July 6, 2009

The Tip Of The Iceberg

The Crayola Store

We went to Pennsylvania for the weekend, and one of our stops was The Crayola FACTORY® Hands-On Discovery Center [note: "not the real manufacturing plant"] in Easton. More on that later, but first, The Crayola Store next door, where you are able to shop away any inadequacies you may feel about being in the presence of the world's largest crayon.

In addition to a host of Crayola FACTORY® commemorative gear, The Crayola Store features plush versions of Tip, the anthropomorphic Crayola mascot, in three sizes. No one at the Store of FACTORY® knew when Tip was hired, but I suspected it was after 1984, when Binney & Smith was acquired by the privately held empire of cuddly good feelings, Hallmark, for $210 million.

Sure enough, an article dated December 2001 from the East Hampton Star puts Tip's debut at January 1989. Connoisseurs of the anthropomorphic crayon genre will note that this is nearly five full years after author/composer/Holocaust survivor Judy Sleed published her seminal children's book, "The Fight of the Crayons."

Sleed actually conceived of "The Fight of the Crayons" even earlier, in the 1960s; it's just that it took two decades of hardcore networking and a check to a vanity press to realize Sleed's vision.

Ms. Sleed wrote the story and knew what she wanted the crayon characters to look like, but, as she was not skilled at drawing, relied on Vantage Press to execute her ideas. "They used a staff artist," she said, to create simple line drawings of her designs, a cost-effective move that provided an interactive, coloring-book quality.

When the book came out, Ms. Sleed embarked on a publicity blitz. She appeared on "The Joe Franklin Show," a late-night TV talk show, had a book party at the Lombardy Hotel in Manhattan hosted by the society columnist Earl Wilson, among others, gave away many copies of "The Fight of the Crayons," and sent some to a long list of publishers - and to Binney and Smith, hoping the company would sell it along with boxes of Crayola.

And yet, just 16 years later, in 2000, when Sleed fired off a letter to Crayola for blatantly ripping off her crayon characters, the company, in her words, "kept claiming they never heard of me." Mmhmm.

Mrs. Sleed didn't survive the Nazis by hiding in a Hungarian basement just to be stiff-armed by a pack of crayon-wielding lawyers hiding behind the technicalities of copyright law, she can tell you that right now.

At this point [i.e., in Dec. 2001]] she has all but given up on the legal route, with its many associated costs. "I just want to make some noise," she said. What frustrates her most, she said, is Binney and Smith's corporate attitude. "If they told me this was no good for them" - "this" being her crayon design - "how come they are using it? That's my whole point."

As she closed her letter to Mr. Mauro in August, "I am not letting this go. I'd like to see my work recognized before I die."

I have searched in vain for images of Sleed's "The Fight of The Crayons," but it seems that when she published/printed the book with Vantage Press, she didn't splurge for an ISBN number. And so the Conspiracy of Corporate Silence continues.

Indeed. All Is Not Well In Colorland [easthamptonstar.com]

1 Comment

Hi, I'm Judy, the woman who wrote the book you discussed. I just now saw this for the first time and I'd love to hear back from you!

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