AAAHH!!! REAL TOY FAIR
”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.
Toy Fair, that year, was two wild weeks of pandemonium. Early on, my partners and I visited the Mattel Showroom, attending a special showing for inventors. It wasn’t like the doors had been flung open wide. And there certainly was no "welcome" sign! The “hot items” were shielded from our eyes. Being a toy inventor, even one with an item in their line, was like going on a virtual tour that was designed to emulate the experience of being a third class citizen. Everything is engineered to put inventors in their place, short of having segregated drinking fountains, exclusively for their use.
Our truncated tour eventually led us to a relatively impressive booth, set up with masses of our monsters. There was a live demonstrator, dressed as a mad scientist, or lab assistant. Mattel hired professional actors as Toy Fair demonstrators. Many of these would-be thespians, hoping to get discovered, managed to upstage the products they were demonstrating; and this particularly hammy one was no exception. True to tradition, he rushed through an elaborate presentation, dramatically showcasing, operating, and overpowering, every variation of our creatures, one after another.
Meanwhile, looking rather inconspicuous, among this crowd of critters, were four newly crafted prototypes, that had been quickly fabricated, at the last minute. These represented the four main characters of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Ickis, Oblina, Krumm, and Gromble. All the other creatures on display were mine. This included my favorite, the creature in the trunk, which was shown impressively in multiples and demonstrated enthusiastically. Nonetheless, when all was said and done, this charismatic character did not manage to survive, and remain in the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters line. A radical harvesting took place after Toy Fair, and I have no idea what criteria was at play, in terms of which creatures went, and which ones stayed .
Pinned to the walls, of this temporary Toy Fair cubicle, were mocked up packages of the entire line. I had given Mattel my only set of plaster molds. (Of course, like the original colored drawings and the prototypes, I never got them back again.) And Mattel’s craftsmen had pumped out a lot of samples. Some of them were actual working models, others, were merely look-alikes. I would have loved to have my pick of these samples.
Speaking of that, let’s, momentarily, fast forward twenty years, to just last week. One of the surprise events that finally inspired me to conjure up this website was discovering some of the actual prototypes that Mattel displayed in that booth at Toy Fair. This discovery came about quite unexpectedly.
The other night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, the roof suddenly began to leak in half a dozen different places. The worst of these was in the crammed full storage area that used to be my daughter’s bedroom. With water seeping through the ceiling, I was madly moving boxes to save them from the downpour, when I discovered a small brown carton that, up till then, I had not been able to reach. I don’t know what impulse compelled me to peek inside, in the midst of that panicked situation. But I did! And to my utter amazement, I found these Mattel prototypes. I absolutely did not know I had them. I had never seen anything remotely like them, since Toy Fair 1995. KISCOM must have sent them to me, years ago, when our partnership was fading. And this must have been one of many packages that I never had the heart to open.
Here is what I found inside. These are actual showroom samples that Mattel created to fill the display area with what looked like lots of product at Toy Fair 1995. Three of them are working models. The other two are merely castings. Two resemble my originals in color, while others appear to have been radically repainted. Those that were recolored were perhaps guests at the arranged marriage of our creatures and Real Monsters. This color change was how they looked the morning after.
This creature who was destined to never have a name, or appear in the final line, is the most spectacular. It is cast in solid resin, and therefore must have been one of the stand-ins. They were also several latex versions of him, on hand for demonstration. Mattel eliminated the trunk that he once hid in, which was only the first step in eliminating ... him!
Here is the creature in the cage, without the cage. This also is a solid casting in epoxy. Its garish coat of glossy green must represent Mattel’s ill-fated attempt to force the figure fit in, and be consistent with the candy-colored look of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, a look that was, in part, inspired by the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine. In the end, the color didn’t matter, for Mattel flushed this character down the drain.
This figure that Mattel called “Scarfer,” is the one of the few samples that, at this point in time, roughly retained the color scheme of my original prototype. What they finally produced was brought down to Aaahh!!! Real Monster's standards by painting it dark green with yellow teeth.
This creature appears with a new coat of paint, which I guess is an attempt to adapt it to the look of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. It is an actual working prototype, made, most likely, out of latex. Mattel changed this figure radically, and not for the better, in the final line.
This fifth and final sample, is an actual working model, with a few appendages missing. I am guessing that this is what Mattel had in mind as a paint job and color scheme when the line was still the the Pets of Frankenstein. Later called “Werfel,” in production, it turned out to be painted an insipid shade of Miami Vice blue-green.
Getting back to Toy Fair, 1995: the group that we were with moved quickly, there really was no time to linger. Although, our tour guide was aware that we were looking at our own item, either in spite of that, or because of it, he prodded us to keep moving, and not straggle behind. Nonetheless, I didn’t budge. As the tour group we were with moved forward, and disappeared around a distant corner, I momentarily glimpsed my partners, grinning at me, and with a wink, waving good bye. They could read my mind. And so, I remained behind, trying to come to grips with what I was seeing, and understand why I found the awkward combining of my creatures with Aaahh!!!Real Monsters so upsetting.
