Saturday, 12 May 2012

WARRING WITH TROLLS, part one


 "To live is to war with trolls"  --Henrik Ibsen

Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser invented the famous "I Love New York" rebus and donated it to the city he loves.

Glaser's original sketch from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art

The city's Department of Commerce trademarked it and generated substantial income for the city.




Many years later, following the attack on New York's World Trade Center on September 11th, Glaser changed his famous logo:
I woke up one day, a few days after 9/11.  I thought, you know, “I love New York” isn’t the story anymore. Something happened. And I realized that what had happened was an injury, like when a friend of yours, somebody you love, gets terribly sick.... A confident giant is hard to love, but a vulnerable giant is easy to love. All of us became aware that the city was vulnerable. Everybody’s heart was bursting with this feeling, “God, I belong here. It’s my city.” And it came to me as an image, you know, it’s a mark, it’s a black mark on the heart.... And so I said, “Gee, I love New York more than ever as a result of this.”

Logo with scorched heart

Glaser offered his revised version to the NY Department of Commerce but they weren't interested.  In an interview in The Believer, Glaser described what happened next:
So the most difficult thing of course is how to introduce one’s ideas into the bloodstream of the culture. It’s very difficult without money or support or approval, because the nature of institutions is to resist all ideas from the outside... So I got a printer, and he said, “I’ll do it for nothing.” And so we printed 5,000 small posters. And so the kids divided the city into segments, and overnight, these posters appeared in windows all over town. And then I called Pete Hammill over at the Daily News, an old friend of mine. And I said, “Pete, I have something, and I wonder if you could find some use for it, or run it in the paper...." He said, “Great, send it down,” so I sent it down, and they called me back and said, “We’ll find a way to use it.” And a day later, they used it as a wraparound for that day’s edition of the paper—the whole thing—and there were a million copies of it out there.
After his revised logo was embraced by the country, Glaser received a call from the NY Department of Commerce, which had changed its mind and now wanted to use it.  However, they decided to improve Glaser's design by removing the black mark on the heart.  Glaser responded, “Sorry, you can’t do it without the black mark on the heart, because that’s the whole point of it.”

In the time-honored tradition of tasteless bureaucrats everywhere, the city employee reacted by threatening Glaser: “You know, you’re in violation of our trademark. So don’t try to use it in any way.”  Soon Glaser received a nasty letter from a lawyer for the city demanding all of Glaser's records of how much money he'd made from the logo, threatening to subpoena him and take him to court.
I couldn’t believe it. So I sent a letter to [the Governor] because of course I hadn’t made any money. Every penny that was made on it went to either the firemen’s fund, or to restore the antenna on WNYC or something. So it was clear: There was no documentation, no paper trail, the whole point of it was not to benefit from it. I also didn’t license it to anybody, because I didn’t want anybody else to make money off it, which would be totally inappropriate.   And a few days later, [the city called back] “We shouldn’t have threatened you. And it was an error. Could we just forget about it?” So I said, “Sure, why don’t we just forget about it.”
There are numerous obstacles to successful creative activity-- a paucity of talent or energy or funds, a paucity of opportunities or time or connections-- but perhaps the most aggravating and interesting obstacle is when morons dig in their heels to oppose it.  Of all the hindrances on the artist's gauntlet, this one is the most unnecessary, yet nature has seen fit to place great energy and enthusiasm behind it.

There are many colorful stories out there about warring with trolls.  This has been one of them.