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Plush Cthulhu Conquers the Net: The LNN interviews Paul Blake from ToyVault

After four months of lugubrious wrangling, the LNN is pleased to finally announce the completion of the latest entry in our reckless crusade of in-depth celebrity interviews. Today we tread a path few journalist dare to, well, be on the record as having trod upon. It is a path marked by foul monstrosities, mind shattering vistas of horrifying reality (which goes without saying these days), and velvety soft, extra dimensional entities.

Today is the the day we present our interview with Paul Blake, a developer from ToyVault--the maniacal purveyors of the blasphemously adorable Plush Cthulhu line.




Blake: First, an introduction. My name is Paul Blake, and apart from being ToyVault's Game Developer, I'm also the resident Lovecraft Geek (possibly surpassed by Jon in that respect - possibly), so it fell to me to fill in the blanks for this interview. The answers I give here are a mixture of my rephrasing Jon's answers, my rephrasing elements of our company history, and (where he specified that I should use them) Jon's exact words. In these answers, when I say "I", I'm referring to myself, individually. When I say "We," I'm referring to ToyVault as a company.

LNN: Tell us about how the Cthulhu line got started and what was behind the decision to turn him into a cute, cuddly, stuffed animal.

BlakeInitially, Jon's response included phrases such as "While I was studying at Miskatonic University," and "My good friend Herbert West," so I'm not entirely sure how seriously he was taking the matter.

In truth, Jon's decision to make Lovecraft-based plush toys was, as so many things are, the intersection of several unrelated events. ToyVault has, in many ways, been a showcase of the personal interests and fascinations of the creative minds within the company - most notably Jon himself.

Jon's an avid gamer, a voracious reader, and a diehard fan of almost every media franchise in our product catalog. He had long wanted to make Lovecraftian toys, but during its earliest days, ToyVault primarily made action figures.

While a Cthulhu action figure might have a market, technical limitations of the form would likely alienate just as many potential customers as it would attract. For instance, how posable should such a figure be? Which specific artistic representation should be used? How detailed should the sculpt be? Action figures of this type have a rigidity, not just of material, but also of concept. Fans have an image in their minds eye of what a character should look like, and an action figure representation should match that image as closely as possible. With comic book or film subject matter, that matchup is fairly easy. With literary subject matter like Cthulhu, it is substantially more difficult, and so he tabled the idea.

Some time in late 1999, ToyVault was approached by another company - I'm not at liberty to name them specifically - to produce their version of a Cthulhu plush toy. The toy was manufactured, but a payment dispute prevented the product from reaching the market.

In the process, however, Jon learned the ins and outs of plush manufacturing, and the idea of a plush inversion of the Cosmic Horror trope appealed to him. A new design was commissioned, and the prototype was displayed at San Diego Comic-Con. Attendees were told that we would produce it "if there was sufficient demand." At the show, two major distributors committed to enough pre-orders to cover an entire production run, and the line has been self-sustaining ever since.



ToyVault's now out of print Plush Shoggoth also doubled as yarmulke for the theistically challenged

LNN: What is is about Lovecraft's fiction that makes it marketable as opposed to, say for example, the works of a better known author such as Jane Austen, and what does this say about your target demographic?

BlakeIn terms of ToyVault's marketability of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors, part of it is recognizability. Show a Cthulhu toy to anyone who has read Lovecraft and they should be able to recognize it as Cthulhu. I would be surprised if any Jane Austen fans could differentiate between, for instance, Elinor from Sense and Sensibility, Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, Fanny from Mansfield Park, and any other Victorian-era lady of refinement. You could make a line of Sense and Sensibility dolls, and without changing anything but their labels, rebrand them as Wuthering Heights dolls.

However, that only speaks to the visual distinctiveness of Cthulhu, which doesn't completely answer your question. It seems that, to some extent, Cthulhu's popularity specifically as a plush toy is down to a growing trend of postmodern deconstruction in media and culture in general. Cthulhu is a widely recognizable icon not just of Lovecraft's work specifically, but of the Cosmic Horror genre as a whole - and by extension, an icon of undefinable fear, creeping madness, and abstract nightmares. Contrastingly, plush toys are an icon of the innocence of childhood, and all that is cute and cuddly. Merging the two creates a complete inversion of both of the concepts.

What that says about the demographic - Either that they have a sense of humor, or that it comforts them to see an incomprehensible terror from beyond the reach of time reduced to cuddly, huggable teddy bear.

