Willy, nilly, and silly—Lisa Yee has almost every piece of Winnie the Pooh memorabilia you could possibly imagine. “It all began with the first Pooh Bear I got when I was seven from Santa Claus,” she reminisces. Thirty-five years later, Yee’s assortment has grown to over 2,000 individual pieces, making it the second largest Pooh collection in the United States.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, so naturally we went to Disneyland at least a couple of times a year. Each time I was allowed to choose one thing, and it was always another Pooh,” says Yee. “I didn’t even know I collected Poohs until one day I looked around and thought ‘Whoa… there are sure a lot of these things!’”
While most collectors may keep their treasures locked away, Yee is open and willing to share her Pooh Bear paraphernalia with interested parties. “Once or twice a year [I open my home to] classes from New School of Orlando or Park Lake Presbyterian Child Care [to] tour the Pooh Room when they study Pooh at school.”
In addition to hosting tours to small children, her collection has been profiled in national and international magazines, and Yee has spoken at a Disneyana convention and written about collecting Poohs for magazines.
Yee claims that her collection is comprised mainly of Pooh Bears, but “ if there is something unique about the other characters, I’ll collect them.” Her prized possession from the collection is an exceptionally rare piece. “My husband, Scott Feldmann, made me a Pooh one year for Christmas. Every time he bought me one, I’d say, ‘I already have that one.’ So he made one [for me]. It’s one of a kind and special because it came from him,” gushes Yee.
What’s the downside to be surrounded by Poohs? Yee admits that they don’t inspire her to get any work done, “It is a distraction because whenever I have writer’s block, I start looking up Poohs on eBay.”
Even with the freshly renovated Pooh Corner store over at Disney’s Marketplace, Lisa Yee has retired from adding any new figures to her collection. If she does acquire a new find, it’s usually an older, more rare piece.
Yee’s future plans for the collection don’t include selling it off. She says, “I intend to keep the collection. However, it is willed to the White River (Ontario) Pooh Museum.” That’s one serious collector.
Winnie the Pooh isn’t the only thing you’ll find in abundance in Yee’s household and office. “I also collect children’s books, snow globes, and other toys and keep them in my office. I’m writing children’s books now and being surrounded by toys keeps me young. Last week, my five year-old Benny said, ‘Mommy, how come my toys always end up in your office?’”
It would be a safe assumption to say that Lisa Yee is an avid supporter of collections in general. “I think it is wonderful and fun! Plus it’s something you can do with your kids!” says Yee.
So, what makes it a collection? Yee states authoritatively, “I think people start out liking something and just start accumulating them. Then when they have more than three, and start really seeking them out, it officially becomes a collection. However, I just made that up.”
Lisa Yee is a Partner of Magic Pencil Studios. Her novel, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, comes out in October from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. The audio book will be released at the same time from Random House/Listening Library.
Creative Collector – Karl Anthony
Not everyone dedicates a collection to one particular character or item. Some collections are based on a show, movie, or genre while others simply have a mish-mash of toys they were fond of as children. The latter group, a nod to the growing wave of nostalgia for classic toys and pop culture, proves how well toy promotion worked in the past. And Karl Anthony is the proof.
For comedian Karl Anthony, collecting toys is much more than a hobby—it’s an addiction. He has a massive collection made up of various pop culture trends. Anthony reveals when his addiction to collecting officially began, “I started collecting back in 1972 with Star Trek and Disney toys and memorabilia. Then during the late 1970's and early 1980's, I began collecting comic book and movie action figures, and in the mid 1990's I took up with pinball games and The Simpsons toys. Right now I have about 1,000 different pieces—mostly Star Trek and Disney.”
The behavior of adults around toys differs greatly from kids. Where children are anxious to rip into the packages and create adventures for their new plastic friends, grown-ups integrate them into the décor. Anthony maintains a shrine to his childhood in his game room, formerly known as the garage, and lined shelves with choice pieces throughout the house. First-time visitors to Anthony’s game room may think they’ve stepped into a toy convention when they see the collections. “People usually can't believe that I have all this stuff. Most reactions range from total disbelief to stunned awe,” he says.
But what spurs a person to take on the task of obtaining so many objects? Anthony chalks it up to his childhood and his personality. “When we were very young my brother and I had a lot of Lost In Space and Major Matt Mason toys. My mom sold them at a garage sale when she thought we were too old for them.” Anthony continues, “Soon after that, I found out how much they were worth on the secondary market and wanted to cry. I've always had an addictive personality and collecting is very, very addictive. I have to ‘score’ the entire line of something. It's worse than drugs sometimes.”
