Last month at New York Comic Con, I had the chance to interview Tim Clarke, a toy designer with more than 30 years of experience, some of which through Jim Henson Company and most manufacturers in the business. He worked on the designs for both The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock, co-created the Boglins toys in the 80s and has had a little known impact on our nightmares and dreams. He’s also a very cordial man who has plenty of stories…
Where did you first discover your passion for making puppets and creating your own stories? Have you always had that?
Since I was little. My brother and I would do puppet shows and haunted houses in our neighborhood to make money. [Creating] was always an interest of mine. When I was at Pratt, I got into [Henson designer] Kermit Love’s class, I majored in sculpture. When I was close to finishing I told Kermit I was looking for teaching jobs, but it was the smallest population boom after the Baby Boomers, so he said ‘Come work for me.’ He was contracted to build all the custom puppets and they had to build a new Big Bird and Snuffleupagus every year since they’d get dirty and fall apart.
How did you come into the folds of Jim Henson company?
After a year of working with Kermit and building puppets for commercials, I asked him if I could work on Muppets. So he said “I’m so glad you’re here! I want you to go meet Jim!” I showed him all my personal work. He loved what I had done! So he said come back on Tuesday to fill out paperwork and I was put on his next project: Dark Crystal. They had me make the little seaweed critters that roll around and then they put me in charge of all the mystic heads. I also worked on these crystal bats, their wings were carved out of balsa. I was asked to make the postings, then Brian Froud said “Tim, they’re supposed to be happy potato creatures, these look depressed. They’ll be the slaves.” In between I worked on Muppet Show and Great Muppet Caper.
Netflix is making a prequel to Dark Crystal, were you asked to join that project? What are your thoughts about that?
Even when I went to work on Dark Crystal, the London unions didn’t want us because their rules were strict and they said “We already have sculptors.” So that’s how we got the title “animatronic designers” so we could work there. They’re moving the new project to London as well and they asked me to consult, but that’s about it, I don’t know much else. I’m sure the union laws are even stricter now.
What has been your inspiration?
Olmec heads from Mexico inspired the Boglins. I’ve always been inspired by Pre-Columbian art.
The Boglin toy line has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Any idea where the sudden surge came from?
Boglins in the US sold for 2 years. Europe Australia, Canada, Japan, they sold for about 8 years, that’s where the tend to sell most.
I noticed one gaming journalist and critic, Jim Sterling, had been talking them up a lot. You think he might’ve sent some traffic your way? That’s how I’d first heard of you.
Jim has been a godsend! Even when he doesn’t like something I’ve done! I really appreciate him and I’d like to meet him again and do a show with him!
A lot of people who are buying them are 35-45, they started bugging me to make them again for their kids. No toy companies took me, so I did materials research and I made these new ones out of a synthetic rubber I devised.
Tell me about Sectaurs!
They came out of a fly design. Maureen Trotto and I worked on TV commercials together and I had wanted to get into you development since I did that at Muppets. So we started pitching to Seven Towns, the licensing agents for Larry Master at the New York office said “These are great, let’s put a little action figure on the back!” We’re coming out with 4-inch figures coming next March on Kickstarter. If the figures are successful on the Kickstarter, then we’ll spend our second year on the puppets.
I make them myself and I just hired someone to help me. I hired someone cause I need to get back to sculpting new characters. It’ll all work out, I’ve been amazed by the response.
Tim reminded me you can find his work at www.totims.com as well as @TimClarkToys on Instagram.
Freelance cartoonist, illustrator, & writer
School of Visual Arts Alumna