ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Eric Nakamura & The Giant Robot Store
Two weeks ago, while visiting Los Angeles for the very first time, I decided to connect with like-minded artists and organizers on the west coast. Eric Nakamura, the founder/owner of GIANT ROBOT, was the first person who came into my mind. During the interview, we spoke about his start, his art, and his view on the future of Asian American popular culture. -Judy
CineVue: We read that GIANT ROBOT was born within your own home right after college. How did you come up with the concept of GIANT ROBOT? And who was there to spear-head the company with you?
Eric Nakamura: Originally, it was just me and my buddy Martin Wong. We made a DYI, photocopied magazine out of art and subjects that interested us; and at that time, there was nothing similar, so we decided to create it.
CV: GIANT ROBOT is a mix of everything pop-cult/a lifestyle brand. Where do you get your most up-to-date news/products?
EN: Essentially, it comes down to word-of-mouth, or we follow artists we like and invite them. People can submit their work, but we will pick and choose what is good because if you showcase everything, you’d be in trouble.
CV: What is the criteria for selecting a piece of artwork/product?
EN: Contributors can come in and look at what we have and see if their style fits. We have a variety of selection, so it’s all about the fit. Some will work, while some, not so much.
CV: If there was one superpower the GIANT ROBOT can have, what would it be?
EN: Our big bot is not a superhero. Rather, it is in the same ranks as a human being. If you look at it, all of them are named after regular human beings: the police officer, the fireman, the teacher, etc. just normal day-to-day people. We try to throw in some different element in it, like the Men In Black and pink ranger, but people don’t know that. In the end, all characters are created by human beings.
CV: Over the past 18 years, what sustains GIANT ROBOT?
EN: The artists. The community. And for me, it is about doing things and liking it. I like the job–I like what we created. There is a little world of Giant Robot created, and I know there are bigger things that have grown out of it–like some artists went into television and made television shows or cartoons inspired by Giant Robot.
CV: How did the economy affect GIANT ROBOT?
EN: I try not to think about, “Wow, this is only 25% of what we made in 2007.” It’s not about that. Either you’re gonna stay or not stay, and if you’re too nostalgic about the past, then you will phathom how your store isn’t selling as much stuff, and they’re not having as much fun, and they’re not happy. If you feel that way, it is really hard to stay. But for me, it is about reassessing and figuring out how we can survive, and keep doing fun things and keep being positive; because if you’re not having fun, then it is hard to stick around. The bad economy thing–it’s not a shame deciding to close once the economy went bad; it’s just simple dollars and cents–getting into debt is not a good thing. But I think if you still enjoy it, it is worth sticking around.
CV: Since Giant Robot is a mini-universe of its own, where do you see it in the next ten years?
EN: I don’t want to think that much ahead because it will make me nostalgic. In the end, I think it is about producing art without thinking much about the past. It’s not about, “Oh, we did some amazing things ten years ago, or it’s not about, “Oh, art was so great eight years ago, or skateboarding was great five years ago, or the economy was great five years ago,” it’s not about that. I don’t really think about what happened in the past. If I can only think about the past, I’ll get super nostalgic–I’ll never enjoy the present as much. I’m always gonna think, something is better in the past. I want to think about the present and just move forward. I still enjoy a lot of things, even within the bad economy, I try to enjoy it. I’ll work through it; and if it works, that’s great.
CV: Is there a New York City equivalent to Giant Robot?
EN: If you are an artist, definitely come out to Los Angeles. The whole community is here.
GIANT ROBOT is located at 2015 Sawtelle Boulevard, and GIANT ROBOT 2 at 2062 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025.