Mel Birnkrant
ENTER: KENNER
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”Creatures” and “The Pets of Frankenstein” and all drawings pertaining to them are Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT and KISCOM.
“Aahh! Real Monsters” are copyright 1995 Nickelodeon.  All Rights Reserved.  NICKELODEON, Real Monsters and all related title, logos, and characters are trademarks owned and licensed by Nickelodeon.  
Characters and storyline created by Klasky-Cuspo Inc. Photography and writing on this website are Copyright Mel Birnkrant.
 
          The first company my partners, KISCOM chose to show the Creatures to was Kenner.  This was a bold decision, for we had never managed to sell them anything.  On the other hand, at that point in time, Kenner represented the cutting edge of action figures.  The top exuctive in Kenner’s boy’s division was veteran toymaker and senior vice president, Howard Bollinger.  Over time, I got to know him.  I’d speak to him at Kenner’s showroom, every year at Toy Fair. 

       
  One aspect of Howard that fascinated me, was the realization that he was so immersed in keeping up with the major licenses thrown his way that he had no clue that Kenner was creating collectibles, geared to a loyal contingent of the young adult male population.  He saw the products his designers were creating, in terms of children only.  Nor was he aware of the fact that when Kenner packed a case of several dozen action figures, the lowly character they considered the least important, and thus, included only one of in an assortment, was likely to become a much desired rarity.  When I explained this to him, from a toy collectors point of view, he was amazed!  Over time, Kenner wised up and started to play the collector game.

          At any rate, our Creatures made a hit with Howard.  And the action figure crew at Kenner loved the concept.  Their job had become fraught with frustration.  Forced to work, year after year, on one mega movie license after another, they longed to originate their own proprietary property.  Suddenly, it looked to them as if our Creatures might afford them that opportunity.  Thus, Kenner offered us a fee to hold the concept for several weeks.  During that time, they planned to create working models of the Creatures, and test them, as soon as the coming Christmas Holidays were over.  

         
Unfortunately, there was a problem.  With Toy Fair 1994, only two months away, all of Kenner’s resources were busy, night and day.  As much as they wanted to do this thing, there was no way!  That is, unless yours truly could step in and save the day.  So this was the arrangement Kenner offered me.  If I could turn the eight designs they chose into working prototypes in just a month, they would compensate me with the sum of 25K.  This would involve sculpting, casting, building mechanisms, fabricating props etc., painting the whole thing, and doing all this, over the Christmas Holidays, in only 30 days?  That was a tall order; weaving straw into gold might have been easier.  Of course, I said “OK!” ... With one condition: If Kenner ended up not doing the concept, they'd give me back the creatures that I made!

         
There happened to be one young designer in Kenner’s art department, named, Rick Watkins.  Although we never met, my partner Andy, was told that Rick, in particular, found our Creatures inspiring, and was itching to get work on them.  Thus, Rick was extremely disappointed that he could not participate.  Nonetheless, Kenner allowed him a day or two to make some sketches, elaborating on, and enhancing some of my designs to give them a look that Kenner had in mind.  I liked what he did.  By the way, I never got to speak to anyone in Kenner’s art department personally.  Andy became the go-between, communicating with one of Howard’s art directors, another man I was not destined to meet, named Ken.  I can’t make out his second name, from his signature, on some of the communications.

         
What you are about to see is the whole thing, the sum total of everything that Kenner sent to me.  First, a handwritten note from Ken to Andy. 
          This was accompanied by black and white copies of my colored drawings.  The colors reproduced as blobs of black.  These copies were marked up with a series of notes about such matters as size and content, written in blue marking pen, apparently by Ken.  Interspersed between them, are Rick’s amended drawings.  I could see that Rick had signed them, and Ken signed off on them.  And that was that!  My original colored art was not sent back to me for reference.  This really wasn’t much to work with, but I embraced the challenge willingly.  And the following stuff, which is absolutely everything that Kenner sent me, proved to be enough.
         Below, is Rick's reinterpretation of the critter above.   He also ordered a new, more Gothic-looking spoon that I faithfully replicated.  But in the end, it did not make the cut.
          The drawing, above, led to a new character.  In Ricks vision, my alligator became a buzzard.  In his beak he carried a dead rat; how delightfully disgusting!  When his protruding tail was pushed, he popped out of the egg.  And when his tail was pulled, he popped back in again.
          The styling of the creatures above were distilled down to this.  This one, in my opinion, was not an improvement.  Happy that Kenner was taking on the concept, I gladly went along with it!
          This attempt struck me as change for its own sake.  Rick was flexing his muscles.  I felt that the eyes on both the creature and the spider variation were far too small to clearly read.   Nonetheless, I aimed to please, and not make any waves.
          At last, we come to one they saw no need to change.  This remained exactly the same, at least for the time being...
        Rick’s additions to the last three figures were great improvements.  Although, this drawing seemed dense and complex, on first impression, I could read through it, and see that as a sculpture, it would be quite amazing.  The characterization walked a fine line between revolting and amusing.
        I could hardly wait to dive into this one.  It required coordination and anticipation.  I immediately ordered a selection of various sizes of plastic eyes, to assure they would arrive on time.  I had in mind the possibility of animating the major eyes, and terminating every finger in a tiny eyeball.  The drawing originally called for an eye on the tip of the tongue, but someone at Kenner crossed it out.  The tentacles were a brilliant touch.  I could see this was destined to become my favorite one.
          This was another great one.  Those oval eyeballs on extended stalks pushed this figure into territory I  would have never traveled on my own.  Rick, that was a terrific touch!  Thanks very much!
         Just now, curiosity compelled me to look up Rick Watkins on Google.  Finding him wasn’t easy, until I figured out that on his website, where the menu is hidden, his words and images appeared to be in different places.  Nonetheless, I pieced together some information: It seems he remained in the toy industry for twenty-five years, and then, retired to Atlanta, where he became a sculptor.  Some of his current work can be seen HERE.  I detect a distinct resemblance to his additions to the Creatures.