Super-flat spacemen eating cell phones. Grinning bright-colored robots spinning and beeping. Blue buggy aliens holding ghetto blasters up to where their ears might be located, if they were human. Rotating rainbow-colored, psychedelic, geometric horizons inciting dizziness. Flashing 3-D patterns materializing over a laser-shooting teddy bear. A teddy bear with a plastic smile and big, big eyes. Looking into the thick black frames of their creator, these are not the first images that come to mind. They sound like visions of a mind rewired by hallucinatory narcotics. But the man behind this art has only dropped acid once. This surreal world is merely the product of a vivid imagination. Mumbleboy's imagination. He creates Flash animation movies. He smiles a lot, and nods in agreement when asked questions. The loud colors and lively characters in the world of Mumbleboy's computer-produced movies stand in contrast to the quiet personality he presents in person.
Rolling Stone labeled his work 'techno animation,' putting it in the vernacular of the magazine's main audience. The two words conjure up images that are bright, fast, fun and futuristically hip. The readers get the basic idea of Mumbleboy's style, but are misled into thinking that his animation actually fits in a pre-existing genre. Mumbleboy has a very distinguishable style, one that is not too complex in individual detail of the creatures and people, but utilizes Flash's 'layer' feature, to produce captivating scenes in dream-like worlds. But unlike the dreams that left him screaming in a cold sweat when he was little, his animations remain in a bizarre, but 'cute' dream world.
Multiple reviewers of his movies describe the Mumble experience as nearly interactive. Little Projecta (www.littleprojecta.com) says that a movie called 'Kompendium' is a "noisy, bright, and psychedelic ride. It will do your head in." A description under a link to Mumbleboy's site, on an independent band's site (www.twangbang.com) said, "He makes the wackiest Flash movies. They take you for a wild ride." Some fans out there have gone so far as to create a Mumbleshrine, such as Electro Sun Dog. On her website (lookagain.funmark.com/mumbleshrine) she rates Mumbleboy's movies with symbols of pizza slices, with 5 being the most pizza slices a movie can be awarded. She's even created a whole story behind the Mumble characters, which reappear in these movies, and drawn her own renditions of these creatures. There is a collection of critiques at FilmsOn (www.filmson.com). Mumbleboy said it's weird for him to be reviewed at this site, "bunched up with all these other web animations and be criticized as if I was trying to make something popular."
He's been doing Flash animation for about 3 years, but has had a site for 5 years (www.mumbleboy.com). From this site he also sells Mumbledolls and Mumbleboy T-shirts, and posts his still illustrations. The Mumbledolls look like cuddly little aliens. They are bright, small and all have some colorful symbol on their tummies. Mumbleboy told me that the whole doll thing started while he was attending Rhode Island School of Design as a painting major. He was walking by a fabric store when he spotted a piece of fake fur and bought it. He played around with it in his studio, and ended up turning it unto a furry octopus. That was the first doll, but he doesn't remember how he got to making them look like the trademark Mumbledolls that he sells now. He also set up a an adoption agency for them. People who buy the dolls can participate by naming their doll, listing its favorite activities and foods, and talking pictures of the doll in its new habitat. One can see the profiles of all the dolls that have been adopted on Mumbleboy's site.
His website isn't the only place where his dolls can be bought either. Trendy boutiques like Airmarket in New York and Plastica in Los Angeles also sell Mumbledolls. But he likes being able to interact with other people through his website and art. The adoption agency is one example of this, but his Il Faut Que On (I.F.Q.O.) Mumble is another. His I.F.Q.O.'s are illustration collages he makes for anyone who sends in their picture to him. He draws a Mumble-scene around their portrait and posts it on his site, making them famous and a part of his Mumbleness all at once. They became so popular, that he had to stop doing them for a while because he didn't have time to fill all the requests.
