It’s cute, cyan, and smiling. It’s also full of garbage and engulfed in flames. It’s a literal dumpster fire — a 3.5-inch figure of a dumpster fire, at least — and it’s the first foray into figurines for Los Angeles-based artist Truck Torrence.
Torrence’s Dumpster Fire is a visual stand-in for the cynical, self-deprecating term used semi-jokingly on social media, in pulpy headlines, and during many a therapy session to describe the figurative smoking heap of garbage that is, at times, one’s disastrous, burnt-trash life.
“I’ve done a lot of conventions over the course of my career, and I’ve never experienced the thing I did at [Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC)] this year. People were crying, people wanted to fight me — it was insane,” recalls Torrence of the public response during the Dumpster Fire’s limited-run release at last year’s SDCC. “I knew people would like it, it would kind of be a cute thing, but I didn’t think it would turn into a thing-thing.”
Cuteness aside, the figure is “basically a perfect eye-catching toy” from a technical standpoint, with a “catchy and very recognizable” silhouette, says Paul Tanompong, a 3D artist and member of the team responsible for bringing the Dumpster Fire resin figure to life. Vinyl versions of the figure have since been added to 100% Soft’s webstore, where preorders, too, sold out after overzealous fans raced to secure their own little piece of trash.
Symbolic of a life in turmoil, a representation of our cultural cynicisms, and quite the adorable desk ornament, the Dumpster Fire is one of the most popular figures to emerge from last year’s convention scene. It’s an art toy fit for the moment, and a deserved invitation to bring 100% Soft into the spotlight.
Originally planned as an exclusive resin figure for the small pool of fans or window shoppers who were expected to visit SDCC Booth 1532, the Dumpster Fire hype shot off in the days leading up to the convention after an announcement photo was posted to 100% Soft’s Instagram account. “It beat the algorithm,” Torrence says. “You spend hours and days and months working on something, and you post a picture, and it gets lost in the flood. But when I posted that thing, I just got a huge response on it.”
After a handful of blogs and outlets posted about the figure, Torrence started getting flooded with requests from fans hungry to get their hands on one. Tanompong, who missed SDCC, felt the effects in his notifications. “I started getting likes and new followers on Instagram on a daily basis. After one week, I had more than 600 new followers,” he says.
The Dumpster Fire vinyl was not a long-term, strategic reveal; it was simply the test run of the brand’s step into figures. “It’s a lot of money and time and energy to test [out a figure], so you kind of have to hedge your bets on something that maybe people are already familiar with,” Torrence says.
Inspired by his already-popular enamel pin design — a simple, rectangular-shaped flaming dumpster — Torrence decided it was the safest bet for an uncomplicated first figure. No matter how it turns out, you’ve made a dumpster fire.
To hand-sculpt, cast, and paint the original resin toy, Torrence called upon Tanompong, who co-owns and operates the specialty sculpting house Props & Pops with his wife Maxine. Tanompong thought the Dumpster Fire design was “super cute and [was] perfect to translate from 2[D] into a real toy.” Only six months later, he claims Props & Pops’ steady business owes a big thanks to that little piece of trash. For Torrence and the 100% Soft name, once the demand started, it became very clear that it wouldn’t stop.
At peak hype during last summer’s convention circuit, the crowds of empty-handed and envious fans reached critical mass, quickly forcing the evolution of 100% Soft’s distribution method into a lottery system. It was simple: Convention attendees would receive a raffle ticket when the doors opened, and a drawing in the afternoon would name the winners, who were then eligible to purchase one of 75 available figures.
The hype continued, as the few lucky collectors shared their Dumpster Fire wins online, flashing the exclusive colorways for MondoCon and DesignerCon that followed the SDCC debut. One of those lucky winners, DesignerCon attendee Matthew Power, was ecstatic — visibly so to the lucky patrons in the food truck line who witnessed his “happy dance” — to win the pink variant Dumpster Fire.
A steadfast collector with an Instagram full of toys curated and photographed from his personal collection, Power says it’s no wonder the Dumpster Fire blew up the way it did. “It easily appeals to a lot of different types of collectors. … [The] Dumpster Fire is not only cute, ironic, nihilistic, and funny, but collectors love to get on board with a new artist or sculpt in the early stages, especially around convention time. Then you add the limited availability to the resin pieces, and you’ve got the perfect storm!”
Power’s appreciation of the piece’s ironic sensibilities speaks to the cultural tastes of the moment. It’s no surprise that a smiling pile of flaming garbage resonated with Torrence’s fans.
After receiving some positive response to his “Bad Vibes” series, an earlier set of enamel pins and stickers featuring cute designs of cynical and dreadful motifs — including a smiling tombstone sticker and a colorful bubble-lettered “dead inside” or “future corpse” pin — Torrence says he realized he’d struck a cynical cultural chord.
Call it a sign of the times, call it knowing your audience, but the juxtaposition of cute and sad made an impression. Torrence’s interest in “cute-ifying” the not-so-cute is nothing new for the kawaii-inspired artist, whose love of ‘80s pop culture, comic books, and horror films have been the inspiration for some delightful illustrations since the start of his career.
Early gallery shows and Instagram teases led to the brand 100% Soft, a name that describes his round, edgeless design style: “really cute, not simple but not overly detailed, with no hard edges. It’s like, soft-looking. 100% soft-looking.”
Pop culture references galore, Torrence’s alternative movie posters of films and franchises, such as The Lost Boys, Star Wars, and Back to the Future, made for some adorable drawings of recognizable ghosts, vampires, heroes, and villains.
After a few successful gallery shows, Torrence caught the attention of some big names at a Star Wars exhibit — the big name in Star Wars, actually: Lucasfilm. The film studio enjoyed his small and simplified Star Wars characters and saw them as the perfect prototype for an upcoming marketing trend known as the franchise emoji.
A couple of years and Star Wars sequels later, Torrence is the artist behind the official emojis and Twitter hashflags for Lucasfilm, plus a number of Marvel, Disney, and other big-budget films, including Jumanji and John Wick. This clout propelled Torrence as he grew his online presence and store, finding a merchandising niche in cute creations of his own: a personified taco sticker here, a pizza surfboard enamel pin there, and, more recently, a venture into toys, beginning with his Kaiju Kitties collection of plush dolls, a series of monster-like kittens with cuteness of Godzilla-size proportions.
Despite the big name cosigns, many fans and collectors hadn’t heard of 100% Soft until the Dumpster Fire’s takeoff — the same folks who now can’t get enough of it. Fear not, says Torrence, who is upping the stock of his vinyls online. He also has plans for more iterations of the Dumpster Fire in the future, perhaps in the form of a throw pillow or “something that lights up.”
And if you thought the Dumpster Fire would become 100% Soft’s convention circuit calling card, you’d be pleasantly surprised to know that Torrence is prepping for new ground beyond the Fire’s trailblazing.
While he says he hopes the success is just as potent, Torrence doesn’t have any expectations for this year. “My ultimate goal is to make things that people like and they get excited about, so if I can keep doing that, I will try to deal with the storm or calm that happens in the interim.”
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2020 Issue No. 6, click here to read more!