Tentacle Kitty is an adorable pink tentacled cat from another dimension. She features in her own comic, and there is also wall art, apparel, and adorable plush available!
From their website:
“John and Raena Merritt are the husband and wife team responsible for all things Tentacle Kitty. Since 2009 they have worked together on character design, product development, and the recently released web comic series on Tapastic. When it actually comes to putting pixel to paper, John Merritt creates whimsical and fantastic worlds. Awkwardly merged with Raena’s storytelling,and violently smashed with their combined “outside the box” humor, they have created a universe full of fun, adventure, and, most importantly, tentacles.”
While I originally discovered Tentacle Kitty once upon a time on the hall floor of Emerald City Comic Con, I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know John, his wife, and their children a bit more over breakfasts in the lobby at our con hotel and before & after show hours on the convention floor.
John was gracious enough to take some time out of his ever-packed schedule to answer my questions.
How did you get started? How did the idea for making this a business come about?
It was a dark and stormy night… literally. I was trying to make something really cute for my fiancé (now wife). I took my love for kitties, and Raena’s love for tentacles, put them together with a bit of pink and boom: Tentacle Kitty. You know how on “Bill Nye The Science Guy” he spends an entire episode on magnets? Rae came home from class one day (marine biology) and said “TENTACLES! They are the coolest things!” she then spent 23 mins telling me about them in detail. They are pretty cool.
When did you make the decision to leave the world of “standard” employment? Did you ease in while still working a traditional job?
I’ve never really been one for traditional jobs. I did freelance graphic design for most of my college years until I started working in the video game industry. I did that for about 4 years while I was developing Tentacle Kitty on the side. I plan on getting back into video games though, I really enjoyed it.
What is an average workday like for you? How many hours a day do you work on average?
Starts off bright and early so I can take my kiddos to school around 9am. After that I avoid emails as much as I can if I am doing any sort of art that day. For the most part I deal with customer service, shipping and other logistics for conventions, negotiating deals, and generally trying to keep the business stuff going. I usually work about a standard 8 hours those days. On really great days I get to work on comics or posters, and I generally work close to 12 hours then. Weekends tend to not be a thing. Every so often though I will just take a day off and relax. Makes going to the movies with Rae during the day nice as we never have to worry about crowded theaters.
How often do you exhibit at shows or fairs? What was the first show you did and how did it go? (What was the aftermath in terms of how you moved forward?)
The most shows we’ve done a year was close to 30. On average though we usually do at least one a month. Our first show was Comicpalooza in Houston, TX. We had an artist alley table with 4 posters and a prototype plush. We did better than we expected, but it wasn’t until the year after when we finally had plushes that we knew we were onto something. They sold like hotcakes and by the end of the show we sold out of all the products we brought. It just so happened to be that the con took place a week after Timegate Studios (the game studio I worked at the time) closed their doors after a particularly nasty legal battle with their publisher.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
I would say the biggest thing we’ve done to grow was getting into more shows, and consistently coming out with new plush designs. If we kept with the basic designs time and again we wouldn’t have the growing fanbase we have now.
What plans do you have for expansion?
We have several ideas in the works but nothing I can talk too much about. Guess the main thing we are doing is trying to expand our retailers. We have several already but having more would make things a bit easier for us.
What outsiders have been most important to your business success? (e.g., customers, suppliers, mentors, etc.)
The fans hands down. If it wasn’t for their continued support and enthusiastic encouragement, we would have given up a long time ago.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
They say “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, for us it seems “A touch is worth a thousand pictures” The moment people pick up our plushes you can see the moment they become fans. It’s probably my most favorite thing to see.
What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
“Sign right here” on a contract that included a small snippet that said “We own everything you’ve ever done and will do”. Rule #1 read contracts.
What three pieces of advice would you offer creative entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Read contracts. All. Of. It.
2. Always consider all the options that could help you grow even if they seem odd.
3. Take the time to enjoy life. Working 24/7 won’t make your life better.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Well moving to Colorado Springs, CO and McMinnville, OR were bad calls. I ended up with almost daily migraines from the altitude in Colorado Springs, and got attacked by a random meth addict in my driveway in McMinnville (THOUGHT it was a nice neighborhood…). There was also about 2 years there we didn’t do much conventions or growth as we were busy with a couple projects that ultimately haven’t come to fruition.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I really think the best one was after our second convention when all seemed lost when Timegate closed. That convention got us on our feet and found us a path to follow.
What is your favorite thing about living this creative life?
I think the biggest thing, I can take days off randomly and no one yells at me for not showing up to work. Not that I did that before… Just saying. Its nice.
What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?
Raena. She keeps me afloat when I’m feeling like I’m drowning. If it wasn’t for her this whole thing wouldn’t have happened, and wouldn’t have continued.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Well, not particularly admire them, but I have a soft spot for MadCatz (RIP…sortof). Their mice were the only ones that fit my hands well enough that I completely lost a pretty severe case of Carpel Tunnel. Plus their mice look awesome. Apparently the manufacturing company over in china bought them out after they went belly up. So that’s cool.
Thank you so much to John for answering all my questions!
Please visit Tentacle Kitty, support them on Patreon, and also keep an eye out for their upcoming kickstarter! The best way to keep up to date is to follow them on social media: