Friday, March 25, 2011
A Love Affair of Polyvinyl Chloride
For the most part, let's be honest, plastic can be Evil.
Where it comes from, what it's made of, the toll it has taken and will take on our planet...most of which nobody fully understands or appreciates, is massive.
And yet, it is everywhere.
It is everything.
It is so interwoven into the essence of our society that if you were to snap your fingers and plastic suddenly disappeared from the surface of the Earth, MASS CHAOS would follow. Our universe might actually start to tear itself apart.
OK, maybe not like Fringe. But stuff would fall apart, that's for sure.
And yet, we do love it so.
We love it so much, we give it our kids every day. And we test the SHIT out of it too, making sure the Phthalates are within specifications set down by the CPSC and that the paint has the least amount of toxic elements possible.
OOPS. I'm sorry...you don't know what the HELL that stuff means do you? Or even Polyvinyl Chloride? Sometimes I forget I'm not actually WORKING these days. Polyvinyl Chloride is commonly abbreviated PVC, and it is the third most produced plastic in the world.
It is commonly used in household items, construction and toys because it is cheap and because of its ability to be easily manipulated by plasticizers, or Phthalates (esters of Phthalate Acid). In other words, it can be softened with very little loss of structure. The problem is that those Phthalates can come out of the product, either by directly chewing on the item, like a baby would on a chew toy, or just in general, by a process called 'outgassing'.
I'm not kidding.
You ever hear of something called 'new car smell'? Well, that's not a good thing. Neither is the smell of that shower curtain you just replaced in the bathroom. That's the smell of the Phthalates in the PVC outgassing...releasing chemical gasses into the air, and studies show it isn't something that is good for you.
Some car manufacturers don't even USE PVC in their car interiors anymore. At all. But that's only as of 2007. Well, shit. I don't know about you, but that's pretty recent, huh? I haven't bought a new car since 2004.
Where am I going with this? Not anywhere you might expect, of course. I always start out zigging and end up zagging. It's how I ROLL. See, I used to work in the toy industry, so I was a Plastics Pimp.
I hope to be again in the future, too. Circumstances don't permit that right now, but I do still dream the dream. The last big job I had in it was working for Palisades Toys, I've talked about that before. Since then, I tried a stab at my own thing, which totally shit the bed, but some of the peeps from THAT old Creatus Maximus forum now hang out in a private Facebook Group.
Yesterday someone in there posts a link to a blog that blows my mind. And THAT'S what I'm zagging towards. You just need to be patient.
See, back at Palisades, the action figure line we were probably best known for was the stuff we did for Jim Henson's The Muppet Show. That line, which had 9 series of action figures, 5 playsets, some smaller figurines, some large scale figures and other miscellaneous items, was probably one of the things I am most proud of in my career.
Simply put...I loved almost every aspect of working on that stuff. And I can only say that about 3 or 4 product lines that I've worked on.
I was a fan of the show, which never hurts. The characters were diverse and there was a deep history and a rich tradition. The licensor and the people who worked there were passionate about their jobs. They loved the characters and yet they were open-minded enough to allow me to earn their respect and to allow me to go in directions they were not used to going with consumer product.
And then there was the fan base, particularly from websites like Muppet Central. Without whom I never, EVER, would have been able to accomplish anything. I was a fan, but not a SUPER fan, like I was with something like Star Wars. I didn't know The Muppet Show inside and out, upside down and backwards and forwards.
They kept me honest. They supported me. They gave me ideas. They kicked my ass when I needed it. But they gave their time and effort, never asking for anything in return except to have a voice, and in the end I hope they felt they had it, because I tried to make sure they did as much as I could and as often as I could.
I know sometimes they felt that some things were not the way they should have been, and sometimes they weren't. But even though often I would say 'Anything is possible!', the truth is that much of the time it wasn't. Schedule, budget, fuck-ups overseas at the factory, limitations in plastic interpretations...so many factors can result in not achieving the perfection you hope for, the perfection you strive for.
The fact is, nobody was a harsher critic of the outcome of the line than yours truly, even though I took many a hit over those few years on many a forum. But man, did I lose many an hour of sleep in those days.
Funny what I lose sleep over now compared to then.
During the years we put the Muppet figure line out, we released 5 playsets. They were The Muppet Labs with Beaker, The Electric Mayhem Stage with Animal, The Swedish Kitchen with The Swedish Chef, Pigs in Space with First Mate Piggy and the Backstage Playset with Rowlf.
Two other Playsets were on the legitimate drawing board, and by that I mean they were actually in R & D stages. The Electric Mayhem Bus, technically a vehicle, and The Muppet Theatre. Both were in some form of conceptual development.
The EM Bus was getting reference gathered, and hell, we were even thinking of buying the bus itself because as luck would have it, it was being sold at the time. As it is, we were playing around with possibly cheating the scale to make it affordable to produce at that size.