Anthony clearly takes pride in all of his PVC treasures—and the fact that he has every Star Trek figure ever made, but there is an underlying motive for collecting that all collectors face. “Part of the thought of collecting is that one day you will sell some items. For that reason, I try to keep as many in the box. If I really like a piece, I try to buy two-one to open, one to pack away,” he confesses. To collectors intent on using the toy market to make back losses in the stock market, Anthony advises, “I learned this very early on, buy what you like, not what you think will make you money. If you buy for the financial return, you'll probably get burned.”
Like most creative professionals, Karl Anthony puts his knowledge and love of toys to work for him. “As a comedian, I do integrate my somewhat useless knowledge of toys, and the inspirations for them, in my work. On stage at the Comedy Warehouse, I integrate it into scenes as often as possible.”
In addition to promoting creativity and providing an eclectic décor for his home, Anthony views his collections as a Fountain of Youth of sorts. He concludes, “I very much think that toys and collecting them keeps me young. I wanted so much of this stuff when I was a kid, and now that I can afford it on my own, I love it even more. It always reminds me of my childhood. When it stops, I'll stop collecting.”
Behind the Cellophane: Chat with a Package Designer
Santa may deliver the toys, elves may make the cookies, but it’s illustrators like Harry Moore who are responsible for the package artwork we are so quick to toss aside. Moore was launched into the world of toy illustration fresh out of the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, PA 10 years ago. Since his start with Tyco toys, Moore has gone on to illustrate for well-known companies including Keebler Company, Marvel Comics, Disney, Lucasfilm Ltd., and Kellogg Company.
In a brief Q&A session, Moore discusses some of the more interesting points about package design.
What was your first experience with illustrating for toys?
HM: My first toy projects were for Tyco toys, which now a subsidiary of Mattel. I worked on packaging and illustrations for everything from matchbox cars to Looney Tunes action figures.
With an increasing number of collectors who keep their toys in the original boxes, is there an added pressure to design an interesting package?
HM: There is a conscious effort by the client and the artist to design a more interesting package. A few years back I worked on some X-Men boxed sets for Toy-Biz that were definitely geared more toward the collector, I think that packaging was intended to be more of a display piece when you compare them to other X-Men toy products released at that time.
Are there any challenges in constructing designs for a package?
HM: One of the obstacles with packaging is the amount of information that goes on the package itself. You have to be aware of all of the information that goes on packaging and have space available for it in the design. I think of some of the toy and cereal packaging from the 60s and 70s that had less text and let the artwork and the toy sell the item. Today, toy, candy and cereal packaging will usually have a cross-sell (pictures of other items or flavors available in the assortment) along with ingredients or instructions, copyright likes, and sometimes even a story about the item.
Do your clients appreciate and welcome your creativity? Are you able to bring your own style and ideas to the projects you work on?
HM: Usually the client has an idea or initial concept. The client could tell me the Keebler Elves are visiting a haunted house for a Halloween promotion, or this is for a line of “light-up” Spider-Man toys. My job is to then interpret what that might mean, at the same time making it fun and keeping the integrity of the characters intact. The art may also need to be adapted to other items, like coupons or web advertisements.
What are the benefits of working with a licensed character as opposed to creating your own?
HM: I think working with licensed characters on product can be easier in the sense that the client and the artist will have an established look to follow. If I’m creating “new” characters for a project, the development of the characters can be a project in itself, before you even start the actual project. A current example of that is a line of Tootsie Pop valentines that required creating characters that the client was comfortable with incorporating into their “product universe.”
I think one of the best things about what I do is the opportunity to work with and learn about all of the different licensed characters. All of the characters have a story, all of the Keebler Elves have names and personalities, Spider-Man has many friends and foes. You get to learn those things and that makes the product better when you get to know them, and makes it fun.
Q&A with CrossGen Entertainment’s Bill Rosemann
CrossGen Entertainment has accomplished a miraculous feat. After just three years since its initial launch in May 2000, it has become the comic industry's fourth largest publisher. CrossGen, based just outside of Tampa, is represented in 34 countries and 12 languages, and multiple imprints, including CrossGen Publishing, CrossGen Comics, CGE, and Code 6. Bill Rosemann helms the Marketing and Communications department at the company and discusses marketing, the comic audience, and goals for CGE.
Who is your audience?
