The Heroes of Burgertown & friendly pens

It hasn’t escaped our notice here at CR towers that Nottingham-based illustrator Jon Burgerman’s output this year so far has been nothing short of prolific. While a new series of mini toys Burgerman has designed (in collaboration with vinyl toy maker extrordinaire, Kidrobot) hit shelves yesterday, a colourful, weighty monograph entitled Jon Burgerman: Pens are my Friends, published by IdN, landed on our desks this morning.
Read on to see a selection of some of our favourite characters from the new mini series of toys, entitled The Heroes of Burgertown, and to see some shots of the new book. We also caught up with Mr Burgerman to ask him about his busy schedule…

Group photo: Heroes of Burgertown by Jon Burgerman / Kidrobot

It hasn’t escaped our notice here at CR towers that Nottingham-based illustrator Jon Burgerman‘s output this year so far has been nothing short of prolific. While a new series of mini toys Burgerman has designed (in collaboration with vinyl toy maker extrordinaire, Kidrobot) hit shelves yesterday, a colourful, weighty monograph entitled Jon Burgerman: Pens are my Friends, published by IdN, landed on our desks this morning.

Read on to see a selection of some of our favourite characters from the new mini series of toys, entitled The Heroes of Burgertown, and to see some shots of the new book. We also caught up with Mr Burgerman to ask him about his busy schedule…

Doofus by Jon Burgerman / Kidrobot
Meet Doofus – one of the heroes of Burgertown

Tittymon by Jon Burgerman / Kidrobot
“Tittymon encourages a love-hate relationship amongst most people” – according to her character biog. “She’s so cute lots of people love her, but her massive popularity makes an equal number of people jealously hate her in return. She absolutely revels in the attention she receives and has developed a bit of a diva personality because of it. Rumours persist about alleged drink driving incidents but she maintains that they aren’t true, for one, her feet can’t even reach the peddles of her many cars”

Heroes of Burgertown by Jon Burgerman / Kidrobot
Zomboo hitches a ride aboard The Gobbler

Tiny Hero by Jon Burgerman / Kidrobot
Tiny Hero thinks he can fly. He can’t

Jon Burgerman: Pens are my Friends
Pens are my Friends – the new IdN-published, 310 page monograph of Burgerman’s many projects to date…

Pens are my Friends spread 1
Pens are my friends image 5
Pens are my friends image 6
Pens are my friends image 7

Pens are my friends image 8
Enclosed in the book is a 20-page booklet of sketches and a DVD of motion graphics, screen wallpapers, videos of live drawing installations and other bonus material

Beneath the dustjacket and poster...
Remove the dust jacket and – oh joy of joys – it turns out to be a folded poster…

Pens are my friends - fold out poster
…Nice!

CR: How did you get to work on a toy series with Kidrobot?
JB: I’ve actually been working on the toys for about four years – since around the time of the 55DSL show I did in London back in 2004. Some of the characters featured in the collection were daubed on the walls and windows of the Newburgh Street 55DSL store during that show. Through a series of events (crushingly disappointing ones mainly) they failed to materialise in toy form. Kidrobot eventually rescued them (me) by offering to make a collection of mini figures with me in 2006 and it has taken about two years to develop and make them.

Basically, I’d known Kidrobot for a while through my other work in the toy scene. I think I’d already submitted some designs for their popular Dunny series of toys, so they knew me and my work. I think they were aware of my toys with Flying Cat in Hong Kong too. Now I’ve worked with Kidrobot on various projects including large scale Dunnys, toy customisation, exhibitions, apparel and prints.

So the new mini-figures, The Heroes of Burgertown, are finally released into a toy world that is considerably more heavily populated than it was four years ago. But I hope the figures will still stand out, with their wonky limbs and strange, contorted stances. I hope they echo the look of my drawings and that people find their little character biographies amusing and they welcome them into their homes, onto their desktops and, in some cases, into their prized Ikea display cabinets.

CR: Tell us about the concept for the series.
JB: The premise for the series is that each character has been made into a toy as a reward for their achievements in Burgertown. There’s a different reason as to why each has been awarded, most however can hardly really be called heroic. It’s a gentle jab at the cult of celebrity and how it’s the dubious accomplishments that usually get rewarded with recognition. I often wonder why certain people are put on a pedestal and heralded as people to aspire to. There’s also a little nudge at the notion of ‘heroic’ and the powers often given to comic book / sci-fi characters.

