Tobias Berblinger is a champion doodler. He draws pictures on napkins, the backs of receipts, whatever's handy. Most of the pictures share a theme: "little guys doing bad-behavior things," says Berblinger, a DJ who spins regularly at Darkroom, Funky Buddha Lounge, Moonshine, and Harry's Velvet Lounge. His girlfriend, software analyst Yasemin Gokcen, loves his scribblings and saves them in a drawer in her kitchen. This spring she used one of them, a cranky-looking creature named Stromby with a round head, pointy ears, duck feet, and a zigzag for a mouth, as a design for a stuffed toy. She wasn't exactly an expert seamstress--she'd picked up sewing as a hobby when, post-9/11, she was laid off from a computer-programming job--and Stromby came out all wrong. "His ears were too small, his legs too skinny, and his mouth was unintentionally crooked," she says. "The fabric he was made from is hideous and not at all stretchy enough to be properly stuffed, so basically he came out perfectly ridiculous." Stromby's perfect ridiculousness was so endearing the couple sewed imperfections into a few more critters, and that's how the Oddbabies were born.
In late summer Berblinger sent a couple of his drawings to Rotofugi, a West Town store that sells toys and action figures that aren't necessarily meant for children. The store's owners asked him to bring in a few of the finished creations. "They offered to take them on consignment," he says, "but then the next day they said they just wanted to buy them all." Rotofugi, at 1953 W. Chicago, now sells Oddbabies for $30 apiece; you can also get them for $25 from oddbabies.com.
There are only 65 Oddbabies in the world right now (with 35 distinct designs). Each has a tag bearing its bio. Stromby, for instance, is described as an "extremely naughty troublemaker." His favorite activities include "drawing on the walls, banging on pots with his feet and tipping over your mother's favorite lamp. He likes to eat bubblegum and small insects." Most of the 'babies are made of felt, but they're not completely childproof. "They can be played with, but they're more for older people, just to look pretty," says Berblinger. "I showed Skullbaby to one of my cousins, who's four--it has a skull on it but it's not scary, it's just paint--and she cried."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.