It’s smile time in The Adventure Zone
People create all sorts of things to celebrate the things they love—fanart, fanfiction, cosplay, jewelry, even mock trailers and video games. All these things are wonderful, love-filled expressions of creativity, but occasionally something comes along that makes you gasp in utter delight at the uniqueness and sheer awesomeness of it.
“Puppets are good wingmen at cons.” I’m talking to Anne Kirn, a professional plush maker and, it so happens, a casual puppet constructor. She runs House of Darkly, which originally started as a clothes shop for ball-jointed dolls, then turned to cosplay, and then finally to plush. It’s a trajectory of unique passions that’d make her a good guest for her own podcast Guilty Treasures, an interview-style show featuring guests talking about their guilty pleasures.
“With any hobby you become very serious about, you ultimately kinda need a new hobby to replace it,” Kirn explains. “I made a plush monster out of some faux fur I found while shopping for cosplay supplies, and my friends were so excited to have one too that they talked me into trying vending.” Ten years later, she’s a professional designer plush artist, exhibiting at conventions like New York Comic Con. But, as this work became her job, she needed to find a new pastime.
“I was always interested in puppetry but didn’t have a chance to do anything related,” she tells me. “As my plush hobby had become my full-time job, I needed something else to do on the side, and I was at a point where I thought maybe the techniques would transfer enough that I wasn’t going in totally clueless.”
And that’s how Jared Puppalecki came into this world.
The Birth of a Puppet
As a longtime fan of Supernatural, Kirn started her journey into puppet making with none other than Sam Winchester, the demon-hunting brother portrayed by Jared Padalecki. She grabbed a base from Project Puppet, a resource with puppet patterns and instructions for beginners, and began to modify it for her needs. She also took advantage of the many tutorial on YouTube, like Stiq Puppets.
“It’s important to know that no two builders use the exact same combination of techniques, she says. “It’s always very unique to the builder, so it’s more about finding a jumping off point. Especially since there’s no right answer to how puppets should be made.”
Ultimately, Kirn opted for the relatable and recognizable “Henson style” for her puppet construction. Constructed from foam with an Antron fleece skin—the official skin of The Muppets—Jared Puppalecki finally came into being after countless hours of work.
Naturally, Jared couldn’t be all on his lonesome, so Kirn next built Misha Collins’ Castiel and Jensen Ackles’ Dean Winchester from the same series. But she wasn’t stopping there. While she admits working off human models like those in Supernatural is much easier, Kirn’s love for The Adventure Zone roleplaying podcast ( a love so strong she created Romancing the Zone, a fancast of The Adventure Zone) had to be fully realized in fleece and foam.
“For the TAZ puppets, which were my first ones not based on actors, I went heavily with the art Carey Pietsch did that ultimately wound up being the graphic novel,” Kirn explains. But she also incorporated her own ideas into the puppets’ overall look. “I didn’t feel the need to copy everything exactly and went with my own mental image on some details—Magnus with a full beard never felt right to me when I was building, even though I love Carey’s art.”
The result is a set of characters instantly recognizable to fans of the show, but with the unique personal touch of all fan interpretations.
The Life of a Puppet
As the puppets’ numbers increased, they began to attract attention thanks to Twitter and Instagram. One thing lead to another, and soon Kirn’s Supernatural puppet family was meeting their flesh and blood originals.
“Jared Padalecki was the first to meet his and he was very excited,” she tells me. “He’s a wonderful guy anyway, but his reaction really encouraged me, since I had no idea how he’d respond. I’m always worried someone will have had a childhood fear of puppets!”
That meeting turned into another once she completed the Castiel puppet and took him out for a spin as well. “Misha Collins and Jared got to play with each other’s puppets, which was very much an overgrown child thing—but they were laughing the whole time so it was worth some minor damage to puppet Misha’s arm.”
Kirn’s Adventure Zone puppets got a similar opportunity when Travis McElroy stumbled upon her and puppet Taako in line at San Diego Comic Con. Kirn admits she was quite startled, but Travis was exceptionally delighted, even more so when he was introduced to his own character, Magnus. Later on, Clint McElroy—the voice of Merle the dwarf—got to meet the whole crew in New York.
Meeting Their Maker
On meeting the creators with her puppets, Kirn says “it’s very nerve-wracking, honestly, since whether it’s based on a person or their character or both, they’re really the number one person besides yourself you ideally want to be happy with and excited by it. That character is their baby and your art is yours, and so it’s very rewarding if your take brings them some of the joy that the character brings you.”
The reaction to Kirn’s creations overall has been immensely positive. People react to puppets in different ways, and she admits she wasn’t sure how they’d go over with the fan community. Her fears that were ultimately unfounded though—it didn’t take long for Jared Puppalecki to gain a fanbase of his own, with Kirn even setting up a Twitter account to chronicle the puppet’s adventures at conventions.
“I do feel like a bit of a letdown since I’m really a builder and have no experience with performance—I’m terrible at voices,” she admits, though she’s been lucky enough to run into some puppeteers in the convention circuit who give her puppets life. Kirn wants to get better at performing, but for now is happy to let others take the reign.
“It’s especially noticeable and flattering when small children get excited,” she says of reactions to her horde of puppets. “If you can convince a child that the puppet has life, then you’ve done something right. A little girl in San Diego insisted on waving goodbye to them, it was extremely cute. The reaction I get when I’m holding a puppet is different than when I was cosplaying. Still, if they relate to the puppet more than me, I think I’ve done a good job.”
Kirn has no plans to stop making puppets in the long run, but for now is happy with her troupe of fuzzy friends. Creating fan works is something she’s always done, but she has wise words for those hoping to honor the shows and works they love.
“It is really important you do fan art for yourself first,” she says. “It’s part of how I process works I love, bringing some part of them into the world in one way or another. Whether it’s fanart or cosplay or a plush, creators know you loved something they made enough to spend a lot of time making your own thing. It can be a good way to express how affecting a work has been when words don’t seem up to it.”