Monster Factory

This is a weird review to start on. Historically I’ve been an action figure collector and a fairly mainstream one at that, so this isn’t an ideal representation of my main interests. It’s always been G.I. Joes, Superheroes and Sci-Fi stuff for as long as I can remember. A couple years back I discovered the Kidrobot site and realized there was an art toy movement starting to emerge. While I find a lot of it lacking good character design or creative concept, a few pieces seemed to float to the top. Strangely enough these were plush. The bizarre, simple characters from Friends With You were appealing and, yes, cute. They seem to be self aware regarding their cuteness and didn’t over do it with too much pink, stupid smiles or big dough eyes. Ugly Dolls are another early example of this formula.

I first heard of Monster Factory while checking the Magic Pony website. Magic Pony regularly has art shows and product launches and Monster Factory were having an event celebrating their latest series of Monsters. I followed some links, did some googling and found their site. Their monsters took all the best aspects of modern plush, mixed them together and pushed it to new heights. Being so entrenched in action figures it took me a while to actually take the plunge and buy some.

Finally I used Valentines Day as an excuse, buying a heart themed character for Tara, and two of my long time faves for myself. I decided to go to their studio myself and pick them, so I could make some hands on decisions. As soon as I picked one up I knew these were something different. It sounds odd, but they have a presence when you’re around them. This is amplified when you touch them because of their superior construction and packed stuffing, you can tell they’re well made and haven’t skimped on materials. There's a distinct weight and firmness to them. (As a side note and point of contrast I went to Magic Pony soon after to handle the Friends With You “Malfi” and was instantly turned off, he was floppy, had crumpled seams and his pleather material was cracking) I was hooked and acquired a small gang over the next couple months.

It was also very inspiring to see a company producing toys, by hand, in Toronto and still managing to thrive. They have a fair sized space in downtown Toronto in a building reserved for small entrepreneurial businesses. That scenario is exactly where I’d like my professional career to go and seeing it in action was encouraging. Their website is nicely designed and has a lot of good info about the founders, the monsters, a web store, blog, gallery, etc. The only thing I found that it lacked was that it was difficult to get a sense of what the monsters are like in three dimensions because all the product shots are from the front. I’m going to fill in the gaps with some shots I took of my collection, as well as my thoughts on each character.

Even though these are hand made locally, they have gone to great care to make them feel very professional. They come with two tags affixed to them. One is a general Monster Factory tag and the other is a character specific tag with an illustration of the character on one side and a short write up on the other.

I snipped these off but kept them in a safe place. They also have the standard tags sewn into the seam, one is fabric with the logo on one side and other side has info on the fabric, “made in” and washing instructions. The other is a coarser larger tag, which I found to be quite ugly. I carefully snipped this off each of them. It had no relevant info from what I can remember, just that it was made from entirely new materials. I remember reading somewhere that they have been approved by toy safety standards, so these tags are most likely included for legal reasons. I kept the logo tag because I see it as a signature by the creators and would feel strange removing it. Another interesting detail is that when you pick them up from their studio they give them to you in a clear plastic bag. Whether this was out of convenience or not I'm not sure, but it is a smart way to further advertise your product

Mr. Jefferson was the first monster to catch my attention. As you can see in the pictures he has a very simple body structure. There's two structural choices that I find interesting. They chose to have his arms as separate pieces of fabric instead of it just being extensions of his main body shapes. This makes them seem more significant and strong and encourages the handler to hold him by the arms. I also like how his mouth is hinted at with just a seam and a small pink tongue is stitched into it. The tie is of course what really sets this character apart. I have a personal distaste for ties, so seeing a goofy monster in a tie, somewhat making fun of it, is satisfying somehow. The tie is tacked at the back and sides, but tends to ride up in the front making some awkward folds in the fabric at the side tacks. It's minor, but I would have like to see the tie tacked in more places to avoid this. His colour is also a very mature choice. This is something that runs through most of their line. They could have gone for a vibrant green, but they chose something just slightly off and unexpected, which is refreshing. It shows confidence in their design to not rely on the obvious.