The Theatre was something that was always in the back of our minds, and James Carroll, who contributed a TON to the line in a lot of different ways, had done a concept sketch that integrated that set and some of the other things we had been dreaming about adding in later if the line expanded.
Neither were made, and honestly the Backstage Playset BARELY got made.
The truth is, and this is just me guessing because I have never come right out and asked him, but I'll bet Mike Horn's decision to release that playset was probably based more on his loyalty to the work we'd put into it, his faith in his sales team that they could pull one out of a hat in the 4th quarter and his gratitude for what the fan base had been for the company than anything else.
Because from the onset? As the smaller retailers were dropping like flies and our overall sales numbers were dropping with them? Things did NOT look good for that set which was already hip-deep in massive prototype costs and tooling costs. I don't think anybody internally would have blamed Mike a bit if he had decided to cut bait, eat the costs up to that point and cancel the playset outright.
His decision to roll the dice and try for the hard six? Balls. But that's Horn. One of the reasons I respect him. I've never seen ANYBODY try harder to make something work. He doesn't give up until he has exhausted every last conceivable possibility. Period. End of sentence.
That's passion. I had it for the look and feel of the line as the Product Development Director and then as the VP. The fans had it for the product. The Jim Henson Company had it for their brand. Mike had it for his company.
Which is why I was so awestruck when I saw the work of Lance Cardinal, in his blog called Cardinal Designs, and his hand-made Muppet Theatre Playset. Because I haven't seen this level of passion in a while for something related to The Muppets, and it almost instantaneously took me back to those days.
The level of detail in his set is extraordinary. It is exceptional. And it is almost exactly how I imagined our next set would look-like, complete with fabric curtains and the interchangeable back-drops, though he took it to the next level and added lights, something I probably would not have messed around with. That adds a layer of budget and testing that I know we would have wanted to avoid, which is why we stayed away from that AND sound in all the previous sets.
But wow, seeing those pics really made me miss the old days. In a big way. But they are gone. LONG gone.
In fact, I thought about this last night at Toys'R'Us.
Last night, Jennifer, Carter and I went out to dinner. Every Thursday night now, we have a respite night. Not sure if I have mentioned that. Bennett spends the night with Jen's Mom, and we spend the evening with Carter by ourselves.
This is a good thing, and yet it isn't.
It is nice, and yet it also makes me very, very sad at the same time. I can't explain this very well, but at dinner at the restaurant I looked around at the other 'normal' families and felt like ours was 'broken' somehow. It felt...incomplete.
I wish I had adequate words to explain why, at a time when I should have been feeling happy, I had tears just on the edge of my eyes. AGAIN. I just wanted my other son to be able to be there with us. That's all. Simple as that. Our family was missing its Sal Manilla. Missing its Muppet Theatre. Only some people will get that Muppety reference.
Without Bennett there, it just isn't the same. And yet, we can't take Bennett there, because if we did, it would be CHAOS.
Later, as a treat for Carter because of how hard he is trying with his reactions to Bennett's aggression, we took him to TRU to pick something out. I took the opportunity to also look at some stuff that I might want to pick up, see if any of the TRU MiniMates sets were there, which of course they were not. They never are. Did find the Bioshock 2 Big Daddy Exclusive on Clearance and picked up one, feeling bad for Randy at NECA when I did so, knowing that it is gonna be biting him eventually and hoping that they are doing OK in this economy.
As always, I was so alarmed at the prices of the action figures. My God, it wasn't all that long ago that a Star Wars figure was under five bucks, and now they are almost EIGHT. And the DC Universe figures? Forget about it. FIFTEEN DOLLARS?!? Wow. Even the MiniMates have seen a price hike from $4.99 for a 2-pack to $5.99.
I understand all the reasons why, believe me. More than you know. It also makes me appreciate those 'good old days' even more than I already do, because they are NOT coming back. To put a figure like this...
...out today? The retail on it would have to be $20.00, and who would pay that? I can't think of anyone. That retail price is based on all the old numbers, too, of cost and quantity produced and such, plugged into a spreadsheet we used to have.
The Muppets line would be one and done if it were released today in that format, and that's a fact.
Since Palisades there has been some Muppets product that has been made, some Disney stuff I believe. I've even heard rumors of new Muppets product on the horizon possibly. I don't expect it to look anything like the Palisades stuff. Nor SHOULD it.
Well, that's not entirely true. There is ONE way you could continue that formula, even using Sesame Street characters, in that same style with that same level of sophistication and detail, and still make money.
But I'm not gonna write about it here. Isn't there something about giving away the milk or the cow or something like that? Well, in this case it would be a Muppet Cow, Maria (if you're reading this), but you know what I mean.
But I promise, if Jennifer ever wins the lottery I will definitely show you that it CAN happen. ;)
OH...and by the way...those Muppet figures were ALL made back in the early part of the 2000's, before the new, more stringent guidelines. If ANY of you have young kids PLEASE...do NOT let them chew on that shit...seriously.
This stuff is age-graded for a reason.
OK, NOW I'm done.