Warm months are here, and that means tiki drink time! Check out our very first Mr. Booze interview with visionary, pop-culture, horror/tiki guru, Jonathan Chaffin, of Horrorinclay.com. We go “geek” with this one and aren’t afraid to ask the cocktail-fan-boy questions that true fans of tiki, horror, pulp fiction, and cocktails want to know.
Jonathan and Allison Chaffin started HorrorinClay.com as an outlet for Jonathan’s obsession in the merging of the worlds of pop-Polynesian culture and classic horror. Dabbling in quirky hybrid creations, the Chaffins discovered that not only was a market there, it was as hungry for product as a vampire is for blood. Horror In Clay began as a thought experiment to create all the trappings and ephemera of a Lovecraftian tiki bar called Pickman’s Cove. The Chaffins approached the fundraising site Kickstarter for financial help, and raised the necessary dough in just 74 hours, which demonstrated the world’s appetite for this style of mug. For those of you not in the know, the term “Lovecraftian” is based on the pulp-writer H.P. Lovecraft’s enormous, often tentacled archetypal menagerie of fantastic, ancient gods, demons, and creatures. Writing in the 1920’s – late 30’s, Lovecraft created horror fiction based on a theme of forbidden knowledge, rites, and lore, overseen by a demon/god called Cthulhu. I know it sounds “far-out-there” but Lovecraft’s writings did and continue to influence horror and writers of fantastic fiction almost 100 years later. So much so, that a pretty cool guy is basing a whole line of tiki products on it … and they’re selling like hotcakes.
1) Mr. Booze: Jonathan, I’m holding HorrorInClay’s first tiki mug, Cthulhu (see picture) in my hand right now, and it’s just fantastic. I gotta say your love of Lovecraft certainly comes through with this mug. The detail is as deep as in any mug I’ve seen with Tiki Farm, Tikimania, or any other solid and celebrated producers. Did the subject matter demand that sort of detail? If so, why?
Chaffin: I would say the subject matter absolutely did demand this level of detail (as a side note: Tiki Farm actually did handle the mass production of this mug and did an excellent job). The mug hearkens back to Lovecraft’s description of a statue of Cthulhu described as “between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. ” That line, “of exquisitely artistic workmanship”, and subsequent references to unnaturally lifelike detail suggested to me that a highly naturalistic approach would be appropriate over a more primitive or impressionistic sculpture. I commissioned an appropriate sculptor with that in mind. The tribal tattoos like the half moko (Maori) and the arm and leg tattoos and pe’a (Hawaiian) were meant to imply the original sculpture upon which the mug was based was contributed to by many traditions.
2) Mr. Booze: A 74 hour Kickstart start-to-finish is beyond impressive. Were you two surprised by the strong support?
Chaffin: We were shocked and thrilled and humbled. (Look at the thank you video I did after we hit our initial goal; I was totally overwhelmed.) We’re very touched and grateful people wanted to support our project. It’s garnered some attention on the internet, and it allowed us to start a fledgling side business. We set out with a very modest goal – to raise $12,500 for a production run of 500 mugs, and we gave ourselves more than 30 days to do it. When the kickstarter launched we got some very good momentum very fast from mentions on boingboing.net, laughingsquid.com, and i09.com. I don’t think anyone in my entire family slept that whole weekend, because every time we refreshed the webpage the number of donors/money raised went up. We went from “this could work,” to “this is working!” to “how are we going to make this work”!? For the record, we ended up ordering 2000 mugs, which is 3 palates stacked higher than your head. The logistics involved with getting the kickstarter fulfilled were staggering. I couldn’t have done it without Allison and some very dedicated friends and childcare. We ended up raising about $64K after kickstarter fees and taxes. Almost all the money was spent fulfilling the kickstarter, but the publicity has generated a lot of demand for the mug and other HorrorInClay.com products, which is awesome!
Chaffin: Pickman’s Cove is my own small contribution to Lovecraft’s Mythos. It is a fictional locale which was located in Boston near Copp’s Hill. Pickman’s Cove was a tiki bar opened by Ben Upton, an entrepreneurial photographer who happened to be the nephew of the infamous artist Richard Pickman. Poor Ben is presumed dead. In my head Pickman’s Cove is pretty similar to the Molokai Lounge at the Mai-Kai and the back porch at the Bookhouse Pub in Atlanta, with a smidgeon of Disney’s Haunted Mansion thrown in. Allison and I certainly have a home bar! It is filled with all sorts of tiki junk and artwork. A fair number of autographs from horror actors and posters, etc., battle for space with lowbrow and tiki art; that conflict helped push the idea of the mug to the forefront of my mind. When you think of horror and tiki one of the natural intersections is sea-monsters, and Cthulhu is one of the best sea-monsters ever!
4) Mr. Booze: I see your site HorrorinClay.com offers a few additional home bar items like Lovecraftian swizzle sticks and jiggers. Do you plan on continuing this line based on the excellent response your mug has received?
Chaffin: I definitely intend to continue to explore some of the ideas I’ve had over the years. The success of the kickstarter has given me a little more confidence to subject my ideas to public scrutiny. I still love tiki and horror after all. My goal is to continue exploring and creating products that tell a story. I do have another project underway now, but it isn’t ready for the big reveal yet.
5) Mr. Booze: I’m a pulp-fiction nut and know that H.P. Lovecraft and pulp writer and Conan the Barbarian creator, Robert E. Howard, were pen pals and friends. Any plans to create a bridge celebrating their friendship with a Howard themed mug?
