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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

December 14, 2012 at 9:13 PM

Twisted toys from twisted minds

Sketched Dec. 4, 2012
Googly eyes. Animal masks and rubber chickens. Bacon-flavored candy. You’ve seen the odd novelty gifts at Archie McPhee, a Wallingford store that has become a symbol of weird Seattle since 1983. Now meet the four guys in a Mukilteo warehouse who come up with some of that stuff: Curt Hanks, Scott Heffernan, Scott King and Jim Koch.

Koch is the creator of Slicey the Pig, a dashboard toy inspired by a French 1920s ad for fresh-cut salami. A Merry Krampus sweater in honor of the mythical beast that punishes children on Christmas is the brainchild of Heffernan. The octopus fingers come from Hanks, while King is especially proud of Baron Von Broccoli and Captain Corndog.

Archie McPhee founder Mark Pahlow said his creative team has designed more than 3,000 gag gifts over the years. “I like to think of these things as affordable art,” he said. “They are my babies and I think they’re beautiful.”

MEET THE TEAM


Artist Jim Koch shared the key to coming up with cool novelty toys. “We cater to our own taste … if it makes us giggle, that’s our seal of approval.” The process is fast too. Koch said Slicey the Pig took about six months to make, from his early sketches to the final manufacturing in China.

Koch, 46, grew up in Spokane and lives in Seattle, where he recently exhibited his artwork at ltdartgallery on Capitol Hill. He said he finds inspiration in heavy metal, hot rods, anything from the 50s and 60s and pop culture in general.


As the most veteran Archie McPhee designer, Scott King has a pretty good idea of what it takes to make successful gag gifts. “We just put our unique spin on things,” he said. That means creating a Santa Dreidel for mixed Jewish-Christian families or holiday gift wrap decorated with photos of bacon.

King, 52, lives in Arlington and has been with the company for 16 years. Among his recent creations is an inflatable Christmas tree for single guys who live in tiny aparments.


In addition to the Merry Krampus sweater, Scott Heffernan can take credit for the Top Hat Espresso Cup and the Abraham Lincoln bandages.

A whiz with Photoshop, he was working on an image for the company’s Geyser of Awesome Blog when I stopped by his desk. The guy holding the Savory Bacon Sticks and wearing a pig mask is marketing director David Wahl, best known as the “Director of Awesome.”

Heffernan, 32, lives in Bothell and described himself as a child of the ’80s and skateboarder. He has a degree in sign language but said he may have found his dream job at Archie McPhee already.


Curt Hanks said Archie McPhee’s toys are not only well designed but well made, not cheap knock-offs. “Look at the texture on the tentacles,” he said about the octopus fingers as he tried them on for me. “And all those little suckers underneath.”

Hanks, 44, lives in Lake Forest Park and has been with the company for 13 years, starting out in the warehouse and working his way up to the creative department as a toy designer and web developer. He’s a huge Star Wars fan and also finds inspiration in monsters and zombies.


Archie McPhee founder Mark Pahlow leans back on his office chair as he samples a Savory Bacon Stick.

Comments | More in Businesses | Topics: Mukilteo

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