Aug 14, 2007
What's your story, buddy?
ETA: Jeff's toy just received an excellent review at the Plastic and Plush blog. Congratulations again to Jeff for garnering such kudos.
I've been catching up with a lot of the blogs I link to lately--ones I mean to visit regularly but too often procrastinate checking in on. Since the Comic Con, however, I've had a new motivation: what did all those fellow travelers I missed seeing there think of it, and how did the sellers I know of do?
So I've been making the rounds and enjoying the stories and pictures. One entry particularly stirred me up enough to begin a post about it the other day, though I put it aside until I'd have more time. Oddly, an article in today's New Yorks Times offered a quote that fit the old post perfectly...so here it is--the post, first:
* * *
Jeff Pidgeon blogged about an encounter he had at the Comic-Con involving the vinyl "Happy Beaver" toy he designed and was offering there. Apparently a vendor expressed interest in this appealing orange guy, and asked him what the character's story was. Jeff was forced to admit that...well...he didn't have a story, exactly; he had drawn a fellow he liked the looks of and wanted to see as a toy(Jeff is one of the animation world's preeminent cool toy collectors, by the way--more on that in a minute).
This woman was kind of amazed that Jeff didn't follow the toymaker's script--how could he have bothered to commission a sizeable retail toy with no story for it?
He was nonplussed at the expostulating from this stranger...after all, he is a story artist of long experience(at Pixar, no less). Wasn't it okay for him to indulge himself in a fun project of three-dimensional toy design? Does every figural thing with eyes, nose and tail have to have a backstory?
* * *
Well, that was as far as I got the other day. I put it aside and reflected on whether or not I was making too much of this little anecdote, but it did needle me for some reason. Then I read this in this morning's paper an article about the over-management of children's play--of adults inserting themselves and their notions of what "play" should be into a private world where children would otherwise think and invent and fantasize spontaneously. Here's the passage that really popped out at me--the article is reported by Patricia Cohen. She's quoting a professor at Brown who's written a book about children's play throughout history:
"Mr. Chudacoff...explain[ed] that with so much commercial licensing, toys have become more of an offshoot of the television and film industries than elements of play.
One result is that a toy comes with a prepackaged back story and ready-made fantasy life, he said, meaning that “some of the freedom is lost, and unstructured play is limited.”"
Now, Jeff's vinyl toy isn't meant specifically for children, it's a fun object designed for adults like Jeff(and myself, and a passel of other animation people and artists)who enjoy fun objects around our environment for various reasons. Call it whimsy, maybe. But I think part of the reason that we do enjoy these things is that they both please our sense memories of childhood play and at the same time keep striking those synapses that we use all the time in our work. Stories beget characters--but also, very often characters beget their own stories--ones we couldn't tell until we get to know their players a little better. That's what I'd surmise about Jeff's character--why it isn't a boo-boo to have gone so far as to create him without The Story at hand, readymade, to reel off to a wholesaler or bystander. Jeff might well disagree, however.
Anyway, there is no hard and fast rule to this. It goes back to that old question" "where do your ideas come from?" Where? It's part nature, part nurture, part--who knows what?
And speaking of toys, for anyone with a passing interest in the glory days of strange and wonderful, make-your-own-backstory toys of yesteryear, have a look at Jeff's Flickr pages.
We had this around the house when I was a preschooler; I thought it was the most magical thing in the world.
a bootlegged toy knocking off a character from the Disney film "Chicken Little"
all the images are by and appear courtesy of jeffpidgeon.com
Labels: jeff pidgeon