Mark Nagata – Max Toy Company

Growing up in California, Mark Nagata was a fan of Disneyland, comic books and classic Japanese television shows, movies and toys. These influences inspired his creativity and spurred his initial interest in drawing and art. Fast-forward to today and not much has changed for this toy designer, painter, illustrator and collector.

Seen by many as the consummate professional, Mark trained at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in the 1980s and went on to a successful career in commercial illustration. He completed works for such prominent companies as Lucasfilm, DC Comics, Hasbro Toys, IBM, Sony, and advertising and design firms, both national and international. Mark’s colorful style graces numerous cover paintings for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book series – Give Yourself Goosebumps.

But Mark’s heart has always been in the creative process, so in 2005, after co-founding and publishing a toy magazine, he started Max Toy Company, named for his son. Now celebrating its 9th year, Max Toys has stayed true to its founding mission – to specialize in custom and limited editions of “kaiju” (Japanese monsters) toys and artwork. Many of the original toys are hand painted by Mark, a tradition and process that goes back to the Japanese toymakers of the past – supremely talented folks Mark has taken the time to personally visit and acknowledge in his work.

“Max Toys allows me to produce original artwork, new toys and work directly with a lot of talented artists,” Mark says. “Max Toys is a synthesis of toys and art, both life-long passions.”

It is that passion for one’s craft and the way Mark goes about his creative work that has earned the California native special note since becoming involved in the designer toy scene. His artistic talent and joy for the process of creating compelling art pieces radiates through his interactions with fellow artists and collectors – traits that likely trace back to his early years of family trips to Disneyland, watching Saturday morning cartoons and collecting and reading comics. Over the years, Mark has earned a legion of fans not only for the incredible craftsmanship and expertise evident in each and every release, but more so because of how he has gone about growing his successful art toy enterprise and the kaiju world he loves.

For years, Mark has befriended fellow artists and toy collecting colleagues assisting them with bringing their shared passion for this enticing and engaging art form to life. He has invited collaborations from young up-and-comers as well as established, well-known industry mainstays with one goal in mind – to create art that illustrates each artist’s personal vision and passion.

Helping to introduce folks from far and wide to the designer toy scene has been part of Mark’s professional and personal mission for years. In 2007, he played a significant role in the development of the first group kaiju show in the United States called “Toy Karma” that featured detailed work from Japanese, American and South American artists. Also in 2007, in another first for this growing art niche, Mark was featured as one of the spotlighted artists in the “Beyond Ultraman: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The show marked the first time – in a museum setting – that the influence of Japanese toys on California artists was explored. The exhibit featured Mark’s original paintings, toys and a selection of his vintage toy collection.

MarkNagataIn 2010, Mark served as guest lecturer on kaiju and the toy-making process at the Morikami Museum in Florida. Prestigious art houses Philips De Pury and Christie’s in New York and London have sold Mark’s hand-painted custom kaiju toys in its auctions.

Much of Mark’s world-renowned Japanese toy collection – including many from his massive Ultraman collection – was on display in 2013-2014 at San Francisco International Airport museum, SFO. The exhibit, titled “Japanese Toys! From Kokeshi to Kaiju,” showcased the incredible diversity and growth of Japanese toys with many of Mark’s favorite vinyl kaiju figures prominently featured. The exhibit also served as a great introduction to this captivating art form for tens of thousands of bustling travelers to and from Mark’s hometown.

Mark continues to shine a positive light on the art community he has helped grow. Mark coordinated the inclusive and barrier-breaking art show titled “Beauty and the Kaiju.” The event saw the immediately recognizable Max Toy characters reinterpreted by six wonderfully talented Japanese female artists. The result was new takes on old favorites from some fresh faces that kaiju fans welcomed and enjoyed. In fact, several of the participating artists have gone on to successful projects of their own.

Today, Mark’s fantastically unique kaiju feline work has proven to be popular with his fans. The “Hello Kitty Kaiju” release through the Japanese American National Museum and Sanrio has sold out within minutes each time it has gone up for sale.

Despite his successful career thus far, Mark remains a fan and collector of great art pieces – from custom toy figures, to original paintings, to vintage comics. It is that life-long passion combined with a personal connection to the community that illustrate Mark’s desire to share his unique brand of positive toy karma with fans and peers everywhere for years to come.


Mark’s current efforts to spread interest in Kaiju Toy & Art can be viewed here on the Max Toy Company website, or on his blog – Toy Karma 

In September 2018, Mark’s collection and art will be on display at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles as part of the “Kaiju vs Heroes – Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys exhibit.

A small portion of Mark’s Ultraman collection is on view via www.ultramantoys.com and his commercial artwork on www.marknagata.com (web site will be redone in 2018 !)

( Special thanks to Michael Minjares for writing the wonderful biography. You can reach him at this email address: mikeminjares@hotmail.com )