Not a lot of toys come from a true creative background and are designed by actual artists.
The Boglins were a line of hand-puppet monster toys that came out in 1987. They were created by Tim Clarke who worked with Jim Henson on things like The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock. The Boglins looked, and felt, like high-quality movie props.
Boglins are something I didn’t know I missed until they sprung back into mind. I honestly don’t think I’ve thought about them in 30 + years but just happened to stumble upon them when I was researching different toys for this blog. It honestly stopped me in my tracks because I was obsessed with Boglins and don’t know how they slipped from my memory?
So many other toys pop through my relatively empty head all the time (Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc) so I wonder why Boglins didn’t stake their own claim in there? Boglins would be an extension of Jim Henson – who I always loved everything he did – and it was the perfect combination of a toy that was unique and allowed you to be creative.
If you were a relatively creative kid, I think Boglins really captured your imagination, and it was like bringing that Jim Henson magic home with you – but it didn’t feel like a cheap knock-off type toy. These seemed like they could be right out of Labyrinth or the Dark Crystal.
I know I owned one but I can’t remember much more about it. Did I lose it? Or get tired of playing with it? How did I separate myself from something I found pretty spellbinding?
Let’s look back on one of the most creative toys ever made, the Boglins.
What Were Boglins?
So if this is new to you Boglins were a hand puppet type toy that had a goblin type theme to them. They were made of flexible rubber and this allowed them to be manipulated to make for more expressive movements that you controlled. Your hand would control the mouth so you could act out speech and the flexible rubber allowed for them to change facial expressions.
They were made of an artificial rubber known as “Kraton” and the first models had glow in the dark green eyes
These things honestly looked and felt like legit movie props and in a rarity compared to other toys of the 80s they were a standalone toy. This meant there wasn’t a cartoon show, comic book, or other forms of media used to launch them. They existed simply as Boglins.
You could also manipulate the eyes with your fingers to move them side to side and I vividly remember the tips of my fingers, and fingernails, hurting from moving them around. Here’s another stretch that hopefully you remember – do you recall using your hands to link your fingers together to create a hand-Boglin? I remember kids showing people at school and you would put your hands together like you were praying and crossed your ring fingers onto the opposite hand. You would then take your index fingers and stretch them backward, around the lowered ring fingers and rested on top of your middle fingers.
Your thumbs would come together underneath as a mouth and your pinkie fingers would stand up at the back acting as ears.
Just me? Ok, moving on….
The Development Of Boglins
The 80s could unofficially be known as the tiny monster era. You had a lot of monster based movies like Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Critters, and Ghoulies along with Jim Henson based movies like Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal. Toy wise you had things like My Pet Monster and the Garbage Pail Kids. Hell, you even had monster cereals. There seemed to be a market for slimy, monster-based toys for kids and Boglins was able to capitalize on that market – albeit for a short time.
The man behind the creation of Boglins was Tim Clarke. He, along with Maureen Trotto, and Larry Mass were the ones who brought Boglins to life. Clarke was a legit designer and had worked with Jim Henson on the iconic Dark Crystal, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and even Fraggle Rock.
He actually created Uncle Travelling Matt which just blows my mind. I’ve been in touch with Tim and will hopefully have him on the podcast soon.
They were masters of puppetry and loved working in the medium so much and thought this love should be brought into the toy world. They brought the idea to Henson who was reported to have loved it but didn’t have the time to work on anything like this. Since Henson thought it was a great idea, it provided real motivation to Clarke to start working on this.
It All Started With The Sectaurs
So Clarke had finished up on Fraggle Rock but kept working with Henson and created some props for various commercials along with Trotto. While this was going on they started to dabble in toy creation and were able to team up with toy agent Larry Moss.
What they came up with was some bug puppets that kids could control with their hands that also had action figures riding on top. They called these “Sectaurs” and they were based on a fly puppet glove that Clarke had designed for a Jim Henson Halloween party.
The Sectaurs were put out in 1985 by Coleco and were based on a planet called “Symbion” were bugs and insects had grown to “frightening proportions”. The human inhabitants had also taken on bug like characteristics and it’s why they rode on top of the bug puppets.
