Luke Reich, aka Weird Luke, is into provocation. The 22-year-old Gowanus native has a special interest in toxic waste, having been situated so close to a river full of it since childhood and all. Perhaps he saw real-life versions of the Man-Thing or Toxic Avenger trudging around in dark corners growing up. Or maybe they were just nightmares? Whatever the case, Luke has channeled his fascination with refuse and destruction into an aesthetic every bit as strange and alluring as it is provocative. He makes resin-based toys called Mutant Kommandos. Part Ray Harryhausen, part Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Luke’s figures also deal in the dark side of iconography, wearing Nazi regalia and bearing pseudo-German names. Ephemera sat down recently with the artist to see what this is all about. (Brian Chidester)

Brian Chidester: Take me back to how you first got into mutants, finks, and hot rod monsters.

Weird Luke: It all comes from movies and to a lesser extant comics. I first saw Alien when I was seven years old and then Terminator and Road Warrior when I was thirteen, and those informed my taste from then onward.

BC: What comics were you into?

WL: Always read X-Men and Hellboy, and later Punisher and Lobo.

BC: Were you exposed to artists like “Big Daddy” Roth?

WL: Always drawn to Ed Roth’s art and his Rat Fink character, long before I knew who he was. Just kinda seeing the stuff in my peripherals. Fortunately, I have a father who is into car culture and the like, and who explained to me who “Big Daddy” was early on. But the most important influence is certainly Road Warrior.

BC: I can see some of the mutant/totalitarian imagery in the latest Mad Max film for sure, though you were doing these toys long before that came out. Maybe just weird serendipity. What got you into making resin toys?

WL: They never made any good toys for Road Warrior. I felt it was my personal duty to rectify that.

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BC: Your toys seem to go beyond just that one post-apocalyptic aesthetic, though. The military garb, the punk-rock, the mutant vibe.

WL: Guess I always liked G.I. Joes and Micronauts and Spawn too.

BC: Okay, let’s jump into the actual characters you developed.

WL: The Mutant Kommandos Hü and Lü [see above] are savage berserkers, living in post-wastland New York City. They are veterans of the explosive and short-lived Mutant Reich, an elite war-party and nuke cult which roared into life shortly after the bombs fell. They’re hellbent on killing everyone who had survived the blast, including themselves. After the Mutant Reich fell apart in a predictable blaze of glory, these two mutants found themselves to still be alive and well, much to their chagrin.

BC: I feel a Woody Allen joke coming on, Luke.

WL: Hü and Lü are still trying to kill each other and anyone else within arms reach, but they lack the manpower to wipe out all remaining life in Nuke York in one fell swoop. So they formed the “Violent Crimes Department” and now sell their skills as prolific skull crushers, intimidators, and mutilators, mercenary-style, to the various feuding warlords of the wasted city, in exchange for munitions and war gear, playing all sides and showing loyalty to none but violence, death and destruction.

BC: Are you originally from the Gowanus area?

WL: I lived in Gowanus from the day I was born, until I struck out on my own, but my studio is still underneath that neighborhood, right on the canal.

BC: I’ve been hearing things about art and music in that area for a while now.

WL: I don’t know where you’re hearing that from. The only good band to come out of Gowanus is the Gowanus Mutant Kommandos [ed. Luke’s own band]. Every other band on the face of the earth is crap by comparison.

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BC: Fair enough. I just know about some rockabilly and burlesque shows held in industrial spaces near the water.

WL: The neighborhood is being eaten alive by corrosive social spillover from Park Slope. They’re building goddamn condos on the canal now. It’s okay, though. No one who has the kind of money they need to rent a new place there, without rent control, will want to live on a river of toxic waste that smells like shit whenever it rains.

BC: I guess not. So, I’ve had a difficult time finding artists interested in finks and rods and whatnot in NYC, as opposed to L.A. Maybe it’s just more new wave here, more low-brow out there?

WL: That’s because no one has cars in New York, so the finks and mutants ride the subway.

BC: Are there other local artists you’re into?

WL: Sam Ryser, of the band Crazy Spirit, makes excellent weirdo mutant art. We’ve collaborated in the past, when I did a figure of the Crazy Spirit Bat Boy character. He stocks Mutopia action figures at his store, Dripper World, in Bushwick, off Broadway. Sam also came up around Gowanus.

BC: Any others?

WL: Chi [Orengo] of Anasazi does a great mutant fink-style kind of character called “Anarchy Mickey,” which I am doing a figure of, coming out soon. Obviously, there’s my old boss and mentor, the Sucklord, operating out of Chinatown. He’s the big boss toy king and he taught me everything I needed to know about making toys. If Chinatown ain’t Fink City, I don’t know what is.

BC: Who’s the audience for your type of art?

WL: Freaks, savages, outcasts, nomads, rockers, rollers, out of controllers, punks, chumps, hunks, ayatollahs, wasteland warriors, berzerkers, kommandos, and above all: mutants.

BC: Anyone else?

WL: Also people who don’t want to pay unreasonable prices for kick-ass, uniquely-designed, mutant action figures.

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