Monday, January 11, 2010

An open letter to Kidrobot... by Jeremy Brautman

Dear Kidrobot,

It's been a while since we've spoken. How've you been? Not so great? Yeah, I know. A lot of us have been wondering basically what the hell happened to you since we met.

In January 2004, Wired ran an article called "The New Cubicle Commandos" that really resonated with me. You were mentioned in the story, which led me to visit you on Haight Street in San Francisco. Six years ago, the tiny Kidrobot shop was a cool place to go. Back then, you sold Qees, and I'd pick them up regularly. You had these glass cases in the middle of the shop, and the contents were like a mini museum. I chatted with Frank Kozik as he signed his first range of Labbits that year. He was grouchy. It was cramped. But it felt like something was happening. Something interesting...

I went to Kidrobot just once in 2009 as a favor for a friend. As I stood in line, catching whiffs of piss and patchouli, I felt embarrassed and out of place. I found one adult among the queue of kids, and he turned out to be a cool guy named Nate. He cracked me up with a comment about how he'd given away an all-over print Kidrobot shirt to a newly stylin' homeless dude. We were processed through an assembly line to meet the artist. Afterward, I told my friend, "You owe me."

How did this happen to you, Kidrobot? When did you become a punchline and a punching bag? If toy collecting was punk rock, you were Good Charlotte. On one particular forum, "Dunny" became a filtered swear word.

I guess our paths diverged in 2007 with Sketbots, and by 2008's Zoomies, we had gone our separate ways. Your toys--and there were a ton of them--looked like kids' toys with designer toy price tags. It wasn't until later that I learned you had been making these toys for children. Happy Meal toys effectively replaced Cubicle Commandos. But you didn't communicate this new direction to your fans. We all just assumed you had gone soft and were making crappy, commercial "collectible" toys.

You had an interesting 2008. There were high-end handbags and questionable clothing and overpriced jewelry. Though I could never help you with Peecols or your terrible case ratios, I did my best to defend the other stuff. I even proposed to my girlfriend with one of your Kozik rings. At the start of 2009, you were riding high with a Cartoon Network makeover, endorsements from Rosie O'Donnell and Martha Stewart and rumors of new stores. But things were already slipping. A warehouse error (where a fan received an entire case of Huck Gee AP's GTs worth enough to buy a car) was mishandled into a nice-sized scandal. Fans were threatened and banned from your forums; entire threads were summarily deleted. There was a growing sense that insidious maneuvers were being made behind-the-scenes by people who didn't know what they were