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Toy Boy 

Attaboy of the Yumfactory is one seriously off-center toy designer

Wednesday, Nov 20 2002
Trumpet-nosed fish and mustache bugs, maniacal monkeys and sneezing slugs, snaggletoothed cats and worried turtles, skull-faced birds and candy girdles, moping vultures and bunny-dogs, burp-filled balloons and smiling globs, hovering heads and toy-crazed kings ... these are a few of my favorite things. And all of them were hatched in the Yumfactory.

The Yumfactory is a small studio apartment on a quiet, sunny street in Albany where Ham Henri the Hamster lives in a multilevel space station under the kitchen window, and the floor is covered in Kelly-green AstroTurf. As you might wish, the closets, here, bulge with games and toys and other childhood memories frozen in bright plastic molds; larger-than-life cartoon cutouts lean against the walls with big eyes and petrified grins; sketches of the Muffin Eater and Glub Glub flutter in the breeze and cherry Coke is in endless supply. But the Yumfactory is also a swirling edifice of giggling goo, pastel prose, wind-up witticisms, hip hop crackerjacks, dilated comic strips, singing jump ropes, swinging crib toys, and plushy wet dreams located between the 28-year-old ears of a man called Attaboy.

Before Attaboy was Attaboy, he was a somber kid who wore ties to school and shined his shoes with Windex. A one-time cereal box model, he dreamed of being a commercial artist for the East Coast Pennysaver. Drawing could be frustrating so he frequently threw things across the room, but he never threw his hat because he couldn't be sure exactly what his hair was doing.

"Toys kind of saved my life," admits Attaboy at his Albany studio.

Not playing with toys as much as designing them.

Through the coaxing of then-housemate Aaron Tompkins -- the man who went on to create Swearbears, the cuddly buddies that yell obscenities when you rub their bellies -- the young-Attaboy-to-be (he won't give his real name) directed his energies toward a graduate degree in toy design from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. While at toy college, a nocturnal persona began to emerge, a sort of spastic, linguistic practical joker who haunted spoken-word open mikes with a mouth full of syllables and a tweed cap pulled firmly over his brow. The first time he tested his tongue for the Nuyorican Poets Cafe crowd, they lobbed things at him, but poet Bonnie Joi slapped him on the back and said, "Attaboy! Next time it'll be fine." And that was that.

Attaboy landed a job with Massachusetts toy giant Milton Bradley (because of his habitually mismatched socks) where he was given the honorable task of redesigning the Cooties line, which he enhanced honorably with buckteeth and jaunty chapeaux. He spent his days in a suit and tie, drawing snot and playing games, discussing Mr. Potato Head with other suits, and dreaming up far stranger fare, which eventually brought him west.

Here, Attaboy was able to marry his verbal secretions (zits and spit were focal points of his 1999 poetry collection distributed by Last Gasp) with those of Ben Burke, a sophisticated progenitor of verse with a slightly twisted sensibility.

The dueling word duo of Attaboy & Burke quickly became a featured attraction at DadaFest and the Fringe Festival, and has, since, evolved into a six-piece musical entity that wanders between Soul Coughing, They Might Be Giants, and Looney Tunes. But that's not all. In addition to performances, gallery exhibitions, and filling orders for "legitimate" companies, Attaboy manages to create and agitate original toys, stickers, CDs, calendars, T-shirts, and books, including I Hate Cartoons Volumes 1 and 2, stylistically unique collections of cartoon artwork by Attaboy and other renegade toy designers and comic book artists.

"Every book or calendar you see for sale in a store has been used as furniture in my house," says Attaboy with a grin. "Friends help me package and ship. Award-winning filmmakers, artists, incredible people, the most overqualified help in the world."

At the release party for I Hate Cartoons Volume 2, there is a line of people outside the club, most of them artists and all of them fans. Inside, there are games spread out across every cocktail table: Perfection, Operation, Connect Four, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and more. Cartoon theme songs percolate in the air and candy-pushers approach with brightly colored sacks of sugary confections. One of them proffers a whipped-cream shot served in a chocolate cup. Large Yumfactory characters line the stage where Attaboy emerges in his signature tweed cap.

"Everyone say happy birthday to my grandpa," says Attaboy, directing a video camera at the crowd.

Those of us not possessed by candy smile and comply. 'Toons give way to Black Sabbath as David "Cappy" Capurro, aka the Yo-Yo King, takes the stage to offer a demonic look at that purest of toys. Frank Olivier juggles flaming torches from a unicycle and fondles Attaboy's rarely seen bare head. Cotton Candy Cabaret and Nik Phelps Sprocket Ensemble serenade us with whimsical compositions while original cartoons and comic book slides flicker on the screens overhead. Between sugar rushes, Attaboy appears onstage in a straitjacket and a fuzzy orange suit, flinging words and arms and compliments at everyone in the room. There's more candy and cartoons and silliness and candy. By midnight, the room is vibrating like a preschool class let loose in a Hershey's factory. And, then, there's the inevitable crash. My photographer, Paul Trapani, is the first to go.

"Take this game away from me!" he howls, shoving Perfection into my hands with wide, desperate eyes. "Help me."

At 8 o'clock the next morning, Attaboy is wide awake and the Yumfactory is humming, just as it is every day at 8. A large canvas being prepared for an upcoming gallery show is shoved to one side as he contemplates an order for 12 new crib-toy designs to be delivered by Monday morning. He talks about price points, points of purchase, packing dimensions, texture, color, child psychology.

"I got the order on Friday," says Attaboy, "and, you know, I couldn't say, "But I have a show this weekend.' I design toys. It's a supply for which there is no demand."

Noting there is no couch at the Yumfactory, I sit in the wintergreen vinyl armchair where Attaboy frequently eats dinner while watching Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The City of Lost Children -- the only reprieve from his overactive thought generator. (Even his answering machine, I am told, is filled with ideas sent to himself, things like "Fat people can't skinny-dip" or "If I gave you my word, how could I keep it?") Tonight, he'll work until he collapses in the bed he has slept in since he was a boy, while his girlfriend, the talented Annie Owens -- creator of the Ouch Club cartoon — slumbers just three blocks away. Tomorrow, he will count and touch each of the five knobs on his stove before dropping packages at the post office. Then he will return to the Yumfactory to make more fun, taking special note, I hope, of the "Wear a towel around the neck and pretend you can fly" day scheduled for next August.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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