Something monstrous stirs on the outskirts of Moreland, Georgia where artist James Sizemore toils in a secluded studio affectionately dubbed the “Toxicave” due to its windowless design. The studio, one of three, rests on a remote family plot insulated from the chaos of the rest of the world. Sizemore is no recluse, however, and has collaborated with frequent partner Tim Reis on acclaimed monster movies like The Demon’s Rook (2013) and Goat Witch (2014), both of which Sizemore directed. Sizemore, assisted by a small team, fabricated an impressive assortment of creatures for the films, dozens in fact, quite a feat considering the constraints of the ultra low budgets associated with the productions.
The pair worked together most recently on Reis’s directorial debut Bad Blood (2016) featuring startling practical transformation work and a cool creature that harkens to the days when artists like Gabe Bartalos or Jennifer Aspinall defied their limitations on innovative effects-driven films like Brain Damage (1988) or Street Trash (1987). Throughout Sizemore’s and Reis’s collaborations, the positive synergy is apparent with raucous, colorful, and gory depictions of demons, zombies, and in this most recent effort, grotesque were-frogs. These film are driven by infectious energy and a cavalcade of incredible practical effects work bursting forth from Sizemore’s wicked imagination.
In 2015, Sizemore (assisted by his talented wife Ashleigh Jo) launched Wonder Goblin, a popular line of monstrous collectible toys and other art forms like coloring books, prints, and stickers. It was a natural extension of the sculpting and painting work he’s done for film productions, and throughout his life as part of a tightly-knit artistic family. In that span, he created memorable creatures like Wonder Goblin’s gleefully wicked goblin mascot, the menacing Krampus, and his latest, the deliciously diabolical Queen Hagopuss. Sizemore has also collaborated with renown artist Skinner for an original monster called Fungoid Man, a primal alien fungus whose attractive color scheme lures in helpless prey. Each articulated creation is meticulously sculpted, and breathtakingly painted by Sizemore’s deft hand.
Sizemore’s influences extend beyond the standard cult horror movies to folklore and cryptozoology. Much of his work honors legendary creatures like lycanthropes or the Sasquatch, but Sizemore’s unique sensibilities offer new interpretations of familiar myths. Sizemore’s approach sets Wonder Goblin toys apart from the poorly crafted horror-themed collectibles often found in mainstream stores, and his reverence for monsters is apparent in the details. Sizemore appears poised to break through on a wider scale as his nightmarish creations fly off the shelves and into the homes of rabid collectors. Diabolique caught up with Sizemore to discuss his flourishing career, and give readers some insight into his process for rendering nightmares in the flesh, so to speak.
Diabolique: Everyone is watching the debate, but I’d rather talk about monsters with you.
James Sizemore: Yeah, man, straight up, I forgot the debate was going on.
Diabolique: You’re working on some Sasquatch masks, you were saying?
JS: Yes, yes. I’m working on some Halloween masks, the old school vacuform style. We’ve got them all vacuformed and sanded down, cleaned up, and I’m going to start painting them tonight. That’s gonna be fun!
Diabolique: Are you selling those through Wonder Goblin?
JS: I guess it depends. I’m prepping for Designer Con in a few weeks, it’s going on November 19th and 20th. That’s out in Pasadena, California. It’s going to be a big trip for me because Ashleigh and me are driving all the way out there from Georgia. We want to make sure we make the trip worth it with as much stuff as possible. I was thinking about selling these [masks] online for Halloween, but with the amount of things we have to do – the list – it’s so crazy, that I think we’re just going to hold onto them unless I decide I need some money and can make time to ship things out.
Diabolique: Seems like you’re the kind of person who works relentlessly and could get them churned out in time.
JS: Totally, I probably could. Trying to balance it out with some of the other things. I’ve got some toys I’m working on, some big toys finishing up here; I’ve got some prints and lots of various art forms I’m trying to make available for sale out there at the Designer Con. Even display pieces, I haven’t finished our display piece I want to make for one of the toys, the Hagopuss. She’s this tentacled monstrosity. That thing I wanted to display on like a miniature set piece, like an outcropping of a mountain or something and she’s sitting on top of it. So it’s not just sitting out on a table, you know?
Diabolique: You live in Georgia. Do you primarily do all of your work there, even if you’re doing film effects work?
JS: Yeah, so far I’ve done everything here. I have a studio–we’ve got three studio spaces here on my property. Me and my family, we share a big plot of land. My parents live next door, my grandparents live on the other side. My parents are potters, they make pottery. My brother used to be here, and he sculpted. He moved to Athens and is working as a landscape architect now. We just do whatever we can here because it’s cheaper, and we live kind of out in the middle of nowhere. This is Moreland, it’s an hour south of Atlanta. Everything’s kinda far away. We try not to make the trek out to other people’s studios if we don’t have to. I’ve worked with other people before in their studios, but for movies and stuff I’m producing, I like to keep it in-house.
