Shop Around: Horror In Clay Puts the Lovecraft into Tiki Mugs and Merchandise

Posted on: Feb 27th, 2014 By:

The prototype for the Innsmouth Fogcutter mug, unglazed.

Trader Vic’s meets H.P. Lovecraft in the wonderfully weird tiki mug and accessory line of Atlanta-based Horror in Clay. Their fine-crafted ceramic green Cthulhu mugs have been raising tentacles among Lovecraft and Retro Hawaiiana fans alike, and if you’ve been to an Atlanta area con, chances are you walked away with a complimentary tentacled Pickman’s Cove cocktail stirrer. Their newest creation is the Innsmouth Fogcutter mug, which already has made its funding goal in another blockbuster Kickstarter campaign. There are plenty more stretch and social goals to unlock, and preorders are sure to be filled with all sorts of fun extras at different levels.

To find out more about the obscure origins of Horror in Clay, the Innsmouth Fogcutter, the Kickstarter campaign, and what terrifying tiki creations are down the dark road, we caught up recently with Jonathan Chaffin, mad mastermind of  the eldritch enterprise along with his lovely wife Allison.

ATLRetro: How did you personally discover H.P. Lovecraft?

Jonathan:  I wrote a term paper on Lovecraft in ’95. Pretty sure it was a combination of three things: #1  I read all the time, particularly short horror fiction – and when I don’t read I listen to audio podcasts like www.pseudopod.org. I have a particular fondness for Poe, Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, so early horror and weird tales and those who write them are an easy sell for me. Love of literature and details – check.  I think that’s why I knew the name.

#2 Do you remember the cartoon THE INHUMANOIDS?  It came on alongside  JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS and BIGFOOT AND THE MUSCLE MACHINES  on Saturday mornings. I loved that show. One of the monsters was a giant tentacled beastie from the Earth’s mantle named Tendril.  Tendril was a big shambling green thing bedecked with tentacles, and unlike most of the other toys at the time, the Inhumanoids toy line was to scale; the monsters TOWERED over the good guys.  Giant tentacle monster toy beloved and embedded in my brain – check.  That’s why I wanted to learn more about Cthulhu.

#3 When I was on a bus-tour in England, I ran out of books, so I ran into a shop to get one – and what I found was HP LOVECRAFT OMNIBUS 3: HAUNTER OF THE DARK with a giant monster snacking on people on the cover. Giant monster, giant book of horror short stories, bus tour through the land of fens and lochs – good times and a lifeline affinity for old Anglophilic HP Lovecraft.

Cthulu-Elvis, Jonathan Chaffin, and the Horror in Clay'd Cthulhu mug.

How did you and Allison get the idea to design and market a Cthulhu Tiki mug?

I’m an avid collector of, well, everything, but especially of horror movie ephemera and Tiki stuff. Allison and I had a Tiki-themed wedding and have a lot of affinity for Trader Vic’s, the Mai-Kai [in Fort Lauderdale] and theme restaurants in general. Well, the thing about collecting a lot of Tiki stuff and horror autographs and such is it needs somewhere to live. In our old apartment we had a sort of Addams Family vibe in one room that was also our dry bar – artifacts and totems and monsters, oh my!  When you are a graphic designer, everything is a design problem to be solved, so for me the process went something like: This is a Tiki bar -> Tiki bars have signature cocktails and mugs -> What kind of mug should go here?  Given that Cthulhu sleeps his death away in sunken R’yleh in the South Pacific, that seemed a fun subject for a mug.

Were you surprised by its runaway success?

Surprised by the success doesn’t begin to cover it.  I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it except for a push from my friend Pauli [Vauxhall Garden Variety Players], who basically loaned me some of the money to have a prototype made and said, “Meh. Go see what happens.”  I was told we’d probably have hundreds of them living in our basement forever, but I decided to try anyway.

Since Tiki mugs generally come from somewhere, I decided to tell a story with ours; the Cthulhu Tiki mug is an artifact from the fictional Pickman’s Cove bar in Boston, run by Benjamin Upton and decorated with curios and painting inherited from his uncle. Ol’ Ben was eventually presumed dead – due to the amount of blood strewn about [but] there was no body). I created coasters, matchbooks, swizzles, and a nautiloid bar set to help tell the story of Pickman’s Cove. Then I learned about Kickstarter and figured it couldn’t hurt to try and get a production mug made. And life went a little crazy.
The first few days the first Kickstarter launched, pledges were coming in constantly.  We got picked up by Boingboing.net, IO9 and Laughing Squid, and all manner of places and backers jumped on the tentacled bandwagon.  We funded in 74 hours and had to scramble to come up with stretch goals and similar. It was nerve wracking, because what was going to be a small run of 500 became a run of 2000 – that’s three pallets of Tiki mugs! Fortunately, logistics are my wife’s strong point and she was able to get everything settled, but for a while there it was, quite daunting!  It’s been successful enough to become an ongoing thing, and we vend at a few events during the year, which is a whole new dimension we quite enjoy! ConCarolinas in Charlotte is our next outing as Horror In Clay.

