There are certain things you expect at New York Comic Con, the annual celebration of video games, comic books, and related products. You expect people dressed up like superheroes you can name and anime characters you can’t. You expect new video games, long lines, and a chance to revel in the unselfconscious joys of fandom. But what you might not expect is a student from Parsons The New School for Design signing boxes of toys she designed as part of her coursework.
In Spring 2012, Parsons Illustration Professor Caty Bartholomew’s Illustration Concepts class was organized around toy design. Students developed their skills as illustrators and storytellers by designing the look and backstory of two toy characters. And, thanks to a partnership with British toy company Dudebox, the class had a twist: One design would be selected to be put into production.
Dudebox owners Claire and Robert Beecham pursued a collaboration with Parsons because of the school’s reputation as a top-tier design institution and because their daughter is a student in the BBA Design and Management program. With previous experience teaching toy design, Bartholomew was a natural fit for the collaboration. “The project looked like fun,” she says, “and was a prime example of one real-world route that an Illustration graduate could take. I knew the prize winner would be enormously gratified to have a design manufactured and sold; the achievement would be a superlative addition to a portfolio and résumé.”
Creatives at Dudebox selected four finalists from the student designs: “BOB,” by Loren Kang, hails from Planet Pepp and is a sailor who has two faces, one on each side of his head, to help him express his emotions; “Mr. Sir,” by Anastasia Lonkin, a proper-looking gentleman with a monocle and smartly waxed moustache, enjoys tea and biscuits as well as Red Bull and Doritos; “Glam Greaser,” by Katrina Richter, looks like a character from an outer-space production of Grease with her leopard jacket and kerchief; and “The Rallin,” by Cindy Tan, is a shy, gentle creature whose scales—intricately designed overlapping triangles hand-painted by Tan—change color depending on its diet.
The winner, announced at New York Comic Con, was Loren Kang’s BOB. Kang had instructions from her mother to buy “at least 10” BOBs for her family, should she be the winner. As it happened, Dudebox gave her a box of 20 as a token of their appreciation. She spent the weekend at the Dudebox booth, signing boxes of her design for eager toy collectors.
“This is such a good story,” said Dudebox’s Claire Beecham, reflecting on the success of the collaboration. “It’s something we’ve been working on for so long. It’s a real labor of love.”