Slayer Design Studios has seen some changes over the years, but they’ve been around for quite some time and they’ve been a fan-favorite among customizers. Formerly Tri-Gate Creations, they rebranded in 2009 as Slayer and have been churning out a variety of sculpts ever since—with a few hiccups along the way. Dave and his wife Rachel run the main operation, but they’ve had many friends help them over the years. From sculptors to other folks helping with casting, cleanup, assembly, shipping, web maintenance, and customer service, it can be quite the operation at times.Originally a side business, the SDS crew went full-time in 2010 and opened up a new studio space, expanded the business, and began offering up more sculpts than ever. A main feature along with their ever-growing library of parts was the introduction of their “C.A.M.” kits (Custom Articulated Models), which are essentially full-figure kits that customizers get to paint and assemble to their own preferences.
Dave is a member at several of the GI Joe and 1:18th-scale fan boards, and even has his own forum for fellow customizers. He was so kind as to allow a “behind the scenes” interview, giving insight into what keeps him and his team going (and what can sometimes get in their way), plans for the future, and a little sneak peek at things planned for SlayerCon 2. (In fact, we got so much info out of Dave, we had to break it into two parts. For the second half, check out Part II of our Q&A.)
Dave: I’ve always been a fan of art, and creation. And I love coming up with new ideas, and not just what’s given to us.
The idea of making more fodder that was one of a kind was the direction we wanted to take. So we started out small, and we still are for the most part. We wanted to make our own figures, which is what we are doing now behind the scenes. We put a few full figure kits out there, but we have many more.
Q3: Transformers fans have had 3rd party manufacturers, mostly based out of China, making full-scale figures for years now, offering up products that rival—and sometimes, surpass—Hasbro’s official products. Why do you think we haven’t seen a full-figure version of this for the GI Joe line (in respect to a fully-assembled/packaged, 3rd party GI Joe manufacturer)?
Dave: I think it comes down to money, and one not knowing if the demand will support the expense.
Q4: Do you think Hasbro has put the fear in the soul of would-be 3rd party manufacturers over this, and has Hasbro ever contacted you about the work you guys have done? Is that something you are concerned about at any point?
Dave: It’s no concern of ours. We don’t use their names, and we don’t try to be Hasbro. We do love what Hasbro puts out, though. We support them as much as we can. If we come out with something that could be used on Joes, well it’s just our take of a character, and another option for a custom.
Q5: You’re not the only shop out there doing the level of work that you do. Do you feel like you and the other sculptor-caster crews ever step on each other’s toes? Or do you have a sort of mutual respect for each other?
Dave: There are many other guys, and they are all fantastic artists. Stepping on toes—well sure, we all do. We tend to make some of the same stuff, but no harm, no foul. Each artist has a style and each style lends itself to more fodder, so for me it’s a win-win for the community.
Q6: Do you ever work together with any of these other crews on any items?
Dave: We have worked with folks in the past, and are always open to do so in the future. We are part of this hobby, and like to think we spent the last 7 years making it known we are not going anywhere, so if folks want to work together on something that will bring some awesome product to the custom community I am all for it.
Q7: SlayerCon’s big inaugural year was 2011. What was it? How was it? What did you learn from it?
Dave: It was on the small side, I think maybe twenty or so of us. The storm (Hurricane Irene) had a lot to do with no-shows. But we had a blast and it was a good time.
We learned we missed making customs and we would have to have more Cons thru out the year to hang with our buddies and sit down and do some customs.
Q8: SlayerCon 2: what do you have planned for 2012—just bigger and better?
Dave: The unveiling of our tabletop game called Relic Wars. We plan to show it off, and play.
More full figure sculpts will be shown.
Product from (board members and customizers) like Falcon and GI Guppy will be shown off for folks to see what their product looks like in-hand, casted, and in real plastic. We’re really looking forward to be able to help those artists share there work.
All in all each Con we want make more and more enjoyable, and hopefully give something back to the community we all hail from.
Q9: I know you don’t do this alone. Do you have a few words about the crew you work with and the hours and sweat and tears they put in?
Dave: There are only two of us who do all the cast work and mold-making, and shipping. The sculptors are Jose and Ben. Add in stocco28 and some others. We have the best staff on the planet. We all try and talk as much as we can, but we are spread out all over the map. One of the reasons to have a Con was to get us all in one place a few times a year.
Q10: Krexx (Jose) is one of my personal favorite sculptors of yours, but he’s not the only one. What’s a typical process for getting a single cast item to these guys—is it a sketch, or just an image from the web, or a phone call/email?