LNN: What significance does the Cthulhu line have for you company, and what percentage of your business does it comprise?

BlakeCthulhu was the first plush toy we manufactured, and its popularity completely changed our business model. It turned us on to the fact that Geeks (and I use the term to include myself - I'm possibly the nerdiest guy Jon knows) have an interest in plush toys that are conceptually ironic.

Our General Business Manager won't let me discuss exact sales figures, but I will say that Cthulhu products are consistently our most profitable plush toys, and we have no plans to stop making them.


Mounted Cthulhu Wall Tropy: For the Big Game hunter who still knows how to read

LNN: Your website says that you acquired the license for Cthulhu in 2000. Who currently claims ownership of the franchise now in terms of memorabilia, and what are your thoughts on literature and the public domain? Does your business affiliation make you a de facto supporter of the Swedish Pirate Party and Electronic Freedom Foundation?

BlakeThe phrase "Cthulhu license" on our website is a bit poorly phrased on our part, and somewhat confusing. Its usage is due to the fact that we were approached to manufacture the product by an external company - As I mentioned before, I can't name them - and a license was involved for that specific product, as the toy was based on their artistic interpretation. That product never made it to market.

ToyVault does not have any official business relationship with any parties claiming ownership of Lovecraft's copyrights. To my knowledge, no such parties have contacted us claiming infringement. Such a claim would, after all, need to be backed up with sufficient evidence that the work in question is not in the public domain, and that the plush toys did not represent a non-infringing parody. Either way, if the matter were to be brought to trial, it would at least settle the question officially.

As for who claims ownership of the license, we don't have any additional information beyond that which is already known. Derleth's claim of ownership is the only one with any credibility at all, and even that is dubious. In any event, his estate seems singularly disinterested in pursuing it. Chaosium's claims of ownership are only over specific elements unique to their RPG line, and the use of the phrase "The Call of Cthulhu" in gaming products. Whether this last would stand up to a true legal test remains a matter of much debate.

The purpose of the public domain is for the general improvement of culture and the arts. The arguments against its existence seem transparently greedy in nature. Such arguments are never made by an artist or author with regards to his or her own works: They are instead made by those who have purchased or inherited rights, and fear losing the stream of revenue those rights have generated. However, the complexity of copyright reform is well beyond the scope of us as a toy company. On this subject, I would recommend Spider Robinson's short story "Melancholy Elephants." (Note to editor: This link is legal. Baen is Spider Robinson's publisher, and routinely makes much of their catalog available for free)

ToyVault, as a company, does not have any political stances or affiliations. We make toys and games. If there existed a political party opposed to the manufacture and/or sale of such things, we'd probably be in opposition to them. To my knowledge, no one in the company has any direct ties to either the EFF or the Swedish Pirate Party.


Quake with trepidation at "The Cthulhu Waist Pouch"


LNN: Well, don't be surprised when an honorary membership arrives in the mail.  .  . The plush Cthulhu doll has become something of its own Internet meme and has developed its own sub culture, including such websites as "Tales of Plush Cthulhu" and "Calls for Cthulhu." How do you perceive your product is shaping the history and current culture of Lovecraft and his fiction?

BlakeAll things will be parodied. It's a natural part of all fandoms, especially those for which the subject matter is no longer ongoing - A canceled television show, a completed series of movies, or the body of a late author's work, for instance. It allows the fans to express their enthusiasm in a new, creative, and unique way. Our plush toys were simply the most convenient tool at hand for some of these expressions.


LNN: What is the most peculiar place you have seen or heard of a plush Cthulhu showing up?

BlakeI've seen at least one university professor who wore our Cthulhu backpack, and more than a few computer repair places with a mini Cthulhu on staff - presumably to terrify the computers into working again. However, the strangest instance I've personally witnessed was during a trip I was taking to visit family out-of-state last year. In a shopping mall in a semi-rural North Carolina area, I happened to see a child no older than 8 holding a Medium Cthulhu. It was the Christmas season, and the child's parents were taking him to see Santa. When he caught sight of the jolly old fatman, he clutched Cthulhu tight to his chest, and buried his face in Cthulhu's head - apparently terrified of old Saint Nick.


I swear I heard him crying "F'tagn!"


LNN: ToyVault now has a "evil" version of the plush Cthulhu that is darker in color, sharper in its features, and more malevolent in its product description. Whence the need for an evil counterpart to its cuter cousin?

