He wears a black leather suit, one leg dangling over an armchair of the Red Pepper cafe, a dizzying mix of Mel Gibson, Robbie Williams and Frankenstein. He stares piercingly through eerie blue and brown speckled contact lenses and when he orders a coffee in a thunderous Brooklyn accent the waitress nearly drops her tray. Such is the explosive energy of Digger Mesch. I have been warned, by Bey Logan, leading producer and writer of the Emperor Entertainment Group, that Mesch is a profoundly likable man. 'He's incredible,' swooned Logan. 'I've been to up-market events with him, and he walks in with this Mad Max outfit, shirt open to the waist with a nipple ring and within five minutes he's got the whole crowd eating out of his hand.' In the (tattooed) flesh he may look like a movie star, but the 33-year-old Italian-American is one of America's leading toymakers, which makes him one of the hottest names in town during this week's Hong Kong Toy Fair. Now based in the SAR, Mesch has a hectic week of back-to-back meetings. Mesch's design house, Art Asylum, owns the international licensing rights to the toys for Star Trek. It's also in charge of the action figures for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American television series Dark Angel, and individual lines for stars such as Ozzy Osbourne and the late Bruce Lee. In the United States they call him 'the underground, action-figure bad boy'. This is due, in part, to his insistence that all artists are credited on their designs. It also comes from creating controversial toys such as an Eminem 'doll', complete with the notorious rap star holding a chainsaw, a product that made Mesch front-page news in the New York Post in 2001. The fact he has a few superhero traits himself has led to extensive coverage in American and Japanese magazines. For instance, his real name is a well-guarded secret. 'My father dug ditches in New York his whole life,' Mesch offers as explanation of his nickname. 'He's a blue-collar guy, a working man. Every day I saw him digging ditches and they used to call me Little Digger.' His mother was 'a hippy revolutionary - her friends were bombing places in the US when I was a kid'. Until he was eight, Mesch, an only child, grew up on the road, moving around the country through a bizarre spectrum of places, from nudist colonies to Buddhist monasteries. Then he turned into a troubled teenager - 'in and out of county courts' - and was eventually kicked out of high school. His artistic talents emerged when he was 18. Inspired by the comics and science-fiction stories he lapped up as a kid, his designs and sculptures earned him a place at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts, where he studied illustration and sequential (comic book) art. By his final year he was working for MTV, and his sculptures - 'gigantic, demonic skeletons' - were used to open high-profile shows such as a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Upon graduation, Mesch followed his friend Kevin Eastman (creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) into the world of toymaking. 'My vision was to make the toy industry an art industry, not just a plastic regurgitation machine,' he explains. 'I inspired a lot of artists to step up and say, 'I did this. I want credit for what I do.' I stood up on the soapbox and I bitched and I bitched.' After making noise and a name for himself at home, in 2001 he moved to a city that has always inspired him: Hong Kong. 'Where my studio in Brooklyn is, I tell you, we're in the hood. It's a low-income place,' he says. 'Everybody's looking for a hero in that environment. All my friends would always reference Hong Kong films for material for their designs because the action films from here are just so good.' Nine months ago, he set up home in Kwun Tong with a showroom in Tsim Sha Tsui. He has been taking intensive Cantonese lessons and zooming around town on a red motorbike. His goal is 'to pioneer a new genre of East/West film entertainment' involving film concepts and the products. Business aside, it seems Mesch's star quality is becoming a feature of the city. He has become the beau of the film industry, gracing recent film premieres, and he is a recognisable face as a 'white prop' extra in local films such as Twin Effects. 'Acting?' he says theatrically. 'Andy Warhol did it, why can't I?'