As an artist, toymaker Dano Brown has managed to accomplish quite a bit. He’s been profiled in Forbes and on HBO’s Vice News Tonight for his viral bootleg action figures, and we talked to him last year about some of his toys based on The Sopranos. His toys — which are usually assembled from old Star Wars and G.I. Joe parts — sell for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars on eBay, as well as in art galleries all over the country.
But there was one thing that had always eluded Brown: He wanted at least one of his works to be mistaken for a real, officially licensed product. It wouldn’t bear his name or feature his logo or any other sign that he had created it — he just wanted an image of one of his creations to circulate on the internet, and for people to believe it was something real from the past. Oh, and it had to be something fucking weird — that was important to him, too.
Well, earlier this year, Dano realized his deceitful dream, and it tasted even sweeter than he could have imagined.
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I really, really love bad Super Mario stuff. I’m a big Nintendo collector, but there’s so much Mario merchandise out there now that none of it seems all that special. Because of that, I’ve become intrigued by strange-looking stuff, like ugly Halloween masks and poorly-made stuffed animals.
One day, back in December 2020, I was looking at this clickbait article of the weirdest Mario toys ever, and a piece popped up that wasn’t official merchandise — it was a Mario/Mickey mashup done by my friend Dave Bondi. Suddenly, an idea hit me: I thought it would be funny to put a piece of art online — with no credit to the artist or anything — and have people believe that it was actually something real from the past.
I wanted it to be something funny and weird, and because I love Nintendo, it had to be Mario. A naked Mario was the obvious choice, and I figured people might believe it was real if I said it was from another country. I also had these little naked baby toys that squirt water out of the weiner. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them when I bought them, but I knew I’d make something out of them someday. Mario has those baby-like proportions, so they fit his naked body perfectly.
I found a Mario that was comparable in size to the peeing toy, and then I replaced the head and gave it a quick paint job — it wasn’t a long process at all. The paint job was pretty much just the body hair and some touch-ups. A couple of years ago, the internet went crazy over a shirtless Mario because he had nipples, but I was more surprised that he didn’t have any body hair. I mean, he was played by Bob Hoskins in the movie — of course he has body hair.
Once he was painted, I worked on the packaging. I based it off of official packaging from the 1980s that I knew would be convincing for people who knew about Mario. I made sure to have the logo for “Official Nintendo Licensed Product,” just like it was on those old toys, and I didn’t put my logo anywhere on it. The only real creative liberty I took was in the small print. I wrote, “SIGNATURE HAT INCLUDED!!” because that was just funny to me, and “CHOKING HAZARD — small parts. Not for children under three years.” People who have seen it — those who know it’s a joke — seem to love the “small parts” line.
So Mario was ready, but to make my plan work, I needed some help. I reached out to my buddy Chris — who’s a major retro gaming collector that’s on all the sites and scenes for retro gaming — and I asked him to share it. I also asked that he say he found it at a yard sale and that it was a Swedish exclusive. I know nothing about Sweden, but it sounded right, and my friend Coleman is a big Nintendo collector who lives in Sweden. I asked him to confirm for everyone that this was a real product, and that he remembered it from when he was a kid.
With Chris sharing it and my guy in Sweden backing him up, the plan was underway. I also brought my Instagram followers in on it and explained the plan and let them run with it, encouraging them to post it wherever but not to credit me.
I thought that maybe, in a year or two, this image would circulate and people would start talking about it, but it happened right away. When Chris posted it on Twitter, some people thought it was fake, and some had some funny replies. One said, “Get him a mushroom stat!” But a few people bought into the idea that this was a real Nintendo product, and those posts were so vindicating. It was exactly what I was looking for.
It was also posted on Instagram, Facebook and Imgur, but Reddit was where it really took off. I have no idea who posted it there. Some people were calling it out as fake, but a number of people really seemed to buy into it being a real Nintendo item.
The Reddit thread exploded and got upvoted like 8,000 times in two days. Unfortunately, some people did end up linking the item back to me, and the thread died down a bit after that.
Still, it was nice while it lasted, and somewhere out there, I think there are still a few people who believe that, sometime in the 1980s, Nintendo released a Swedish-exclusive naked Mario figure.
So, as far as I’m concerned, my secret plan was a big success.