By ROCCO THOMPSON
A resident of the oppressively sunny Jacksonville, Florida, Jeremy Spicer is an artist, host, and performer better known on the convention circuit as “The Toymaker.” Through his company, Germ Spider Designs, Spicer creates found object pieces that gleefully skirt the line between artistic and outrageous: using cast-off teddy bears to juxtapose the creepy with the cute. With his iconic button dimples and army of evil plushies, this clown prince of the macabre sees his art as an extension of himself, transporting viewers to a dark carnival where the clowns are scary, the prizes are monstrous, and the only thing that’ll turn your stomach quicker than too much cotton candy is a gaze at the oozing faces of his heinous creations.
What’s your artistic background?
I’m entirely self-taught. I was the overly quiet kid in school who would sit in the back of the class and draw monsters all day. In of my few memories from first or second grade, I recall a classmate drawing puppies and selling them for twenty-five cents. I never liked this particular girl (or maybe I did, kids are weird.) so I decided to one-up her by drawing monster dogs and giving them away for free. Almost every kid left class that day with one of my drawings! Looking back, it wasn’t the smartest business decision, but…
What first drew you to Horror?
My mom and I have always had trouble sleeping. We’d stay up late at night and watch Horror movies, so that was my first exposure. As I got older I came to appreciate just how amazing the genre is. Not only is it built upon getting the types of reactions that I’ve always craved from people, but so much love and effort goes into effects work. From those late nights with my mom to the embrace of the crowd, the genre has always been like a warm hug to me!
How did your persona, The Toymaker, come to be?
The idea of The Toymaker has been with me for a long time, before I even started making art. I grew up obsessed with sideshows, the circus, and, of course, clowns. I would draw pictures of this misty, abandoned carnival, with a single clown lurking somewhere in it. This clown, who at the time was nameless, started to gain a backstory in my head. I imagined the carnival as this place that only he could take you to, where the idea of fun and fright were intertwined. As I grew older and eventually became a “professional” artist, the idea of dressing up as the character seemed like an obvious extension of that. Not only does it catch people’s eye and lure them to me, but it allows me to do an entirely separate form of art using myself as the canvas, so to speak. When I’m The Toymaker, I’m more me than I am when I’m not. Of course, I adore conventions, because I get to interact with people. I’ve developed a fan base not just because of my art, but because you get an experience at my booth. My setup transports you from a run-of-the-mill convention to a seedy, diabolical carnival, and I’m your clown guide: microphone on and at the ready to either amuse you or make you shiver!
What’s your preferred medium?
I’m mainly known for crafting what I call “Infected Toys,” which are teddy bears that I repurpose with teeth, eyes, tongues, and gore…all of which is handmade. I also do paintings every so often and am a fan of digital drawings as well. Outside of that, I consider my spoken words a type of medium all their own. When I am The Toymaker and I’m in front of a crowd, I’m creating art through performance just as I would with my hands. Getting a crowd to react to what I create is why I do what I do!
What is your creative process like?
I usually roam thrift stores and yard sales looking for plushies that speak to me. It might be an interesting face, surprising color, or level of vintage-ness that catches my eye, but in any case, I find a unique piece and imagine all of the different body horror things I can do to it! Maybe it needs a gigantic mouth full of fangs, or maybe half of it body burned away, or even a giant eyeball for a face. I play all of these visuals out in my head, then imagine how it would look hanging from a rusty chain at a foggy carnival midway.
Which piece are you most proud of?
I recently crafted an eight-foot-tall teddy bear for a customer. That took months and months of work, and the thing had the largest teeth I have ever created. I’m proud of myself for taking the time to make something so large and intricate. That said, never again!
What has been your greatest challenge as a maker?
When I was first starting out, the challenge was to get noticed! But, I quickly found my footing and my voice, and dressing up like a clown definitely helped. Outside of that, currently, my goal is to keep challenging myself. I don’t ever want to become stagnant so I strive to push myself while also challenging the way people view my work.
What’s your next big project?
Currently, I’m working on sixteen vintage Care Bears for a number of customers. I’m extremely excited, because anything I can warp and twist that has a strong sense of nostalgia attached to it always illicits a big reaction. Either I get, “This is amazing!” or “I hope you die slowly.” –and I love both. Any strong reaction to my art is great!
What’s your favorite Horror movie?
John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). Not only is it the perfect combination of Horror and Comedy, but the practical effects hold up and are still incredibly impressive today. It’s one of those films you can watch over and over again without getting bored.
Who is your muse?
All of the great Horror effects creators. Without seeing their talents onscreen as a kid, I’d probably be a sales clerk at a department store right now instead of doing what I love!
What’s the best Horror flick you saw recently?
It will surprise no one, but I loved the new IT (2017). Visually, it was everything my art is about. CLOWN (2014) is another obvious choice, but I genuinely loved that film for taking something that could have easily been schlocky so seriously.
What’s the worst you saw recently?
I made the dire mistake of watching LEATHERFACE (2017), recently. I haven’t wanted to punch my TV so hard in a long while. That movie was an absolute disaster from start to finish. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE series is one of my favorites, and sure, some of them have been awful, but none have made me physically angry while watching them like that horrible piece of trash.
What would you like people to take away from your work?
As long as I leave an impression on people and get a reaction from them—whether they’re delighted or disgusted—I am satisfied. I want people to leave my booth and talk about what they saw at dinner for the next few nights. I want them to post on social media that they just met the weirdest clown or that they just saw a teddy bear covered in oozing sores. I want them to question where their own line between joy and revulsion is. There are so many people that buy my art, but just aren’t sure why, they’re just compelled to! I love that. They hate to look at it because it disgusts them…yet they can’t resist purchasing an Infected Toy to take home and put on their shelf. That is why I do what I do.
Check out his booth:
Jacksonville Tattoo Convention: August 24th-26th
Ancient City Con: September 7th-9th
Jekyll Comic Con: December 8th-9th