CLUB MUMBLE MEMBER INTERVIEW #3:
Welcome to the third of many Club Mumble Member Interviews to come. As mentioned in interview 1 + 2, I’m keeping the intros short and letting the interviews speak for themselves so, without further ado, I present Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot…
Photo: Ben Clark
What’s your job title and what does your job consist of on a day to day?
I’m the president, publisher, and chief executive officer. Although it sounds fancy, it means more to other people than myself. The best part of my job is that day to day, it’s different. There are things which must be accomplished, whether it’s writing, ordering, or plotting, but there’s always time to improvise and take care of things that I want to get accomplished. People think my job is glamorous, but it’s far from it. The latter part is creative work, which is sort of the dessert to the “meat and potatoes” of my day. Most people go straight to the dessert, or think it’s only about dessert, and that’s why they have problems.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to do what you do for a living?
1. Educate. If you want to edit a zine, that’s one thing, but editing a magazine, consultation, design, blogging, art curation, opening stores, and buying isn’t something you can prepare for quickly. All of these things take years and years to figure out, and unknown to most is the fact that I took almost every kind of class ending in -ology in my 3.5 years at community college and .5 years at SFSU. I also then studied 2 years of East Asian Studies at UCLA. So you add it up, I did six years of school, not counting work. I learned a lot of different things from different places, so you can’t learn it all in one place in a short time. Education is proving to be important in art these days. The fly by nighters are flying away.
2. Simplify. Keep it simple, and if you want to go nuts, make sure it’s what you really want, and not what others want for you. Listen to what you want, most “experts” are shit heads who can’t do it themselves.
3. Expand when you need. Make sure it’s not about ego.
4. Changes. Be ready to make changes on the fly.
5. Work. If you can’t put in at least 60 disciplined hours a week, at least in the early years, it won’t ever work.
Can you sum up Giant Robot’s history in 3 sentences or less?
Created in 1994 as a photocopied zine, Giant Robot has since grown into a full color, bi-monthly magazine about Asian popular culture covering topics such as cinema, art, vinyl toys, and interesting elements of popular culture appealing to almost everyone. Giant Robot has since opened “Giant Robot” retail stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City offering nicely designed merchandise from around the world. Giant Robot also curates art exhibitions at each of their spaces and also curates in outside galleries and museums along with other projects.
I think I covered it. You can tell I’ve written this before.
Do you have a favorite art show that you’ve hosted at GRLA?
That’s a tough call. The first at Giant Robot 2 (GR2) was David Choe in 2002, that was special since it was our first in that spot. He’s been a good friend before then, and since then. The Barry McGee “Ray Fong” show in 2006 was amazing since he pulled off what he’d do in a museum in our space. Ironically, my favorite two shows are by two artists who have a strained relationship. I’m friends with both. Most have picked a side.
What’s been the best selling product to grace the shelves of your stores? Best selling of all time.
The magazine of course. That’s always at the top. But not counting anything that’s Giant Robot, it’s probably an Uglydoll since they got their first start at GR. If not, then perhaps a Kubrick figure.
Tell us about The Dwelling.
The Dwelling… In Tokyo, homeless dudes have a totally different system of living. Imagine 20 or so years ago, there were no homeless people in Japan. Now there are thousands. Unlike how the homeless in the Americas are drugged out or mentally fucked up, in Japan, they’re just broke. They use ingenuity to make little huts. Not much bigger than a doghouse, it’s where they live and it’s often along riverbanks. They are usually left alone by people and are often ignored like they are here. So, Scion gave me a pile of money to make a film, and I hooked up with a director friend, Sheldon Candis and went to Japan to do a short documentary on them. It was a dope experience, and instead of doing the fun stuff I’d do in Tokyo, I went to hang out with homeless dudes. Making films are a lot of fun and doing it in a foreign place is amazing. Using the money from the biggest car company in the world, Toyota, to make a film about Japanese homeless dudes ends up being ironic. The weird thing is that when I mention that I did a documentary on homeless in Japan, most people are astonished and have numerous questions. But if I bring it up to a Japanese person, they don’t seem to care at all and the subject will change. I’ve been taking note of this, and I have yet to be surprised.
What’s on the horizon for the GR empire? Any new ventures?
