fit into. Because if you're just out there on your own, no one's going to discover you. You have to meet like-minded people. You have to form both social and business relationships with a group of people who value your efforts, where your efforts contribute to the whole group experience. Then they will want to include you, and you'll be rewarded with recognition, or money, or whatever it is that you want. You can have fame, you can have notoriety, you can get a paycheck. But none of that happens in a vacuum.