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At the same time Tanaka was parlaying his new toys into a a real art career, American artist Brian Castleforte was discovering that as much as he wanted to get into designing vinyl toys, it was too expensive to be feasible. Frustrated and looking for alternatives, he stumbled across the website of Norwegian artist Sjors Strimbach.
The people who started collecting paper toys were as interested in making art as they were in displaying it.
Like Castleforte, Strimbach wanted to make his own toys, but with no knowledge of 3D design, he decided to make a simple toy made of paper instead. Strimbach called his creation Brickboy, and shared the template online, encouraging other artists to collaborate with him. Castleforte was an instant convert. He created an original character he dubbed Nicebunny , and as Strimbach and Tanaka had done before, Castleforte put his templates online for free.
Soon Castleforte's creations were all over the world, joining the work of other paper toy pioneers like Tanaka and Strimbach, Sal Azad , Ben O'Brien , Matt Hawkins and Kenn Munk . Despite being based all over the world, and despite not knowing each other, these artists created the first wave of collectible paper toys - they traded with each other and collaborated, spreading the new medium via their blogs and websites. Their work created a new class of toy collector, taking influence from the vinyl toy community where people were encouraged to create their own versions of popular toys, the people who started collecting paper toys were as interested in making art as they were in displaying it.
One of those early collectors was Vinny Walleen, aka Paper Vinny. The Canadian paper toy designer got into the scene much the same way that its pioneers had: Five years ago he stumbled upon some paper toy templates while surfing the internet. What really hooked Walleen on the medium was how the toys were distributed. They weren't just free, they were free to be personalized.
Walleen started building paper toys and forging connections, but the scene remained small and templates were hard to find unless you knew where to look. However, all that began to change when Castleforte decided to start an official community for the paper toy movement. Since its inception two years ago, Nice Paper Toys has become the hub of the paper toy community and dramatically increased the craft's visibility.
"There was a calendar released last year that was called "Fold Your Own Zombie" and every month there was a different zombie to punch out, fold and glue together," explains Walleen with a laugh. "This is how I know it's starting to get a little bit more mainstream."
At almost 4,000 members, Nice Paper Toys is still a small and close-knit group.
"The Nice Paper Toys Community is great," explains Walleen. "People are always putting up models or pictures of stuff they're working on. You'll see a lot of people saying 'hey, this is my first model,' and it's the internet, so you can get a lot of different people saying a lot of different things ... [but the] community is really supportive. People will be very complimentary, but they will also give constructive criticism. You see people working together too. They're in two different countries, they don't know what the other person looks like, but they've come together and collaborated."