Diabolique: Seems like it would help keep you focused on the tasks at hand, to be isolated.
JS: That does help, and just keeping costs down, too. I don’t have to pay rent on any studio in the city.
Diabolique: You can tell more resources are being put into the work you’re creating rather than the structure that houses you.
Diabolique: How did you get started with Wonder Goblin? You just recently launched it in 2015, right?
JS: Yeah, it was a little over a year ago when I started it up. I don’t know, just going through a dry spell with movies and I had a couple of scripts circulating around getting rejected. I was getting tired of all the waiting and depending on so many other people for the film game to work out. You know what ‘I’m gonna start my own fucking company and you know what I like? I like toys and monsters. I’m gonna make monsters. I’m just gonna do it and it’s going to be fun’. I started it up, I did a Kickstarter with a coloring book, something to get people interested. I didn’t want to just do toys, I wanted to utilize my 2D art as well – coloring books, prints, whatever. Just sell whatever we can on here. I’m having fun with it. The stress level is ziltch, wake up in the morning, eat a smoothie, go to work downstairs and make some toys!
Diabolique: You’re obviously an amazing artist, but did you have the entrepreneurial spirit to go along with that, or is that something that grew out trying to survive in the film world.
JS: I would say I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I think back to when I was twelve and me and my younger brother who was ten at the time we got together and started our own paintball company. We had a little shop downtown in the town square which is–the only things in the town square are a church and a fire station –I think maybe at the time there was an antique shop. We don’t even have a police station in our town, it’s like population three hundred, a super small town. My parents were paying rent on a place to store their pottery and occasionally for Christmas they’d open it up and sell pottery to the town folk, people who wanted to come in and buy stuff. We asked them if we could use it for a paintball shop. I don’t know why, we just liked playing paintball. So, we sold guns, we had a big CO2 tank, we did refills on people’s cartridges. We sold all the accessories that went with it. We even had camouflage clothing and stuff, it was funny.
Diabolique: So it was successful, this business run by a nine and ten year old? You couldn’t even do that today!
JS: No, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal! We had a wholesale account, we got everything wholesale and we were able to mark up the price for our retail. My dad helped us out a lot, obviously. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. He just thought it was cool that we wanted to do that so he helped us. The school bus would drop us off there. We had a key and we’d open up the shop and stay there and work, we worked for five hours a day. Then we’d close up shop and our parents would come pick us up.
Diabolique: How did you get started sculpting and then eventually sculpting monsters , not assuming you started with monsters in the beginning.
JS: Since my parents are potters, I’ve just always had clay around, so I played with clay since I was a kid, I made dinosaurs. I liked to sculpt octopuses and dinosaurs.
Diabolique: When did you get to the point where you started taking it seriously and realize that you could maybe make a living from doing the type of work you were doing?
JS: I always bounced around between art forms. I never stuck with any one thing for too long. I had ADD ever since I was a kid and bounced around to whatever seemed fun. I started honing in on trying to make a living as an artist immediately after I got out of college. Whether it was painting– I went to school for oil painting — I was trying to make it as a painter and get into galleries. I did that for several years and really put my all into it. I had some bad experiences with galleries and became really disenchanted with it. I put it on hold for a bit, and got into movies after that. All those things, I’ve done since I was young. Me and my friends used to get together and take my parents’ camcorder and make little short films together. In high school, I took video production classes and we would make movies on the weekends. Whether it was painting or sculpting making movies or music I was always doing something to keep the creative juices flowing, keep me happy. Whenever I’m not doing something like that, I tend to get down.
Diabolique: Did you keep the stuff you made as kids, or is that too embarrassing to have around?
JS: I’ve got it somewhere. I have friends who have it. It’s out there, man.
Diabolique: Can you tell me briefly about your process? How do you get from point A at the start, and end up with a finished product like Hagopuss?
JS: Oh man, the Hagopuss is the biggest toy I’ve done yet. I don’t have a whole lot of experience, let’s be completely honest here, I’ve been making toys seriously for a year now. I was doing special makeup effects and sculpting and casting and all sorts of other things –I’ve been using these materials for a while, but actually making articulate figures– I’m still learning, you know? I’m still trying to improve on myself and get better and better. The Hagopuss is definitely the biggest thing I’ve even done. I think I’ve found a pretty good process to follow. Basically what I do is sculpt the pieces kinda like I would if I was sculpting prosthetics. I’ll start with a body and I’ll cast that up and work off of that like a snap, work off of that to create my limbs, my head. From the beginning I have my sculpted and molded and cast out little joints that I use for the articulation already set and made that I can just insert into the sculpt and know ‘this is where a leg is going to be, and this is where a tentacle is going to be. This is where the head is going to attach and this is where the mandibles will fit in perfectly’. That way, once I’ve sculpted the pieces and and molded them in silicone and cast them up in the urethane resin I can just put in the rubber gaskets, glue those in and then paint it and attach it and assemble everything. Got a toy! In a nutshell, three of four months of work down to two minutes of talking.
