Mel Birnkrant's
Mel Birnkrant's
All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
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          “Wicked Wind-Ups?”  What the "H" is this? I can think of no logical reason why it should exist.  Imagine a small naked demon, riding on a crawling eyeball.  That’s what I was doing, one day, imagining it, not riding it, when I idly, almost unconsciously, drew the doodle that you see below.  That, by the way, is the original sketch.  Why it even still exists is a mystery.  It was just a pencil scribble that I clarified a little with some sort of pen, an implement I rarely used.  There were no overlays, or attempts to take the drawing seriously, and make it more presentable.  For there was, in fact, no one to present it to.
         My partners, KISCOM, and I would meet each week and conjecture as to what sort of mediocre mundane piece of crap would fill a hopefully perceived gap in the toy industry.  We spoke a lot about baby dolls and ponies.  But this drawing was not something I would bother to show them.  Nonetheless, for some reason I never attempted to examine, that bizarre little scribble pleased me.  So I said to myself: “I could make this thing!”

So, I rummaged through my repository of broken toys to find a mechanism I could adapt, and a plastic sphere that, before the sun had set, would become a crawling eye, slightly larger than life size.  What was I thinking? I suppose, somewhere, in the trash dump of my mind, the memory remained of a deliciously cheesy movie I had seen, as a teen, called, “The Crawling Eye,” a low budget effort, of which only the title was memorable.  I can’t recall what the enormous eyeball in the movie actually did, apart from looking scary, and looking around.  But now this smaller version on my desk sucked me in, and I embraced the spell it wove, quite willingly.

  I let it lead me on a path of discovery, as one nuance suggested another, and then another, until in the end, the ominously large carpenters nail that pierced the eyeball in my sketch became the winding stem.  A rod attached to the motor pushed up inside the figure to animate his tongue and head, in replication of a scream.  Then, his right arm acquired a wicked looking whip, with which he beat his mount, unmercifully, to urge it on, as tendrils of gore propelled the creature across my desk.  At last, came the "piece de resistance," the delicious nuance I liked best.  The eyeball, itself, suggested this to me, at the end, and I gladly opened it up again, to add this, I dare say, brilliant touch.  As the crawling eye crawls forward, a hideously evil face, with glowing red eyes, appears and disappears, within the window of the lens.

  When KISCOM appeared the following week, I casually thought to amuse them by showing them this trifle I had trifled with.  And while, on one hand, they were, like me, both puzzled and amazed by this strange thing, in the end, they amazed me, by saying, “Let us take this with us, and see if we can sell it.”  Incredibly, they did!  Sell it, I mean.  They showed it to their friends at Basic Fun, a tiny upstart company unbound by conventionality. 

There is a remote possibility that I shot a quick video of this object.  If I did, I cannot find it.  That is why I tried to indicate the action of the toy by means of the animation above.  I never saw the original again.  That’s the bad news!  The good news is, Basic Fun's resources in Hong Kong did an amazing job of recreating my original prototype exactly, the look, the feel, the patina, everything.  The two images below are actual production samples.  Give or take a hole or two, used to screw the halves of the toy together, they reproduce the original, exactly!  These are two identical toys, photographed, side by side, not the same one, seen twice!  Be sure to look into their eyes!  This is how the effect works in real life.
         There was a certain melancholy irony in this.  Throughout my history in the toy industry, I had seen big impressive toy companies with all the money in the world, and massive, so called, art departments, destroy and demean the prototypes I gave them.  Mattel maimed “My Very Own Puppy,” in a meat grinder of mediocrity, with four different sculptors, each massacring a leg.  And Matchbox desecrated “Maxx FX,” with insanely bad management, and inferior sculpting.  Now, here was this tiny toy company, called, “Basic Fun,” made up of eager young men, who came up with production pieces of the most amazing fidelity to my original prototypes that I had ever seen.

