Arts Culture

Ask a punk: In conversation with NJ artist YTHATK

"In my late 20s, I literally just started trying everything—different mediums to see what I liked to do. Then I started playing with resin and making toys. That fucking blew my mind, you know?"

“Address: Ask a punk!” If you’ve ever seen a flyer for a show at a punk house, chances are it had this phrase written on it. Why? So that much anticipated basement show doesn’t get mobbed with people and consequently shut down before your favorite band can play.

But we think “Ask a punk,” can be applied well beyond basement shows. If you really want to know what cool shit is going on in any town, you could do a lot worse than to ask a punk for information. The best shows, exhibits, food, bars, coffee, parties or current events that might elude a typical tourist or the newbie in town; just ask a punk and I’m sure you’ll get a pretty well-informed, illuminating answer. “Well, what if I don’t see anybody with a mohawk, dumpster-diving on Main St.?!” I don’t know, maybe just try talking to someone who’s reading a book. Reading seems fairly punk rock these days. 

This week we had a chance to talk to New Jersey artist YTHATK (Ian Beattie), an extremely talented, yet humble punk that came up in the Shore scene of Ocean County. Our conversation with Ian covers the origin of his work, bootleg toy-making, the Asbury Park scene and more. And, you can catch YTHATK at the Light Brigade Collective show at Trinity Church in Asbury Park this Saturday, May 7.

NJ INDY: What got you interested in art? How long have you been creating for?

YTHATK: When I think about this, specifically, skateboarding comes to mind. Skateboarding was my introduction to graphics I had never seen before. Board companies—what they were putting on their T-shirts and the bottom of their boards. When I was young, that was the first exposure I had to cool art. Skateboarding is an art and it’s a sport; it’s really both. It’s not what I did the most, but it had the most impact on me out of anything. I think that started the passion and I thought, “Well, I like to draw and these [graphics] are really cool,” so I started trying to draw skate graphics and then I would paint the bottom of my skateboards. That just led to me always being involved with paint somehow, although back then it was never something that I thought I should take seriously or pursue.

NJI: So your interest dates back to the pre-teen years?

YTHATK: Yeah, I’d say around then. I remember going to stay at my grandma’s house when I was either 9 or 10; I would sneak into my uncle’s room (who was like an OG punk) because he had some action figures and other shit that just looked interesting to me. That was pretty early on in my life because he used to babysit me…I would go in his room and steal tapes and that was how I got interested in punk and independent music. So yeah, taking his tapes, looking at his art and everything in his room and thinking, “Yeah, this is something I wanna be a part of. Whatever is going on here is extremely appealing to young Ian.” 

NJI: Do any tapes stand out in your memory?

YTHATK: Oh yeah. On his one tape it was the Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters album. Dead Kennedys caught me, some of their earlier stuff, the second album… I was making copies of all [my uncle’s] tapes and then sneaking them back into his room. I started getting smart, though; the tapes he took the painstaking time to carefully write out all the bands and song titles on the little cassette insert, I would just take those because then I knew what everything was and what it was called. There was no real resource back then, you know? We didn’t have the internet when I was 10.

NJI: At what age did you really commit to your art?

YTHATK: I stopped for a while because I got really into skateboarding for a good span of years; it became something that I did with all my spare time. Then I hit my early 20s partying phase… I was probably doing more drugs than art back then. When I really started to push and do art for me, it was probably in my late 20s, maybe 28. 

I got a job in screen printing in 2007 so I had been printing for a long time at that point and I thought, “I can do anything with this stuff, I understand it and I can print anything I want.” I always loved posters, I would buy them at shows because the art was dope and it was screenprinted. Then I realized I can just be doing that for myself and other people that don’t have the resources. So that’s when I really started making art for myself and also making toys. 

At that age, in my late 20s, I literally just started trying everything—different mediums to see what I liked to do. Then I started playing with resin and making toys. That fucking blew my mind, you know? I’ve always loved action figures and comic book characters and I thought, “I can make all of my own action figures. Whatever I want them to be.” My mind was blown. At that age I suddenly had this confidence that was really borne from complete non-confidence. The concern about wasting time or money, it all just sort of went out the window and I said, “Fuck it.” It was pretty freeing.

NJI: Speaking of mediums, what is your favorite? 

YTHATK: I just told my wife last night while I was printing some posters, “I think printing on paper is probably my favorite art to engage in.” The action figures are so much fun because it’s a physical toy and then I can paint it and whatnot, but I don’t know; I think [screenprinting] is my favorite because I took so many years really trying to get good at it and learning as much as I could. 

NJI: You mentioned you got a gig in screenprinting pretty early on, how did that come about?

