Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of WEENIES and other
Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant and Mike Strouth are Copyright (c) KISCOM/ The OBB
When I finally came up for breath, the scary thought occurred to me that I was in over my head. Even though the project was well underway, I, nevertheless, felt like Dumbo, precariously perched on the edge of a high cliff, about to jump off into the great abyss. Like him, my innate insecurity convinced me that I needed a Magic Feather. This seemed like too big a leap to take alone. So, several months into the project, at the cost of half my share of half the royalties, I brought Mike Strouth on board. We had worked on creating “Sugar and Spice” together and it had been great fun!
This enabled Andy and Adam to move on to the next step. That being to search and Trademark all our proposed names and titles. Miraculously, they were all available; all, except for the name, "Teenie Weenies," which, because of the early comic characters of the same name, had to be changed to "Wee Weenies." Other than that, we were able to trademark everything, the name “Weenies” and all the characters, including “Bunville.” In order to obtain a trademark in those days, it was required to actually manufacture something and mail it across state lines.
One of the reasons I've finally undertaken this website, which I've been meaning to do now for some time, was because, a few days ago, my wife Eunice handed me a stack of transparent Weenie decals. She had found them in a drawer. She asked me, “Do you want these?” And suddenly, the memory of what they were and what they were for came back to me. I took this as a sign that the time to do this website had arrived. These transparent peel off decals with the names and images of the characters and the Weenie logo, with all the legal trademarks and copyrights in place, were what my partners “manufactured” to send across state lines. They're shown here actual size.
For those who have no concept of the situation, perhaps I should explain. By 1983, I had been associated with Colorforms for 20 years. But I had never been an employee. My income was based entirely on a royalty, calculated on the individual items that I contributed to the line. Nonetheless, I had been granted the arbitrary title of “Creative Director.” And, over time, I did all of the associated duties of making sure a complete line of 30 to 50 toys were camera ready for production every year. I also designed and decorated the Colorforms showroom and orchestrated the annual catalogue. All these things fell under the umbrella of helping “my so-called items" succeed. Meanwhile, my official occupation was that of innovating product ideas, and carrying them to "comps," or what some might refer to as "prototypes."
These comps were truly comprehensive. Many times, they were photographed for the catalogue, being indistinguishable from the actual toys. Then, other artists were hired on a freelance basis to do the finished artwork on the items that I had innovated. If the item sold, I would eventually get a royalty; while those who did the finished art were paid generously and immediately. By the time that Weenies were created, I had graduated to getting a modest royalty on the entire line, and I was responsible for the whole thing. It was also my responsibility to hire and art direct the artists who did the finished art.
Mike Strouth was my discovery. Harry had imported him, at my urging, from Hallmark Cards, in Kansas City, to work with me. And I always kept him busy. The more work he did, the more money he made. With a new mortgage in New York State and four kids, he needed all the money he could get. Harry loved good artwork, and he was willing to gladly pay more for it than anybody in the toy industry. So, Mike was making a good living.
While, on the surface we appeared similar and got along famously together, there was a basic difference between Mike's situation and my own. I have always been a gambler. With the sole exception of my first and only job at Austin Display in NYC, which lasted for just six months, I have never worked for a salary. I continued to be associated with Austin for another year, but this time, working at home for a royalty. When all the proceeds were tallied up, it turned out that I had made the same amount of money, about $100 a week, but that additional year was more exciting. I worked much harder, driven on by the unknown potential. I’ve been on my own ever since then.
And that is how it’s been my entire life. Sometimes, I’ve had money, sometimes I’ve had none, but nothing much changed either way. My income was always based on speculation. And, because I was never paid by the hour, I never watched the clock, other than to make sure that I always met a deadline or an obligation on time. And I was never late, not once! There was no limit to the hours I was willing to work to make sure that was the case. I just figured that the harder I worked, the better were my chances to succeed.
Mike, on the other hand, as a freelance artist, was accustomed to being paid by the hour. Working on pure speculation was not part of his DNA. So, every minute he invested in the Weenies was a minute, for which he would have been getting paid if he was doing other things. At the pinnacle of Weenie euphoria, I was the guy who brought Mike Strouth on board, and gave him half my royalty. I was also the guy who was responsible for assigning him time-consuming freelance work for pay! Over time, the conflicting irony of this situation became clear to me.
But for now there seemed to be no limit on what we all were willing to do to help the Weenies succeed. Somehow, I was managing to meet my Colorforms obligation, without raising suspicion. All the artwork that was due continued to arrive on time. Therefore, no one at Colorforms realized that, apart from appearing in New Jersey occasionally, and meeting here with Adam and Andy, I spent every minute of my waking hours, working on the Weenies.
Meanwhile, the first element that Mike contributed to the project was the Weenies logo. There were two variations, curved and straight.