"War on Terror"
Just when Huck Gee is gaining international recognition for his edgy dolls, this country wants to kick him out
By Eliza Strickland
Maybe Huck Gee's Don'yoku doll can save him from deportation.
Who / What:
It's hard to say who would be more excited by the sight of Mark "Huck" Gee's art studio: an 8-year-old kid or an art collector from SOMA.
The British-born Gee specializes in limited-edition runs of designer toys, like the series that sold at Barneys in New York for $300 a pop. His trademark Skullhead figures — some in fashionable suits, some in samurai costumes — peer down from the shelves of his studio, along with vinyl toys made by other artists in the burgeoning "urban vinyl" scene. Gee has come of age with that scene in San Francisco, one of the epicenters of the Asian-influenced toy movement. The growing demand for the toys is fueled both by kids who like the punkish, anime aesthetic and by obsessive collectors looking for something to complement their Star Wars action figures.
Gee spent more than a decade as one of the city's legions of struggling artists, with a 9-to-5 job and graffiti excursions at night. Nowadays, the characters in his sketchbook end up as 12-inch plastic figures instead of decorating the side of a boxcar, and in January he finally quit his day job. Yet the "Save Huck" T-shirt he's sporting belies that success — the overgrown kid who creates twisted superheroes is now in need of help himself.
The 32-year-old artist is a victim of youthful indiscretion combined with post-9/11 paranoia. Although Gee has lived in California since he was 7, he never became a naturalized citizen. And now, just when the art world is embracing him with open arms, the U.S. immigration authorities have decided to deport him for a goofy teenage crime committed 15 years ago. "You hear the facts and say, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" he says. "But they're not; they're deadly serious."
Gee got the shocking news this past fall when he came home from a grand tour through Asia, meeting artists in Japan and Hong Kong who inspired his work. "I had the time of my life digging around underground toy shops in Tokyo," he says. "Then I came back to the U.S., and crashed and burned." When he walked into the Customs hall at San Francisco International airport, exhausted and bedraggled after a 17-hour flight, the Homeland Security officers were waiting for him.