Diabolique: I watched the video and it was very cool to see it go from just being the sketch on paper to seeing where it ended up.
JS: I don’t know, I just felt so good about how it was going, I just knew from the beginning. I sorta mapped everything out from the beginning. I’ve made a schedule for myself and a process map. I felt so good about that, I’m going to document it. I had a feeling this is going to be cool to see. I always have people asking me if they can pick my brain on something, like ‘how’d you do this, how’d you do that’, and I love giving out information. I know a good magician never reveals his secrets, but I’m not a magician, I’m more of a wizard!
Diabolique: It’s good that you share the information because if somebody else wants to use their imagination to create a monster you haven’t, you’d be very sad that monster didn’t exist.
JS: Yeah, of course. I didn’t invent any of this stuff, other people have been doing things…even if what I’m doing is a little bit different from what someone else is doing, it’s still based off the same information we’re all gathering from. May as well put it back into the world. It’s just easier if someone asks how I did something, I can say check out the video I made instead of spending twenty minutes trying to explain on like a Facebook message or something.
Diabolique: I’m a big fan of Skinner and you collaborated with him on Fungoid Man. How did you end up working with him?
JS: Man, Skinner is so awesome. I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time. My producing partner Tim (Reis) who directed Bad Blood, the movie I recently produced and did special makeup effects for, he worked with him on the Mastodon video, he (Tim) was the DP on the Mastodon video that Skinner was doing. They worked together on that, and Tim told him about my movie The Demon’s Rook and told him about the stuff we’ve been doing–we were working on something at the time — that’s how he was introduced to the idea of me, we didn’t actually see each other then. I reached out to him later since he had heard of me and knew of my stuff, knew the movie and everything and he was very responsive. Skinner is just a cool dude anyway. He’s just an awesome, humble, down-to-earth artist who kicks ass. He was just very receptive to the idea, he was like, ‘fuck yeah, man, you wanna make toys, go for it’. I was like ‘sweet’, I just went for it. He sent me his designs and I sculpted it up and made the thing. He loved it, so now we’re releasing stuff.
Diabolique: Do you have plans to work with him again, or any other artists, or do you prefer to come up with your own concepts?
JS: I really enjoy making up my own monsters, dreaming them up. I don’t get to see a lot of the monsters I’d love to see, that I come up with, I don’t get to see a lot of them actualized. Whenever I can get the chance to bring one to life through some sort of medium besides just drawing it, I love doing that. Collaboration are cool, too, but I do have to make sure I balance it out. I did have a lot of people this past year, especially after the Skinner collaboration, I had some people ask me to collaborate on some stuff. I’ve got some collaborations coming up in the future but I don’t want to announce yet just because I don’t want to jinx anything. Some exciting stuff should be happening next year, but I still have to work in time for my own stuff. I don’t want to be the guy who makes everyone else’s stuff.
Diabolique: I’m a big fan of The Demon’s Rook and also Goat Witch. Do you think you’ll put the directing hat on again or is that something too frustrating to tackle?
JS: I know I spoke earlier about how stressful it can be and how it’s nice to get away from that for a bit–this toy break where I’ve just been focusing on toys the past year has been really nice and allowed me to buckle down and do what I want without anything saying to go ahead. Having said that, I definitely do want to make another movie again and I’m sure I’ll make some more. Tim recently reached out to me and told me he wanted to make a short film with me and I’m super receptive to the idea. I like it. A friend of mine, my co-writer on The Demon’s Rook, I’ve got him currently writing up some short story ideas that we can look at together and perhaps pull something out of, base a short film off of. Who knows what after that? I’m just trying to be flexible and not making too many big plans, seeing how that goes.
Diabolique: There’s always the possibility that you’ll make something…
JS: Oh yeah, totally. If someone came to me tomorrow and was like, ‘hey, that script you made that’s got the werewolves, you wanna make that? We’ll give you five hundred thousand dollars’. I’d be like, sure, let’s do it, fuck it.
