While comic book illustrations are commonly thought of as clean-lined forms with garish colors, there have been a number of artists in mediums over the decades that have bucked that idea, such as Ashley Wood with his expressionist compositions. Having gained a loyal following from his contributions to several established comic books, including several in Todd McFarlane‘s Spawn universe, Wood partnered with the then-relatively new IDW Publishing to produce creator-owned works by him, starting with 2001’s debut of Popbot. Thriving under this newfound freedom, Wood began exploring his own strange characters and worlds, ones he would continue to evolve through not just comics but also his own designer toy brand. On June 24th, 2018, an artfully made figure named NOM de Plume was issued by ThreeA, whose name is frequently stylized as 3A, a production partnership between Wood and Threezero‘s founder, Kim Fung Wong. And through ThreeA, Wood has designed countless designer toy works that inhabit several worlds of his own creation, their stories extolled through text on their packaging and their ads, creating a rich tapestry of narrative history behind each piece. And to celebrate a decade of ThreeA’s success, Wood has debuted the Ashtro Lad vinyl sculpture, his loving tribute to Astro Boy.

So who is Astro Boy?

Astro Boy is arguably the most famous creation of Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese comic book (or manga) artist, cartoonist, animator, and film producer. Due to his prolific output and pioneering techniques, which have been directly tied to the beginning of Japan’s golden age of manga, Tezuka is frequently referred to as “the father of manga”. Experiencing success at the age of 18 with his Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island) serialized story, it was one of his less well-received works that birthed his iconic character. In 1951, he began the Ambassador Atom (Captain ATOM) in Kobunsha‘s Shōnen magazine, it’s eponymous boyish robot character quickly becoming its popular aspect. Ending the series after only a year, Tezuka quickly re-imagined that successful creation into a new story, one titled Mighty Atom… or Astro Boy as its been translated into English. Taking place in a distant future wherein Japan is a technological utopia and robots are commonplace, Astro Boy is ultimately a superhero story, the nearly perfect, childlike android striving to become more human while using his 100,000 horsepower worth of strength to defend Japan and the world from all manner of sinister threats. A highly acclaimed creation, Astro Boy has influenced a great number of artists since its introduction, including Ashley Wood who has cited it as a main influence on his own World War Robot (WWR) universe. In fact, Wood has had the opportunity to interpret the character of Astro Boy in several paintings, making his evolution of the base form into Ashtro Lad all the less surprising.

From Astro Boy to Ashtro Lad

When Ashley Wood first revealed his Ashtro Lad concept, even its naming convention declared it as a tribute to Tezuka’s creation, the word “Astro” having been modified with an added “h” that eludes to Wood’s nickname, Ash, and the word “Lad” meaning a young man, or boy. With Wood’s rendition having a stocky body reminiscent of Astro Boy’s form, the most glaring difference he employed was in the facial features, adding a toothy-grinned expression that the artist has revisited frequently over the years. Making its ThreeA debut in 2009 on the boxy Square² in the World War Robots line, this creation’s humanoid face was part of its “special empathy” defenses, according to packaging text, meant “to disarm all those who come across it with sickly childish features”. A popular form, it has since been revisited in everything from half-size Portable form to full life-size renditions, as well as variations introduced like the bomb-bearing Mk1.5, the long-legged Mk2, the humanoid footed Mk1LR, the spider-like 4Square, and the treaded Mobile Tank Square. This face has also been employed on the Autumn Apple, purportedly an interpretation of the apple from Eden which has appeared on its own in wooden form and alongside characters from the fashionable Parade and the fetishistic The World of Isobelle Pascha lines, as well as on the Bambaboss design, a character that since its introduction in 2009 has repeatedly been used to celebrate ThreeA’s anniversaries. And, considering this last fact, it seems logical and appropriate for that strangely childlike face to adorn the piece celebrating ThreeA’s 10th anniversary, the Ashtro Boy.

Ashley Wood’s Ashtro Boy

According to the solicitation text, after a decade of “searching for a way to escape the underverse”, a realm from the Popbot stories where dreams and reality intertwine, “Ashtro Lad has finally found a way out, the deca portal”. With “deca” being a unit of measurement that means ten, this aspect of the tale becomes a sly reference to how Ashtro Lad is debuting to celebrate ThreeA’s decade since their first release. Standing roughly 16-inches tall, this vinyl sculpture’s Anniversary Edition features a gorgeously weathered exterior, viscerally creating the feel of a long-lost character making its triumphant return. No less impactful in its more minimally decorated renditions, the soot-black King Coal and glow-in-the-dark Tri Glow, the latter of which is exclusive to the company’s 3AA collector’s club members, there’s a strange biographical element to this character beyond the artist inserting his nickname into the title. “Everything changed that day, that day ten years ago”, the advertising text reads, a time reference which could indicate the first official steps of ThreeA itself, though the description continues to specify “when Ashtro Lad came back with the future”. Not when he came back from the future, but with it, similar to how Ashley Wood pushed designer toys into new realms of the artist’s own creation.

Click Here to Find an Official ThreeA Retailer from which to acquire Ashley Wood’s Ashtro Lad.

For more information on Ashley Wood:
website (3A) | website (7174 PTY LTD.) | instagram | twitter

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