Charitable Characters

Posted November 18, 2015, under Spokescritters

The use of cartoon characters as spokescritters for charities — particularly children’s charities — has a long and storied history. The difference, however, is that charities rarely commission their own characters. Instead, charities tend to use existing characters, in one of the rare cases where use of cartoons becomes celebrity endorsement rather than just merchandise.

We were hard-pressed to find a comic or cartoon character that hasn’t been used for charitable purposes. Probably the only holdout is Calvin & Hobbes, just because Bill Watterson was notoriously against licensing his characters. But that doesn’t mean Watterson hasn’t done art for charity.

In 2014, the legendarily reclusive creator teamed up with Pearls Before Swine artist Stephan Pastis to create a short series of strips to benefit Team Cul de Sac, a Parkinson’s charity.

There are plenty of examples of every other character imaginable sponsoring every cause available — sometimes in impressively inventive ways. For example, Bald Cartoons is a charity that benefits children with cancer. To date, dozens of cartoon characters from as many countries have shaved their pates in solidarity, including Snoopy, Garfield, Olive Oyl, and Hello Kitty.

These are absurdly heartwarming.

It’s not limited to animated or comic strip characters, either. Several of the actors playing superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have decided to be superheroes in real life. This past spring, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) entered into a good-natured bet over the Super Bowl, being that they supported opposing teams. The supporter of the losing team was to visit a children’s hospital in full costume.

It turned out to not matter who won or lost the football game, because we all win when superheroes get involved.

Not to be outdone, Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) got involved with the Collective Project, a charity that creates 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for children born with undeveloped appendages.

And earlier this month, we mentioned in passing the wonderful efforts of the cast of Marvel’s TV shows — Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter — to raise money via lip-synching, of all things. It sounds ridiculous, and it kind of was, but it was also incredibly inventive and entertaining, embodying a spirit of play that we really wish there was more of in the world.

The idea to use cartoons and comic characters to help charities goes back decades. In the ’80s, it was handled a bit awkwardly. For example, in 1984, Spider-Man teamed up with the child superheroes Power Pack to stand against child abuse.

The resulting ads and comics were perhaps intentionally unsettling, and certainly heavy-handed.

Probably the worst example, however, was the disappointing convergence of practically every notable cartoon character in existence at the time. Aired in 1990, The Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue was a poorly animated anti-drug infomercial that featured ALF, Alvin & the Chipmunks, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Garfield, the Muppet Babies, Winnie the Pooh, Smurfs, Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a bunch more.

Given it was produced during the height of the War on Drugs, the strong corporate support is not surprising. What is surprising is they were converging to protest marijuana. We’re not condoning any kind of drug use, but for ten different franchises from nearly every cartoon giant of the time to come together, we were expecting the drug to be nothing short of crack cocaine.

Which Power Pack, coincidentally and bizarrely, DID tackle.

While inclusion in the Rigney Graphics Lunch Meat should not be construed as endorsement of these or any other charities, we do endorse efforts to help those less fortunate whenever possible. As recent events have shown, there are no shortage of worthy and urgent causes.

But we also feel, particularly in the face of those recent events, that it’s important to remember that things are getting better in many ways. Literacy, drug use, hunger, poverty — the statistics for all of these have steadily improved worldwide through the last 50 years. Our understanding of diseases, and the prevention or cure of them, has never in history been better. There’s still a lot of work to do, in those and many other arenas, but humanity’s efforts during these last several decades have not been in vain.

Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.