I couldn’t get over the feeling that simply slapping a brightly colored coat of paint on my realistically conceived creatures, in an attempt to make them look more like they might be alumni of Monster Academy, wasn’t working. I wondered if everyone could see as clearly as I did that the Pets of Frankenstein and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, really didn’t go together. Mattel's last minute try, brought about by fate, at its most mischievous, was as convincing to my eye as “putting lipstick on a pig,” to quote a now familiar expression that didn’t exist back then. My summation of the presentation, might be better stated this way:
My friend, mentor, and employer for twenty years at Colorforms, Harry Kislevitz, had a disgusting expression. I cringed at the sound of it, even though, at times, it seemed apt and effective. He used it to characterize and epitomize the combining of two things that simply didn’t go together, or doing two activities that one should never do at the same time. The term, which Harry, himself, made up, was: “Sh*t - F*ck!” When I finally saw Mattel’s combining of the Pets of Frankenstein, with their garish colors, and the crude clunky styling of the secondary Real Monster characters, and the way they really didn’t go together, Harry’s expression came to mind! The arranged marriage of the Pets of Frankenstein and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, and the brood of candy colored progenies that this miss-matching generated was, to my eye, the perfect example of a Sh*t - F*ck!
Don’t get me wrong. I really liked the look, styling and the premise of Aaahh! Real Monsters, I just didnt care for what happened to the Pets of Frankenstein. Most likely, neither did Real Monsters creator’s, Csupo and Klasky! A fast application of inappropriately bright color cold not disguise the fact that there was an aura of awkward inconsistency to the line. Nonetheless, we all liked money, and hoped to see this inter-stylistic marriage of both our offspring, Aaahh! Real Monsters and the Pets of Frankenstein, become a successful toy line, and survive.
Later the same day, I found myself in the showroom of a company called “Happiness Express.” This was a happy experience for me, and something of a reunion. One of my favorite people at Colorforms had always been an attractive young secretary, named, Gina Cotton. Throughout my twenty years there, it was one of my responsibilities to compose the copy for all of Colorforms products, and the annual catalogue as well. Unable to type, punctuate, or spell, I managed to accomplish this by dictating everything, via long distance telephone to Gina. Therefore, I spent many pleasant hours on the phone with her, several days a week. We got to know each other well, and shared many a laugh about the often comical events at Colorforms. Gina’s was a success story; she had become a top executive at Happiness Express. She later became a vice president at Fisher Price.
I had been told that Happiness Express had obtained the license from Nickelodeon to create a line of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters dolls. So, I dropped into Gina’s Showroom, to see both her and the dolls. To my surprise, there were no dolls to see. They hadn’t been created yet! Those two weeks of Toy Fair were really extraordinary, in terms of “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.” The creation of their product lines and their introduction to the toy industry was really taking place, right there and then. By chance, it happened that the young lady that Happiness Express had hired to create the dolls dropped into the showroom to show Gina what she was up to, while I was there. The creation of the dolls was just beginning, and to put it mildly, they were a mess. She had never done anything like this before, and she was struggling.
Because I happen to be a nice guy, and also because I had a vested interest in seeing that the dolls came out all right, as, theoretically, they were half mine, I spent the entire afternoon helping her, cutting, pinning, and drawing extensive overlays, right there in the showroom. Together, we got the dolls into shape. Later on, Gina sent me two sets of finished dolls, as thanks. Alas, I never got the Gromble, who was the one most needing of my aid. He was shipped from China, much later than the first three, and in a certain sense, too late.
Yesterday, the 1995 Mattel Catalogue arrived. It is most enlightening. These books were not available at Toy Fair, one had to submit their name and address, and then, if Mattel found them acceptable, (we, like most inventors, were not) they would receive a copy in the mail. I can clearly see that the four pages dedicated to Aaahh!!! Real Monsters were cobbled together in a hurry. Well, they would have to be. All the creatures shown are handmade prototypes, painted in the same glossy enamel as the samples above. Considering they were scrambling to beat the clock, whoever put these pages together, at the last minute, did an amazing job. Many of the creatures names had yet to be determined. The copy even points that out with the line: “ *Names subject to change.” The colors were subject to change too. “Werfel, ne Klimber” is shown here in powder blue. Monster Academy was located in a land fill. The photographer who took these shots, did a commendable job of recreating one, on a table top.
Here are the four Aaahh!!! Real Monsters pages. I will post them actual size, one page at a time. They form double page spreads. If you have a large enough monitor you can CLICK on any of the single pages to see them side by side.
CLICK IMAGE TO SEE DOUBLE PAGE
CLICK IMAGE TO SEE DOUBLE PAGE
CLICK IMAGE TO SEE DOUBLE PAGE
CLICK IMAGE TO SEE DOUBLE PAGE