Two weeks ago, I trudged up a steep San Francisco hill through pouring rain, then went through a strange door into another world. A world full of brightly-colored creatures who live in Neon Monster, a toy store and therapeutic bestiary.
I had come to witness the birth of plush toy Mitch, a one-eyed creature who has lived for a very long time and has become a little neurotic over the years. Things are hard for Mitch because he has no mouth, and yet his constant companion is a creature called Mouth who speaks for him - and frequently lies about what Mitch really wants to say. No wonder Mitch is in therapy with Dr. Darwin Dayglow, a kindly psychotherapist who runs the The Facility where Mitch lives with other creatures in the bestiary.
Mitch is the second toy from this bestiary created by the team at Neon Monster, who have done some serious worldbuilding to explain the oddball group of monsters who are under Dr. Dayglow's care. At Neon Monster, I talked to store proprietors Kristy Klinck and Jacob Pritzker about their new plush creature as well as his backstory, which was generated by a group that included story-spinners (and Neon Monster co-founders) Isaac and Jacob Pritzker. Design input came from artists Lauren Venell and Reuben Rude.
First I met the main players. There's Mitch, whose plushy little face you could have sitting next to you on your desk right now if you order one. And there's Circuitous Psnail, the glowing guy you see below, who likes to draw giant psychedelic shapes out of snail goo on the walls of The Facility. (He's available as a resin toy.) Then there's Robotephant, who is a semi-cyborg who also serves as a recording device and memory bank. And Panoptes is a security system - a collection of eyeballs linked via ecotoplasm. I'm already pleased at how this universe is cute and gentle, while also containing all the trappings of the surveillance state. The cute panopticon is a concept whose time has come.
"All of these creatures are analog," Pritzker explained to me, gesturing at Mitch's back knobs. "They are all on a closed, biotech network so they can communicate with each other wirelessly."
"They're also in danger - people might want to poach them," Klinck added. "They stay at The Facility for safety."
We discussed how the creatures are basically DiY biotech, and that an important part of the aesthetic is that they don't always work right. They're missing some parts, or they break. Dayglow finds them and brings them to the Facility to give them psychiatric care, and prevent the outside world from taking advantage of them.
"It's possible that they evolved this way, or that they were created," Klinck said, adding that it was important to them to be sure the creatures wouldn't be cutsey, but instead "dark, real world."
Brothers Isaac and Jacob brainstormed elaborate backstories for all the creatures, which are documented on the Neon Monster Bestiary website. Like many modern toy makers, it was important to the Neon Monster team that people relate to the creatures within a story, and to view them as a group. Isaac is going to continue the creatures' stories via Dayglow's therapy sessions with them, and will be filling out "case histories" on the Bestiary website (some are already completed). Toys with psychiatric problems is also, it seems to me, an idea whose time has come.
Mitch is the cute-but-glum star of the show.
It's Mitch, and the limited-edition albino version of Mitch!
The Mouth, who speaks (usually incorrectly) for Mitch.
The Facility where everybody lives.
It's Dr. Darwin Dayglow, who is here to help all the strange monsters.
Panoptes is watching you.
Robotephant remembers everything.