Snarky and funny illustrated account of a day at the New York Toy Fair

Writer and illustrator Lisa Hanawalt snuck into the New York Toy Fair and wrote/illustrated a very funny, very snarky account of it for The Hairpin. My wife used to go to Toy Fair every year for work, and she always made it sound like a cross between a season in hell and Willy Wonka's toy factory.

The Toy Fair isn't for kids. The show's held yearly at the Javits Center, Manhattan's main convention facility (a.k.a. massive gray box), and it's full of serious adults in business suits with corporate accounts. It's not supposed to be fun. We'll see about that!

Toy Fair badges are only available for pros, so my boyfriend's mom generously registered me and my friend Tim as employees of her chia seed company. My badge says "CHIA POWER/Assistant Buyer." We'll avoid walking by chia products for fear of having to hold our own in a chia conversation.

I want to pretend we're here for legitimate reasons, so Tim and I work out a cover story, "we distribute chia products, but we're looking to branch out into toys and athletics." That totally sounds like a thing, right?

The Toy Fair


  1. Oh, my, flashback!

    About 20 years back I got a badge for the Toy Fair, from Steve Jackson. I was freelancing for SJGames at the time and somehow it came up that he wasn’t going and I lived on Long Island, so . . .

    I remember that security was tight, and that there was a strict NO CHILDREN policy.

    It was pretty tedious. Booth after booth of people pushing their trivia game or their idea of a hot fantasy creature franchise for boys. I got roped into sitting through several demos  by people who thought I was Steve Jackson and thought they’d struck gold.

    One family group had a really peculiar, expensively produced SF boardgame. The family’s teen daughters were dressed in cheesy SF costumes. There was a taint of desperation there. I asked for a card and ordered a copy of the game . . . not because it looked remotely good, but horribly, horribly bad.

    Before I left I went to the TSR booth, which I recall was in the special Toy Center building (off of Broadway?), not the convention center. It was a dimly lit room with no signage or colorful display material or any notion that this company was in the business of fun or adventure. Just a few glass cases with games (e.g., D&D boxed set, Indiana Jones boxed set) under spotlights. They might as well have been selling high-end jewelry, or yachts. I was immediately approached by a no-nonsense prick in a business suit who obviously spotted me as a geek and a waste of his time and wanted me out of there. I doubt he’d touched polyhedra dice in his life.

    I signed up for some free trade journals while I was there. They provided a glum look into the business side of toys and games. I remember an issue with a false cover and lots of sponsored articles about Darkwing Duck; it came out a year or so before the cartoon ran. They were lining up the licensed toy makers, likely before any episodes were produced.

  2. This is indeed great, and her illustrations are charming and hilarious. Also, Kubb is a FANTASTIC game and should totally become the new lawn entertainment game of the millenium! Also, less lethal than slip’n’slide AND lawn darts, despite its viking origins!

  3. Oh lulz….

    “• Here’s an uncomfortable observation: I notice my attraction to certain toys feels kind of … sexual. A lot of these toys have voluptuous and flirtatious designs, for example the My Little Ponies have big soft rumps and perfumed hair. It makes me uneasy.”

  4. Excellent work!  Witty and observant.

    Ms. Hanawalt captures the absurdity, showroom loneliness and corporate desperation of  Toy Fair most accurately.

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