But enough Mumbling. This Flash genius was born as Kinya Hanada, in Yokohama, Japan. He lived on a small hill with his brother, mother and father. His father worked for Canon and earned a salary. His mother was a housewife, but very involved in the community. She taught the neighborhood children English, translated, and did a lot of volunteer work. At the age of 13, Kinya and his family moved to the bland, suburban town of Irvine in Southern California. He preferred Yokohama to Irvine, but had fun going to Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, where he and the local kids would get into trouble with the rent-a-cops.
The worst trouble he ever got into as a teen was getting busted with a friend for attempting to steal the hubcap from a Mercedes-Benz to put on his friend's Vespa scooter. Apparently, that was "the thing to do with the Vespas back then." He doesn't remember receiving any specific punishment, but it was one of the only times he saw his dad cry because "he was so disappointed and angry."
As for art playing a role in his household while growing up, his parents were more into art than "your average Japanese parents." They tried to make him play the violin and do oil paintings, but he never got into it. However, Kinya thinks that this exposure made him "more open to art" and he knew what he liked once he started seeing more modern artwork.
He says he didn't experience too much prejudice growing up, but did feel like a bit of an outsider sometimes on account of his ethnicity. Kinya is still not an American citizen, although he admits to "half-heartedly" thinking about becoming one. He says he's lived long enough in the U.S. for Japanese people to seem more and more foreign to him. He has his reasons, though. "I'm lazy and don't like bureaucracy," he explains. "I have this naïve idea that one of these days, nationality will be a thing of the past and everyone can live and travel freely anywhere. Probably won't happen in my lifetime, but a nice thought at least."
Kinya was never a great student and found that the only class he really ever had interest in was art. He was happy to get out of his house by the time he graduated high school. He went to U.C.Davis, and then to RISD for 2 years. He had planned to be a design major at Davis, but hadn't been a good enough student to get into the classes that he had wanted. But it was at this school that Kinya became Mumbleboy. He had a radio show on the college station, and his friends told him they couldn't understand him, because he mumbled too much. He never actually used it as his DJ name but it reappeared later as his online alias and in his art.
Though some people may not consider what Mumbleboy does as 'art,' he is in touch with the art world in many ways. He knows and communicates with a slew of other online artists, many Flash animators, and links his favorite to his site. His movies are featured on numerous websites, such as FilmsOn and Hotwired, which are dedicated to showcasing the best Flash movies online. He goes to see small, modern art exhibits in New York City, where he's been living for seven years. Some artists he's been particularly interested in lately, include Archigram and Shinro Ohtake. He likes them because they are "so wild and kind of funny."
He was also invited to a film festival in Rotterdam this year, in which some of his animations were screened. It was his first trip to Rotterdam, and he said he liked it because of the geometric architecture. Observing Mumbleboy's art, one could see why. He said the city was a "good example of how good design can bring joy to your surroundings." He also likes Rotterdam because many people there ride bikes. It is a dream of his to live in a city where everybody rides bikes around. One of the reasons he likes New York City so much is because he does not need a car. But he does notice the lack of community, which is very different from his childhood town of Yokohama.
Kinya works as a freelance artist so his office is his home. His New York apartment has no air-conditioning, but he tries to make do by leaving all the windows open in the summer. He's a night owl and finds his time of maximum production is late at night. He admits to being a bit of a TV junky when he's not working. He watches the Knicks' basketball games religiously and feels like he has let down the team when he misses a game. But he says he's been "secretly watching the WNBA." He believes the women's game has its own appeal because "the league is much younger so there isn't much negative stuff that's prevalent in the NBA and I think they may not have the size and power of the men, but as far as the feel for the game and the skills, there's no doubt they have that. Hey, if Mugsy Bogues can make it, why not Becky Hammon, eh?" Kinya doesn't play a whole lot of basketball himself though. He says he would if he got more of a chance, but he's "really terrible." He and his friends have tried to play, but "it's pretty hard trying to get everybody together when they could play without embarrassing themselves in front of little kids who are so much better" than them.
