Characters 1

Thomas Nast’s Boss Tweed, Uncle Sam, Denslow’s Wizard of Oz, Archie Andrews, Mickey Mouse, Godzilla, Mr. Peanut, Superman, the Ohio State Buckeye, Herbie the car, Hello Kitty. Not exactly (real) persons, but characters that are like persons to various degrees and in various ways. And all created by artists, all animated — given the breath of life — by visual artists of one sort or another.

In later postings I’ll get to two characters that have recently caught my attention: Percy the Platypus, transformed into a CD player; and Cony the Japanese virtual-sticker bunny, now working in short romantic videos with Brown the bear. First, some musings on characters.

Start with the noun character ‘a person in a novel, play, or movie’ (NOAD), extended to something like ‘recognizable individual’ — not necessarily a person, but with some of the characteristics of persons (emotions, personalities, relationships to others, intentions, etc.), created by someone, or “animated” by them, via the written word, the spoken word, actions, or images — or, usually, several of these at once.

Focus here on characters animated by artists, in images:

caricatures of specific real people (Boss Tweed as depicted by Thomas Nast, Hunter S. Thompson as depicted by Ralph Steadman);

iconic embodiments (Uncle Sam, Santa Claus);

fictional characters as realized by illustrators (Denslow’s Wizard of Oz, Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland);

fictional human beings created from scratch (the Flintstones and Jetsons, Archie and his friends, the Simpsons);

anthropomorphic animals (Disney and Warner Brothers characters) or fantastic creatures (Godzilla, Rodan, etc.);

anthropomorphic plants (the Ohio State Buckeye, the Stanford Tree) and inanimate objects (esp. cars — in Cars, the car Herbie — and food — Poppin’ Fresh, Mr. Peanut);

superheroes (Superman, Rocket Raccoon)

(The special case of toys: toys are inanimate objects in various forms, including human beings, anthropomorphic animals, etc. — but then they can come to life, as in the Toy Story movies. So they are incarnations of simulacra.)

Some of these originate as characters in texts and are given visual form by illustrators or other artists;

some originate in visual narratives, in comic books, comic strips, single-panel cartoons, and/or animated cartoons (made for showing in theaters, on tv, or in videos, sometimes also in live action versions);

some originate as advertising mascots;

and, especially in Japan, some are created directly as embodiments of various qualities, for use in stickers, on merchandise, etc. and then diffuse to other media.

Two collections of mascot characters (avoiding the obvious sports-team examples). First, an assortment of cereal mascots, of a variety of types:


And then, something for Western readers unfamiliar with the Japanese custom of having mascots for places and areas. An assortment of these, here represented by  human beings in character costumes (as is also standard for sports-team mascots around the world):

(#2) Hometown heroes – Japan’s most popular masots pose together on stage. Each mascot represents a city or prefecture and their appearance is linked to their place of origin. Funassyi gets his [name] and looks from “nashi” or pear, a product his city of Funyabashi is famous for.

Caption from the CNN story of 6/10/14, “How a hyperactive, dancing, talking pear became a Japanese obsession” by Will Ripley and Edmund S. Henry, specifically about the yellow mascot in top row center. The beginning of the story:

He may be diminutive in stature as he appears under the shadow of the Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest structure at 634 meters. But as he twists and screams “I’m so pretty!” onstage, it becomes clear that his star is rising.

The crowd of thousands goes wild, screaming his name and snapping as many photos as they can.

“Funassyi” is a superstar in a pear costume.

In the world of cute, cuddly, and sometimes bizarre mascots, these “yuru-kyara” (meaning gentle or laid back characters), have been a ubiquitous presence in advertising in Japan for decades. But Funassyi is a hyperactive talking and dancing pear who has distinguished himself from the pack.

Next installment: platypuses.

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