I had been asked my opinion on this years' Tonner Halloween Convention dolls and realized I had a lot more to say than I thought, which is a good thing. These Halloween dolls brought up some interesting conversations for sure but this runs deeper than just a theme and as an artist, designer, producer and collector, I thought I could lend a new perspective on things.
I've always thought that the Halloween conventions offer some of the coolest factory dolls. At first it was nice just to see Tonner attempt a direction that was new for him. With so many frills and micro sequins all year long, the basic Goth Tyler in 2008 seemed like a breath of fresh air. Under the veil of "Halloween", Robert was allowed to mix in some edgy leather and dolls with attitude far different than his 5th Avenue offerings and a lot of collectors responded with a resounding, "Thank you for making a doll for me!!".
This year's Halloween convention, with the theme of Mysticism and Mayhem, saw every boundary imaginable pushed further than ever before. Personally, I was so proud of Tonner for flexing his artistic muscles. I mean, how frustrating it must be as an artist to see your creation turned into some of the most original, fascinating and desired OOAK collectibles while being called out yourself as a frumpy, out of touch designer, knowing how much you're capable of? This year Tonner struck back with some of the most imaginative factory dolls ever and showed us he could play with the "big boy" artists. He and his team definitely earned some street cred here!
Not only did they create an artistically satisfying line but they did it while maintaining the "fashion doll" playability! Don't like the ears or tails on the "Fashion Werewolves"? Removable! Death's outfit out of context is pure lingerie romanticism. Wraith's costume is easily dyed and would be stunning in a soft pink. If you didn't like the Devil as is you could change his clothes, take off the sewn-in horns and have a great bad boy! And for the first time we saw molded armor with layered chiffon, props and jewelry; all without raising the price point substantially which I know was a minor miracle!
They were also surprisingly controversial. The judgement of the Tonner Doll Co. came into question: Were the dolls too dark? Had he "crossed the line"? I only saw the artistic merit and commercialization of mystical fantasy creatures and did not assign any type of religious meaning to them but some did. Everyone has their different take on it and I respect that. Whatever your thoughts, the upshot is that people have been clamoring and paying top dollar for these dolls more so than any other non-TCF capsule line in recent history. It could be chalked up to the low editions but edition size doesn't mean a thing if the doll is a dud.
Much like we joke at the "glamorous" business that is showbiz, running a doll company is not all hearts and rainbows. There are decisions to be made and trends to stay ahead of and the ever present fear of relevance in a world where more kids are ditching "dolls" in favor of electronics. As manufacturers, we're constantly trying to answer that question: How do you bring new collectors into the fold so you don't hit a saturation point and die off? We all know what happens when a company is not willing to adapt.
In what turned out to be a brilliant business move, Tonner tapped into a new and steady stream of collectors with licensing and addressing the large amount of doll collectors who also happen to love fantasy/sci-fi/horror themes. This in turn brings more money to the company which he can use to develop better products. Some complain that too much of his attention is now on licensed figures but if it pays the bills and makes it possible for the regular fashion lines to have higher quality without having to pay through the nose for it, then what's the problem?
I don't collect Betsy McCall but I'm not picketing Tonner to dump her so he can make more of what I collect. It's not all about me as it's not all about you. We all have to share Tonner's attention and have tolerance for what other collectors are asking for. Personally I'm grateful he doesn't always produce dolls I need. I'd be living on the streets in a house made of purple boxes!
I know it's easy to sit and criticize every move made by someone else but I think what's actually called for here is a little gratitude. How about, "Thank you, Robert, for listening to the collectors!"...ALL of them, not just yourself? How about, "Thank you, Tonner Doll Co., for working hard to make your product affordable and new and exciting, all year round!"? Do you know how hard that is?? To juggle collectors from every walk of life/every different taste with your own personal artistic needs while keeping a company fiscally sound and attracting new buyers and keeping old ones happy and developing new product and touring the country to represent your brand and staying on top of quality control and a million other jobs?? Just so you know, I'm not a Tonner "cheerleader". I have my personal dislikes (ie: larger head size, Antoinette's thighs) but I work around them without making my issues everyone's issues. Tonner has given me so much to work with that to complain would be silly.
Robert's come a long way and while you may be unhappy with some of the different lines or directions, that he's comfortable and willing to try them gives me the utmost confidence in where his company is going and how long it will be around. So Thank You, Tonner Doll Co., for trying to make something for all of us.