Suddenly, business is killer for Denver artist David Johnson.
After the holidays, the 31-year-old sculptor's Web site (www.spectre-studios.com) had been pretty much, well, dead; even before Christmas, the public wasn't grabbing up his original serial-killer action figures -- six-inch toy replicas of Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer (priced online at $19.99 apiece, or $74.99 for the gruesome gang) -- as stocking stuffers.
Johnson himself wasn't completely comfortable with his artistic oeuvre. "It's shameful that I'm doing this," he says. "There's no real way of excusing it."
But there is an explanation. He made his prototype Bundy last fall as a commission for a friend and says he suffered nightmares from the many photographs of the mass murderer that he'd posted in his apartment. Yet when Johnson's friend started showing tiny Ted around, other art lovers said they wanted their own, and listed particular criminals they were interested in. Encouraged, Johnson decided to sell his wares on eBay. However, after one of the miniatures drew a bid of $160, administrators yanked the entire collection off the site; eBay told Johnson by e-mail that the auction house didn't condone items that promoted violence.
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Undaunted, Johnson started his own Web site. But after a flurry of sales, business suddenly died in the weeks before Christmas. "I got murdered," he says succinctly.
Instead of surrendering, though, Johnson decided to fight back -- and alerted numerous media outlets, including Westword, to his unusual artistic endeavors. A subsequent Rocky Mountain News profile noted that one victims' advocate in Texas had purchased a set of the dolls to use as an exhibit urging lawmakers to restrict the sale of such macabre memorabilia. (Johnson doesn't think he'll be targeted, because "these are manufactured items, not something a serial killer owned," he points out.)
Rather than provoke outrage, the coverage piqued a perverse public. Within days, Johnson was deluged with orders; a Highlands Ranch antiques dealer expressed interest in buying the pieces in bulk. "I guess I was surprised," Johnson says.
Pleasantly surprised. He's now hoping to expand his line of infamous icons, with a PG-rated set for those too squeamish for the hardcore killers. "I'm thinking of doing Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper and Alfred Packer," he explains. "Sort of a historic killers set."