BlakeAre you referring to Cthulhu the Wicked?

Cthulhu the Wicked is. . . at least slightly heterodox in his views of the modern papal authority

Strictly speaking, Cthulhu is not evil - he (or more accurately, it) is completely alien to our underlying concepts of good and evil. Cthulhu the Wicked is a hypothetical scenario - what if Cthulhu understood our model of morality... and embraced evil?

Just kidding. We made him because he looks cool. "Wicked" seemed the best descriptor for the visual style.

LNN: Were you disappointed you were not contracted by the special effects department at the HPLHS for their silent film project?

BlakeYes. At the very least, we would have liked to have seen our Cthulhu toy used in place of the stop-motion model as an alternate take or easter egg on the DVD. Alas.

LNN: Obviously you are a business and want to make money, but where is the line between genuine affection and shameless commercialization when it comes to the creation of products based on the works of a well respected author? How do you address this ethical dilemma in your corporation, and what is an example of something you would consider to be literary sacrilege?

BlakeJon Huston's official answer: "That line is somewhere in orbit around Alpha Proxima."

The line is not well defined, but we definitely try to remain respectful. I would personally think that the line can be defined in two ways: Firstly, if a derivative product is thematically irrelevant to its source material. Secondly, if the derivative product purposefully attempts to replace the original in the minds of the public.

Some might see the Judy Garland version of The Wizard of Oz to be guilty on these counts, just as an example.

LNN: What impact do you think it will have on Lovecraft's reputation as an author, public perception of his work, and your business if either Del Toro or Ron Howard go through with a big budget Lovecraft movie in the next few years?

BlakeWe're cautiously ambivalent regarding the possibility of a big budget Lovecraft film. Past efforts have been enjoyable, but not what anyone would classify a "commercial success." Del Toro has expressed that the studios are pretty much completely opposed to Lovecraft's themes, saying that they want "a love story and a happy ending." It seems more likely that a television series would be able to remain faithful to his work - the BBC would be the most capable of pulling it off, although HBO could also do it well. Until the public domain issue is officially settled, though, it's unlikely that any big budget approach gets past the "purely hypothetical" stage.




LNN: With the recent success of viral movie trailers, has ToyVault ever considered creating an online trailer to promote plush Cthulhu where he devours your other stuffed animals in the office? If you did, which would be the first to go?

BlakeKiss versus Cthulhu. I'd watch it.

In all seriousness, the terms of our licenses specifically exclude exactly this kind of thing. Sure, it would be fun, but our legal department can't repel threats of that magnitude. The only ones we could do would involve our unlicensed toys, such as the Egyptian Gods, Here Be Monsters, Norse Gods, or Nightmares.

LNN Edit: We found one here. Its authenticity is questionable, but it does appear that Cthulhu likes Edgar Winters.

LNN: Can we ever expect to see jello molds, spaghetti products, bathtub sponge capsules, or a chia pet with Cthulhu's likeness from your company?

BlakeFrom our company? Unlikely. Partly due to our current manufacturing capabilities, partly due to our primary markets.

From any company, ever? Possibly. There are companies who do those kinds of things, and who cater to the geek culture market. Business abhors a vacuum.

LNN: Would it be ethical for our readers to purchase and then donate a plush Cthulhu to a charitable organization for kids like Toys for Tots, or is this inadvisable?

BlakeWe don't have an official stance on the matter. I would think that would be more a matter of whether the toy would be appreciated.


This out of print "Dracthulhu" plush doll apparently came with its own sacrificial virgin.  Let us know when the new batch is ready to ship, ToyVault!

LNN:  Any thing else you would like to put on the record?

Blake:  Jon's official response: "A few tracks from The White Album, some Dark Side of the Moon, and a 10-minute loop of the Wilhelm scream."

We think that the HPLHS has done a fantastic job of presenting Lovecraft's work, and hope that they continue to do so for a long time to come. We're especially fond of their audio dramas, but then, we like audio drama in general.

Speaking as fans, we'd love to see someone approach the Cthulhu mythos as an ongoing retelling of Lovecraft's original stories, but bringing them together as a connected series of events. Audio theatre would be a great way to do this.

Also, a personal gift from me to you: The Miskatonic University Alma Mater song.

Go, Fight, Miskatonic, Miskatonic Squids,
Our Alma Mater hail!
Crush the opposition with your terrible visage!
Squids shall never fail!


