“I cut up bears in my underwear.”
These words from anyone else’s lips may seem strange, particularly sitting in dappled sunshine in the peace of Old City Cemetery surrounded by the long-dead. Somehow it feels natural to sit in a cemetery chuckling about slicing open teddy bears with Jeremy Spicer, the brains, needle and glue behind Germ Spider Designs, a line of dystopian circus toys that are the cause of his near-stitch-less stitching. Otherwise, he explains, he’ll get (fake) blood all over his clothes. Well, that and when he’s not thrilling and chilling as The Toymaker, a demented clown character who skirts the line of creepy and funny, Spicer likes to feel the breeze.
Actually, he laughs, sometimes he likes to feel the breeze when he is performing as The Toymaker. While MC-ing a recent event for local burlesque troupe Infernal Doll Factory, he dropped trou on stage.
“It’s what I love to do; I love joking around,” Spicer says.
Growing up, the 31-year-old Jacksonville native never would have predicted he’d become a performer comfortable being pants-less before a crowd. The excessively shy redheaded child with pale skin and startling green eyes saw a future that followed the center lane of the beaten path, perhaps as an accountant or something equally average.
After high school, Spicer dove right into middle-of-the-road America and got a job at JC Penney in Orange Park. He loved the world of horror, however, and, when he couldn’t sleep, would pass the time watching movies featuring vampires, werewolves and other such ghouls. Working retail gradually stripped away his reservations and, eight years ago, he agreed to play a creepy Santa for an event. He’d already been creating horror-inspired 3D paintings, but this was his first performance.
The creepy Santa costume, he says, was “really bad. I really just looked like a homeless person.”
Bad costume or no, the experience gave him a taste of exciting possibilities, stoking the flames of a passion that had probably been there all along.
Over the next few years, he tried different costumes, including a burn victim clown called Melt-O, before lighting on The Toymaker, which, along with Germ Spider Designs, has made him a fixture in the horror community and convention circuit.
At Warehouse 31 Unleashed on a recent evening, The Toymaker was an unmistakable favorite; hardly a few minutes passed before someone called out to him for a picture or just to talk to The Toymaker. He’s natural with the crowd, trading barbs, delivering lines and quips with such joy and ease that anyone can see he loves what he does. Just don’t call him Spicer when he’s performing. After all, he is in character.
Several years ago, Spicer got the idea to create the first versions of his infected circus, retrofitted toys (probably from Hades). Designs vary widely, but from behind, most of the toys look like common retail plushies; face the front you’ll be confronted by a gaping mouth, oversized fangs dripping blood, surrounded by gory, pulpy flesh.
“As soon as I started doing the infected toys, it took off,” he says.
The name Germ Spider Designs is a play on his name—Germ is a common nickname for people named Jeremy and Spicer was often confused with Spider when he was in school. Though Halloween is naturally a busy time, Spicer said his toys sell year-round to places as far away as Asia and to celebrities like Naomi Grossman of TV series American Horror Story. Christmas is a big time for sales, and, oddly, so is Valentine’s Day.
“There are some weird people out there who are probably single after they give it,” he says, chuckling.
Some of the toys he creates have special names—Toxic Tara, Carnivorous Carl, Pink-eye Paula, Gonorrhea Gary—others are stock characters like the little “Biters.” He also takes custom jobs. He’s just completed work on a seven-foot tall bear, eight-feet tall after his alterations, for a customer in North Carolina. Spicer will work on pretty much any stuffed animal: Care Bears, Muppets, stuffed gators, Hello Kitty dolls, whatever. They’re all fair game.
“Oooh, I love Hello Kitties,” he says. “Their heads are perfect to mess with.”
As recognizable as his work has become—Spicer was even voted the Best Local Weirdo in Best of Jax, surely the crowning achievement of his career thus far (okay, perhaps not)—Spicer takes words of praise with charming humility. (He also still paints and has a painting in the contest at the Haunted Brewery at Anheuser Busch.) When it’s pointed out that he’s become successful as a performer and entrepreneurial toymaker with no formal training in performing, applying makeup, creating costumes, making toys or sewing, he seems honestly surprised. “When you put it like that, it sounds pretty cool,” he says.