Envision yourself gazing upon an elaborately carved door, the key to unlocking it being your own imagination. And journeying through its opening, you enter another dimension, one which is beyond that known to any ordinary man. A realm as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, it is the middle ground between science and superstition, and it resides between the pit of man’s fears and the precipice of his knowledge. This is a wondrous land formed by the unbridled creativity and sheer will of Bob Conge, a world inhabited by the monstrosities attributed to his Plaseebo guise. And witness now his latest lumbering horror erupting over the hillside! Laugh not even if you think its appearance comical, for the jest is on its nemesis, mankind. Behold the beast known as SUM.

The Legend of SUM

With a bestiary of creature creations stemming back thirteen years, it is notable that Conge has written backstories for many of his own sculpted and produced designs. “My backstories often loosely take the form of a fable with a moral woven into it that is based on my personal values”, the artist admits, an aspect most likely inspired by his fond memories of reading Aesop’s Fables as a child. But the true intent of these tales is “to share the context in which the creatures exist”, according to Conge, to “help the viewer understand what makes these creatures look and act the way they do”. And, he ponders aloud, “in a way the story helps them become more real”. For the fictional story of SUM‘s birth, Conge created a short tale involving a redneck named Roy who intentionally hits a snapping turtle while driving home from a bar, the injured beast’s body being tossed into a rancid body of water that Roy has dumped his own garbage for years.

With his home studio based in the farmlands of upstate New York, Conge has had firsthand experience with “the ‘good ol’ boys’ who live in the hills and towns around our home”, he admits, citing them as the real inspiration behind his SUM creation’s backstory. “Many do hunt with their pickup trucks on the way home at night from the local watering holes”, Conge specifies, noting this concept of intentionally causing roadkill as being “a ‘Just for the hell of it, see if ya can hit it!’ attitude” representative of how they “have little reverence for what they consider lower life forms”. Mirroring this through the character of Roy in the fictional origin tale’s opening, the tale evolves as the “SUM creature becomes much more than a giant broken snapping turtle”, the artist recounts of the “gruesome transformation” that happens to the beast as it “lies in the warm stagnant water filled with trash and other animal parts dumped there by Roy”. Reborn and reformed with the garbage surrounding it, the reasoning behind the name of this amalgamated animal, according to Conge, is due to how “it becomes the SUM of all the neglected things found in this toxic soup”.

The Creation of SUM

“The look of my SUM figure was inspired by my backstory [for it]”, Conge states. “After living with the backstory fleshed out in my mind for a week or so”, he continues, “I approached the sculpt of the SUM creature by making quick sketches of what he might look like”, followed by “rough sketches of how I might begin building a basic armature to sculpt over”. Noting himself to be an artist who has “always let each concept suggest to me how best to convey it”, Conge elaborates that each “new figure requires a unique combination of materials and building techniques that I often figure out as I go along”.

“Generally, I will use whatever works to get the basic armature up as quickly as possible”, Conge mentions regarding the initial stage of his sculpting process. “For the SUM armature”, he continues, “I used part of an old vinyl doll mounted on a piece of 316-inch gator board cut in the shape of the base of the figure”. Having created the foundation for his piece’s construction, “I mounted several pieces of ¼-inch wood doweling into the vinyl doll”, Conge explains, thus creating the structural support for “the tin foil and papier-mâché that I would use to build up the form of the body”. And for this work-in-progress horror’s head, Conge reveals that he used “a resin casting that I had previously made for another figure and modified for the SUM sculpt”.
“While the papier-mâché was drying”, Conge divulges, “I built the wrench handed arm using a small broken crescent wrench fitted into a vinyl parts arm from my old parts box”. But when it came to the fine detail sculpting of the exterior, “it was clear to me that the figure must look like it was cobbled together in a kind of Frankenstein’s monster fashion”, the artist recounts, “but also appear like a moving heap”. To complete the piece’s aesthetic, “I sculpted the finished body”, Conge informs, “using a two-part epoxy clay and added the trash pieces into the clay”. Carefully chosen elements like doll hands and a truck tire “represent the typical kinds of garbage that Roy would have thrown into the pool”, the artist explains, “with the exception of the T2 head [that] I added as an homage to The Terminator film series”.

The Emergence of SUM

Collectors present at 2007’s San Diego Comic-Con caught the first glimpse of Conge’s SUM creation, the monstrous 8-inch by 8-inch beast displayed within Toy Tokyo‘s booth space. Later that year, hand-painted renditions cast in polyurethane resin were issued by the artist as well as a descendant work titled Son of SUM. Now, more than a decade later, SUM is prepared to emerge afresh, this time cast in vinyl as part of a new era in Conge’s career. “Previously, the majority of my figures were created to be produced in extremely limited editions of hand-cast resin”, Conge explains, continuing on to cite a preference for “resin because of its ability to capture surface detail” as well as offering “the economy of small production runs made here in the States”. But, as the artist notes, “I am a few months from my eightieth year on this planet and I am no longer interested in all the day-to-day tasks required to produce and market my figures”. Wanting “to continue to do the part I love, to conceive and sculpt new figures”, Conge says he sought out “someone who is in love with the production and marketing do the rest”.

In deciding who to partner with, Conge realized “that it is most important to have someone you trust and speaks the language to oversee vinyl production in both Japan and China”, the latter having “come a long way in its technical capability since I last produced my Plaseebo Mummy there twelve or so years ago”. Admitting his belief that “Asia, in particular China, is offering a new collector base for designer toys that is growing by leaps and bounds”, Conge saw it as “a valuable asset to have my work represented in a face to face experience at the many shows across Asia”. Carefully weighing all his options, “I chose to approach Planet-X“, Conge recounts, “because they are located in Hong Kong, they are relatively new and fresh, and they met all of the above criteria”. Owned by “Hong Kong native Joseph Tang, who has a design background in architecture and was educated in the States”, Conge elaborates that “Planet-X is basically a design, production, and marketing operation for creating vinyl art toys”, both of “their own designs as well as figures for other designers”. And Conge notes that this isn’t a one-time collaboration, but rather that “SUM is the first in a series of Plaseebo figures planned for production in vinyl with Planet-X. We will select other figures to produce from the many sculpts I created over the past ten years that were never produced in vinyl, such as The Stone Walker“, Conge states. “Others will be new sculpts”, he continues, “like The Land Shark [that] I recently completed”.
While the “timing of the releases will be determined by Planet-X”, according to Conge, their vinyl cast rendition of SUM debuted at the first Indy Sofubi Rally, an event hosted by Mandarake on May 5th at the Sun Plaza in Japan. The first availability in the United States of this new SUM casting will be at the Five Points Festival on June 2nd and 3rd in Brooklyn, New York, where a few one-of-a-kind, hand-painted versions by Conge will be made available, including at least two that future factory-produced renditions will based upon. With an anticipated general release following in July of 2018, these limited edition issuings will include the switched internal color-changing LED unit (with replaceable batteries) and inset glass eyes that have become signature elements in Conge’s handmade creations. “My work is my only voice in this wilderness of noise”, Conge states about his art, though it seems with Planet-X that he’s found a second voice harmonious with his own.

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