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Thursday, November 08, 2007


SACKS10: How much fun is it to redesign the old Madballs?

JG: Are you Kidding?
I am lovin’ it! My first job out of college, (I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1981 to 1986 graduating with a BFA in Illustration and Graphics and a minor in Cinematography) was at American Greetings when the first line of Madballs hit the toy shelves. The originals were designed by an amazing group of artists that eventually became mentors of a sort for me. The first few waves of Madballs were designed by: James Elliott, Mark Spangler and Tom Kuebler to name but a few. I came in at the time that AG was initiating the Madball action figures with the spring-loaded launching heads, and ended up designing a lot of those little guys. In school I did a lot of monster/comic/horror stuff, and it was great to actually find a company that appreciated that type of artwork.

SACKS10: How long have you been in the toy biz and where do the Madballs originate from?

JG: When I graduated from college, I intended on a career as an illustrator working on paperback book covers and such, but when I was offered the position at American Greetings with Those Characters From Cleveland, I was suddenly thrust into the wonderful world of toy design. So when all is said and done, I would say that I have been working on toys for pretty near 20 years now! Yikes!
As far as where the concept of Madballs came from, I guess I’ll begin with an old saying I’ve always agreed with: ‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.’ And Madballs being such a success, you may hear a number of claims from different folks on who came up with them. I believe it started with a new version of the game ‘Hot Potato” that someone at TCFC was working on. Some drawings were done of the potato having a face on it, and streamers coming out of the back. Someone, (and I am not saying who, ‘cause I don’t know for sure…) said’ get rid of the streamers and make it a ball with a face, and we got a product line!”
But I say a lot of credit has to go to the talented design team working on the balls in those days, because I truly believe that the idea would not have worked as well if the characters in the line weren’t so damn cool!

SACKS10: Were you a fan of the Madballs and which is your favorite Madball character?

JG: Because I am such a fan of the Madballs line, it is somewhat tough to pick a favorite. They all have their own, personal ‘charms’. But here goes…
Anybody out there remember an old 1958 movie called ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad?’. If not, go rent it. There is a giant Cyclops in the film that is one of the coolest monster concepts in cinematic history. The creature was designed by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. I happen to know that at least one or two of the guys working at TCFC in those days were fans of Mr. Harryhausen’s work, (as I am…) and I like to think that the character of Hornhead is a ‘homage’ of sorts to Ray and his wonderful fantasy creation. And for that reason Hornhead is my favorite Madball.
But then again, I love Skullface…and then there’s Bashbrain…
Oh hell…

Jim Groman, sculpter of the infamous OOZINATOR

SACKS10: Are there any other things that you've done art- wise in the past that we might remember?

JG: While at TCFC in the 1980’s and 90’s, I worked on a toy line called BlurpBalls. Now Blurpballs were very similar to Madballs in many ways, but different in one very significant way. When squeezed, a BlurpBall would spit, or ‘wretch’ out a smaller ball from it’s mouth. We did a shark that spit out a scuba diver (Sharky Skull-Squirt), a vampire that spit out a human heart (Count Heave-a-Heart), as well as a skull, a dinosaur, baseball player, pig and a cat. I was the sole designer of this entire line. I also conceived and designed a line called ‘Barnyard Commandoes’ that was produced by Playmates Toys. These were little vinyl pigs and sheep that came with high-tech weaponry that strapped to their backs and such. This line spawned an animated mini-series that consisted of 5 episodes that ran on television over the course of a week when the product was released.
Over the years I worked on many, many toy lines. One of the more memorable would be a redesign of the toy Stretch Armstrong for Cap Toys. (I also worked on the packaging and illustrated the origin comic book that came with the figure).
I am also a sculptor and have sculpted patterns for a number of model kits and action figure lines. I sculpted a plastic model kit of Universals ‘The Mummy’ as well as a kit based on “Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ I’ve done two huge Godzilla model kits, one being an exclusive release with Toys-r-Us. I sculpted just about the entire line of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer action figures for Playing Mantis toys, and designed Transformers and Star Wars toy lines when I worked at Hasbro Toys a few years back.

