Beware of counterfeit Michael Lau art

Thanks to Ningyoushi's Workshop and ShiniGamiSan1 for the store image to the right. Bootleg stores are popping up everywhere, not only in Asia, but on street corners, webpages and shops all around the world.

Many of these stores are shamelessly trying to pass of counterfeit merchandise as the real thing.

So how can you know when you are buying a genuine Michael Lau item? Please read below to find out the clues.

Most vendors will try and sell bootleg Michael Lau items bagged and without boxes. They often have a story to try and pass of the merchandise. Excuses like this have been heard at stores and conventions:

"I have a contact that works at the company that makes the figures."

"These figures are made from the same mold that Michael Lau uses, but are at a fraction of the price because they don't have boxes."

These are all lies! All Michael Lau work has been boxed and bagged. To the right is a plastic sack filled with bootleg Crazychildren.

The plastic used in the bootleg figures is usually very cheap. The joints are not fitted correctly and many bootleg figures even have problems standing upright.

The plastic in actual Michael Lau figures is of a higher quality and the figures themselves have several points of articulation. The joints are usually very solid, there are some cases where a figure has a bad joint due to a production problem, check the Ningyoushi Messageboard to see if this problem is common with a figure you are seeking or currently have.

Special thanks to my brother. He works at a comic book shop and keeps an eye out for bootlegs and warns other stores about suspicious sellers. He confiscated a bag of bootleg Crazychildren from a seller. Images from which I use on this page.

Bootleg figures are rarely very accurate to the actual Michael Lau designs. It is more as if the bootleg figures are trying to resemble and not exactly duplicate the form of the original figures.

The paint on bootleg figures is also very cheap and details can flake off. There are noticeable seams where a paint applicator has missed a detail on most bootlegs.

Just compare the real Littlewest on the far left to the bootleg on the immediate left. You should be able to spot a number of problems with the counterfeit version.

The counterfeit business is a big industry and they are now going to any length to sell knock-off goods to collectors.

For example, all Michael Lau figures are pre-bagged and come in boxes. Some bootleggers are now making boxes that are of the same sturdy cardboard in Michael's work with similar graphics on the outside.

Thanks to lau_hongkong for the Crazy Devilman image.

A genuine flesh and black-colored Devilman by Michael comes in a red and black box. A red variant of Devilman titled "Crazy Devilman" was sold at the SuperFestival 28, toy fair in Japan. This version of Devilman also came in a red and black box.

A person trying to pass off a "Limited Edition" Purple Devilman with a purple and black box would be lying.

If you are not sure whether you are looking at a genuine Michael figure or a bootleg just use these pages as reference. You may also visit other popular sites like Gardenercrazys or respectable sellers like maharishi or Ningyoushi's Workshop to look at genuine figures and colors.

There are many details on the boxes of genuine figures to tip off the savvy collector. If allowed, try and find identifiable markings on the packaging to make sure you are looking at a real Michael figure. The cardboard is thick and the graphics on the box are well-done.

To the far left is a box for the Lazy Tatto figure from the PARCO Gardenergala Japanese exhibit. The companies that helped pick up the cost of the figure production are clearly listed on the face of the box. These include PARCO, viewsic and Bandai, yes "that" Bandai helped produce the figures.

Immediate left is a box from the Maharishi NY Fat figure. On the back of the box the production names read maharishi and crazysmiles co.

The information on the boxes vary from figure to figure. Copyright notice is located on all of Michael's work. Additional information depend on the figure and exhibition. For example, the figures produced for the Japanese Gardener exhibition also had production information and important telephone numbers on the bottom. The text on the NY Fat box reads like Crylon spray can information.

Similar details are printed under the shoes of most of Michael's figures. When in doubt make sure to check this location to verify the creator and copyright.

Underneath the shoes of figures produced for the Japanese Gardenergala exhibitions it clearly reads Bandai 2001 Japan on one shoe, and © 2000 Michael Lau / Master Licensor SMETV inc. on the other.

There is a maharishi notice under the shoe NY Fat figure and a crazysmiles co. © notice on the other shoe.

Bootleg figures will sometimes have a false copyright notice, name of the figure or number printed under their shoe. Steer clear of these figures.

So how can you protect your investment? The simple answer is to buy from only reputable sellers of the figures. If you are in Hong Kong you have the benefit of the SIXS gallery. However for those out of the country there are few choices.

Physical stores with good reputations and ties with Michael, such as maharishi in London are other good places to shop. Online stores like DP-MHI from maharishi and Ningyoushi's Workshop are also reputable sellers.