BR: CrossGen Entertainment's ongoing mission is to deliver high adventure at a low cost to as many people as possible. Thanks to our mix of characters (many of which are female—rather than the stereotypical male hero—as well as of different ages and races), genres (such as Sci-Fi, fantasy, and mystery) and formats (such as our affordable & potable Traveler collections, our traditional graphic novel line, and our monthly comic books) we're popular both amongst younger readers, who are discovering our titles in libraries and bookstores, and adult readers, who make up the majority of the direct market comic book specialty shop audience. We're also reaching a mix of ages through our online comicsontheweb.com, which offers hundreds of issues for only pennies a day at several popular websites, including Lycos, Ifilm, Clear Channel Radio Interactive, ucomics.com, and YOUtopia.com.
Additionally, we're finding a growing audience among female readers. Comics traditionally cater to a male readership, with only about 7% of comics' audience being female. At CrossGen, as much as 35% of our readers are female, and the numbers are still growing.
For years, comics have been making the transition from page to screen. Is CrossGen involved with any future developments?
BR: The company has a long-term exclusive development deal with Branded Entertainment, a film and television production company helmed by long-time Batman film and animated feature executive producer Michael Uslan. Most recently, CrossGen announced film and television deals that will see many of its properties developed over the next few years by such talent as Oscar® winning director Robert Zemeckis, Wes Craven (Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street), Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser, The Scorpion King), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Bob Gale (Back to the Future), Threshold Entertainment (Mortal Kombat) and many others.
Do you see comics as toys or literature?
BR: Comic books, by their very nature, are classified as the melding of literature with art, however our online comicsontheweb.com do feature interactive qualities that toys possess. What the best comics and toys share though, are the ability to entertain, delight, and even challenge their users.
Are toys such as action figures considered a form of advertising to promote a character or line of characters?
BR: The goal for any of CrossGen's creations, be they action figures, video games, comic books, movies or TV programs, is to be authentic and independent inspirations of our characters and stories. Therefore, we see action figures as toys that children of all ages can use to reenact their favorite stories, and even dream up new adventures.
CrossGen recently acquired rights to print Masters of the Universe. How will this affect toy distribution and licensing within the company?
BR: We are very happy that MVCreations has chosen CrossGen's CGE imprint as their partner for publishing comic books and graphic novels, which will not only star characters from the world renowned Masters of the Universe license, but also from Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair and Space Ace properties.
As far as toy distribution, that's a separate license that Mattel currently holds. It's our hope that the comics that CGE publishes will add to the popularity that this worldwide property enjoys.
Do comics sell best in specialty stores, online, or at conventions?
BR: The majority of our sales come through comic book specialty shops, whether they be "brick and mortar" or online stores. These stores sell both new issues, which go on sale every Wednesday, and older issues, also known as "back issues." Additional growing markets include mass-market bookstores such as the Barnes & Noble or Tower chains, which favor our graphic novel format. A third option is comic book conventions, where you can find many retailers selling both new and old issues. To find a comic book specialty shop near them stocking plenty of CrossGen products, readers can go to crossgen.com and click on the Premier Retailer button.
Do you have promotional products available at conventions for potential readers?
BR: New readers and longtime fans are invited to stop by our booth at the major comic book conventions, where they'll find all of their favorite creators signing free posters featuring characters from nearly every series we publish. They can also bring comics for them to sign, and even get the entire artistic team—including penciler, inker and colorist—to draw their favorite character for them for free! This year, in addition to MegaCon, the show we already attended in Orlando, we'll be bringing excitement to Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego!
Is there pressure or desire to sign on comics with marketable characters or potential action figures or do you concentrate on bringing quality stories and characters to audiences, regardless of marketing potential?
BR: Our focus is always on delivering the best stories possible. If you begin with a good story, everything else—if and when the time and fit is right—will follow. So the only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to top what we've done previously and keep our fans entertained.
What types of positions are available for creative professionals who wish to get into toy or comic promotion?
BR: Similar to any creative industry, you'll find jobs in production, editorial, marketing, sales, and manufacturing. Since the industry is rather small, competition is fierce, but talent—backed by a professional attitude and work ethic—always wins out. If you want to join the CrossGen team, you have to be able to work well together in a collaborative environment with colleagues and support staff. Artists need to be at the absolute top of their games, as their contemporaries will be examining—and trying to top—their daily output. You also have to deliver on time, since we don't miss deadlines here (we have a perfect on-time shipping record). So, talent + professionalism = CrossGen success.