There’s a story behind every brand. That goes for the brands that are on the come up and also the ones that have long been established as household names, but with Gommi Arcade, there’s literally a story at the center of it. At the core of Gommi is the story of Gommi Arcadian, who leads a group of unlikely heroes in a rebellion against rulers who have suppressed all forms of creative freedom, self-expression and intellectual curiosity in the fictional city-nation of Neo Tokio.
Rooted in futurism, science fiction and Japanese anime, Gommi Arcade has since its inception been dabbling in varying mediums such as fashion, art, animation, technology and music, and has used the multiple platforms, along with each product it releases and every service it provides to push the art of interactive storytelling. Through innovative thinking, Gommi has essentially presented a #NewRules approach to storytelling. “As a comic book, Japanese anime, science fiction nerd, and futurist, I’m always looking for ways in which to make things better,” says founder and creative director, Zak Hoke. “That’s whether I’m telling this story of a utopia or looking for ways to market my brand to a wider audience.” And seeing as how items from the Gommi Arcade clothing collection have been spotted on megastars Pharrell Williams, Lebron James, and Chris Brown, it seems as if Zak, a former Nike employee, must be doing a pretty good job expanding his brand’s reach.
Zak, along with his company’s general manager and creative collaborator, Allan Adams recently spoke with Life + Times. Here, we learn more about Gommi Arcade’s plans to become a powerhouse in art, animation, fashion and music and leaders in the new school of storytelling.
Life + Times: For those unfamiliar with Gommi Arcade, Inc and everything it incorporates, what exactly do you guys do?
Allan Adams: We’re telling the story of the protagonist Gommi Arcadian through different mediums, which are film, art, comics, games, web, webisodes, short films, music and fashion.
Zak Hoke: That’s pretty much where our saga begins. We pretty much leverage multiple media platforms of consumer and audience engagement to tell the story of Gommi Arcadian. We’re telling this story through the products we’re putting out there.
L+T: How did you guys come up with the storyline for Gommi Arcade?
ZH: This may sound a bit cliché, but this story was born in me and was sparked throughout moments in my life where I was exposed to similar threads and trains of thought. I was born in 1974. Star Wars came out in the late ‘70s and I remember when my mom took me to see Return of the Jedi in particular, so just at certain moments in my life stuff like Star Wars, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell meant a lot to me. As someone who was into comic books and Japanese anime, that world and that visual language always spoke to me on a personal and innate level and allowed me the abilities to tell my story, a human story, through the lens of all the things I grew up loving like video games, comic books and animation.
L+T: The main character, Gommi Arcadian is described as an unlikely hero, yet as a result of his curiosities and creative abilities he leads the rebellion that brings about change in his world. Is there an underlying meaning behind this?
ZH: It’s really about empowering young people to use their creativity to not only change their lives or their world, but also the world. We live in this consumer-driven culture where a lot of kids think you need to be a celebrity in order to have some sense of identity or empowerment. They are attaching or associating their self worth with materialism. When I worked at Nike I would always come in contact with kids who would be just salivating over the fact that I worked there. They’d be curious and interested about working there and designing shoes. I would always let them know like if you’re into art and you’re into design don’t sell yourself short. You can design cities. We need cities planners. The exposure I got working for Nike just opened up a can of worms for me and kind of gave Gommi Arcadian a double meaning for me. I really want to let kids know that if you’re the outcast or the weirdo or the kid sitting in the back of the class scribbling in your notebook that that’s okay. It’s cool to be you. Fucking nerds run the world right now. In this day it’s really cool to be smart.
AA: There’s a Gommi Arcadian everywhere. It’s that person that wants to create. It’s that person that wants to be different, but is afraid of what society might tell them or what their peers might say.
L+T: At what point did you realize it could be possible to tell the story of Gommi in such new and exciting ways?
ZH: If I had to narrow it down to a year, I’d say 2009. That’s when professionally I began noticing the shift in consumer engagements with brands. I’ve always been on the ideation side or the strategic side or even the execution side of telling these brand and product stories. When you’re doing that for a lot of these major brands that want to create these emotional relationships with consumers with their products, you’re always looking for ways in which you can get inside consumer’s’ psyche or be a part of someone’s world. In 2009, I started to realize that we’re all living in this sort of connected, always on, multimedia, multi-screen society, and as a professional storyteller I’m always being curious about ways in which we can reach people, like with transmedia. It’s a discipline that’s forever evolving. Look at The Walking Dead. There’s the TV show, the online series and there’s the interactive comic . Again, it’s really about finding out what’s happening in the market place, following these trends and then just having an innate intellectual curiosity to get my story out there and be a part of people’s lives.
L+T: The worlds of art, music, fashion and technology can be very different, but you guys have been able to find success across all of these platforms. How do you continue to be effectively and successfully active in these very different industries?
ZH: It’s because we do everything ourselves. We’re storytellers and we do all this shit ourselves.
L+T: What are your personal connections with Japanese anime? Were you guys fans of the art form growing up?
ZH: It was something I definitely grew up on from Akira to Ghost in the Shell even down to Speed Racer and Astro Boy. I just always found that style and that technique to be fascinating and intriguing and sharper and a lot more radical than the traditional American approach to animation. Not to shit on the American approach, but I just always found anime to be a lot more dynamic and it’s something I’ve followed since a youngin’.
L+T: Are you guys ever nervous that fans and consumers may take one aspect of Gommi Arcade more serious than others? An example would be a fan seeing you guys as true animators, but not as real clothing designers.
ZH: For me, I let the work speak for itself. Whether I’m consulting for a brand or doing my own thing I’ve always felt like my work is an extension of myself, so I put my everything into it.
L+T: Are there any artists, brands or companies that you guys find inspiration in?
AA: There are a lot of inspirations that cover Gommi. In terms of brands, there’s BAPE. In terms of anime, there’s Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. We take elements from different things and we bring them together for new ideas and things that would gage the audience in a different way. We maneuver so that we’re different, but at the same time we cover a storyline that impacts people.
ZH: I’m excited that J. J. Abrams was tasked with rebooting Star Wars. I’m inspired by Chris Nolan’s work. I’m inspired by the fact that Kanye West is about to put out new music. For me, anybody who is pushing the boundaries of an art form is where I find inspiration.
L+T: Last summer you guys shot your first stop-motion animated short. What was that experience like?
ZH: It was awesome. Watching claymation and stop-motion animated pieces on TV was always magical for me as a kid, so actually being able to develop one of those on our own, by ourselves was just like capturing lightning in a bottle. Also, for us, it’s a lane that’s wide open. I don’t think anyone has ever told a futuristic story through the lens of stop-motion.
L+T: What’s the next creative outlet you guys plan on using for telling the story of Gommi Arcadian?
ZH: For now, the focus is on art, animation, gaming, music and fashion. We’ll let the people decide what they want next from us and hopefully we’ll be able to service those needs and answer those calls.
To learn more about the world of Gommi Arcade, visit here.