Friday, December 03, 2010

Mel Birnkrant, The Colorforms Years

Cory Doctorow at Boing-Boing links to Mel Birnkrat's reminiscences of designing toys in the 70s and 80s -- a "golden age" by Doctorow's lights. I saw the Outer Space Men display, and figured I was in for a lengthy exploration of Matt Mason & Co., the "golden age" of toys by my lights. Imagine my surprise, then, when the toy company in question turned out to be Colorforms, a name that during my childhood was synonymous with thrift and lockjaw articulation. These were the toys that quickly found their way to the bottom of the toy box, then the garbage can.

Imagine my further surprise when I looked at my computer clock and realized I had actually spent an entire hour poring over this man's memories and illustrations. In the 70s he and a team of artists took their mutual obsession with vintage toys and illustrations and pretty much set the aesthetic template that brought about a mutual renaissance for the licensing suits at Disney and the Children's Television Workshop.

Birnkrat seems a bit rueful about the now predominant image of Mod Mickey with foot out, arms behind back. He won't claim any credit for generating this enduring gust of zeitgeist, but Birnkrat certainly proved himself as a finely attuned weather vane, back in the day. Here's a shot of his desk.

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