The British have a long and celebrated tradition of taking the most pleasant and sensible aspects of its popular entertainment culture, spearing it like an endangered animal, and then publicly gutting it. Everything that’s popular and nice in Britain seems to be counter balanced with a brutal, often sadistic and bastardized version of itself.
An anti-culture movement, that’s deliberately works to unmake the tapestry of the country’s fun and frolics.
The latter is a collectible phenomenon that’s been delighting the English underclass for over 15 years. Designed by illustrator Pete Underhill in a moment of perverse inspiration, these ornamental figurines depict cute, once loveable teddy bears in acts of hilarious depravity. And now there’s a Bad Taste Bears smartphone game in the works.
“You have to stroke fluffy pink kittens and feed cuddly puppies,” Pete Underhill laughs when we ask what the game is all about, demonstrating the savage sense of humor that brought the Bad Taste Bears into existence in the first place.
A Kickstarter campaign is underway that aims to create the first iteration of these massively popular and abusive creatures in a medium other than collectable figures. Something that Underhill has wanted to experiment with for a long time.
“I think about games a lot,” he says. “My son, Lewis, has just graduated in video game design and before I became insanely busy I used to be an avid gamer. I like to write stories, and some would lend themselves to games. I see the stuff Lewis creates and I’m itching to have a go. I often think of games and apps that I’d like to develop.”
During the 15-year lifespan of the Bad Taste Bears, Underhill has produced more than 400 different designs. It’s a franchise that’s given birth to a voracious, underground cult of collectors, as each new model is only produced once, and in limited quantities. When it’s sold out, it’s gone from the store shelves of Britain for good.
Bad Taste fanatics are everywhere, which means the new game has to be very protective of its existing fan base, even if those fans arrived from a very different medium. “For me, the brand name carries with it a certain responsibility and one that needs to be satisfied to avoid disappointment in the end user,” Underhill continues. “Over the years I’ve been encouraged by fans of the brand to push the boundaries of bad taste, taking concepts beyond that which I’d have originally shied away from. Obviously, to create something which is not near the knuckle, but beyond the knuckle and past the wrist, heading for the elbow, is possible but would shoot itself in the digital foot because no distributor would touch it.”
The Kickstarter video explains the approach that Underhill and his partners in the project — publisher Clubit New Media and developer FormerDroid — in creating a mini-game compendium that brings to life some of the most popular Bad Taste Bears, while cutting as close to the bone as a cautious distributor like Apple would allow.
It demonstrates some beautifully smooth cartoon animation that will bring the Bad Taste Bears to life for the first time since their conception, and Pete tells us what a revelation it’s been to finally see his creations moving around.
“I’m excited. Interestingly, when I came up with the idea for the Bad Taste Bears all those years ago, my only experience was in two dimensional representation. I figured they’d work well on cards, T-shirts, stationery and so forth. I had no idea that they would be such a success in three dimensions. Therefore, for the Bad Taste Bears to move into the non-dimensional format of digital media is a logical extension of the concept. There’s probably a trendy phrase for the progression,” he smirks. “If not, let’s come up with one. How does ‘media creep’ sound?”
Underhill, and the company behind the Bad Taste Bears production, OddCo, have big plans to help the Bad Taste Bears franchise keep moving — or creeping, as he prefers to think of it — into the digital age. The crowdfunded game is only the first step. “For the time being, with well over 400 characters to choose from, we’ve worked with our existing stable,” he explains. “The follow-up may require bespoke characters, but there’s a fair chance that we already have them waiting to leap into action.”
And it’s not just games that he’d like to see his Bad Taste Bears appear in. Underhill sees a future for his creations in animated web series and reaching deeper into the tasteless realms of merchandising and global infestation.
“We’re going to invade Mars and build a base from which we’ll take over the universe!” he laughs. And looking at the epic range of Bad Taste Bears that line the showcase cabinets of Britain’s anti-cultured collectors, we believe he might just do that.
Check out the Kickstarter campaign for the Bad Taste Bears game, which runs until November 4.