Diabolique: Bad Blood is the kind of monster movie you don’t see anymore with a tight story and a cool monster…
JS: Tim did a really good job on the script with that one. He was influenced by a lot of stuff, namely what I always hear him talking about is Re-Animator. You can see it throughout, even in the town the gas station attendant has — there’s just a super Stuart Gordon vibe through the whole thing and I love it. We all love Stuart Gordon and the work he’s done. He’s got other influences in there like Basket Case, Brain Damage, stuff like that. Those are big influences. We just wanted to have fun, and Tim knew after making The Demon’s Rook he knew that sixty thousand dollars wasn’t a lot of money to make a movie and it’s gonna be hard. I mean, sixty thousand dollars is a lot of money, I would love to have sixty thousand dollars! I’ve never had that much money. But, to make a movie and employ all these people and build things and make monsters that walk around and breathe and shoot it on a nice camera and get edited and produced, that whole — sixty thousand dollars is nothing, it’s a drop in a bucket. No one is getting paid, you know, it sucks. He did a pretty good job of making sure that this time we really have fun and just try not to kill ourselves. For The Demon’s Rook, we wanted to make the greatest thing that’s ever been made, like ‘we gotta have a million demons, zombies, and fucking all kinds of murder and killing and craziness and non-stop action, blam blam! It’s gonna be crazy’. Halfway through, we were like what the fuck did we do this for, we’re killing ourselves for no money for three years straight.
Diabolique: It all shows on screen, there’s no wasted penny on either film.
JS: We squeezed every last cent, man, we really did. Bad Blood was cool, it was more streamlined, we learned so much more about making movies on a schedule, we got it shot in three weeks as opposed to three years.
Diabolique: How much did you contribute to (Astron 6 production) The Void?
JS: Oh man, I just visited the set and just gave them money. They had an awesome special effects team and had all that covered. No need for me to stick my nose in there. They let me play around with the tentacles! I got to work the pneumatic controls and make the tentacles flop around. They just let me do that because I gave them money, let James play with the tentacles.
Diabolique: Of all your creations thus far, any that you’re especially proud of?
JS: It’s hard, my monster children are all my children, I can’t pick favorites. I will say that the monster that has really found a place in my heart is the Manbeast from The Demon’s Rook. That character and the performance (Josh Adam Gould) gave, just the way his little side plot turned out…if someone wanted me to and gave me the money to, I would straight up make a spin off movie just about the Manbeast. In the woods after it all went down, he was the only one that lived, he was the only one that survived. What the fuck happened to the Manbeast, where did he go? I think of him like – after he got rid of all the rage and hate and anger out of him, destroying his makers and being like ‘argh, I’m free’ — I just sort of imagine him going back into the woods and existing as this sort of peaceful Sasquatch character that’s just like a mutant foraging around and doing his thing and staying away from people and trying not to be seen and not be messed with, doing his own little thing.
Diabolique: Some poignant story about the Manbeast, until something pisses him off…
JS: Exactly! Somehow people fuck up the forest that he’s living in and then it’s the wrath of the Manbeast. That would be fun! I love the Manbeast. I’ve been thinking about making a toy of him. I made black light poster prints and I’ve been playing around with the idea of making toys of him. I just gotta wait until it’s the right moment.
Diabolique: I have to ask, who are some sculptors/effects designers/monster makers you admire?
JS: I really admire Jordu Schell, Steve Wang, Paul “Kaiju” Copeland, Remjie, Melita Curphy, Robert M. Farmer, Andre Freitas, Kevin Wasner, and you know, the obvious FX gods like Rob Bottin, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, and all those other monster-making wizards out there. There are lots of people I haven’t named here, but basically if you make monsters, and you do it well, you’re worthy of being admired. It’s not an easy racket to pull off, and I have a lot of respect for all the monster makers that stick with it and make it their life’s work to birth these amazing monstrosities into the world.
Diabolique: Anything else you want to mention about Wonder Goblin?
JS: For those of you out there who like art toys, limited edition resin figures, go to wondergoblin.com and sign up for the newsletter. I don’t do a lot of spamming, I basically send out a newsletter when I’m going to do a shop drop and they get first notice when it’s going down. Find me on Instagram at Wonder Goblin. That’s my only means of sharing my process. I put a little out on Facebook, but I don’t get on as much as I used to. It’s swarming with bad vibes these days. Instagram, I just follow cool artists that perk me up. I like to see cool art, and I get on Instagram and share my art. It’s a cool outlet for me to share with the world what’s going on in my little bubble in the middle of nowhere.
Wonder Goblin: wondergoblin.com
Wonder Goblin on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wondergoblin
James on Tumblr: http://jamessizemore.tumblr.com
Black Rider Productions: http://www.blackrider-productions.com
Designer Con: http://www.designercon.com