The Sectaurs had a very creative backstory and came with mini-comic books that expanded out the universe. They had an animated mini-series that lasted 5 episodes and an 8-issue limited series was put out by Marvel.
The puppet aspect of the bugs would end up inspiring what the Boglins would become
The Creation Of The Boglins
Seeing the possibility of creating a hand puppet Clarke also noticed the potential of using foam-latex to make them more lifelike and usable. He had inspiration from the Olmec colossal heads from Ancient Mexico and it gave rise to the first Boglin. The focus of the whole toy was the head, but it did have smaller additional arms, ears, and tail to go along with the gruesome face
Clarke used is ingenuity from his Henson days to create a simple mechanism that would allow control of the eyes and also the ability for the Boglins hand to grab something. Happy with the design it was then brought forward to Coleco.
Coleco liked the idea of the Boglin but wanted to make some changes to it including a body. They also wanted the Boglins to be part of the Sectaur line but they ended up dropping the Sectaurs and subsequentially the Boglins with it,
Moss then took the Boglins to Mattel who love them. This is getting into 1987 and gross-out things like Madballs, Gremlins, and Garbage Pail Kids are all commonplace so it was easy for Mattel to see the promise in them.
The Boglins Are Released & Their Amazing Packaging
So what ended up on the shelves in 1987 wasn’t that far off from what was originally created. The only thing that was scrapped was the grabbing hand as it was more expensive to produce and would drive up the cost of production and the retail sale price.
So they come out in 87 and the first release includes three different full-size Boglins named Dwork, Vlobb, and Drool.
A great commercial was released and what maybe lifted their prominence was the incredible packaging the Boglins came in and this may have had a lot to do with their success. They came in a box that resembled a jail cell that included some bent bars in the front. The bars could be pulled up from the top of the packaging to “release” the Boglin.
The box itself looked like a wooden crate to make it looked like they had been shipped from the swamp they were discovered in. The fictional story printed on the back of the box shows the “field notes’ of a Boglin researcher who has developed the field of “Bogology”. All these years later and I never made the connection that they came out of a bog. It was right there in the name!
The packaging served a few purposes; it was a display box for the toy but it was also interactive as there was a hole in the bottom of the box so you could control the Boglin making it part packaging part playset.
What Impact Did The Boglins Have?
So for a kid like me – A LOT. The 80s as I mentioned were this combination of gross-out humor and monsters and the Boglins were both of those things combined. They were a pretty big hit right out of the gate (packaging joke) and the larger ones were followed by a smaller line.
The smaller Boglins were known as Boglinus minimus in the early release and included characters such as:
They would also release Halloween theme ones and various other versions such as aquatic Boglins.
They had a big impact in the U.S. but this would last just a few years. In the U.K. however they were an even bigger hit and were distributed by toy company Ideal. The toy line had exploded there and they would release even more variations on the original. The line lasted all the way until 1994 which is a pretty good run for a toy but it would also fade away as all toy fads tend to do.
The Future Of The Boglins
Mattel re-released the Boglins in 2000 and also introduced some new variations that were bigger and electronic. These could talk or stick their tongue out and even spit water. They made another return in 2017 in a licensing deal with Seven Towns and Clutter Magazine in limited run batches that had been geared to the collector market.
From being in touch with Tim Clarke I’ve found out he now runs TOTIMS.com which is an amazing website where you can buy new Boglins. The site also features Sectaurs and some awesome limited edition collector’s items from Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal. (click that link to check my review of The Netflix series and original movie!)
And if you want to check out some more 80s toys that are still available, head over to my resources page. there’s some sweet stuff there!
Final Thoughts On The Boglins
The Boglins were a once in a lifetime toy that should have had a longer existence. With most toys, they are thought up by market research and then created by toy designers. With Boglins, you had something created by creative people. You were only a step away from Jim Henson himself and using a toy that was created by people from his team that had created things you had watched and seen on TV and movies.
I think this is what makes Boglins stand out more than other toys – they looked like legit movie props and seemed like they could have been used for actual filming. For kids who had a big attachment to Henson, and all his creativity, this was like getting a piece of that to take home with you.
It was a creative toy, made by creative people, and appealed to creative kids. It seems cliche but they just don’t make them like that anymore.
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