While he watches a lot of TV, he knows that's not necessarily such a good thing. "You always get kind of a bad feeling you don't know what to do with after too much bad TV," he says after having watched a good portion of the MTV Video Music Awards. The same awards show which, ironically, he made an interactive animation for the 'Webeo' section of its website. But he thinks that celebrity on the Internet is much more democratic than celebrity in other aspects of pop culture, like television. His reason is that even "nobodies like him" can show work online "without having to go through any filters."
Music plays a big role in Kinya's life. In his daily update on his life in the P'Mumble, or personal section of his site, he is always talking about a recent concert he went to, or a new cd he bought, or a song he heard on his favorite radio station, (WFMU), which he listens to streamed through his computer. He dedicates another section of his site to reviewing new cds that have been sent to him or he has bought at this favorite record store, Other Music. He even has many musician friends, such as MC Paul Barman, a geeky white rapper who graduated from an Ivy League school. Kinya has become more recently acquainted with Momus, an eccentric artist from Scotland who has had a national cult following for years. His friend E*rock, who produces and DJ's, does most of the music and sound effects behind Kinya's animations. He's not very musical himself, but he says, "I always think that if I was a guitar player in a band, my first instinct would be to go ape-s**t and pretend I'm Thurston Moore or something, so I'm always impressed by bands that don't do that."
Besides being a big fan of music, Kinya also considers himself "somewhat of a science fiction aficionado." But not "the trekkie kind" he assures his friends. He's become more interested in Mars lately, because he thinks it's the only new outer-space destination that human beings will reach in his lifetime. He's recently devoted major reading time to Kim Stanley Robinsons's Mars trilogy. The three-some adds up to 1500 pages on human colonization of Mars. Kinya went to go see the movie "Mission to Mars," hoping to see a realistic portrayal of what Mars looks like. The movie disappointed him, though. He said Mars just looked like "Arizona desert through a filter." He thought the movie would be more realistic because although "science fiction has gotten so far ahead of our capabilities so that stories about going to other systems might be a nice fantasy, but they don't engage you as something that could come true in the near future. Mars is a real possibility."
He told me about his one experience with LSD. "I did take acid with friends once in San Francisco. I took it and I was supposed to meet them later at a club. I drove away and my friends rode bikes. It started kicking in after I got on the freeway and it got to be too much, so I got off and parked in an empty lot and amused myself staring at raindrops on my windshield for a while. I managed finally to make it to the club and saw this wild band Zenigeva. It was really awesome. I saw lots of patterns everywhere walking back to my friend's place on Divisadero."
I talked to Kinya about his daily life. When I asked him if he drank coffee in the morning he answered, "That's a big YES!" His other favorite drink is milk, although he says he like a cold beer at the end of a hard day's work. His refrigerator is currently stocked with milk, tomatoes, left over pasta, and orange juice. It is no surprise he goes out to eat a lot. His bed is a mattress on the floor. He supposes he should invest in something nice but he says he doesn't think of doing much for himself. I asked him if he likes turtles, he said he didn't know. He doesn't know any turtles well enough. He's not religious. He has a big pile of cds on his floor and another pile of dolls he never sold. He doesn't have a favorite pair of shoes because every time he goes looking for a new pair of shoes, he has a certain image in his head, but can never find a match. He doesn't like many bugs, and finds "those worms that you use for fishing that have like little hooks in their mouths" a bit creepy.
Kinya didn't want to tell me his age, but he is estimated by friends to be in his early thirties. Kinya believes his main fault is not being able to plan ahead very well. He also says about himself, "I'm not a hostile person, at least not outwardly." The thing I find most admirable about Kinya is his drive to create based on the love of creation itself. He says he would rather go broke than not be able to work on the art that blooms from his own imagination. When I asked him what sense he couldn't live without he said to me, "I wouldn't know what I'd do if I lost my vision. I'd be seriously lost."