YTHATK: Yeah, well, I took a year of vocational school when I got out of high school. My mom worked at the vocational school and she brought home a brochure for post secondary courses, so I was like, “OK, well I know some friends at vokes [vocational], I’ll just go there and do the graphic design program.” In the program we started screen printing during one quarter of the school year and ultimately that’s what I would spend all of my free time doing. Whenever I had time, I was in the print lab doing all kinds of stuff. The lab had these old heat transfers, like full-color transfers from the late ’80s and early ’90s. I started cutting those up, making collages and then printing shirts. During that time my Mom told me I should look in the newspaper for a job in screenprinting, and that’s what I did. I found a fucking job right in the paper, a listing in the Asbury Park Press: “Screenprinting Shop, Help Needed.” Literally as simple as that. The shop owner was just looking for a warm body for help, really; I started out cleaning stuff—squeegees, screens, taking garbage out. Then one dude quit and I told them, “Hey, I can do this. I can set up these automatic machines, I’ve been watching. I guarantee I can do it.” Maybe the guy in the shop was tired that day, I don’t know, but he let me do the job, [they saw I was capable] and then they just kept giving me more work and responsibility. I had a lot of people early on with printing that helped me out like that. I owe a lot to them. Ever since then I’ve been printing, except now I run a shop for a guy.

NJI: I saw a post on social media where you had done a collaboration with someone and you described that it wasn’t your typical style (not in a derogatory way). I guess it may not be the easiest thing to describe a style in words, but, how would you describe yours?

YTHATK: I really like comics, but I don’t like new comics; I like ’60s horror and sci-fi comics. I have a couple of different things that I do mainly in my art. Usually I will collage things, like, I’ll take apart ’60s comics and make different people or characters using different body parts. Then, I also do photography halftone work: I’ll take real pictures of things and then turn them into halftones. It is hard to explain but I’d say, collaging is a big part of it. I collage a lot of old comic books, I do a lot of digital collages that I turn into prints. That’s my favorite way to make art because I love that old late ’50s/early ’60s comic style. I like Robert Crum and stuff like that on the indie side—stuff that doesn’t look so Marvel-like; the art just looks much more organic and real to me. 

NJI: How did you get into toy making? Did it just stem from that childhood love of action figures?

YTHATK: Yeah, when I was a kid I loved X-men and Ghostbusters. I mean I was a little boy in the late ’80s and early ’90s when action figures were the biggest thing on the fucking planet. Companies were dumping action figures out of their doors at that point, there was a figure for everything. I remember when Tales from the Crypt action figures came out, as a kid I was like, “Oh my god!!” GI Joes were fun, too, because I grew up with brothers so we could play Army together. I loved all of that shit. 

NJI: Seeing pictures on Instagram of the toys you make was sort of an introduction to a whole subculture we didn’t know existed. Sofubi (So-foo-bee), or soft vinyl toys are what you create, right? And this style of toy making, which was popularized in post-WWII Japan, uses a method called rotocasting? 

YTHATK: So, there’s a few differences and I’m still relatively new to the world of soft vinyl myself. I’ve always known what it was but I’m not like a lot of the big soft vinyl collectors who love the old Godzilla-era soft vinyl. Sofubi is really a Japanese art form—they came up with the process of making toys that way. Rotocasting is just a method where you put a material in a mold and then spin it. When it is spun, the material will spread throughout the mold but it will leave a hollow center. Most rotocast stuff is made with resin, but there is some soft vinyl, too. Usually soft vinyl stuff is done with a metal mold and a pressure chamber. You put the soft vinyl in a pressure pot and the pressure chamber pushes the material to the outside and gets rid of all of the bubbles. 

NJI: So what does your setup entail? I imagine making all of these pieces require a lot of equipment and supplies, no?

YTHATK: So, that was my worry for a while with soft vinyl. Soft vinyl is money. I’m only really breaking into it at this point because it takes a while to get there. It is not cheap to make and it’s not cheap to get started. The molds themselves, to get them made can cost well over $1000. My start [with toy-making] was actually in bootleg resin action figures; like, Star Wars-sized action figures. It was probably around early 2014. … I did some research, I bought the mold-making-material, I bought some resin, I bought everything they told me I’d need on YouTube and basically recreated this moon-man figure that the video showed you how to make. I think it took me like two days, and then I just kept researching, watching more YouTube videos, lurking on Instagram, following all of the bootleg toy makers, as many as I could find. Long story short: I just started doing it. I made one toy and my mind was blown because it worked. There were mistakes and I wasted money in the beginning. It took a while before I got to the point where I could comfortably take any object, make a mold and then a copy of it easily. I’m still learning new shit all the time but I’ve been doing it for about 7 years now.

NJI: Are there a lot of venues to showcase and/or sell your work? Events?

YTHATK: Yeah, now, more than ever, I think there are. There’s a gallery and company called Clutter, they’re out of New York, up in Beacon. They do an important bootleg toy show every year called “[in]Action Figures.” That’s really important to the scene because it’s an invite-only showcase for all the best guys and girls creating right now. All the best artists working in the scene, guaranteed. They also do a big show called Five Points Fest, I think it’s been five or six years now (with COVID) since the last one, but that’s another show where you know all the best bootleg people will be there because it’s the biggest event; It’s like Comic Con but just for toys. Comic Cons are always really helpful to the bootleg scene because you can just buy a table and the people there are definitely going to be interested in what you have. 

NJI: So when you say bootleg toy scene, you don’t just mean like knock-off, replica toys?