SACKS10: Will we be seeing more Madballs in the near future?

I hope you will be seeing lots and lots!! So far the character’s ugly mugs have graced a greeting card line and sticker sheet at Target stores and have sold like crazy! The first wave of Madballs toys are shipping as I write this, and should be on shelf at Toys-R-Us in mid-November. The line consists of 6 regular foam Madballs, and 3‘Sick’Series balls. The Sick series have a special feature that causes their eyes, brains and other organs to bulge out when the ball is squeezed.
Basic Fun Toys (the toy company that is the master licensee of the Madballs line) has also created a Madball Bazooka that fires off mini-eyeball projectiles. It is really cool.
Alls I can say is buy them up and we will continue to make them!!

SACKS10: Are you just refaceing the old Madballs, or will we be able to see some brand new characters?

JG: Our first wave of product consists of 5 re-designs of some of the original Madballs characters, with 1 all-new character design. Series 2 will do the same. 5 redesigns, 1 all new design.
For a few months I did nothing but design Madballs, so I have a pile of designs just waiting to be reproduced in foam for your collecting pleasure. A couple of my fellow designers at AG had worked on the line for a while and have a ton of designs as well. A lot of them are redesigns of existing characters, but many many are all new monstrosities. I believe the key to keeping interest in this line of product is to constantly offer all-new, creative concepts and products to keep it fresh.
And keep you wanting more.

SACKS10: How do you come up with characters and what kind of process did you use in thinking of the designs?

JG: As I said, a lot of them are based on old, existing designs. What I tried to do with the recent line is freshen them up a bit for a new generation. Add detail and more character.
Many of the designs that we come up with are riffs off of familiar things in the horror genre, (monsters, aliens, zombies, pirates, animals ect.) We also try to think of things that just plain gross us all out. Like, ‘What if this guy’s face just split down the middle and half his flesh slid off his skull? Or,‘What if a bunch of maggots just poured from this guy’s eye socket?’
What if a dude had a zipper in the middle of his face?
What if bugs were infesting his brain?
As you can see, our processes are all somewhat complex and sophisticated.

SACKS10: What are your influences?

JG: I am a science fiction, fantasy and horror fan from way back. Movies, television, comic books and toys. I ate it all up as a kid, and still do to this day. My greatest influences are movies like King Kong, Universal and Hammer Studios Horror Movies, 50’s Sci-Fi, Steven Spielberg, Ray Harryhausen and old 1960’s Hanna Barberra action adventure cartoons. Art-wise my favorite illustrators are Frank Frazetta, Allen St. John, Bernie Wrightson, William Stout, Mark Schultz and Frank Frazetta. (I know I said Frazetta twice, but I really like Frazetta!!),

SACKS10: Where can we see more of your work?

JG: I have a blog at This showcases much of my sculpting work, comic book stories and full-blown illustrations and toy designs. I have also been working as one of the designers on two new Saturday Morning animated shows. One of the programs is called Sushi Pack, and the other is Tinpo. I’ve been busy designing monsters, heroes, robots and vehicles for the shows. Both programs run on Saturday Mornings on CBS, so check your local listings!

SACKS10: OK, I'm sold! When and where can I get my Madballs fix?

JG: The product line is being produced by a toy company called Basic Fun, and can be ordered off of their website at The line is shipping to stores as you read this, and should be on shelf by mid-November. Toy-R-Us will get them first as an exclusive for a short time, then they will go mass to all other retailers shortly thereafter.
And as I said before…. buy them up! We’ll make more!!



Carlos V. said...

Jim is one of the most insane artist I've ever meet, such incredible talent and professionalism. Too bad the link to his blog is not working Saxton. Gtreat interview though.

Mukpuddy said...

Great interview bro!!

jeaux janovsky said...

This was a great interview Sax. Holy crap, i want one of those Madballs. I never got one as a kid.

Justin Gammon said...

I loved Madballs as a kid, and I just bought all the new ones :D

Also, good interview and great freakin' sketches!!

mauricio salmon said...

damn! pretty good interview there. the man is really good. really really good.

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