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Dec 22, 2006

Review: Jim Woodring's Mr. Bumper

Jim Woodring draws amazingly creative rainbow-hued creatures.  His creations are deceptively simple in their seemingly wild mix of various body parts.  At first, eyes, arms, legs  and more of his creatures come together as if their creator in a fit of whimsy has taken the Twister approach to their genesis.  Hardly the case.   Jim's creatures have a presence and poise that comes from his talent of meshing  improbable combinations into wildly imaginative beasts possessing rare beauty and charm. 

Through his partnership with STRANGEco, Jim Woodring has given birth to several  vinyl figures.  Most notable is Dorbel -- the first toy produced by STRANGEco.  Woodring's touch with Dorbel is restrained yet effective. While retaining the easily recognized Japanese lizard monster shape, Dorbel sports a brightly colored face and a spiked tail with multiple eyes.  If there is a gripe about Jim Woodring's toys it boils down to this -- the long wait between each dose of colorful vinyl addiction.

Good news -- Woodring fans.  The wait is over.  First unveiled at this year's Toy Fair way back in February, Mr. Bumper has just been released by STRANGEco in limited quantities for the holiday season (ramping up availability with the new year).  Ever since we spotted Mr. Bumper in STRANGEco's Toy Fair booth, we've been looking forward to his release. 

At first glance Mr. Bumper appears to be a green frog-like creature riding in his bright red (forthcoming alternate colorways will feature different covered cowls) vehicle driven by the power of eight yellow feet.  The exterior of this conveyance meshes brightly hued organic elements into an overall design that clearly evokes automobiles of the past from the large rectangular "grill" to the actual aquatic like fins that punctuate the tail end. 

Clever design often reveals itself by turning first impressions and glances into second and third look-overs followed by a slow yet excited "ooh".  So too is the case with Mr. Bumper.  All along the exterior we see grommets, vents and ports which upon closer examination are eyes -- on the grill, along the grill "vents", running all along the "trim", on each of the eight knees and finally the largest and perhaps most deceptive of all on the tail - so large that it appears to be a domed hatch.  With out a doubt Mr. Bumper has his eyes on you, but have you been looking carefully enough?

I still remember the "whoa" moment as STRANGEco's Jim Crawford lifted off Mr. Bumper's cowl to reveal the  regal creature underneath which was followed quickly by the "so it's not a vehicle" head scratching moment.  The removable cowl is clearly the height of Mr. Bumper's deceptively clever design. 

In comparison to the prototype shown at Toy Fair, thankfully very little has changed.  The amazingly glossy coat on the cowl has been toned down but thankfully preserved.  I may be in the minority on this point, but certain designs scream out for glossy vinyl to break the doldrums of one matte vinyl figure after the next.  The cowl is really slick -- heavy and solid yet clearly soft rotocast vinyl.   I can't think of a comparable "accessory" -- the closest would be the vinyl poncho on Tequila which while excellent does not have the sheer mass and sculpting complexity of the cowl. On top of the shape and construction, the paint job is  very well-done --  superior to most of the paint jobs and finishes seen on designer vinyl today.   While this might sound like pure exaggeration and perhaps to a slight degree it is, the cowl almost feels like something that shouldn't be possible, perhaps only because it seems  unprecedented in scope and execution.  Finally, one last surprise and excellent detail is revealed by looking under the front edge of the cowl -- sculpted mouths rather than a simple flat colored design.

The underlying Mr. Bumper figure is more muted in color but carries the same high quality paint execution as the cowl.  The front chest area is adorned with ornate decoration.  With the cowl on, Mr. Bumper is sleek and modern, without it -- regal and perhaps pompous with crossed arms and a smug closed eye pose.  Each of the eight legs are articulated however Mr. Bumper relies on the front 3 on each side in order to maintain an even flat-footed appearance and pose.  The back two legs dangling in mid air offer the most practical posability with poses ranging from a power gallop to almost a hands outstretched pose. 

Finally we come to the box which reminiscent of retro toys  features a top half which fits snugly over the bottom half.  The top panel of the box carries a bright pastel colored illustration of Mr. Bumper out for a stroll followed by another similar yet different creature (please... pretty please !?!?). The retro box is a nice touch which puts the finishing touch on a unique and excellent offering from Jim Woodring and STRANGEco.

In our opinion, Mr. Bumper is one of the finest designer toys released this year -- without a doubt.  From Jim Woodring's wildly imaginative organic design to the excellent execution, this is a toy that reminds us why we started collecting designer vinyl and  also demonstrates that uncompromising original art toys have little equal.  As we put an end to this much too-long interview, we come to the issue of value.  Mr. Bumper is priced at a very reasonable $60 considering the overall quality as well as the size, nearly 6 inches tall and 10 inches long.  Our recommendation -- if he appeals to you at all (and how could he not ;-), buy Mr. Bumper without hesitation.      

Posted by Jack @ 09:23 AM in review | Permalink  | Comments (4) |


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One of the two alternate Mr. Bumper colorways can be seen on Woodring's site at http://www.jimwoodring.com/ and both can be made out in pics from the opening at http://tinyurl.com/yd2mka. The black/purple colorway is reportedly called 'Nathan.' (I don't know the other colorways' names, or edition sizes for any of them - anyone got that info?) As of Tuesday, OKOK Gallery in Seattle (206.789.6242) still had all 3 colorways on hand, and was happy to ship.


Excellent review! Stunning piece . . . sounding like it could be a future 'classic', taking vinyl toys to another level! Just picked up all 3 . . . Charlie at OKOK couldn't have been more helpful! For finishing and QC every STRANGEco piece I own is absolutely perfect! . . . Great work fellas!

Looks like its sold out at Rotofugi. :-(

I love Woodrings art style, but for me it just does not convert to the toy scene like I would expect or want. However, I love this... great piece. Also, not to be left unsaid, this was an amazing review, well done!!!

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