Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Smurf of a mystery

So, last summer someone made a 3D movie about the Smurfs, those little blue guys (and girl) -- and it made a lot of green. Like more than $560 million worth. That’s more than double Green Lantern and about $200 million more than Captain America. Not too shabby for a moribund Belgian comic. I spotted the DVD in a store the other day and it got me thinking about the surprising similarities between the enduring (and annoying) blue imps and the Brownies, a popular turn-of-the-century pop culture phenomenon by writer/cartoonist Palmer Cox.

The Canadian-born Cox created the characters after hearing stories of Scottish/Irish "brownies", mischievous little elvin creatures who would help humans at night. They first appeared in book form in 1883. A secretive society of all-male sprite-like creatures who pulled pranks and occasionally helped out humans, they were easily identifiable thanks to their one-note personalities. Some favourites: Chauncey Quoter (a poet), Major Telloff (an army commander) and Cholly Boutonnière (a top-hatted dandy). Heck, they even sported little peaked caps.

I know, right? I can’t be the only one to connect the dots on this can I? The fact that Cox died in 1924 and Pierre Culliford, the creator of the Smurfs, was born four years later lends at least some credence to the possible connection. Cox's books enjoyed multiple reprints for decades after his death, and were translated into many langugaes, so it's possible that a young Culliford would have been exposed to them. 

Keep in mind, though largely forgotten today the Brownies were wildly popular, with their adventures being translated in multiple languages and many products being sold with their image attached. Ever hear of Kodak’s Brownie camera? Yep -- an early example of sponsorship. I can’t find any info online that suggests Culliford (aka Peyo) used The Brownies as inspiration for his little men (and one woman), but it sure is fun to speculate.

Monday 9 July 2012

A peek at Seth's latest venture: the Crown Barber Shop

He's had his own solo-show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, built a scale-model of the fictional city of Dominion out of cardboard, and once designed a float for a parade. So what could be next for the man called Seth?  

As it turns out, for the past few months he's been hard at work designing a barber shop for his wife, Tania Van Spyk. The Crown Barber Shop, which had its grand opening in Guelph, Ontario this past Saturday, is a sleek homage to the traditional two-chair barber shop -- and fits perfectly into his general mission to remake the world around him.

Located at 219 Silvercreek Parkway in a suburban strip mall the monarchist-inspired shop (a portrait of Kind Edward VI hangs inside) is trademark Seth, as can be seen by the monocle-wearing cartoon king that adorns the front window. 
According to Seth, he wanted to have a large king's head installed on the roof, but city by-laws prohibited it. Dang.

Inside the two-chair shop is tasteful, crisp - and surprisingly modern. Just look at those globe hanging lamps and blue-and-white linoleum tiles. 

And is that a custom-made King mascot figurine I see on the shelf? 

According to Seth this little fella is "The Secret King of Guelph." On the shop front his royal seal (of course) states "By appointment to his Majesty the Secret King of Guelph."

Nice job refurbishing those old barber chairs, too. 

The whole operation is a tasteful homage to the work-a-day, common-man barber shops that I used to go to with my Dad when I was a kid. Sophisticated, but welcoming: the perfect place to spend 15-20 minutes browsing ancient magazines (which raises a question: how old will the periodicals in this place actually be?)


Before I sign off, here's a shot of the space before Seth got his hands on it:


If you're in Guelph, I encourage you to swing by and say Hi to Tania. She's a real swell gall who has been planning for this day for years and I wish her all the best with her new operation. 

I met Paul Martin last weekend (and he's a huge comics fan)!

It's true -- it's all true! I was in Montreal to attend a comics conference and lo and behold, one of the speakers is former Prime Minister (and ex-CEO of Canada Steamship Lines) Paul Martin Jr.! It turns out he's a big big fan of political cartooning, but apparently he digs Doug Wright too. The proof is right there! 

I finagled my way into a little face time with Martin, in part to gift him with a copy of The Collected Doug Wright, the massive awesome tome that I worked on. He knew Wright's work as soon as he cracked it open. Could Martin be a future jury member? A DWA host? A nominee? Who knows? More pictures and the full story are over at the Doug Wright Awards blog.