Winning a Grammy in 2016 for “Best Metal Performance”, Ghost continues to defy any sense of boundary in style and has openly embraced its growing popularity by providing fans with endless memorabilia and merchandise options. This past fall, KnuckleBonz, a high-end collectible company, unveiled one of Ghost’s most prized treasures, a life-like memorial of the infamous Papa III in iconic figure form.
KnuckleBonz, takes great pride in craftsmanship and quality, that goes into each new item produced. Established in 2003, the company focuses on music projects and continues to expand its brand. Bands such as Rob Zombie, KISS and even King Diamond are a part of the KnuckleBonz collection which now is home to the life-like Papa III figure. Electroshock Entertainment is proud to have had the chance to interview the Creative Director and CEO of KnuckleBonz, Mr. Tony Simerman. Please note this interview was conducted prior to the official unveiling of “Cardinal Copia.”
Electroshock Entertainment (E.E.): Can you please provide an overview of your company including a history. Who are the primary artists and how long have you been in operation?
Tony Simerman (Simerman): We were founded in 2003 by Ashley (My Wife) and myself with the belief that hard rock and heavy metal fans were underserved and would dig high-end collectibles that were routinely created for other genres in tv/film/games and pop culture. We are a small studio and operations group. Our team consists of great artists, designers and production staff across the globe, here in the US, Europe, and China.
We also have the best customer support people that make sure all fans and collectors always have a live person to help with any detail of purchasing Rock Iconz Limited Edition Statues. I have been the art director and designer on all products since our founding. It’s important to us that people know we are all super-fans of the great artists we create dating back to the late 60s and 70s. We love what we make every day and are so fortunate to go to work at KnuckleBonz each day.
E.E.: How did you begin obtaining licenses from bands? Have bands such as Ghost and KISS contributed to your projects? Have you had the chance to interact or meet with any of these?
Simerman: When we founded KnuckleBonz, we looked for a great artist/musician that would create a great figure and had the underserved audience. No figure-based products to date. We wanted to select a license that we felt no other company might consider. That’s how we came to approach The Randy Rhoads Family. I explained to Mrs. Rhoads and Kathy (Randy’s sister) what we were about and our goals as a company. I was fortunate to see Randy only days before he died. I was at the Omni 2nd to last show in Atlanta. He was gone 2 days later. They appreciated that we were going to create something cool that would honor Randy’s legacy and were sincere about what we planned to do as a company.
With the success of Randy’s initial Limited Edition, we reached out to Slash and Zakk Wylde. They so appreciated the fact that we had founded the company with Randy Rhoads and were happy to join the what was known then as the “Guitar Hero” series. We created and owned the original Guitar Hero trademark. Things have grown quite a bit since then and we are now often contacted by band management to see if we could create a Rock Iconz Ltd Edition Statue for their artists.
This was the case with KISS. Their art director contacted us about a project and we, of course, said, yes!. It was never a matter if we would create KISS Rock Iconz, just when would be good timing. As far as artists contributing to their projects, it can vary widely. Some artists are very involved in the design and detailing of Rock Iconz. Slash and Jimmy Page were very hands on. We met face to face to discuss design and work in progress. They are both such great people and musicians and really into the collectibles category. Paul Stanley had a good amount of feedback on our recent Hotter Than Hell and Alive Rock Iconz.
Papa Emeritus was sending us pictures of that costume during the most recent tour to make sure we had all the detailing as nailed as possible. King Diamond was also very involved in every aspect of his Rock Iconz production. He did a special photo shoot for us before his SOLD-OUT show in Mexico City that was a huge help to us. The better the reference the better the final production.
E.E.: What inspires your creative team? Does the creativity of each band inspire work?
Simerman: When we bring a new artist to the series, we try to in envision a moment on stage. A moment that if you were to see in silhouette, it would be immediately recognizable. That’s always a great place to start.
We then consider the artists’ desires (e.g. what era of their career) and do some initial research with video and photo reference. The final and most important consideration of any Rock Iconz Limited Edition Statue is what fans and KnuckleBonz collectors most want to see. After all, the KnuckleBonz Rock Iconz Series really belongs to them, not us at all.
E.E.: What forms of entertainment/media are you currently looking to expand into if any? (Horror/Video Games/Pop-Culture etc.)
Simerman: We have been asked to come into all of the areas you mention, and we are constantly on the lookout to give fans some they might not get from another company. That said, I don’t see us doing superhero movie work anytime soon. That’s being done so well by a bunch of people now. We’ll just have to wait and see…
E.E.: Can you describe the design process? How do your artists frame the “moments” in figure form? The work generated is of the highest quality and almost lifelike.