Dave: All of the above. It really depends on what we have in our minds and what suggestions come in. We use art, concept art, movies, comics—you name it. Anything that will make for great sculpts.
Q11: C.A.M. kits: what’s the future of these? Many fans have asked about them and I know they’re important to you. Do you see Slayer focusing more on full figure kits, or will you continue to offer a mix of other franchise sculpts along with your own Slayerverse guys?
Dave: C.A.M. kits are going to keep getting more of our time. This year will mark the year we introduce more full kits then ever before. We will, however, keep on making a little of everything. We like to try and give something for everybody.
Q12: The elephant in the room… You had some personal health issues this past year, and you kept Slayer going despite serious downtime and issues pertaining to the health. (I personally would’ve shut the store down, so kudos for you in keeping going.) Perhaps a lot of people know about it, and while it’s not an excuse, it was a pretty serious thing. How are you doing now, and how has it affected the business?
Dave: The health issue… Oh man, I knew this was coming… (Laughs.)
To be honest, I am still going through some of it. I had tumors behind my eyes and in my neck. They were cancerous, and had to be treated. I went through radiation, and it helped, but they have kept a careful eye on me. For some reason they come back. I have only one right now. Puts a lot of pressure on my eyes and gives me some killer headaches. If the treatment doesn’t help, I will have to do chemo, something that will shut me down, and that’s not something I want. So I do what the docs tell me, and try and keep my stress down. I really love what we do, and I love the hobby, so it gives me something to strive for each day—both the good and the bad. I would say the biggest part of the health issues is when depression sets in. Man, those times are tough. Can’t really explain what you go through, but you have days when you just don’t give a shit about anything.
Q13: Fans are always going to gripe, and Joe fans are extra fickle at times. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, and I don’t think you will either… Slayer has had some growing pains in the last year or two, and customer service has been a big issue. I don’t think you need to defend the business, because I know you’re a busy person balancing a restaurant and Slayer, but what are some things you’ve learned from all this?
Dave: We had a few issues this year that caused some major growing pains, and we have not been able to fix them all yet. With everything that’s happened we learned one thing: we are going to keep going no matter what. We continue to try and make changes that will better improve our service.
One thing, in the very near future—I will not be the full time production guy… making the product, doing the shipping, or answering emails. I have groomed somebody to take that over, and although Slayer will be mine, this person will run the show. My role will be behind the scenes, working on our line, and projects the internet doesn’t always see.
My biggest downfall has been not having enough time and too much on my plate.
Most don’t know, but I have 4 kids, and my wife and I work 40-plus hours at our shop. We are full-time caretakers of my parents, and we do Slayer. Add in all the other crazyness of life, and—yep, you guessed it—not enough downtime.
Q14: Have you found that running Slayer has cut down on your own customizing, and has it taken any enjoyment out of it because now it’s your business?
Dave: This is the single biggest part for me that I struggle with. I never have any time to just sit and customize. To be honest, I miss it very much. But with a clear focus and well-made plans, things will be changing soon.
Q15: Is there anything you’ve got planned for the near future to maybe remedy any issues? You’ve gone back and forth with format for the store and with the amount of stock and with various sales throughout the year… Do you think you’re finally figuring things out, or is it still a learning experience?
Dave: No, we have things figured out now; we just have to set them in motion. You’re going to see a few smaller stores selling our product. One guy might sell only heads, while another torsos, and another weapons. This will allow each group to organize themselves so the workload doesn’t swamp them. We are looking to have 4 stores up by Christmas 2012. This will also allow all 2000 original sculpts to be in production at one time. This should be good for the consumer. Yes, you will have shipping from each store, and each store will govern themselves, so you will be dealing with 4 different people. But, this should allow for quicker turn-around times for everything: product, emails, refunds, fixed orders and so on.
Q16: What are future plans for not only Slayer, but 2012 and beyond? Are you going to keep running the pizza shop and SDS?
Dave: Yes, for now I will run both. Slayer does very well, but can’t support us as a whole. There are many times I need my pizza shop to cover my expenses for Slayer. I gave my word seven years ago to a few folks that they would be able to work full-time doing what we do. They have been able to do just that. Even when I don’t make anything and I am worn the hell out, I know my core team is being taken care of.
And that concludes Part I of our interview with Dave. Be sure to check out Part II of the interview, where we toss out fan questions, and we unveil some pretty interesting answers that will leave many customizers eager for 2012’s offerings from Dave and his team of talented artists.