Even before the day I saw four different Shrek the Third-licensed impulse items at the convenience store cash register, the work of artist Chris Jordan and author Loree Griffin Burns had gotten me thinking about the magnitude and toll of our society’s appetite for disposable stuff. On a restaurant patio this evening, an abandoned Shrek figure sat on the table next to ours. At no point during our 45 minutes there did a puffy-eyed child or relieved parent show up to retrieve the lost injection-molded companion.
I have no idea whether author and illustrator William Steig was an environmentalist, but I’ve got to believe that this — the production and packaging and eventual discarding of all this stuff — was not what he had in mind when he created his fable now more closely identified with Cameron Diaz than with Steig himself.
For all the joy that readers have gotten from Steig’s story, and all the joy that viewers have gotten from the movies based on that story, the most lasting legacy of Shrek! may well be all the plastic stuff with the ogre’s name and cinematic image plastered on it. I think that’s sad.
But I also think that this would be a hard lesson for any children’s book creator — not typically the most financially secure person in the building or on the block — to apply to him- or herself should well-heeled corporate licensees come along waving wads of cash.
I’ve long admired Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson for exercising his prerogative not to merchandise his characters beyond the compilation books that have been loved to pieces in my household. I’ve always seen that as a principled artistic choice, but whatever his intention, it turned out to be an environmental choice, too. Our landfills and oceans aren’t populated by likenesses of that boy and his tiger (not legitimate ones, anyway), and I sure do appreciate it.
Excellent post. And I agree – standing your ground and staying firmly rooted in what you believe in is only made more difficult in the face of potentailly huge income.
I’ve had the Wal-Mart discussion with my loved ones – what if Wal-Mart (a place I despise, but that’s an entire post) asked to carry my books front and center? Would I? I’d like to think not, but the potential for reaching an audience beyond the teacher’s lounge would be enticing. Of course, the reality is that I really have no control over who carries the books, but it’s nice to imagine oneself as noble, isn’t it??
You wrote an excellent piece regarding a rather odd abuse of the Calvin likeness some years ago. I’m sure you’d be delighted to know that I think of you whenever I see the latest of the rapidly mutating and increasingly surreal progeny of the Calvin micturating on the Chevrolet bowtie.
The most advanced/trippy of the batch thus far: A Transgendrified Cowgirl Calvin(ette?) kneeling in prayer before a cross.
My own prediction is that the Calvin thing will eventually crossover with the whole ichthys genre.
To my surprise, there is no article on Calvin stickers on Wikipedia. They do have link to a podcast interview with Bill Watterson’s mom, though
Since we’re half-way through a major kids’ room overhaul over here, this really resonates with me. The pounds of plastic — oi vey. And what do we do with it all? Take it to Goodwill so that WE don’t have to face the fact that the stuff is gonna hit the landfills, and fast?
The “lost” shrek may have been a spy on a Speshol Mishon. My parents thort I was lost once, but really I just had an important job to do.
Read more about “Lost” Bears (and not-a-bears) here:
To have my forthcoming publication on the “Tesco” shelves adjacent to the checkouts (and at eye-level) would be MY greatest ambition. The M&Ms, winegums and chewits will be relegated to the back of the shop.
Little steps turn into the greatest leaps and black forest gateau.
Word. Calvin and Hobbes all the way. I’m curious… what do you think it will take to get the point across in the media- what you mentioned with Shrek… what do you think is the best way for a message piece to retain it’s message in the face of publicity, celebrities, etc?
Bill Watterson had a syndicated comic strip. This pays loads more than a children’s book author. The more money one has the easier it is to hang onto ones integrity.
lol. I was surfing blogger, and just wanted to say… my last name is Barton too! =D
You wrote an excellent story
How long/drawn out is the process of publishing a children’s book? How does one go about getting their book out there?
I love Shrek! I would have saved him!
I love your blog, and am wishing that my books would make the shelves at walmart/tesco whichever –
Currently read the Voyage of the Dawntreader -CS Lewis – great read yet again!
liked reading ur blog :)
I don’t know if I was a strange child or not but anything I owned as a child was very dear to me. Anything lost was a severe dent. I seriously used to sit at the end of my bed and pray for the souls of inanimate objects that had left my custody.
I do wonder how deeply kids are effected with our new disposable society and how it will change them as adults.
Yes, Calvin and Hobbes is also my favourite cartoon of all time.