While you may not be interested in sporting events, the history of Olympic Mascots ties into such familiar Beat territory as licensing and furries. According to the Smithsonian, the Germans, who innovated the pictographs we spotlighted earlier, also invented the Olympic mascot with Wendi, a lovable dachshund who introduced the 1972 Summer games in Munich. It was only the beginning of a parade of characters hated and loved, but most often hated.
The Soviet Union followed this up with cuddly Mischa the Bear who anchored the boycotted 1980 Olympics and was designed by children’s illustrator Victor Chizhikov.
When the 1984 Olympics came to the US in Los Angeles, organizers came up with something totally unexpected:
That’s right, Sam the Eagle! A bit on the nose there, but it was the Cold War after all. (The Soviet bloc boycotted our games in retaliation.) If you’re thinking this mascot looks like it was designed by Disney you’re right! Animator C. Robert Moore did the design work, although some were critical of the Jose Carioca-like look at the time.
in 1992, the Barcelona games turned to occasional cartoonist Javier Mariscal (RAW) for Cobi, the first modernist mascot. Initially criticized (as they all are), Cobi went on to become quite popular and had his own cartoon series.
In 1996, the US went the other way with their mascot, Izzy, an example of soulless ’90s corporate branding/character design at its worst. Yeah, you millennials know what I’m talking about. Izzy was detested from his first appearance, despite acquiring a nose and tongue in an effort to gain popularity. Matt Groening called Izzy as “a bad marriage of the Pillsbury doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin.”
In 2000 Sydney improved matters somewhat, at least from a cryptozoological standpoint, with Ollie, Syd and Millie, a Kookaburra, Platypus and Echidna who represented the local fauna. While the echidna is best known as a mysterious egg-laying creature that has a beak and a long, thin tongue. Despite this, it was nicknamed “Dickhead” for fairly obvious reasons. These official mascots, designed by Matt Hatton and Jozef Szekeres, were joined by an unofficial joke character, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat, who was created by cartoonist Paul Newell.
Fatso eventually became so popular he got his own statue outside the Olympic Stadium. Fair play to the Australians for being good sports.
In 2010, The Vancouver Winter Olympics introduced the most adorable mascots yet seen, Miga, Quatchi, Sumi and their sidekick Mukmuk, from Meomi Design, also known as the creators of the Octonauts. They might be termed vinyl and T-shirt ready.
Finally we come to this year’s entrants, Wenlock and Mandeville, a pair of one-eyed MONSTERS INC. rejects who seem to exemplify the horribly overthought design that has marked the London games. If Izzy was corporate-think gone wild, Wenlock and Mandeville are the result of community testing combined with groupthink:
In October 2008 we advertised the opportunity to design the mascots on CompeteFor , the London 2012 procurement website. After more than 100 designers, artists and agencies applied, we spent the next few months selecting the best ideas and developing them based on this feedback.
When the final three ideas were tested with people all round the UK, we learnt that the British public didn’t just want a character, they also want a story. We also tested the ideas with toy industry experts who agreed that Wenlock and Mandeville were the best choices.
Based on all the feedback we received, we selected Wenlock as the official Olympic mascot and Mandeville as the official Paralympic mascot for London 2012 in December 2009. The mascots were designed by London creative agency Iris.
Despite their unnerving undertones and unlovable appearance, Wenlock and Mandeville are getting the full media treatment, including cartoons:
Be forewarned—this is 16 minutes long. If you can get to the end, you are really dedicated.
As odd and Wenlock and Mandeville may seem, they are not that out of place for a country that competes for the most disgusting pub names, and enjoys foods called bubble and squeak and spotted dick.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.