Simerman: Thanks, we never get tired of hearing that. I think the biggest thing that goes into design is to pull from our collective experiences. We all rocked hard when we were growing up buying the vinyl, wearing the shirts and going to the shows of all the great bands we have created. Being super-fans is the biggest spark. Our customer service heads Sarah and Sherry were longtime friends with Motorhead, Priest and a bunch of great 70’s and 80’s bands. I was lucky enough to grow up hanging around backstage at concert venues from the time I was 9 or 10 years old. My dad was the manager of the concert halls in Washington DC like The Constitution Hall and The Kennedy Center.
I saw so much amazing stuff standing behind the stacks on stage right. I can honestly say there is not a better moment than when the lights go down right before a great arena rock show. A typical team will have myself, principal sculptor, prototyping team, production head along with the actual team that includes mold makers, finishing paint and QA. A fully staffed team can range from 20 to 50 at various times during the production. Times from the initial design to final production range from 4 to 6 months. Our collectibles are hand-made so we are not concerned so much with going faster, just trying to make each one better than the last.
E.E.: What are your opinions on the bands represented by your figurines? Why Ghost? and how do you think this band has made an impact on the cultural scene.
Simerman: When asked why we pick a certain band or performer for our Rock Iconz line, I always ask “is there any monster movie in what we might create?” I usually get a strange look. What I mean is, every artist we have done has a little monster movie quality to them. A fierceness or presence that makes them a little scary or a great subject for a statue if that makes any sense.
Papa is an obvious choice combining horror with great villainy and mystic. It, of course, helps that GHOST is pushing the bounds of Doom Metal and not sticking to any specific formula. We think that’s very cool and new. However, even Elvis from our 2007 Rock Iconz Ltd. The edition has that monster movie quality that we look for. People forget how divisive Elvis was when he broke. He scared the shit out of people on some if his initial TV performances. So are many music performers that are great talents, with large fan bases, may never be right for what we do.
E.E.: What does the future hold for your company?
Simerman: 2017 was our biggest year ever. We are busier than ever and have 2018 pretty much all set for new release. Many new Rock Iconz designs are complete waiting for final approval from management. That’s needed for us to actually spark up production. There will be new announcements pretty much every month through the end of the year. There will also be album art inspired Rock Iconz Ltd Editions that can be both shelf and wall mounted coming soon. This will debut at the New York Toy Fair next month in New York City. New Rock Iconz licensees that we are discussing now, you won’t see till 2019.
E.E.: Any interesting stories regarding bands/obtaining licenses?
Simerman: There are so many. Each production is its own journey. Some happen quickly from the time we first make contact with the artist. Some are years in the making. That was the case with Jimmy Page. Going to Jimmy Page’s house in London to do a photo shoot for his white “Poppy Suit” was amazing. Jimmy actually hired a 6ft 1in female fashion model to pose during the shoot. That was a trip.
However, one that sticks out was when I was flying to LA and do a photo shoot with Zakk Wylde and design his Rock Iconz. That was in early December 2004. I just happened to check email before leaving for the airport at 4 am and saw a small news headline, “Rock guitarist shot on stage.” It was of course the news that we had lost Dimebag Darrell of Pantera. We knew what great friends Zakk and Dime were. It was a jolt I will never forget. I had no clue what to do about the trip.
It was 4 am, so I was not sure if Zakk and his people even had the news. I thought of trying to call and get in touch but decided just to go to the airport and make the trip. I was fairly certain all would be off, but it would have been awful if for whatever reason they decided they still wanted to do something that day and I did not show up. I was on the plane and they were just about to close the door to push back when I got a call from Zakk’s people asking if I had heard the news. They then told me the shoot was off and Zakk was already on a plane to Dallas to be with Dimebag’s friends and family. They let me off the plane and it was such a strange feeling walking back up the ramp by myself, hard to process. I had seen Damageplan only a few days before. I was right in front of Dime in a small club. He was killing it doing his thing, as large as ever.
E.E.: In working with the iconic band KISS; Can you describe your experience with working with this iconic brand? Any specific challenges as KISS is rumored to be very strict.
Simerman: I would not characterize things strict, they just and very concerned with any aspect of the KISS products and brands. We have a really good relationship with Epic Rights, the KISS management company. Paul and Gene review and personally approve every detail of what we do as with most products. Paul was actually aware of us before we started working with them. He’s good friends with Jimmy Page and had bought the limited editions we did in 2007 and 2009.
E.E.: Thank you for an amazing interview and your time. Anything else you would like promoted please feel free to discuss.
Simerman: Just that we so appreciate all the fans and collectors that have supported KnuckleBonz work over the many years. There’s no KnuckleBonz or Rock Iconz Series without them. So much to still create…we can’t wait to turn the lights on here each day.