CR: In a saturated toy market, your toys are refreshingly unusual in their form. Quite a challenge for Kidrobot we’d imagine…
JB: I actually ate sausages and mash with a couple of the fine folks from Kidrobot in London last week and one remarked that the series was so difficult to produce due to the irregular shapes and non-symmetrical nature of the characters, not to mention expensive, that they wouldn’t dare make another series like them. I guess this could be seen as a negative, for my style of work at least, but I think it should be used as a selling point – get them now as they were too expensive and fiddley to produce so wont be made again!

CR: And just this very morning, the day after your Heroes of Burgertown toys were officially released into the world, a weighty, colourful monograph full of your work, entitled Pens Are My Friends and published by IdN arrived at CR. Tell us about this project.
JB: The book is, indeed, a monograph of my work and it comprises over 300 pages of my work, projects, exhibitions, doodles, murals and salads from the last seven years or so. The ubiquitous DVD is housed in an additional mini-sketchbook and features animations, live drawings, slideshows and an embarrassing lecture I gave a while ago in Dublin. It was the first non-University, public talk I gave and I was a little nervous and giddy. Thank you Guinness.

A lot of the projects I get involved with come about from invitations and suggestions between the various companies and myself. I think I met IdN when they were in London in early 2006 about making a book together. It took a while for me to get my head round how to even start work on it, the whole thing scared be a bit, even though it was something I wanted to do. Eventually, through a friend, I found Colin and Noelle from Unthink who helped get me going and who ended up designing the whole book. In late 2007 we really started the hard work on it, finishing off a couple of months into 2008.

CR: 2008’s been busy for you too – we’ve noticed you’ve been exhibiting in many a foreign clime recently.
JB: Late last year I visited Singapore, showing work as part of the Design Festival and then this year I think I’ve been involved in an exhibition every month, often overlapping between each other. I’ve shown work in solo and group shows in Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, London, Beijing, San Francisco, New York, Milan, Brussels, Manchester, Barcelona, LA, Nottingham and Hay-On-Wye. The works have included paintings, canvases, prints, drawings and sculptural pieces.

The exhibitions in Europe and beyond come from galleries and people inviting me to show in their spaces and me being interested or inspired enough to say yes. I’m very lucky to have travelled as much as I have in the last few years. I was in China last year and met with a gallery owner over there. He really liked my work and invited me back for a solo show this Summer. If I hadn’t been invited by these spaces I’d of probably just spent the last few years staying in my studio, noodling away in my sketchbook or at home, reading about computer games on Teletext. Sometimes the shows are planned a year or so in advance but I try not to think about these as it can start to stress me out.

Coming up I’ve a solo show in London called Because I Can’t Sit Still, which starts on the 20th October and has an opening on the 21st and then in December I’ll have a small show in Toyko (which will also be my first time in Japan) after which I want to get an early night and sleep for approximately one week.

CR: Sleep? World domination plans have no room for sleep!
JB: I don’t want to dominate the world! Yikes, that would be a horrible job. I just want enough power to crush my meat-head-downstairs neighbours when they play their techofart music after 11pm on a week night.

Recently I’ve been working on another toy project with Kidrobot, my upcoming London show, some new screen prints, a little comic book, more work for exhibitions in Toyko, New York, Milan and Barcelona and some other stuff I can’t quite recall at the moment. Which is probably just as well as it might take around four years for them to come out anyway…

The Heroes of Burgertown packshot

The Heroes of Burgertown toys are three inches tall and are sold “blind assortment” (you don’t know what character you’ll get in each box – it’s a surprise). You can buy online direct from Kidrobot, or from Burgerman’s online shop (where you can request signed boxes for a limited period) or look for specialist toy shops such as Playlounge on London’s Beak Street

Small book shot

Jon Burgerman: Pens are my Friends, published by IdN, is a 310 page hardback book encased in a folded poster measuring 755 x 620mm and also a screenprinted transparent dustjacket. Enclosed within is a 20 page mini booklet of sketchbook art and a DVD containing Jon Burgerman motion graphics, animations, videos, screen wallpapers and icons

Because I Can’t Sit Still solo exhibition runs from 20 October to 1 November at Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street, London W1T 4RJ

Keep up with all things Burgerman on his website: jonburgerman.com

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