Chaffin: Sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t actually read any Conan the Barbarian! Perhaps I should take a look though. I can tell you that the way I design, I would be more likely to work on a different product set for a Conan themed project (not a tiki mug). Perhaps a lavishly engraved drinking horn or something. That’s really neat that they were friends though…I’ll have to give him read.
6) Mr. Booze: Staying on the 30’s pulp magazines for one more question… Writers Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Walter Gibson (The Shadow) also contributed stories which still influence practically all of today’s modern comic and literary heroes. Would you ever consider celebrating other pulp fiction creations through tiki?
Chaffin: Let me tell you, I’m considering all kinds of things! What do you do when you have years of notebooks with scribblings, sketches, and ideas, and someone tells you they want to see more of your work? It’s hard to know where to begin! I’m a huge Mickey Spillane fan, myself. I’m a little torn about this question because I’m not sure how I would pursue a Doc Savage or Shadow themed mug. I would probably go for creating a drinking vessel in keeping with their particular zeitgeists, if you catch my drift. That said, who knows what Evil lurks in the thoughts of…me. No idea. Certainly, I love all those creations, and if I became passionate about a way to pay homage to them through a product, I would.
7) Mr. Booze: When you mention “horror-themed barware,” can you give us a few hints as to what may lie down the pike? Might we see more traditional monster themed creations? Universal Studios horror? Hammer Studios horror?
Chaffin: A few hints, eh? I think a follow-up to the Horror In Clay is likely. I’m a huge fan of German Expressionism and art deco. I have a project about 80% done; bar piece and supporting barware. And I’m a huge fan of the works of Edgar Allen Poe and of Robert Louis Stevenson. Those aren’t “hints” per se, but some things I’ve been passionate about my whole life and have concepts for. Additionally, there are a few pieces of barware directly related to what’s on the site now that are in development.
8) Mr. Booze: Do you collect barware? If so, any themes or decades? What catches your eye?
Chaffin: I collect EVERYTHING. : ) But particularly barware. I collect tiki mugs, which goes without saying I think (I have over 100). Some subsets in there include early Tiki Farm, Trader Vics, Frankie’s Tiki Room, and tiki bowls. The winner is a 1/1 custom glazed Crazy Al #80, if you’re curious. I also collect matchbooks, menus, coasters, swizzles, and figurines. I also collect lowbrow and pop art, and monster toys, and art books, and B movie autographs, and random ephemera (paper advertising). Also zippos, cufflinks with pinups, monster masks, and fezzes. I get particularly excited when I find something which was once a daily necessity, or necessity for entertaining, and has now been forgotten. Case in point – the handled jigger on our website – I wanted to make one because I inherited my great-uncle’s stag-horn double jigger. It’s just an elegant functional thing to me…I love things like that.
9) Mr. Booze: I love your color choice (olive green) on the Cthulhu tiki mug. Was/is color important to you and do you plan on a traditional color palette, or will you mix it up with future mugs?
Chaffin: I think the color palette will be dictated by the project. Note that even on the current mug, there are several color variations that were made…the production run is olive, but there are limited editions that were pine, and others that were purple. (And one that you can see on our Facebook page that is almost lifelike…it’s gorgeous).
10) Mr. Booze: Besides tiki mugs, what other barware pieces might we expect from HorrorinClay.com in the future?
Chaffin: I don’t want to tip off exactly where we are going next. There are a few more tiki mugs in the pipe, and another vessel that I think is really cool that may cause a bit of a stir when it’s produced … no ETA on that one. We’ll keep making pieces that I think are neat and that I’d like to see in my bar. : ) I can tell you we have a case in the works suitable for carrying your mug to and from your favorite cult meetings, if that’s a good enough teaser. Not a product, but we are starting to take this show on the road in the southeast a bit; we will be at ConCarolinas.org in Charlotte, and at the Atlanta Rockabilly Luau in August, just in case you want to drop by and say hi. 11)
Mr. Booze: Favorite tiki cocktail?
Chaffin: Personally, I love the Trader Vic’s Suffering Bastard, and also the rum barrel at the Mai Kai. At home I drink a lot of Hurricanes and Dark n’ Stormies. Of course, I’m mighty fond of the CTHULHU WAITS DREAMING we had created for the mug. Your readers may get a kick out of it. If you want to keep up with our doings we have an active facebook page, and a business related blog at www.horrorinclay.com. Thanks for the interest!
CTHULHU WAITS DREAMING
- 2 oz gold rum dash of dark rum
- 1/2 oz brandy
- 1/4 tsp absinthe
- 1/2 oz cinnamon syrup*
- 1/2 oz orgeat syrup
- 2 oz grapefruit juice
- juice of 1/2 small lemon
- 5 dashes Angostura bitters
- fresh seawater
Begin by rinsing your Cthulhu vessel with fresh seawater. If you happen to be trapped inland, you can use 1/2 tbs sea salt dissolved in a cup of water instead. Then, in a shaker, combine all the other ingredients over ice. Shake and strain into the Cthulhu vessel over crushed ice. Chant “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” over the top before drinking. After a few of these, Cthulhu may well return.
*to make the cinnamon syrup: Crush 3 cinnamon sticks and place in a saucepan with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let steep for 2 hours. Strain and bottle. Keeps for a month in the fridge.
Recipe by Constantina Psomas
To order the Horror In Clay, H.P. Lovecraft inspired tiki mug, or any of Jonathan’s other cool, monster/tiki inspired goodies, visit the Horrorinclay.com website. Additional items to follow.