We are bringing back the Collector Series, where we talk to and highlight the most important people and their collections in our local scene. Shelflife has seen a lot of serious collectors pass through our doors throughout the 13 years of business. So it's only fitting we shed some light on these enthusiasts. And what's better than picking the brain of some of the best in SA's scene right now?
Next, we have something a little different to sneakers but something we still love; collectable vinyl toys. We got the chance to visit Tomb Tattoo and ask tattoo artist Nicholas Mudskipper some questions about his massive toy collection, the bootleg scene and how his collection influences his work. Check it out below and reach out to us if you feel like your collection of something deserves a feature too!
Tell us a little a bit about the man behind the collection, who are you and what do you do?
My nicknames Mudskipper and I own and tattoo at Tomb Tattoo
here in Cape Town. I'm an avid Bootleg toy collecter and full-time creeper.
How long have you had your shop in Cape Town?
I moved back to Cape Town 4 years ago and opened up Tomb Tattoo, I used to have a tattoo shop in Bangkok, Thailand. I was in Bangkok for almost 8 years.
When did you first start collecting toys and figurines? Do you remember what age it was?
I started collecting Masters of the Universe (MOTU) toys from a young age, they were hand-me-downs from older family members. I was into Monster in my Pocket, Mad Balls, Ninja Turtles and Alien Toys, and one day my uncle gave me a big trash bag full of He-Man toys, both castles and all the bad guys! It blew my mind! From that day I was hooked on Masters of the Universe.
Which toy brand do you think is overhyped at the moment?
Super 7, they are remaking a lot of the older MOTU toys, but I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to vintage toys out of the 80s, keep it old-school.
Do you think your toy passion has influenced your tattooing style?
Most definitely man, 80s comics and action figures are a massive influence to me when it comes to the way I draw, outline tattoos with bold lines, solid colours, breathable images with good contrast, some of the skulls and monsters I do came from me watching Conan, Dungeons and Dragons, Frank Frazetta paintings, He-Man comics!!! I'm also super into Japanese Kaiju monster toys which I'm tattooing a lot of these days.
Which pieces from your collection could you never part with?
My Speclatron toys, they are MOTU bootlegs that are extremely rare toys which have hollow chests with glitter in them. Bootlegs are also known as KO toys or Knock Offs.
Where do you search for your toys? Locally or only online?
I tend to find most of my good ones travelling in Asia, but I have for sure found some of my Holy Grail pieces in South Africa. I also trade a lot of toys and tattoo prints with collectors overseas for other bootleg toys.
How many pieces are in your collection?
I have over a 1000 toys easily, but who's counting, it's a black hole when you collect and my thirst for new bootlegs is never quenched!
Do you get any inspiration for work and art from your collection?
I do a lot of my drawing in my Toy Lair at home, I often look up into hoards of evil skeleton warriors and get pumped to draw some creepy tattoo flash.
What’s your everyday pair of beater shoes?
I'm wearing a lot of Vans lately as they super comfy to tattoo in all day and Air Force 1s.
What’s the most you’ve ever paid for an item?
I've never paid loads for an item, but I've traded pretty big to get one or 2 items. So the toy value was for sure a few hundred dollars, a few of the figures I have go for around $800 and up.
What was it? I traded pretty big for a play set for Thundercats, The Cats Lair which is worth around R15000.
How does the toy scene differ locally to overseas in your opinion?
I think it's easier to find mainstream vintage toys overseas, shipping costs to South Africa are terrible! I've found some pretty rare European bootleg lines and releases in SA which weren't released in the States, so that was pretty rad to find some grails here in Cape Town.
Have you seen a change in the toy scene over the years?
I've seen the move of interest back to vintage toys as we grow older and feel nostalgic about what toys we used to have, or the Netflix show The Toys That Made Us made people think their old toys were worth millions - haha. Vinyl toys keep getting popular and toys which have collaborated with well-known artists.
Any brands you wish you could get your hands on in SA?
I really wish we could buy Santa Cruz clothing here! Rebel 8 and Creature Skate tees! Toy wise, it would be epic to have some good vintage toy stores, but that also drives up the price and takes away the hunting part of it.
What's the most intense experience you went through to get a sought-after item?
Going up to the Cambodian and Thailand border to a giant dump of toys, to digging through World Aid donated toys and getting into a fight over a pile of toys I had set aside as mine. Also, digging in a pile of toys in Bangkok and grabbing the same toy at the same time as another collector - it was a tug of war which I won! Doing Juijitsu all these years finally paid off!
Any favourite memories from your past buying days?
Going to this dude's house in Thailand and scoring a whole lot of MIB (Mint in box) Masters of the Universe toys for dirt cheap and a tattoo!
The oldest toy in your collection?
I'd say I've got a cool bootleg skeleton toy from the 70s, but the toys I collect started being made in the early 80s, so that's kinda what I'm after! 80s baby!
Was there anything from the past few years that you passed on that you would kill to have or have back?
I traded some super rare MOTU bootlegs ages ago to complete my Remco Conan collection, this was before the bootleg toy bug bit me! I didn't realise until years later I had traded a grail item, one that I've finally got back through plenty of trades around the world.
What are some of the worst mistakes people make when buying vintage or retro toys?
Not doing research, paying too much for an item that's not complete or of high value, telling everyone where they hunt for toys, not trading grails with me!
Any advice to fans trying to cop their next grail?
When you find it, cherish it, put it behind some glass, tick it off the list and keep on creeping hard, THAT GRAIL PIECE IS OUT THERE!!!!