It is no secret that the Guild has a love of the Golden Age of Comics and it is no secret that we are not alone in this. Just the past year we have highlighted a few of those devoted to the public domain super heroes born during this interesting time in comic book history. One of the companies that focus, but not exclusively, on the Golden Age is CKRTLAB Toys and we had the great honor to speak to Tim Ellis, who runs it.
CKRTLAB Toys, pronounced Secret Lab, started three and a half years ago and went live in March 2014 and is run by Ellis and a partner with two additional partners in the overall operations. Though not a full time occupation Ellis points out that it’s more than a hobby.
“It’s not a full time job yet but it’s more than a hobby” he explains. “It’s a second job. With a hobby you can come and go and your participation is at your leisure. With a side business you have responsibilities every day that need your attention. It’s a blast but it’s definitely more than a hobby.”
Having collected figures since the early 2000’s Ellis was unsatisfied with the selection available on the market.
“As much as I like Kidrobot, Tokidoki, Funk and the like, they never had figures that had a beefy, heroic stance,” he explains. “I wanted to change that. I wanted to create something that had an urban vinyl slant but was a little less cute. So I designed what we call our BIG SHOT figure and that is the base template for all the characters we produce.”
“Vinyl figures are CKRTLAB’s first foray into the toy business,” Ellis explains. “We’re definitely discussing traditional action figures but there are a number of different things to take into consideration. Dies and tooling aren’t cheap. It’s a considerable investment. Plus you’ve got almost every tier of toy manufacturers, from the bottom rung to top shelf playing in that category. It’s amazing the number of options that action figure collectors have in the market right now. When we do take the step toward traditional action figures we’ll want to make sure it has an impact.”
When asked about the choice to create Golden Age Heroes Ellis thinks back to older times.
I became a fan of Golden Age heroes when DC revived Shazam in the 70’s. That opened the door to the early Fawcett stuff and from there I just became more and more interested in the early heroes. I also grew up reading comic strip heroes like Phantom and Flash Gordon and of course other heroes like Doc Savage, Shadow, Green Hornet, John Carter & The Black Bat.” He does iterate that the world of comics may not be the only source material to be turned into figures. “Honestly, I’m such a nerd for heroes from so many different media that CKRTLAB really is open to do figures from comics, pulps, cartoons, movies, whatever.”
To someone just now getting into this world it may seem as if the Golden Age of super heroes are more popular right now, with companies like Fresh Monkey Fiction’s successful Kickstarter, Golden Age Figurines or GBJRTOYS proposed line.
“For me,” Ellis states. “It starts with being a fan of Golden Age Superheroes and just wanting cool product of my favorite characters and hopefully connecting with other Golden Age fans that want cool products, too. Golden Age Guardians is my personal love letter to all the creators from the dawn of comics. Beyond that, the fact that Superheroes have become so mainstream, using public domain superheroes is a great way to venture into the superhero market and not get bogged down with crazy expensive licensing fees.”
“Earlier this year we launched our Silver Age Centurions line based on Silver Age public domain superheroes. We have an ongoing agreement with Valiant so we will be doing a lot of the characters from their library. We’ve also signed on with Captain Canuck and those figures will be coming later this year. Plus, other new releases for 2016 are still in the works.”
Ellis explains the process of making the figures like this;
“It starts with numerous design drafts and once the overall look is determined we create the control art. Control art is the different elevations/ views of the figure [front, side, back, top, bottom] used as a guide to create the sculpt for the mold/ die. That can be a traditional clay or wax sculpt or a 3D sculpting program like ZBrush. That is then given to the factory to begin tooling the mold/ die. The different figure pieces are produced then painted and details pad printed, assembled, packaged and shipped.”
Interest in the figures has been steady and the company is gaining momentum. “We’re currently working on growing our retail exposure,” Ellis says.
Apart from being in a few comic shops, the figures can be found at Big Bad Toy Store and of course www.ckrtlabtoys.com.
Sharakai, nicknamed The Amber City, is a bustling metropolis of trade and culture surrounded by desert sand. It is ruled with an iron fist by the Twelve Kings, mythical leaders who one day came from the desert to take control of the city. The Kings are cruel dictators who rule the citizens through the Silver Spears and the more elite Blade Maidens.
Even though the Kings’ powers are absolute and to cross them is to meet with certain death there is an underground movement to oppose them. Among those seeking to usurp the Kings is Çeda, a young woman who fights in the bloody pits under the guise of the White Wolf. The driving force behind her war against the Kings is the brutal murder of her own mother several years earlier. On the holiest night of the year, a night when no one is allowed outside for fear of death, she and a partner sneak out to deliver two important packages.
This sets in motion events that might bring the Kings to their knees and bring some much needed freedom to the people of Sharakhai.
In the first installment of his The Song of Shattered Sands series Beaulieu stays true to the writing style he displayed in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. Once again he brings the reader in to a unique world with a unique hero, as well as a twisting plot. There has long been a need for a reinvigorating of fantasy as a genre and Beaulieu taps into this in spades with his new book.
Çeda, the main protagonist, is unique in herself. This humble reviewer’s experience over the years has been that female characters are doomed to play one of three roles; The Princess, The Warrior or The Witch and never may those roles mix or she must die. Added to this fact is that heroines often must utilize a male figure to be successful in her endeavors, although this is more a part of popular literature than it is exclusive to fantasy. Beaulieu’s heroine is not one of those characters. She is more akin to her European counterparts found in the books of Tobias Landström, Christina Brönnestam and trail blazed by Bertil Mårtensson in the early part of the eighties. A warrior not afraid to take what she wants or play on her sexuality without becoming cliche or tired. She is a breath of fresh air in a genre that too often falls into stereotypes no matter how much it tries.
This also true of the setting of Sharakhai. The descriptions of the desert city and its people brings the avid reader of Sword and Sorcery to the world of Howard’s Conan or Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and the busy market may well make the world traveler remember the Medina of Tunisia. One can almost feel the heat from the bright sun or the throng of bodies and that is the beauty of this narrative. It is what is unique with the choice of environment. Most fantasy books are so often set in a standard medieval world where readers and writers have come to an understanding of what creatures should live there and what they look like, just as what a tavern looks like or any such things. Beaulieu opens up something new, much like he did in the Anuskaya trilogy, and invites us to become entranced by the journey he takes us on.
He does this with his convincing writing style and to keep reality close at all times. No matter what happens and what strange creatures the characters encounter it is still all very believable. Much of it due to the characters’ inner thoughts and backgrounds, how they deal with real life issues, such as how to avoid pregnancies.
A lot more could be said about Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and there already has, but the best endorsement that can be given is that you read it for yourself. It would be ashamed if the things that make it unique would go unnoticed, because it is a real treat to read with adventure, political intrigue as well as a great deal of humanity.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is now available as a hard cover, e-book and audio book from