All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
I was never nuts about the name,“Tiny Taps.” At best, it was just the “working title” for a product concept that I experimented with in 1988. We had just sold Sound Wear to Nasta, the year before. Sound Wear was in competition with another electronic product that Nasta also made, called, “Hit Sticks.” They advertised it on TV that year. Hit Sticks was a pair of drumsticks attached to a small amplifier that made drum-like sounds, when played in the air, with no drum there.
Tiny Taps was similar. In its most basic form, it consisted of a pair of tiny tap shoes that the user wore on the tips of his first two fingers. These were attached to an amplifier that could be strapped around the wrist. Tiny sensors on the heel and toe of each shoe would trigger electronic tapping sounds that, hopefully, resembled tap dancing. The project started with this drawing:
In a second variation, the amplifier, wiring, and speaker would be hidden inside a figure that sat atop the user’s hand. When his fingers were inserted into the figure’s legs, it became a dancing puppet. The concept of using one’s first two fingers to represent legs was not a new one. I had owned, several examples of images that animated by this principal. But I had never seen one that produced tapping sounds, before, or since. Sound was the “extra” that made this variation “New.” In whipping out this drawing, I made reference to two popular licenses of the day, The California Raisins, that’s what that brown lump is supposed to be, and Pee Wee Herman.
And now, for me, the fun began., I embarked on a treasure hunt in the flea market of images, inside my head. Occasionally, a visitor to Mouse Heaven will ask me if everything in the collection catalogued. I inevitably reply: “No, it’s all up here in my brain!” That’s true; my head is a vast storehouse of stylized imagery. And, as for the collection, I do know every piece that in it, what it is, who made it, when, and where I got it. But, more importantly, I know the look of it. Sometimes, I add: “If you want to know what it looks like to be inside my head, look around you, you’re standing in it, now!” By the way, apart from comic imagery and fading memories, as some people will testify, there’s not much else up there.
But, I’m inside there too, constantly taking inventory. Nonetheless, even I am surprised on occasions like this, when image after image pops out of my subconscious mind onto the page, without reference material to guide me, or refresh my memory. I didn’t need to get off my chair and go downstairs to see what Mr. Peanut looked like. I have my own portable copy of his physiognomy, right here, in the limetless storage bin, between my ears.
And, of course, there had to be a kid. So, I made a quick pass at sketching one, with a slightly different look than any of the many I already did.
I recall watching, like a spectator, as the Lucky Strike dancing cigarette pack, an image I haven’t seen since I was a teen, leapt out of my pen onto the page. That abstract entity must have been on my mind for years, waithing patiently for her cue to reappear.
This sketch of an animated box of crayons predates the crayon man that starts off the entries on this Land of Lost Toys page by several years. I notice that these characters bear a marked resemblance to the Weenies that I did the year before, particularly in the use of the square eyes, which I had never seen before, in the comic image repertoire.
There follows a series of random imagery. I have no idea why I included this eight ball. But, I was glad I did. I really like his monocle that just happened spontaneously.
And here is the prerequisite baseball, my lame attempt to cover all the bases: sports included. It was this ominous object that I stood out in right field, throughout my years in grade school, fearing one might come my way, and ready to duck, if, by some calamity, it did.
Here’s a bite of the Big Apple. Sometimes, I missed NYC.
And, who could say, “no” to a luscious tomato?
This is a double dose of exotic Latin imagery, from my childhood, a combination of Carmen Miranda and Chiquita Banana.
And who could resist a dill pickle, playing a ukulele? A cuke with a uke!
This adaptation incorporates a bright idea, a flash dancer that lights up, in rhythm to the music.
The Man in the Moon is an image I always loved. Full, or crescent, are they the same? This dapper fellow dances with a top hat and cane.
This tap dancing juke box was the ultimate extravaganza. He was combined with a radio, so, he could dance to his own music, and he could also light up.
And, finally, from a guy who could never resist a pun, here is a tap dancing tap! This also has a special action feature; A secret counterweight that causes the handle to spin and rotate, when the faucet tilts, from side to side.
Last of all, to end the presentation on a note of warm and fuzzy, here are three tap dancing Teddy Bears. I can't remember why one holds a tennis racket.
Alas, nothing came of this enthusiastic effort. I suppose if I had built a working prototype, it might have fared better. Nonetheless, it was fun to sketch these conceptual characters. Pumping out Comic Imagery, might be the only exercise, of which I never tire.