They said to me, "Were making these!  Please show us some more prototypes like this one, and we will add them to the line."  And so, I devoted a day to the drawings that you see below.  In them, you might notice that I recycled a few images that came from other projects, may they rest in peace.  And I am surprised to discover the creature here that later became the Galaxy Gladiator.  These drawings too are the originals.  There was no need to make Xerox copies of these, or colored boards.  I was communicating, one on one, with Basic Fun, and having fun!

  I really liked this one, this monster that swallows a bug, because I knew the mechanism to be effective.  I had seen it in action before, as a black fur covered ball, with two long rods that served as arms.  When wound, it tumbled around, and scurried wildly across the floor.  I wish that Basic Fun had chosen it!
          I had never seen a satisfying windup Frankenstein.  And to my knowledge, no one had attempted to make the Bride.  The unique feature here, was the way the toys were wound.  Pulling their arms down would, not only, wind the toys, but would also cause the arms to slowly rise, as the figures walked.  Thus, they would truly replicate a Frankenstein like pose.
          This robot demon seemed like a good idea, at the time.  But a subsequent spate of robot toys and movies makes him seem commonplace today.  Nonetheless, I liked the way that he wound up.  Many of these items wound up in unique ways.
          This guy was right out of Maxx FX.  Max was dead by then, and recycling is good, they say!
          This guy sure looks familiar, Is he a Galaxy Gladiator?  I’m not sure which came first.  Anyway, the idea was not a serious attempt, I was just giving vent to whatever momentary whim passed through my mind.
       Here’s another item  that I found amusing.  This might well be a close relative of the creature riding on the eyeball.  This demonic dude is taming a bucking bronco, a classic pair of clattering false teeth!  Ride ‘em cowboy!
          This dragon like creature is one that I actually constructed.  Pulling on the rat, wound him up, and he chased after the bait, until he gobbled it up.  Basic Fun Gobbled up my prototype.  I never saw it again, even though, they didn’t make the dragon, in the end.
          Last, but not least, is this childhood nightmare come to life.  As a kid, the movie, “Beast with Five Fingers,” starring Peter Lorry, absolutely terrified me.  For years after I saw it, mostly peeking through the cracks between my fingers, with my hands over my eyes, this very creature lived underneath my bed, waiting patiently to grab me.  The hand winds up by twisting the worm’s tail.  The front end of the worm turns, as well.  I still smile at my casual solution to helping this thing keep its balance.  The reason for the bracelet was so there could also be a length of chain, which was intended to look like it is dragging, when in reality, the links are solid, and holding up the hand.  I notice that Basic Fun added tiny wheels to both the final link of chain, and the base of the thumb, to help them easily slide along.  I love it when a manufacturer is that enterprising and astute.  Reliving this toy's engineering, now, I vividly recall that getting those fingers to each move independently wasn’t easy.  That task taxed all my inbred skills of intuitive inventing.
         This time, I made sure to capture these working prototypes on video, before I let them go.  It was enough, just to know I had made the recording.  I didn’t need to look at it.  And so, the images remained unseen for a quarter of a century.  I extracted these rare fragments, and stitched together this video, yesterday.  Then, I added the same old music.  Thank God for that CD.  Anyone who has ever looked at some of my videos has heard this tune, time and again.  You Tube sends me a warning, every time I use it, saying that as punishment ads will appear on screen.  But they let me use it, anyway.
          Basic Fun ended up producing two of the items that I comped up.  And they did an amazing job. Then, they packaged them atrociously!  These packages, with their overly busy and vulgarly gross graphics, eat the products up!  In my humble opinion, it was the distracting packaging that accounts for the fact that the line did not succeed.  Dominated by the busy packaging the toys were difficult to see.
         This is a close-up of the cross sell on the back.  By the way, it was Basic Fun that came up with the name, “Wicked Windups.”  Not bad!  We had no idea what to call it.  They also named the two items, Eyeball Slayer, and Severed Hand.... Oh well, you can’t win them all!
          Here is the entire group together.  It was not easy to photograph!  But all things considered, this line of Wicked Wind-Ups was a valiant and commendable attempt.  Alas, it was no way to make a living!