Someday, Clark the Cub, the Jar Jar Binks of the North Side, the Anne Hathaway of Wrigleyville, the Berenstain Bear of Major League Baseball, will make an ideal Chicago Cubs mascot. Someday. Possibly sooner than we think.
When that day arrives, Clark will no longer be despised, referred to as a "nightmarish, perverted furry" (Deadspin), mocked for his "dimwitted smile and dead eyes" (The New Yorker), or casually dubbed "the mascot flop of 2014" (ESPNChicago.com). We will look back at his first week, remember our initial revulsion and feel shame — Clark, we will recognize, did not deserve our scorn. Yes, his name is Clark (probably because "Addison" is more North Shore than North Side). Yes, he keeps a steady, guarded smile that doesn't seem to expect much from life. No, he is not wearing pants. And his hat is on backward.
But that merely means Clark is a product of his environment. You try finding someone wearing pants in Wrigleyville on a July night!
- E-mail | Recent columns
- Photos: The Cubs' new mascot, "Clark"
- Photos: 2014 Cubs Convention
- Video: If Yogi and a Carebear had a love child...
- Video: Cubs unveil new mascot to mixed reviews
- Professional Basketball
- Recreational and Sporting Goods Industry
See more topics »
1060 West Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
We will come to understand that the only crime Clark committed was being a new character in a very old narrative, a plight that has greeted scores of pop-culture figures introduced to beloved cultural institutions.
A plight not easily rectified.
Said Terry Gant, owner of Third Coast Comics in Edgewater: "You can't always plan for how people react to the introduction of new characters. Fans of 'Star Wars' hated Jar Jar Binks because he was a clear cartoon character. Yet the series had used Muppets for years, and those same fans didn't have a problem with that? I think the issue with Clark is probably closer to the problem with introducing the son of John McClane (Bruce Willis) in the latest 'Die Hard': Here is not someone anyone needed to see. Now, well, here he is."
Said Mike Norton, a Chicago illustrator who has worked on Spider-Man comics for Marvel and "Young Justice" for DC Comics: "Clark is as pleasantly generic as I would expect from the Cubs. He could be clip art. But it's also a no-win for (the Cubs). You can't please as many fans as there are for a team. And once everyone has their say (within the Cubs organization), the coolest ideas never get picked. And that's a character who's new to an established situation. I just did a comic book (promotional) thing for Chick-fil-A. They got so picky about established characters looking weird — and that's cows in superhero costumes."
In other words: Clark, you may only be a week old but you're going to have to justify our love. Stop grinning and just listen to me, Clark! You'll need this tough love if you're going to make it through a season.
Adam Koford, a Disney story artist, told me: "Clark looks like an interloper, this thing that's been thrown into something we all know already. Nobody knows who he is, now he represents a team? A lot of people have said he has sad eyes. Now all I can see are those sad eyes. I can understand why no one likes him much."
And that's from the guy who created Pearl the Squirrel, the mascot for New York City's park district!
Yes, Clark, at the moment you are Sofia Coppola to "The Godfather" series. Or is it Shia LaBeouf's greaser to the most recent "Indiana Jones" film? Your arrival reminded me of the cloying arrival of Abby Cadabby, the flaky-sounding miniature Stevie Nicks on "Sesame Street" — eight years later, parents still shudder. Don't take this lightly, Clark: When I think of the low points of my childhood, the debut of Spike in "Peanuts," Snoopy's thin, mustached brother (picture Snoopy as a pornographer) remains unforgivable.
Something broke inside.
Because, when a storyline is as beloved and agreed upon as "Peanuts" or "Star Wars" or the one at Wrigley Field — when the players are established and the plot is cozy and the scenario rarely adjusted — audiences detest a new co-star eager to ingratiate him, her or itself into their hearts. We can take a bad boy, or an abrasive stranger, or even a kind of antihero (for instance, Chachi in "Happy Days"), and indeed Tommy Hawk, Benny the Bull and most successful Chicago mascots project muscle, power, intensity.
But the common denominator with most hated newcomers is that hating them is like hating, well, Ewoks. They're self-satisfied, assuming and generally, so nice.
And speaking of nice, Clark is from Minnesota.
Which brings me to the creators of Clark. He began as an idea hatched by the Cubs a year ago, according to Alison Miller, the team's senior director of marketing. Surveys told the Cubs they needed more family experiences at Wrigley. So Miller called VEE Corporation of Minneapolis, a longtime mascot creator responsible for scores of mascots (Crunch of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wally the Green Monster of the Boston Red Sox), as well as the characters in live touring shows (including, yes, "Care Bears Live").
Jack Pence, VEE general manager, said Clark was created using information provided by the Cubs combined with VEE's "30-plus years of creating kid-friendly costumes." From there, his team began sketching. He said that the negative reaction to the result is mostly "from a (social media) sampling of people reacting to an individual drawing," and once fans see the tangible foam-and-synthetic-fur Clark, the lil' bugger will catch on.
Peter Windingstad, VEE's creative director, added that he wasn't shocked by Clark's harsh first week.
"Fans have a lot of pride and are very protective of what they are used to, and Clark is new."
Clark made his live debut Monday at Advocate Illinois Masonic Center's Pediatric Developmental Center. His tougher test was Saturday and Sunday at the annual Cubs Convention. Still, Miller said Cubs President Theo Epstein reminded her, Wally wasn't an immediate hit back in Boston (where Epstein was Red Sox GM).