[Fran] I am the owner and sole employee of Tentickle Toys, and I go by the name Fran Tickle.
[Fran] As a monster-lover and a horror aficionado I am fascinated by all things grotesque, but I often like to add a sprinkle of cartoonish cuteness. I grew up watching a lot of 80s horror and loving a dark aesthetic, though as I’ve gotten older my tastes have opened up to bold bright colours and general silliness. Tentickle falls somewhere in the middle of this dichotomy!
[Fergus] How long have you been making toys?
[Fran] Tentickle opened for business in December 2020, and I spent around 8 months designing/developing and making toys before then. It all started when my regular line of work dried up at the start of the pandemic in the UK, and I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I had the idea for the business a few years before this (and already had the necessary skills and materials knowledge), but a non-stop freelance lifestyle didn’t allow the time to develop Tentickle until my other work ground to a halt.
[Fran] For 10+ years I’ve been working as an SFX Artist and a Propmaker in Film, Theatre and Events. I started out as an SFX Makeup Artist working primarily on independent film sets (mainly horror). The job involves a lot of sculpting, mould-making and painting, which I realised would stand me in good stead to branch out into propmaking. I’m happy as long as I’m making things. My work is primarily organic in nature, and for the last few years my freelance work has largely consisted of making body parts!
[Fergus] How did you get into the SFX industry in the first place? Is this something you always wanted to do or just got into through happenstance?
[Fran] I wanted to get into SFX since around age 11 when I suddenly saw past the blood and guts on screen, and realised it was a job that existed! The careers advisor at school tried to steer me towards a more sensible stable option and he almost succeeded; I quit my Art Foundation course right before it started and instead did a Uni degree in Psychology.
Before Uni I figured that pretty much no-one gets to do a job they enjoy, but after I got my degree I realised that I’d be filled with regret if I didn’t at least attempt to follow a more creative path. So I took a short Media Makeup course at Shepperton Studios and spent about 5-6 years working on unpaid or low paid jobs while working a “normal” day job. Eventually when I diversified into propmaking as well, I was able to support myself and pack in the day job.
[Fran] The toy that got me truly excited about making my own toys is Strange Bedfellas’ Ohdan. I hadn’t seen a toy that spoke to my tastes quite so much up to that point; I had mainly seen fantasy toys based around animals and humans, but seeing SB’s beautiful monstrous design gave me a boost when I saw my interests reflected as a toy. And to top it off, the colours of the specific toy I saw reminded me of a packet of pickled onion flavour ‘Monster Munch’ crisps, which was a visual joy for a child of the 80s growing up in the UK!
[Fergus] What’s your favourite monster munch flavour? I will judge you on this one.
[Fran] Well surely it has to be the OG flavour: pickled onion! I was obsessed with them as a kid. I remember one day when I ate about 8 packets and lost my sense of taste for about 3 days afterwards! I think the flavour was a lot stronger back then.
[Fran] It’s been really great to learn 3D modelling and 3D printing. The early days were an uphill struggle as my skills are generally more practical and I don’t have an in-depth understanding of technology, but now that I’ve found my stride I enjoy the process. I haven’t yet lost the excitement of watching a 3D printer do its magic (that is, when everything is going smoothly!). Possibly the worst part is not having enough hours in the day and/or the budget to make all the ideas I have for the shop. It’s tough knowing which thing to pick next. I’d like to expand the range and create more types of toy, though I’m conscious of trying to be sensible and grow the business at a sensible pace.
[Fran] I am discovering that there is no right or wrong way to operate this kind of business (as long as your practices are safe), which is a great thing. I made the mistake in the beginning of launching with 5 toys, of which there were 3 sizes of each, because I thought I had to have all the sizes available from day one. That’s 15 separate moulds which is a lot of time and materials spent, and I hadn’t gauged how any of these models would be received by customers before investing in them.
[Fran] I would love to make a full-sized creature with extremities that could consist of different play sensations, such as insertable tentacles with different textures or girths, grinding sections, tentacles that can wrap around etc. Sort of an adult “jungle gym”! It would be a hefty expensive item to make and buy, not to mention the shipping cost! I definitely think that is my SFX background coming into play. One day, maybe…
[Fergus] If I gave you a bag of cash (questionable source or not) to invest in your business, how would you use it?
[Fran] First off (rather boringly) I would replace my ancient decrepit laptop. My partner laughs at how willing I am to make do with old tech compared to him, but I think it’s finally time to update. I would also invest in a resin printer so I can experiment with detailed models that might be tricky to achieve on my filament printer. And if this bag of cash was sizeable I’d buy a house with a workshop on the adjoining land, so I could upgrade from working in a small spare bedroom!
[Fran] My next toy design is a maw, which I’m rather excited about as it is my most detailed toy sculpt to date. It’ll give me a chance to test a new moulding technique, which will hopefully set a precedent with my processes and make it possible to experiment with designs that would’ve previously been tricky. I have a toy designed for release around Halloween too, which I’m looking forward to putting out there.
[Fran] The website is www.tentickletoys.com and you can keep up to date with current goings-on using Twitter and Instagram, both of which use the handle @tentickletoys.
This has been an interview with the shop owner of Tentickle Toys. It’s been interesting learning more of the people who create these amazing products and to get an insight into what goes on in an independent shop.
Equally, if you think you might have an interesting story to tell and want to talk then feel free to contact us as well, we would love to hear from you.
Also feel free to talk to us on our discord server!