This is one of my personal favorite magazines, probably because it approaches the world with a sense of wonder. When we got our first sample of it in 2004, our student workers kept asking to have it. We subscribed because of their interest.
Giant Robot was launched in Los Angeles in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and co-edited with Martin Wong. It was published every other month as a small, photo-copied “zine”. Their concept was to present Asian popular culture and Asian-American alternative culture that was buzzing around L.A. with a punk/DIY focus. The magazine featured an eclectic blend of illustration and street art, current movies and music, goofy offbeat toys, travel, crafting, new tech and anything else cool you could think of. The heavy focus on visual culture led them to early presentation of many artists such as Luke Chueh, James Jean, Yoskay Yamamoto, and Takashi Murakami.
By the late 1990s Giant Robot had an online presence, selling figurines and toys, T-shirts, and artwork. Proceeds from this enabled the company to open a store in L.A. in 2001. This also carries toys, art, T-shirts, housewares, comics, gifts, and stationery, all with the signature Asian influence and slightly snarky point of view. Eventually, Nakamura opened Giant Robot stores in New York City and San Francisco as well. These brick and mortar stores included gallery space where many artists and illustrators’ work was shown and sold.
Giant Robot’s L.A. store was the birth place of the Ugly Doll, a memento that was designed by friends of Nakamura’s in 2001. Sun-Min Kim, who made the first stuffed toy, and David Horvath, her partner, wrote stories creating a universe of characters. Kim used the first toy as a gift gift to Horvath when she was unable to live in the U.S. They intended the name “Ugly” as an embrace of the non-traditional, the unique and the creative. Their invention won the Toy Industry Association’s Specialty Toy of the Year in 2006. The Ugly universe is the subject of an animated film scheduled to be released in 2019.
In 2010 Nakamura ceased publishing print copies of Giant Robot and closed down the San Francisco and New York branches of the store. He continues to maintain the L.A. store and gallery space and to create occasional pop-ups in the San Francisco area. In addition, he has curated many gallery shows of the artwork he champions, and remains active in the local arts and fantasy con communities. The company continues to produce online content as well.
“I’m into many things, and everywhere I go I see something, I check it out. It’s pretty much a part of my life, so of course it’s always new, and it’s easy. And stuff for me, includes food, includes weird things people do, and shit on the streets.” Eric Nakamura, 2006 interview