Mel Birnkrant
1975
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All Photographs Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
          My sleeve was not yet empty, in the year leading up to Toy Fair 1975.  There were still a few tricks up there to expand the Colorforms line. This year's big addition was the “Stand-Up Play Set”.  “Snoopy’s Beagle Scouts” was the theme.  A two-sided central panel stood up to create two different play environments, one on either side, connected by a door, in this case, the forest and the beach.  The sides of the dock folded down to hold the divider upright and lock it in place.  Six Stand-up figures of the Peanuts gang could be dressed up in Colorforms vinyl pieces and moved around the board.  There was lots of stick-on camping equipment too.  Here is the comp, just off the drawing board, and photographed on my front porch in 1974.
          The Comp was then sent to Nick LoBianco to trace the characters in ink.  Then it came back to me to color.  I simply wrote the number values in on my original colored sketch of the front cover.  You can see the pencil markings here. I loved doing this. It is the way that comic books and the Sunday Funnies were traditionally colored.
          Looking back over the year, it seems less productive than the one before it.  I wonder what took up my time.  There was a false start or two, one of which was this Winnie the Pooh Tea Party.  Colorforms sort  of  pooped out on it after a few buyers pooh-poohed it.  I guess a tea party for boys wasn’t such a great idea.  But Pooh was brand new for Disney then, and Christopher Robin was alive and well.  They look like they're examining fleas they picked off Winnie!.
          My fascination with Raggedy Ann continued.  This heavily patched little ink drawing led to “The Raggedy Ann Colorforms Puppet Show”.  Harry agreed to do it, even though Puppetforms sales were slowing down. Again I seized the opportunity to inject some of  Johnny Gruelle’s early characters that few people know about today.  I, more or less, got carried away.
          The next stage was working out the colors, prior to a final comp.  Thanks to a newly acquired  copying machine, I could take several stabs at coloring it, without having to trace it out each time.
          The final comp is shown below, as photographed for the catalogue.  The plastic pieces were faked out with pieces borrowed from the Mickey Mouse and Bert and Ernie Puppetforms.
          Last of all, here is the actual toy as it finally appeared with Mike Strouth’s finished art applied.  Although, this only scratches the surface of Mike’s abilities, it illustrates how well we worked together.  He had a flawless knack for retaining all the strong parts of whatever he was handed, and strengthening the weak, a rare combination of intuitive selection and unerring perfection.
          Meanwhile, The Busy Fingers Activity line continued.  It was a Raggedy Ann Year.  This comp for a display header set the tone. Sewing had been added to the agenda.  I was also doing all I could to turn the Colorform’s logo into a sort of Comic Character, an advertising icon along the lines of Mr. Peanut.
          “Peg Pals” did not sell well enough encourage Colorforms to proceed with this group of early Sesame Street characters I mocked-up the year before.  “Sew-Ons” and “Color n’ Play” made it to 1975, but Peg Pals did not survive.
          “Lace & Dress Dancing Dolls” were added to the line.  Bill Basso, was as busy as ever working mostly on the Classic Colorforms line. But he briefly set that work aside to create the contents of “Lace & Dress Dancing Raggedy Ann”.  Mike did the entire Barbie set and the packaging for Raggedy Ann as well.  Once again, that is his daughter, Gretchen on the cover, now a year older, and growing up in New York State.
         Of all the activities, the Raggedy Ann Surprise Package was my favorite.  I included all my best tricks and favorite characters.  Dancing Dolls, a Magic Picture, whose eyes followed you around the room, a Jig Saw Puzzle, based on a1930’ original, Play Jewelry, a Finger Puppet Show, Magic Spinners, which were an early optical toy, a Dress-up Doll, and Tic-Tac-Toe; 8 Great Activities, in all.
          Last and least, was “Sew and Love”.  It was a bit of a stretch.  It came with thread, but not a needle, due to child safety laws, and no stuffing. The instructions read “Stuff them with anything you want”.  So eager was I to expand the line, I drew the dolls myself.