Canadian illustrator Gary Taxali’s Chump Toys company is one in a long, illustrious line of illustrator toy designer entrepreneurial endeavors. But these are not the common vinyl variety so popular today. The Chumps look backward; they are based on toys that our parents, grandparents, and older ancestors played with when they were young — only they had no choice, there was nothing else. We, on the other hand, have infinite ways to pass the time, so these vintage-looking playthings are an alternative to the surfeit of digital doings that many find so addictive. I recently asked Taxali to talk about his toy-making passion and why he’s becoming a brand.
I love these toys. They remind me of when I had hair. Did you grow up with these in your house?
I grew up with a generic version of something that resembled the Trapeze Monkey but I didn’t like him, to be honest — that’s likely why he’s my favorite toy in the set as I wanted to redesign him my whole life! I did have some wooden toys but other than the gymnastic trapeze monkey, nothing like the ones I designed in my set. I had a car, blocks with numbers and letters (let’s talk about my early typographic loves!), and some fun games like a paddle with a ball.
You can spend the rest of your life developing retro toys. Is this your intention?
It’s my intention now, for sure. I have so many ideas in my head, and I have become absolutely in love with the medium. It’s so organic and tactile. Wood toys resonate in a wonderful way within all of us. They surpass cultural boundaries, too, which is really exciting because you see so many different versions of the same toy.
Honestly, since these are so rooted in existing, classic toys, how difficult were they to design and produce?
I worked with Indigo to create these. They are Canada’s largest bookstore chain and it is the first time they collaborated with a Canadian artist to create an exclusive product. They had connections with a factory in China, and so I basically took existing classic toys and reshaped, redesigned, and reformatted them to make them my characters from my world. I created the templates for the designs (the boxes as well) and then the factory would send me prototypes so I could make edits. I am very pleased with the results.
You appear to be turning yourself into a brand. Isn’t there a downside in being identified so much with this style?
If there is, I haven’t seen it yet. I’m just doing what I love. A few years ago, I made expensive, limited-edition designer toys that cost $60. Now I have toys that cost $5 – $13. The idea of having an affordable product and reaching more people is not a bad thing to me at all. Sure, there are those who suffer from branding by over-saturating the market, but as long as I feel I am putting out products with integrity, I fail to see the downside.
You can tell me. Are you really having fun?
Steve, not to sound polyanna, but I am having the time of my life. Illustration has provided me opportunities to realize really fun goals like this latest wooden toy venture. And I’ve only just begun.
(If you are in Toronto on Saturday, November 27th from 2 pm – 3 pm, visit Indigo in the Manulife Centre, for Taxali’s toy launch and This Is Silly! book signing. More information)