You must be careful when dealing with online auctions from eBay or Yahoo. Many items being listed as Michael Lau are in fact from different artists. As always do your homework on the figures you are seeking, request pictures from multiple angles and be prepared to shell out some money for the real thing.

This is not a knock against eBay. My collection grew thanks to the online auction house. However as Michael's name grew it became harder and harder to bid against other collectors, or spot the occasional bootleg from the pictures. So be careful if you decide to deal with online auctions instead of buy from a store.

Inspired by Michael?

Many figures are turning up on the online market, mislabeled as Michael Lau creations. Below are some figures and designs that have been labeled so. Depending on your opinion they can either be called inspired pieces or intellectual property theft.

I think Brian and Tattoo are great figures as both 12" Gardeners and 6" vinyl. I think Jordon, seen right, is an exceptional piece in the Gardenergala world. Look at the detail in his clothes, basketball and bottle of Gatorade. Yes he is taller than most every other figure in the series.

12.5" is the average height for Gardener figures. But some like the graffiti artists like NY Thin are shorter kids and therefore under 11". Jordon is a tall, skinny basketball player and he is in the 15"+ range. If I had my druthers (and huge disposable income) I'd commission a Jordon. But since I am of meager needs I got the next best thing.

Dragon Models of Hong Kong, makers of almost every memorable movie 12" figure, from Indiana Jones to the Terminator, has created a series of NBA-inspired basketball players. One can't help but thank the seeming lack of copyright laws in Hong Kong. There are five Super-X players in all, each player comes with a change of street clothes and a basketball.

Jordon, pictured above left, is one of the original Gardenergala basketball figures. Super-X player #23 (Michael Jordan) is next to him.

All of the figures in the Super-X series are high in quality and artistic direction. But compared to a Gardenergala basketball figure they do seem more like toys and less like art.

On the far left are all of the original Gardenergala basketball players. Clockwise from top left: Jordon, Bull-Shit, Colorz, Aly, Tip Top and Ballman.

On the right are the other four Super-X figures in street clothes. Clockwise from top left: #3 (Allen Iverson), #8 (Kobe Bryant), #34 (Shaquille O'Neil) and #15 (Vince Carter)

Recently many figure and comic book artists from Hong Kong have followed in the footsteps of Michael and have begun producing their own figures. The act of creating figures should be the sincerest form of flattery but many of the artists are really doing nothing more than simply ripping-off Michael's figures and design cues.

With the success and popularity of Michael Lau's figures you'd think it wouldn't be too long before some wanna-be's come out of the woodwork.

Some artists are going to the trouble of mimicking the figures in the same order of production that Michael had. For example, Tattoo is a popular Michael figure so when Toy2R made their own Zoho tattooed figure there was more than just a passing resemblance. Both six inch figures are stylized, have large feet, shorts, no shirt, earrings and tattoos roughly in the same locations. Both figures even have chain wallets hanging on their side. But unlike Michael's Tattoo, who is a member of the Gardener family, the Toy2R tattoo figure comes with a pack of cigarettes. This is something against Michael's Gardener mission statement that reads "no smoke."

The innocence and charm of the Gardeners is lost when other figure artists (I use the term loosely) flood the market with a product that looks similar but lacks the meaning behind Gardenergala. Below are some examples of figures that could be deemed slightly influenced by Michael or just a rip-off.

Here is a comparison of Tatto by Michael Lau and Zoho figure by Toy2R.

From left to right top to bottom: Lazy Tatto, white Tatto box from regular Tatto figure, Zoho figure (sorry for the picture quality), white Zoho box.

On the far left is Davy Fire edition. There are three versions (colors) of Davy, the face of his character and even the cats he comes with all change in appearance given their color. Davy was released almost a full year before the other figure. A figure by the artist Kou is immediate left. Again there are three colors available, however not much of the appearance changes with each new color.

More than just a resemblance? I'll let you decide.

Clothing manufacturer Three Zero commissioned Jason Siu to create the Monkey Playground series pictured far right.

The clothes, shoes, accessories and even choice of presentation have a distinctive Gardenergala feel like the figures on the immediate right.

From left to right the Gardenergala figures are: Box A, Elsa and NY Fat

From left to right the Monkey Playground figures are: Three Zero, Giger and Double Click

Click on Michael's back to go to the Friends and Contemporaries page.

Click on Michael to go to see my small collection.

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Fan-based web page and illustrations by Noe V. Updated Quarterly