Colin is apparently a fan favorite and I can see why. He seems to have the most function and the most complex structure of all the monsters. He's posed in a sitting position which makes a nice contrast to a lot of the other characters. His hoodie is fully functional apart from not being removable. The hood can be pulled down revealing a bald head and his hands fit snugly in his front pocket or can hang at his side. While this is hardly an action feature, providing these functions seems like it gives the character some depth. Most other toys of this sort would have those tacked in place, but they go the extra mile. Another subtlety I only noticed after looking at him for a while is that his torso is slightly twisted so that he isn't perfectly symmetrical. I find this adds just a little bit of life to what could have been a fully static pose. It's a detail that shows a lot of thought was put into him. My only gripe is that he has a flat spot that connects his butt and his back. This shape makes him want to roll back on most surfaces. It's a minor issue that can be compensated for with a little squishing.

Emmitt is one of the larger monsters and is clearly quite a bit of work to produce. He has a lot of different elements to him, from the tuft of hair, the pleather mask to the tattoos. I'm not sure
how they got the tattoos on there, but they seem to be very durable. I really like how he can hold Kevin and Dave under his arms. I doubt this was done on purpose, but its fun and creates a type of group dynamic that I find satisfying when collecting. I have one major crit with Emmitt,
even though he already has a variety of materials, I think he needs one more. His tank top is the same sort of material as the rest of him. While this works well for Colin's hoodie, I find it distracting and unconvincing as a tank top. A regular cotton t-shirt material or even a knit, like a standard "beater", would have been much more satisfying. Also instead of having a standard
seam between his flesh and the shirt, a ribbing similar to Colin's would have separated the shirt better and made it more convincing. I'm sure they had their reasons for not doing this, he is already one of the more expensive monsters, but I think that one more detail would have elevated him from a good to an excellent.

Bradley seems to be a successful experiment with complex form. I'm not a seamstress, but I'm amazed with the planning and calculations or trial and error that must have went into his pattern. If you follow the seams they go in unexpected directions to achieve a very round fluid form. I'm having trouble putting into words his appeal. I think it's the large round head with the features squished to the top, the contrast of the white hair with the deep red body and pursed pink lips...he just looks cocky, or stubborn, or annoying. Most likely someone I wouldn't like in real life. The colour choices are bold and wouldn't have worked with some other monsters, but I think it compliments his cocky personality quite nicely. He doesn't really need it but I could see him wearing a vest, as is he feels a bit naked. One complaint is that his feet slope upwards which makes him want to tip forward, but I usually have him behind another monster that he can lean on. Despite the nakedness and tippy-ness Bradley is one of my top two favorites, I almost bought him before I bought Colin.

Owen is a nice simple design that adds some variety to the group. His basic form is similar to Emmitt, with the big upper body and ape-like arms, but his form is a little more streamlined and extreme with very few seams and much smaller feet. He is also a noticeably different scale. He’s about half as tall as the others but is bigger and bulkier than Kevin and Dave. There’s not much to say about Owen, he doesn’t have any outstanding qualities, but he’s a solid design, I can’t think of any possible improvements. He even stands extremely well because he can lean forward on his fists. I bought him to add some variety in scale and colour and he does that nicely.

Kevin and Dave are almost identical styles, which is something I wanted to avoid, but they make a nice little pairing, so I couldn’t resist. Something about Kevin being the only small one felt too lonely. There’s two major differences between the two; shape and colour. Dave is a blue/grey and Kevin is a deep yellow. Dave’s shape is a little more kidney bean-like and Kevin is a little rounder. Their arms are sewn into the seams at the side of their body but this doesn’t feel cheap because their arms are so small. I’m glad they didn’t go this route with their legs, instead they have the sections extend from the front and back panels. This makes them more tubular and creates a nice fleshy crease when they’re sitting, My only complaint is that their toes tend to point too far backwards and look awkward. A little bit of twisting can lessen the extremity of the angle. Another nice detail that you can’t see from the product shots are little tattoos of their first initial on their butts. Even though the website clearly states their size, I was shocked and pleased to see how small they were. They feel like little kids and the others are the grown ups. Like Owen they add great variety to the group.

A crit for all the characters who have whites in their eyes; I’m not sure why they chose to use dark stitching to attach them. I’m aware that this is some sort of plush esthetic, Ugly Dolls also handle their eyes in this way, but I’m not sure why. It doesn’t bother me to the point of distraction, but I do think they’d look slightly better with white stitches.

A factor I didn’t talk about but that you can see in the scans is the way that they create vague personalities for each individual. This gives you just enough info to start forming a feeling or attachment to the character in your head. One of their more popular characters, Kevin, is probably as successful as he is because they’ve pushed his character a little further. This was done through a series of sketches posted on the website from his sketchbook and a music video depicting his vivid imagination. All of this and much more, including a multitude of other monsters can be seen and purchased at