The Brave Little Toaster | A Bedtime Story for Young Appliances

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With only two days left for Inktober I wanted to revisit another childhood tale that I still cherish. Many kids from my generation will recall that ‘story about appliances on a road trip that traumatized my childhood.’ It turns out there is a big difference between the original story – “A Bedtime Story for Young Appliances” by Thomas Disch (illustrated by Karen Schmidt) – and the 1987 musical/fever dream directed by Jerry Rees.

It was difficult to find a copy of the original story, with most copies costing upwards of $100. I managed to find one in a back issue of a ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’ anthology (April 2009) for $5. I would still like to find an original illustrated copy, but having just the text makes it easier to re-envision the characters. It’s hard to step away from the iconic designs of the animated feature though – designs that I admire. They used the features of the appliances at the time masterfully, on top of creating a vast repertoire of expressive gestures and visual gags unique to each appliance (the vacuum having a panic attack and choking on his chord, for example).

In this illustration I took a similar approach as with the ‘Giant Peach’ characters in that I didn’t want to humanize them. As much as possible I left the characterization in the gesture. Having drawn five appliances it looked too much like a still life, so I added mood via lighting. The long low shadow coming in through the window suggests the encroaching darkness in their spirits. The vacuum is already in darkness while the toaster is square in the beam of light. They are all charging at a single outlet (a three pronged, 1960’s feature) – the electronic equivalent of putting all their hands in a circle.