Originally from Laredo, Texas, visual artist Louie Chavez, like most kids growing up in the late 1980s and 90s, wanted to own every single Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure that hit store shelves. Sometimes he would get an official Playmates toy for Christmas or a birthday. Other times, he remembers getting bootleg toys from Mexico.
“I would always make a big fuss when that happened,” Chavez, 41, told Remezcla during a recent interview. “But now, I love seeing that kind of stuff. Anyone can have a regular Ninja Turtles toy. Not everyone can have the bootleg version.”
Today, Chavez, who is now based in San Antonio and considers himself a sort of pop surrealist, is a painter, but also creates his own customized toys. His first line of action figures, “Nuke Beach,” was based on an original story about a group of surfers who are mutated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster that took place in Japan in 2011. His second, “Massimo Man,” was based on another original narrative about a hero who has an arm cannon powered by the energy of Hulkamania.
Chavez pulled inspiration for his most recent toy line from the 1993 Latino cult classic film Blood In, Blood Out. The new, limited-edition set of action figures include the characters Miklo Velka (Damian Chapa), a member of the Vatos Locos who is sent to San Quentin for murder, and Big Al (Lanny Flaherty), a fellow prisoner who is a member of the Aryan brotherhood.
“I didn’t want to do what other toymakers do and make toys based on popular movies,” Chavez said. “I wanted to find a movie that was more obscure and dark and something that probably shouldn’t be made into a toy in the first place.”
Now, Chavez is thinking about expanding on the Blood In, Blood Out toy line, or he might move on to other movies like the Oscar-winning 1996 black comedy Fargo.
“I think it would be interesting to keep making toys out of these really horrific, dramatic movies,” he said. “Who else is going to make a toy out of the woodchipper scene in Fargo? It’s not something you would expect.”
Follow Chavez’s work on his Instagram page.