We shall overcome them,
And drive them mad with grief:
In disturbing dreams they shall
Beg for death's relief.


Fight again, Fight again, Ya Ya Ya!

--Paul Blake
ToyVault Game Developer
& Lovecraft Nut

LNN:  Thanks!

Learn more about the History of ToyVault and Plush Cthulhu:
ToyVault Homepage

Order Plush Cthulhu online:
Intertubes

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The Contrarian releases Lovecraft-inspired album: "Eldritch Musicks"

Casey Rae-Hunter is a professional writer, editor, and musician in Washington DC. He currently produces, records, and publishes under the moniker The Contrarian, and has just released a Lovecraft-inspired album called Eldritch Musicks. The physical edition also comes with an original short story, complete with gorgeous illustrations.




We are pleased to be announce that we will publish an exclusive interview with Mr. Rae-Hunter in the near future.

Official Press Release

Having assumed many guises over the years, Rae-Hunter has now settled on a creative process he calls “Illuminated Musicks,” the details of which he is not at liberty to divulge.

Based on early 20th-century weird fiction (HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, etc.), Eldritch Musicks delivers top-shelf “haunt-rock” that, while entertaining, also offers a glimpse into an eerie world of symbol and derangement. With its uncanny atmosphere and guitar-driven authority, Eldritch Musicks calls to mind classic Blue Öyster Cult and other masters of occult musical mojo.


In fact, the idea for the record came out of a conversation between The Contrarian and Sandy Pearlman — renowned producer/manager and the mastermind behind Blue Öyster Cult’s finest albums. Pearlman suggested that there had not been a credible rock record concerning Lovecraft’s Mythos in at least two decades. Always up for a challenge, The Contrarian decided to make one.

The Contrarian engineered and produced the recording and also performs all instruments and vocals. Additional sonic materiel is supplied by The Ten Thousand Things, who contributed four lush and unsettling “eldritch drones” to the project.

Eldritch Musicks is available as a limited-edition CD with artwork from Jared Metzner (The Cancer Conspiracy), as well as digitally through all major online retailers. Physical product is available exclusively at this site. Here’s what you get:

* A signed and numbered CD copy of Eldritch Musicks

And a link to download:

* Lyrics to all the songs on the album in “eldritch font”
* “The Cove” — a short story with exclusive illustrations
* A behind-the-scenes video shot at Sounds of the Baskervilles studio in Washington, DC
* The Contrarian: Eldritch Podcast — a track-by-track exploration of the album’s themes and the inspiration for the songs. Just like getting drunk with The Contrarian in real life!


Learn more or purchase the album at the Contrarian's website:

http://www.thecontrarianmedia.com/the-contrarian-eldritch-musicks/

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Fact or Fiction: Bohemian Grove Cult of Lovecraftian Proportions

In the interest of keeping things interesting and fresh, we deliberately keep our scope of coverage broad and our topics eclectic. In our indefatigable quest to cover all things Lovecraftian, a most peculiar slice of history has been plopped onto our plate that we cannot resist presenting here. Considering the nature of our studies, it is not often that we are taken aback or experience shock while gleefully covering the often unspeakable actions of cosmic horrors and the cults who worship them. Today is an exception.

The following story is not new, but it was new to us, and we present it now for your viewing pleasure. In all honesty, we were not quite prepared for just how unexpectedly Lovecraftian this story is, and thus we present it to you as an intellectual exercise and cautionary tale of just how strange our world is.

Not your typical scout camp bonfire



Allow me to cautiously introduce Mr. Alex Jones. Don't get too close--he bites.

First off, let me be explicitly clear: The LNN is quite progressive in its views, and we openly denounce Alex Jones as a crackpot. And he's not the funny kind of crackpot either, he is, as the Dickipedia would say, "a full-fledged nutjob. The type of person that makes you turn to your friend the moment he gets up to use the bathroom and mouth 'He's craaaaaaazy,' complete with hand motions and bug-eyes." Naturally, this makes him the perfect character to write about for the Lovecraft News Network.

When he is not juxtaposing non sequiturs of deranged political diatribes on his maniacal radio show, Mr. Jones enjoys sneaking into secret meetings of the world's elite.

Mr. Jones claims to have filmed a real life cult of, dare we say, Cthulhic proportions. Though we question both the veracity of Jones' footage and his sanity, his video seems straight out of the pages of Weird Tales. Thus we present to you the following outrageous conspiracy theory and invite you to decide for yourself.

