Sunday, 6 January 2008

Jarvis & Waterman

Whether it be their vinyl figures or comic books, the creative minds of Russel Waterman and James Jarvis of Amos Toys have created a brand that people from all walks of life find fascinating and enticing. Their products maintain more then just pleasant aesthetic properties but go far and beyond to entrench you into fun and creative storylines and concepts. In a recent interview with Amos Toys, Russell Waterman and James Jarvis outline the creation of Amos Toys and their brand philosophy which has yielded them a legion of fans.

HB: Please introduce yourself to the viewers and offer a bit of insight into how you both ended up forming Amos Toys.

JJ: Bloody hell. That's a large question. We started Amos as a way of taking toys away from the world of street fashion, but failed miserably...

RW: I'm Russell Waterman, co-founder of Silas and Maria with Sofia Prantera (although I am no longer a part of this group) and a co-founder and collaborator with James Jarvis on Amos. We ended up working with each other because we couldn't find anything better to do!
JJ: I started working with Russell and Sofia back in the mid-90s when they were working for Slam City Skates. I carried on working for them when they started Silas and we've been collaborating in one form or another ever since. We started Amos as I kind of sister company to Silas in 2003.

HB: What sort of role do you each have within Amos Toys?

JJ: With Amos I do all the artwork and graphics, the easy bit!
RW: I look after the business and help think up and develop ideas for new projects and products. I do a bit of editing with James and I co-write pieces such as Vortigern's Machine, The YODzine etc. Outside of the day to day running I guess my role is pretty conceptual.
JJ: The conceptual bit is the fun part...

RW: We both enjoy that part. The day to day running sucks but someone has to do it.
JJ: The interesting thing about Amos is that it acts as an umbrella for anything we might want to do.

HB: Do you both essentially fill in each others weakness' with the other's strengths?

JJ: I'm not sure about that. We probably enable each other's negative traits as well.
RW: Yeah I think that is fair to say. We know each other very well and we both compensate and compromise. We are both pretty cynical but I like to think we use that to approach things in a realistic manner.
JJ: I want to communicate to a wide audience and having Russell as a collaborator/editor/confidant/what-have-you helps avoid being self-indulgent.
RW: I think we both bring an extra bit of perspective and context to what each of us does.
JJ: That's it and I'm better at spelling!

HB: What sort of impact have toys had with your respective lives? Were you always toy enthusiasts?

RW: I have always bought toys and I have a loft full of cartons full of toys. I've slowed down now. It was hard, say 15 years ago as people would see me as a freak. Now it isn't a problem. I accept I am a freak.

JJ: I was never a toy enthusiast, but making toys seemed like a fun and interesting thing to do when the opportunity arose.
RW: I would also claim to be an enthusiast but not a collector. I only collect our figures. Then I buy whatever takes my fancy. More licensed figures than anything else.
JJ: I was obsessed with Lego as a kid. I think it's all about building realities... which is what I do now.
RW: Working with toys has been a cathartic process for me as I had a legitimate excuse to buy them. Although storing them in boxes in my loft is a bit scary. And I would never let my kids play with them which is downright cruel!

JJ: What I really like doing is drawing, but on their own drawings are a hard thing for people to consume. So I use the drawings to make toys, or illustrations or comic strips, which are more commercial.

HB: Is it safe to say each sub-brand represents a different theme and approach?

JJ: I think so, YOD is arty and weird, Vortigern's Machine was an attempt to make a more mainstream (but still a bit subversive) kid's entertainment property.
RW: In-Crowd was an experiment to go wider. Green Fuzz gives Will Sweeney some freedom to explore other areas and develop his world vision!

JJ: Amos' identity comes from ALL those sub-brands.
RW: We wanted Amos to work on many levels from mainstream to cult status. Very ambitious. Vortigern's Machine was actually supposed to be for 10 - 12 year olds!
JJ: ... and YOD is for philosophers.
RW: ...and revolutionaries.
JJ: ... and mathematicians.
RW: ... and drug lords.
JJ: No, that's Mr. Spoons.
RW: No, he is a drug lord... of sorts. Sorry...we digress

HB: That's an interesting method of keeping concepts clean and tidy by offering up different outlets.

JJ: I think we are both too interested in all sorts of things to only work on one kind of concept. YOD scratches one itch and Vortigern's Machine another.
RW: Also we did not want to put out product that was not extensively thought out. We are both thinking people and we expect our customers to be that way too. We needed to offer products with context.

HB: How important is that each of your products are concept driven? Does it complete the circle by having something that not only looks good but also maintains a good background regarding it?

JJ: Definitely. I think that is where Russell is very strong.
RW: For me it is really important. As soon as you turn an idea into a product and expect people to buy it then you have to offer something with some meaning. Or else you are no better than the other 99% of shit that is out there. You walk around the stores and they are full of rubbish and it makes you wonder what people would want these items. The other trap is self indulgence. Making art for yourself is one thing. Expecting people to buy it is another. It has to have some context as soon as you offer it up as a product.
JJ: I think that as soon as you mass-produce something you have a duty to try and make it have substance.

HB: I believe that concepts in all walks of life drive the design world, of course not everybody's interpretation is put to work correctly, not so the case with Amos.

JJ: I'm too much of a fascist to allow that (!).

HB: Can you attest to that Russell?

RW: I believe you are 100% correct. Good design has a basic idea and concept whatever it is. How people chose to view that and use it is up to them. Sometimes I like other peoples views and interpretations of what we do. And yes, James is pretty authoritarian in nature. I am and will always be his bitch!
JJ: That's the yin-yang dynamic in the office - the authoritarian/libertarian conflict.

HB: Do you guys have any last words you'd like to say?

JJ: Clean up after yourselves, put some brakes on your bike and always stop for a red light.
RW: Thank you for giving us a chance to spout our bullshit. And I guess I'd like to thank those that genuinely take an interest in what we do. We try, and we really do appreciate the support.

HB: I too must thank you guys for the opportunity as well. I don't want to keep you guys too long as I'm sure there's tons of shit for you guys to attend to.

RW: In James' case that is probably very literal!

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