Tell us about the Innsmouth Fogcutter Mug from the story to the craftsmanship behind it.

The Innsmouth Fogcutter mug started as an in-joke on the Cthulhu Tiki mug. If you look, dread Cthulhu has his own little fogcutter mug clenched in one tentacle, complete with umbrella and bendy straw. I wanted it to be a Fogcutter as an homage to Trader Vic’s Atlanta and to the long-defunct Atlanta Luau restaurant.  When the Cthulhu mug was blowing up and people were asking me what was next, I told myself I wanted to make that Fogcutter mug.

 

As mentioned, I try and create a total picture of the environment one of my mugs is from; much like a clothing line, each mug has complimentary artifacts that tell its story. I even have a “bible” like you would find for a stage play that lists facts and details I want the mug and artifacts to reference or adhere to.  The Innsmouth Fogcutter is intended to be from the Gilman House hotel, a locale made famous in Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, but also has an original backstory I created that is revealed through digital artifacts and other physical pieces – some of which are available as rewards through the Kickstarter. The back story for the Innsmouth Fogcutter has to do with expectations and changes. As you rotate the mug you realize that what looks like a creepy monster hand reaching up for a beauty on a dock is actually the beauty herself changing into a hybrid, then monstrous form. Similarly, I refer to the mug’s backstory as a romantic tragedy. Really, what else would expect from benighted, ill-reputed Innsmouth?

 

Horror in Clay's bar line including Cthulhu mugs, tentacled double jigger, bar spoons, coasters and Pickman's Cove stirrers.

The concept for the design on the mug came about because I adore practical special effects. Any werewolf transformation sequence is a special treat to me, and I wondered what a transition to a Deep One would look like. Or perhaps I just played too much Altered Beast.  Also, the final form of our Deep One on the mug is inspired by Froggacuda and Sharkoss from the ARCO Other World toy line. What can I say?! I love me some toys.

 

Production mugs are awesome things; much like a sonnet they are all the more amazing for the structural limitations imposed by the process. That said, as a collector I will always love limited editions. For this mug the wonderous Wendy Cevola will be creating a mold from the production master and then producing a very limited number of hand-retouched and glazed variations from the basic design. She has done some amazing work. You should check out her Tiki Bob series of variations

 

You’ve made your Kickstarter goal, but there are more wonders to unlock. Can you tell folks why they should still throw in some money?

 

First off, because the mug is amazing, everyone needs at least two in case they want to drink out of it more than once. Also, it’s funded, so it is going to happen, and I’ve done this before with a high rate of satisfaction, so I’m pretty sure I can do it again. Additionally, I designed way more than I needed for this Kickstarter, and if we get enough funding, we can add some neat stuff to every level and bounce some other ideas into production sooner.  Things that I think will be awesome – like a shade parasol printed with still more backstory elements, or like the Horror Infused bitters we’ve had formulated.

 

Horror in Clay doesn’t just make mugs. What are some of your other products, including those high-quality fezzes?

 

Glad you like em! An IMPORTANT note about the fezzes!  We don’t make ’em! They are the brainchild and product of Jason Rodgers and www.fezorama.com. He’s been doing this whole artist/creator thing much longer than I. His work is amazing, and I’m really pleased he was game for collaborating on a design to match the Innsmouth Fogcutter Tiki mug.  Since the story features the Esoteric Order of Dagon, I thought that having a fez as part of our Innsmouth collection was a great thing – plus I collect Fez-o-rama fezzes. We are an authorized reseller of a limited selection of Fez-o-rama designs only at conventions, as he is an authorized reseller of Horror In Clay mugs.

 

With that out of the way, we make all sorts of things, because I’m trying to make each collection tell a story using whatever makes sense.  Some things besides the mug that we’ve made that have gotten a lot of attention are our tentacled double jigger and bar spoon. People love the tentacle. Fun fact, the tentacled bar set is missing an icepick because it was used as a murder weapon. Since I have different stories to tell, I’m going to be developing different supporting artifacts to flesh out each story. The locale-based Tiki mug has been working out for us, and I have some more ideas in that vein, so I’d expect to see more of that.

 

What’s next for Horror in Clay?

 

Our next two drawing-board projects are the shade parasol and bitters to help fill in the gap while the next mug is developed. The idea for the next mug is already around. How quickly it sees life as a prototype depends on how the Kickstarter for the Innsmouth Fogcutter does. It was two years between the Cthulhu Tiki Mug and the Innsmouth Fogcutter.

 

What do you do when you aren’t crafting Horror in Clay?

 

Designing things and doing a little freelance, monitoring the media streams and watching movies. Just lately I’ve also been writing a little. I have some essays in “Monster Serials: Morbid Love Letters to Horror Cinema” from www.thecollinsporthistoricalsociety.com.  Ever more frequently I seem to be shipping orders, which is a great thing. Oh, and I love supporting my local tiki bars and theme restaurants!

 

Horror on Clay can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/horrorinclay and on twitter @CthulhuMug.

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