YTHATK: No, the concept is more like: How can you subvert popular culture as much as possible and relate it to Star Wars [or another popular movie/show/franchise]? That’s basically the mantra of the bootleg toy scene. Making puns or clever references to normal society shit, but making a Star Wars toy out of it; that’s what’s big.

NJI: Is there any crossover? For example: are the Star Wars fanatics who aren’t aware of this massive scene interested in what bootleg toymakers produce?

YTHATK: People that are outside of the bootleg scene that like toys or love Star Wars, because they have no idea that this shit is going on, they’ll see a bootleg toy that’s a reference to The Mandalorian or something and go “What the fuck is this? I have to buy that immediately!” Some of the best bootleg toys are really funny, they’re almost like great memes, and people just freak out and have to buy them. Then there’s another side of the scene where people make these Star-Wars-sized action figures of characters from different movies and they make them look really accurate. So those are directed towards the collectors who are cinephiles or people who just love like one fucking movie so much. Toy makers will put their handmade action figures referencing a film like Pulp Fiction on eBay and people will fight over them because it’s custom and it’s one of a kind.

NJI: We originally met in Asbury Park at Shore Style Punk Night (vol. 45 @ Trinity Church), you had a table set up there with your work. Are you based in that area?

YTHATK: Well, I technically live in Monmouth County now but I’m from Bayville, Toms River (Ocean County). So that scene, that’s what I was in during my teenage years: Toms River, Bricktown, Pt Pleasant. 

NJI: Speaking of Shore Style Punk Night, that show was incredible; definitely restored our faith in NJ punk/hardcore. Do you have a relationship with SSPN at all or were you just happy to set up a table at a great show? 

YTHATK: A lot of the guys, like Rob Goodson (OC Rippers), I came up with in Toms River when I was younger, and they’re all pretty attached to the Asbury scene. So I’ve known a lot of these dudes for a long time and they’re still in bands and luckily they play in Asbury frequently. So the perfect excuse to be involved in that scene now is that I get to see old friends still doing the same shit [at venues in Asbury Park] that we were doing way back in the day in our friends’ basements. And these are really fun shows that they throw; that Episcopal Church (Trinity Church) in Asbury with Light Brigade Collective, that Shore-Style Show… it was such a good group of people. I had so much fun and then they also did the Vision reunion*. I don’t know, it takes shows like that sometimes to remember why you’re into this and why you do what you do. That SSPN scene, and other scenes like it, are such a big part of that. How good it felt to be “In the know” that night; right around the corner such hot shit could be happening in this little slice of New Jersey. I got to be around that and be a part of that. Such a good feeling.

*Remaining members of Vision reunited for a brief set at the end of the night – it marked the five year anniversary of a tribute show for Vision’s singer, the late Dave Franklin, which was held at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall

NJI: Yeah, it’s been at least a decade, easily, since we felt that good at a show. Seeing the youth represented really well, the previous generations showing out and bringing so much energy, the activism (Light Brigade Collective, Udder Chaos, Cats Luck) and then the bands fucking ripped from start to finish. Really impressive. SSPN seems like an ideal place to showcase your work. Understanding that you’re pretty familiar with it, what do you think the scene needs to make sure it grows or at least remains healthy?

YTHATK: Well, and this sort of circles back to Light Brigade, you need that big leader in the scene. You need the facilitator; and that’s the role Light Brigade (and others) have kind of assumed. With this style of music and this scene, being able to filter it through a venue like Trinity Church is just so important. Not everyone can pull that off. I’ve thrown shows before, I’ve curated, I’ve done that shit a few times and it’s not easy. Even when you get used to it and do it a few times, it still takes a lot to make it all come together in the right way. It’s so important to have someone to facilitate and then secure a place where more of these shows can happen. I mean, you have Bond St. [Bar, where they do shows in the basement] and that’s cool, that’s a good place; but it can’t be the only spot. House [of Independents] is cool, too, but, for smaller stuff and hardcore, this church is dope. 

The scene also needs to make sure that people have access to shit. I’m trying to find my niche right now with my art. Sure, I’ve printed T-shirts for bands in the scene but some other places are doing that and I’m not trying to steal business. I don’t need to print T-shirts because no one is printing band posters. Not that “no one” is doing it at all but no one is trying to do it for the little venues, the smaller shows. I’m trying to link up with Swank (White, SSPN) a little better to do some more prints for these Shore Style Punk Nights. I’m also offering this service for bands, like, “Oh, you’re going on tour? I can print you posters for that.” I’m not trying to pressure anybody, I’m just making sure they know there’s access if that’s something they’re interested in. Dude, I’ll go through hoops for people with their art if they don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t know how to make it—whether it be for printing or posting online. I love helping people figure shit out so that they can be involved the way they wanna be involved. When I was young, thank god I knew older kids and had family members because I didn’t have to work so hard to find stuff that I liked—someone was putting it in front of me. For kids without that, who are trying to get shit started by themselves, it’s so hard without help or guidance. I guess it just boils down to: gatekeeping sucks, let’s not make people who are without the knowledge or resources feel like shit. Lets spread the wealth and give them access.

YTHATK will have a table at the Light Brigade Collective show @ Trinity Church in Asbury Park this Saturday (5/7). All other things YTHATK: 
Five Points Fest