Like everyone, the immediate horizon is to survive. The new venture is to rearrange our lives to figure out how to keep doing what we want to do. I think most of us need to do this. All of the energy that was once put into doing new stuff… some of it has to go into finding creative ways to survive. I’m amazed at those who are doing even better now than before. They’re out there and I’m amazed. But under all this economy crap, my goal is to continue to do things, but do them better. Hopefully, they’ll be fun and make people happy. That means, make a better magazine, write better articles or blog posts, and put on better art shows. All of it.
How often do you visit Japan? It seems like you’re there every month!
I went three times in 2008, that’s plenty. I was asked this same question yesterday, and of course, my question back was, “why do you ask?” Then their answer was something like yours. “It seems like you’re there every month!” I don’t want to be there every month. I really want to be at home every month.
What’s the best airline to fly if you’re going to Japan?
Perhaps ANA or Japan Airlines. Then again, it turns into a blur. I forget which are which, and in the end, any flight that lands is nice.
How many miles do you estimate you’ve flown in your lifetime?
1,000,000? I have no idea why I think of it, but in 2006, I went from LA to Japan, then Hong Kong, then England, then back to LA. So I actually went around the world. It’s personally neat, but in the end, I’m guessing a bunch of folks on Mumble have done this many times. I don’t fly as much as some people think. Flying isn’t what’s great. It seems like a braggart thing than actually something important. What’s great about being uncomfortable (sitting for 12 hours blows and it doesn’t matter where you sit in the plane), bad resolution of television, crappy toilets (although I won’t hesitate to destroy one), bad air, bad on board movies, turbulence, and bad food (even at it’s best)? It’s not like a car which you might own. In the end, you’re renting a spot on a plane that’s not yours. It’s like a hotel room. If it makes you feel better that you flew a lot, or stayed in a bad ass hotel, then check your ego. It’s what you do when you land, and maybe what you take back with you when you go home.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in the past year?
1. I went to China with my girlfriend. Although people go to China all the time, I’d say I saw a couple of cities pretty well and was fairly humbled.
2. The small degree of separation I have to Barack Obama and living through and experiencing the campaign, elections, etc. Cheesy sounding, yet insane.
3. Seeing people around me doing cool things. I’m proud of so many people.
4. Learning a lot about my work, a little more about what I like and don’t like, and more limitations. Instead of No Limit, I’d say, Fuckloads of Limits.
5. Making it through with a smile. The weird thing I noticed, and I don’t know if I like it, is that in 2008, it was the first year that I ever smiled in pictures intentionally.
What bores you?
Not too much. Boring people aren’t boring, douche bags are boring. But maybe I like being boring. I’m almost to a point where I want to wear clothes that have no brand names, logos, or prints on them, but that would be hard to do. I actually like brand names, logos, and prints, but they just need to be really good. The mediocre is boring, but the bad can be entertaining. Why do people wear shirts that look like giant body tattoos? Why do people wear huge print, Sponge Bob t-shirts.
Soondoobu, mandu chigae, kimpira gobo, battera, xiaolongbao, bun cha gio, and masala dosa.
Top 5 favorite books?
Augusten Burroughs books are pretty fun to read because they are often collections of fucked up memoirs. Some are disgusting. When I tell people that I like this dude’s writing, people always then say, what about David Sedaris? I think this dude is better. He’s way more fucked up. I don’t read enough books, so maybe I’m a crappy person to answer this.
2. Magical Thinking
3. Running with Scissors
4. Possible Side Effects
What’s your favorite skateboard brand of all time? It doesn’t have to be one that’s still in business.
I’d say Free Former since my uncle was a designer there when I was a little kid. It was the era when Ty Page was their pro skater, doing old style skateboard tricks that made it on to shows like CHiPs. For Christmas and Birthday gifts, I’d get a new skateboard. I got them for a few years until Free Former rode off into the sunset when skateboards went from plastic to wood. As many of the old schoolers know, Free Former wasn’t a good brand, and it may very well have been the worst brand ever, but that’s actually a hard honor to achieve. I still think it was all cool. Other than that, because I’m on the westside of LA, I grew up with Dogtown and the Suicidal Tendencies culture of skateboards and clothing. Those kids were all over my junior high school wearing hand drawn button down shirts with skulls all over them, flipped up bill baseball hats that said Suicidal, and blue bananas. I wasn’t one of them, but their aesthetic was amazing. It’s the very brand that killed Free Former.