Karrie Jacobs


May 19, 2010

Notes on Cuteness

A classic, redrawn by Steven Guarnaccia.

1.  First, from illustrator Steven Guarnaccia, comes an updated version of a classic story: The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale. The pigs in this tale are strangely familiar looking.  One builds a house out of scraps.  One builds a house of glass.  And one builds a house out of concrete.  Predictably, Gehry-Pig and Johnson-Pig don’t fare too well against the the evil, motorcycle riding wolf — could it be Thomas Krens? — but Wright-Pig prevails.

2. Second, from the New York Times, arbiter of cuteness, comes this alarming story about Hello Kitty.  After 36 years of world dominance, Kitty’s star is fading:

In a closely watched ranking of Japan’s most popular characters, compiled each year using sales data by the Tokyo-based research firm Character Databank, Hello Kitty lost her long-held spot as Japan’s top-grossing character in 2002 and has never recovered.

In the latest survey, released this month, Kitty ranked a distant third, behind the leader, Anpanman, a character that is based on a Japanese jam-filled pastry and is produced by Nippon Television. The second spot is still held by the venerable game and animation brand Pokémon, owned by Nintendo.

Kitty has lost her dominance to a character based on a jam-filled pastry? What is the world coming to?  Apparently,  Kitty’s potential has — finally — been limited by a peculiarity of her anatomy.   Reports the Times:

These days, designers are also urged to make sure their characters work across multiple media — a lesson Sanrio learned the hard way with Hello Kitty. Because Kitty had no mouth, it was difficult for the cat to break into television animation, depriving Sanrio of a lucrative source of revenue.

When the company created a talking Kitty for a pilot cartoon series, it set off a fury among fans loyal to the cat’s mouthless look, Ms. Yamaguchi said.

Or, as Charlie Haas once wrote, “The Mona Lisa is a hundred times easier to divine: Her smile teases, sure but it is a smile.  Hello Kitty has no mouth.”

3.  Third, while it was not the most exhilarating year at ICFF,  my annual Design Boom Mart purchase was awfully cute.  Go here.  Click on “products.”  Then click on “Fairy Tale II: – The Land of Pigmies.”

4. Fourth…sort of.   The story about Ground Zero by Chris Bonanos in the current New York Magazine isn’t cute at all.  But it’s really good.  Check it out.