From Pelican to Plankton: A Brief History of Expo Mascots
(Note: Urso originally published this post on November 22, 2011, as part of a collaboration with Expo 2012 Yeosu. We're publishing it here posthumously. The original post can be accessed here)
Yeony and Suny, the mascots for Expo 2012, are in good company. They represent the latest in a line of characters created for international expositions in recent decades.
Many people are familiar with the various mascots that have accompanied the Olympic games over the years, but fewer are familiar with the ones that have been created to help promote world’s fairs.
Expo mascots help engage younger visitors to the themes of expos and, over the years, have become more and more a part of the core identity of individual world’s fairs. Some have even gone on to be so popular, they stick around years after the expo ends.
1984: A Pelican Shows The Way
In the years preceding the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans, fair organizers were looking for ways to engage their audience. With a theme centered on “The World of Rivers, Fresh Water as a Source of Life” in a state known for its wildlife, it was perhaps obvious that a pelican would be an excellent way to highlight this unique world’s fair, situated and the banks of the Mississippi River.
Not only was he on marketing material and souvenirs, but as a character wandering around the site, he would greet visitors who would rush to have their picture taken with him.
Even though the Disneyesque character was officially retired at the end of the exposition, he’s certainly still in the hearts and memories of New Orleans residents and locals speak fondly of that summer and the 1980’s continued with three more world’s fairs and three more mascots.
1985 to 1988: Expo Mascots Get Their Legs (or Wheels)
Expo ’85 in Tsukuba, Japan brought us the whimsical Kosmo Hosimaru, created by junior high school student Maki Takagaki as part of a design contest. The somewhat shy-looking planet appeared on many Expo ’85 publications and helped promote the theme “Dwellings and Surroundings – Science and Technology for Man at Home.”
Vancouver’s Expo ’86 brought us the widely popular Expo Ernie, a robot that could be seen rolling around the site during the months of the fair. Voiced remotely, it would interact with guests with his own quirky sense of humor. Even today, he’s sometimes brought out of retirement for special occasions as Vancouverites remember him fondly.
Expo Oz was Brisbane, Australia’s contribution to the history of world’s fair mascots. Created for Expo ’88, the platypus helped represent Australia in a new way since most people associate the nation-continent primarily with koalas and kangaroos. Not to leave anything to chance, Oz sported a traditional slouch hat, the headgear most associated with Australia.
1992 to 2000: Further Abstraction
Many remember Cobi, the mascot for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. That same year, Spain hosted Expo ’92 in Seville. That event’s mascot, Curro, was designed by Heinz Edelmann, the same German designer who created the characters in the movie Yellow Submarine. The colors of his beak were said to symbolize the continents. His name is a shortened version of the name “Francisco.”
Korea’s first world’s fair, Expo ’93, was held to celebrate the centennial of Korea’s first participation at an expo, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. That year, the alien creature Kumdori represented the exposition and lent his name the amusement zone, Kumdori Land. He and his park live on in Taejon, although his design as evolved in the intervening years.
Gil was introduced at Lisbon’s Expo ’98. Representing a world’s fair with an ocean theme, the character was an anthropomorphized wave. Designed by painter António Modesto and sculptor Artur Moreira, he’s named after the Portuguese navigator Gil Eanes, and was selected from hundreds of entries. He still makes occasional appearances in local telethons.
Given that the mascot for Spain’s Expo ’92 was designed by a German, perhaps it’s ironic that Germany’s Expo 2000 mascot, Twipsy was designed by Javier Mariscal, the same artist the designed Cobi from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Arguably the most abstract mascot to date, he had one large oblong arm that allowed him to fly in addition to a more normal arm. He also had two shoes: one flat and one with a high heel. In Germany, he was the central character of a televised cartoon series that took place in cyberspace.
2005 to 2010: Forest Creatures, a Water Droplet, and a Chinese Character
Aichi, Japan’s Expo 2005 brought us Kiccoro an Morizo, a forest child and his grandfather. Kiccoro was the energetic personality to Morizo’s easy-going wisdom. They proved to be so wildly popular that they were brought back a year after the close of the exposition and could even be seen at the Japan Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain helping out Expo 2008’s mascot.
That mascot was Fluvi, a water droplet. Appropriate for an exposition with a water theme, he also had a nemesis that was a polluted drop of water. The two appeared, with other characters, in a popular televised cartoon series.
Seemingly a cousin the Fluvi was Haibao, the mascot of Shanghai’s Expo 2010. The result of a design competition in that country, he was based on the Chinese character “ren,” meaning “human.” Taiwanese designer Wu Yong-Jian’s concept was selected from over 26,000 entries.
2012: Yeony and Suny
That brings us to 2012 and our new friends, Yeony and Suny, the official mascots of Expo 2012. The mascot duo are anthropomorphic plankton, who serve as both nutrients for marine life but also absorb carbon dioxide. It’s no coincidence that the beginning of their names, put together, creates the name of the host city: Yeosu, which means “beautiful water.”
I can easily imagine that locals will see them for years to come as they eventually become part of the cherished memories of 2012 and a part of expo mascot history.