In 2000, Jones snuck into a secret meeting at the Bohemian Grove in California and taped what he claims is proof of an "ancient Canaanite, Luciferian, Babylon mystery religion ceremony." What gets better is who was on the guest list. . . the President of the United States.



According to Rotten.com, the "Bohemian Grove is 'the greatest men's party on Earth,' according to once-regular attendee Herbert Hoover. A secret little getaway for America's male upper crust, the 2-week long annual retreat in Monte Rio, California, has all the luxuries you'd expect of an elitist clique: outdoor plays, an orchestra, delicious food and beverages, public urination, streaking, and human sacrifices, to name a few. Nestled in beautiful redwood forests, every Republican president since Coolidge has partaken in the gala, as well as a host of other huge names in business and politics."



"The gathering includes semi-Masonic themes that center around a 40-foot tall stone owl, whose voice is provided by regular attendee Walter Cronkite ("And that's the way it is, hoot hoot."). Mock-Druidic rituals are performed, and the attendees (referred to as "Bohos" or "Grovers") wear Ku Klux Klan-style garb. Public policy speeches are given, conveniently away from the public that will eventually have to suffer under these policies. Called "Lakeside Talks", the topics of discussion range from "Communists, Democracy and Golf"; "America's Health Revolution: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Pays"; "America's Promise: Leading Armies and Leading Kids"; "Defining the New World Order"; and other such jolly cocktail chatter. It is boasted that the Manhattan Project first took shape at a Grove meeting."



Now if your right-wing conspiracy BS-'o-meter is going off, you are not alone. But the existence of the Grove and it's weird dealings has been surprising well documented, which makes Jones' video all the more intriguing. Go ahead, look it up and check for yourself.



Here are a few things that seem to be indisputable facts:

-Alex Jones is a crazed conspiracy theorist

-However, the Bohemian Grove festival is very real, very weird, and it really has drawn the most powerful men in the world for over a century, including every Republican president.

-Though there is no solid evidence to explain its specific purpose, attendees really do engage in some kind of mock human sacrifice to a giant owl statue for some inscrutable reason.

-President Nixon really did utter the following baffling statement, "The Bohemian Grove, that I attend from time to time—the Easterners and the others come there—but it is the most faggy, goddamn thing you could ever imagine, that San Francisco crowd that goes in there; it's just terrible! I mean I won't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco."

Several questions spring to mind:

1. Why have we not heard about this before, and, Luciferian or not, why does this not interest more people?
2. Is this just a strange, yet harmless game for the wealthy and powerful?
2. What do one do with this information if Jones is correct?
3. How do I get an invitation?
4. Is there a gift shop, and can you get a Moloch key chain for the kids?
5. What does Cthulhu think of this blasphemous, Babylonian impostor?

We'll let you decide.

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New Teaser for Lovecraftian film "Altitude"

A brand new trailer has been released for the upcoming aviation horror film Altitude. Starring Jessica Lowndes, the movie will be the directorial debut of award-winning comic artist Kaare Andrews.




The plot:

After a mysterious malfunction sends their small plane climbing out of control, a rookie pilot and her four teenage friends find themselves trapped in a deadly showdown with a supernatural force.

Watch the trailer here:


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'Tis the Season for Cult Awareness: A festive PSA from your friends at the LNN

Here at the LNN, we are always on the lookout for new frontiers of exploration into the world of Lovecraft-inspired culture.

Not content to merely chronicle the literary adventures of our cosmically inclined compatriots, this holiday season, we want to give back to the wonderful community of fans, enthusiasts, authors, directors, and artists who keep our inbox full of fantastic new creations.

Thus, friends, we present to you a gift we hope is fitting of the genre in which we gleefully traffic: a seasonal, Lovecraftian public service announcement!

                                             [Click Image to Enlarge]




Though we are quite excited by the possibilities such a project might present for lugubrious satire, we invite you to contribute your thoughts, critiques, and opinions on the ethics, politics, and potential for success of our prototype PSA. In a world already full of anger, the project must not cross the line into the realm of dogmatic vitriol, which we feel would be counterproductive to the cause and decidedly un-Lovecraftian.

Depending on the response we receive, we may turn this project into a series on Cult Awareness; or, conversely, we might disavow our knowledge of its existence and pretend it never happened.

This holiday season we invite you to have fun, give thanks, and remember that cults are all fun and games until someone gets burnt at the stake. Cheers!

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