Toying with Monsters: The Art of Kris Mobley

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Kris Mobley Critical Blast

One of the things we love to do at Critical Blast is provide a platform for artists who haven't had much exposure -- the people you haven't heard of yet, but the people you'll likely hear of in the future.

One of those people is Kris Mobley, who's taken a unique approach to the subjects who sit for his portraits. They're monsters. And Mobley toys with them.

Fortunately for Mobley, these monsters are plastic figures. Let's find out what's behind all that.


It's not unusual for graphic artists to do portraits of classic monsters, but you're approach is to use the toy versions of them as models -- and retain the toy appearance. What drove this decision, and why the REMCO models as opposed to items like the Aurora model kits?


I loved the 9 inch REMCO Monsters when they first came out in 1980—I just wasn’t able to afford one then. Several years ago, I saw some listings on eBay for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which I never knew existed as a kid—I suppose owing to its later (and perhaps limited) release. Well, it was still too expensive for me, but I was rather taken with its pathetic, alien expression and thought I might like to try drawing it some time, so saved the image in a file where I collect things that appeal to me in that way. A year or so ago I returned to that image, approaching it in much the same way I do portraits—a genre I know better than still life—and I had a really interesting (and challenging) time drawing it.  While working on the Creature, I thought similar drawings based on all of the figures would make an exciting series, which led to the idea of an ongoing series of limited edition prints.


I think why I chose the REMCO figures over other monster merchandise stems back to the impact those toys had on me as ten year-old boy, camped on the department store floor and marveling over their packages (which of course featured the figures prominently). Even then, the likenesses (except for Dracula) struck me as the best I’d ever seen. (Not to take anything away from Aurora: those models were cool. But I played with toys, and I dreamed of the REMCO figures entering the lists with my toys at home!)


Is your focus more on the monster or on the toy? That is, will we see other versions of these monsters as the body of work continues, or will we see more REMCO figural portraits, like DC Comics' Warlord and Sgt. Rock, or wrestling figures?


My focus is very much on the toy. Though I love the Universal Monster films, I think it’s interesting that, as much as those monsters were a part of my childhood, I never saw their movies (at least not all the way through) until I was a teenager…some even later than that.  They were just around as I was growing up. That probably had a lot to do with my older brother, who had the model kits, magazines…more stuff than I can remember. So their merchandise made a bigger impression on me growing up than did their movies. In a way, I got to know the monsters through their toys, so for me, particularly in this series, the toy’s the thing.


In regard to other toy portraits, I actually have a few in mind that I would like to do eventually: a couple of Mego action figures and one, maybe two Masters of the Universe figures. Funny you should mention REMCO’s DC Comics’ Warlord, as I’ve taken a close look at him, too!


 What other areas does your art encompass? From the image of Black Bolt behind your portrait, I can assume some comic book work?


So glad you recognized Black Bolt in that drawing! Most folks who see that piece have never heard of that character! Yeah, comics—particularly superhero comics—are a tremendous influence in my work…though I don’t actively collect them any longer. They kind of outgrew me. Yet it’s hard to imagine what my life would have been like without them. As a kid I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I’ve always worked at a glacial pace—to draw quickly is to draw badly—so that dream was slowly given up (leaving behind a few odd pages from start-up independent titles). Besides that, comics are not what they used to be; I wouldn’t feel at home in that medium anymore. Still, I feel those characters tug away at my sleeve even while working in portraiture. So there’s Black Bolt.


So, what is the dream now?

Ideally, something similar to what I’m doing in the toy portrait series, though it would be better not to have to build it up from the ground floor each time. That is, I would much prefer getting a phone call from a company that already had sufficient sales and production muscle so that all I would have to do is draw the pictures, letting others worry about the printing, packaging and advertising, sales and distribution. Some of those business aspects may be fun—like attending conventions, meeting interesting people, maybe some of the design work—but I’d much rather spend that time drawing. (Something like that scenario actually almost came up. While discussing questions/concerns with those I could contact in the toy business, a person at Factory Entertainment, which holds current licensing rights to the Universal Monsters, queried me with the idea of including drawings of the movie characters in their upcoming toy line. Unfortunately, they never got back, so maybe the idea didn’t go down well in a board meeting someplace…but that definitely would have been a step in the “dream” direction!) Still, I can’t wait around for something like that to happen. That’s why I created the Gray White imprint, rather than just try to be an artist out there selling drawings: to be both the company and the artist. Yet the dream is about the art, to make a living drawing in this fine art way—which for me evidently means little, somewhat inventive portraits.

How long does it take you to execute something like this from concept to finished product?


The Creature drawing took me about a year! However, it began as a personal project—something I was just doing for myself. The others in the series are rather personal too, but now that a public commitment is involved I hope to set aside larger blocks of time to complete them within a shorter period—perhaps two per year. If I could work on them full-time, I suspect each could be completed within 6 to 8 weeks…maybe.


Who's up next on the modeling block?


I’ve been giving that a lot of thought and I’m still not sure. Tied with the Creature for my favorite is the Wolf Man, so I’m anxious to get started on him…but I also want to save him for later for that same reason. I lean toward the Mummy a lot—he’s neat looking—but we’ll see.


Do you have a website where people can see your stuff and bother you for commissions?


I’ve avoided creating a website in the past for several reasons, but there will be one to facilitate ordering prints of the series. I wanted to be sure there was a plane in the hangar before I built a runway, so to speak. The website will probably be pretty simple and straightforward though. There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with this project, so I don’t want to mess that up with an overt online experience.