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Fresh off the toy box: Myke Dela Paz talks custom toys

You can’t separate boys from their toys, as that oft-repeated adage goes. Some scout through the aisles and shelves of the best toy stores in the world just to find figures from companies along the lines of Figma, Kotobukiya and Art FX, while others take to the internet in hopes of finding what collectors would call a “Holy Grail”.

Some, however, take the extra mile and actually take pains to repurpose and transform once-plain, mass-market figures into actual works of art.

Myke dela Paz belongs to the latter.

Born into a family of artists — his great grandfather was a photographer, his grandfather a painter, his mom a fashion designer — dela Paz gravitated towards the art form even at an early age, collecting and customizing action figures depicting characters from G.I. Joe to X-Men and the Star Wars series.

Looking at his online portfolio of customized figures – a full Avengers lineup and a Marvel NOW! X-Men tableau being some of the standouts– it’s not hard to see why dela Paz, a fine arts degree holder at the Far Eastern University, chose this over the “soul-sucking” job he once held at a Philippine-based advertising firm.

Dela Paz with some of his prized customized toys. | PHOTO via MYKE DELA PAZ
Dela Paz with some of his prized customized toys. | PHOTO via MYKE DELA PAZ

GIST sat down with the young artist (and self-confessed, all-around comicbook fanboy) to discuss his creative process and why, at the end of the day, style and heart trump technique.

 Myke dela Paz’s take on the psychic mutant Jean Grey | PHOTO by MYKE DELA PAZ
Myke dela Paz’s take on the psychic mutant Jean Grey | PHOTO by MYKE DELA PAZ

GIST: You’ve been customising toys and figures for quite some time now. Has your approach to the work changed over the years? How?

Myke dela Paz: I’ve given more attention to details and precision and having a signature or distinctive style with each of my work. I discover new aspects of customizing that are either rarely done or have never been done before. I try to give more life on the figures through the realism of their faces, the liveliness of their hair, the dynamic design of every detail of their costumes.

How do you think has your style evolved?

I try to explore different scales of action figures as well as study each one’s best attributes which I then apply to each of my creations. Also, I maintain a healthy competition with other toy and figure customizers out there, both old and new, especially since sharing knowledge and discoveries with these other artists has been beneficial for my progress.

I keep some personal style, techniques, or trade secrets of my own though.

Are there characters that you’ve particularly enjoyed sculpting or creating?

I really enjoy making superheroes from the Marvel Comics, especially the X-Men, as I’m a huge fan of this team since I was a kid.

I particularly enjoy creating sculpts or figures of the female characters especially since they are often the minority in toy productions and mostly do not see the light of day in toy shelves. I love making and presenting these female figures in the most beautiful way possible.

Most customizers have difficulty working on female characters, and it was a challenge I’ve managed to conquer and still continue to explore until today.

The Guardians of The Galaxy cast, custom-made by dela Paz from the mass-market figures. | PHOTO by MYKE DELA PAZ
The Guardians of The Galaxy cast, custom-made by dela Paz from the mass-market figures. | PHOTO by MYKE DELA PAZ

What is your creative process like?

First, I conceptualize. I do my research on all possible online references for my figures, from comic books to TV shows, and movies. It takes a lot of time, with the ideas about a project often occupying my mind even while I travel or workout. It keeps going on until I make some rough sketch studies of my ideas. Then I browse for materials I can use for the project. Once I have what I need, then the project progresses.

The more inspired I am, the faster I finish a creation.

What’s the hardest part of being a toy customiser?

I’m not really sure about what I’d consider to be the “hardest” in customizing, actually.

The challenging parts of it for me though would be having your own distinctive style among other customizers, as well as executing your idea neatly and accurately, and then presenting it in its best way as you can online which involves good photography skills.

One of the biggest challenges perhaps is explaining what you do. Being a toy customizer is not a conventional thing, and most people do not readily understand what it is.

By far, what do you think has been the most rewarding part of being a toy customiser?

Probably being able to inspire other artists. Aside from being acknowledged for doing a great artwork, it makes me happy when I see new or other artists get inspired from what they see in my works, and being able to share my ideas and insights to them.

If you could take on a classic Filipino superhero or comic book character, who would it be and why?

I have made some Darna custom creations before, so at this time I’m interested to take on Dyesebel, the mermaid. There is just so much creative potential on her character, from the beauty of a mermaid to the magical elements of the Filipino fantasy world. When it comes to particulars of creating a custom figure of her, I think I would put more emphasis on her fish tail and her long beautiful hair.

The toy customising field has seen a lot of growth lately, especially when it comes to young, upcoming artists. What would be your advice to them?

Keep exploring and practicing. Everything I learned for this craft is through my experimentations. There you discover the do’s and don’ts, what can be and what cannot be done regarding figures. And practicing those do’s and what-can-bes makes you better each time.

Never let other people restrain you with their negative comments, just keep discovering ideas and let your passion flow as you work on your creation. Artworks with “heart” in them are always remarkable than those done with only plain, by the book, techniques.

Marvel or DC?

Marvel, definitely! What I love about Marvel is the diversity of its characters. Each one have their distinctive personalities, traits, struggles, strengths and weaknesses that different people from all walks of life can relate to.

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