The GLASHAUS BEAR

Glashaus Hamburg Hamburg, Germany

My first illustration of the glashaus bear, dated 2 June 1990, based on an original character by Hirschberg.

In 1990 I was in 10th grade. I was busy styling myself as the advertising kingpin of my hometown. I was also exchanging letters with a prominent German cartoonist, who had become a bit of a mentor to me. People would bombard him with requests to illustrate their ads, and usually couldn’t afford him. When he got the question from Glashaus Hamburg, he said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do it. You should talk to my friend Stefan Bucher, though. He’ll take good care of you.”

Which was an extremely generous thing for him to do, and not without risk. I was basically untrained, more or less untested, and potentially unready. I’m glad he took the chance.

Glashaus Hamburg was northern Germany’s largest supplier of industrial kitchen supplies, and they needed catalog covers. They had a mascot—an adorable bear cub—created by graphic designer and illustrator Herr Hirschhorn. (I never asked for his first name and have not been able to find it out since.) Herr Hirschhorn had passed away, and the company was looking for somebody to continue his work.


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The original bear design by Herr Hirschberg. It’s a much better drawing than mine, of course. Hirschberg was old-school and clearly very well trained. Look at the beautiful work on the glass, for one.

The Glashaus people had approached several prominent illustrators, including my friend Uli, as well as a few top art schools. All had said no. They wanted to create something new from the ground up. So did I, of course, and sent a few sketches of a running teacup and saucer, and of a running ostrich waiter. I imagine that the brief included something about their speed of service being a major selling point. I didn’t hear back for months, and chalked it up to the job being out of my league.

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Shadows have always been problematic for me. At least I eventually got better at ostrich plumage.

When I did hear back, Herr Arp, the company’s CEO, said that they’d enjoyed my drawings and had kept them on file. They just got busy. Happens all the time. They wanted to work with me, but would really prefer to keep their bear cub mascot. What would I charge per drawing? For once I had the good sense to turn the question around. “What do you have budgeted for the job?” At this point I should explain a few things. I was talking to Herr Arp on the phone. My parents had given me my own phone line a few years earlier, which was highly unusual for a German high school student back then. One phone per house was the rule. But I had my own line. Which on I was now talking to the client.

“We need a dozen covers, and based on the previous illustrator’s fees we’ve set aside DM1,000 to DM2,000.” (About the same in real terms as the same amount in dollars.) Now this was excellent news for me. I was then charging about DM100 per illustration, so I could probably get away with a 50% raise. And none of my other clients ever ordered 10 pieces at a time. DM1,500 was a ton of money! All this was shooting through my head when I heard the client finish his sentence. “Each.”

I paused.—I panicked.—I breathed.

“Hm.” I managed to say. “That seems fair. OK. Let me see what I can do. I’ll fax you some drawings. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run to a meeting.” I slammed down the phone, ran down the stairs, and told my parents. I’ve been that excited about other jobs since, but this will forever be my First Big Gig!

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There was discussion about the toque. My initial sketch was too cartoony. (Imagine.) Nobody worried about the wildly incorrect ellipses.

From then on everything proceeded wonderfully. I created a whole stack of sketches immediately, put them in a drawer for a week so I wouldn’t come off too eager, faxed them from the corner store—no scanners, no internet, no private person had a fax—and they loved the whole thing. I’d made the bear cub a bit more cartoony, a little cuter, and put him in all kinds of adorable—pardon me, adowable—situations. Herr Arp made sure to tell me that he felt that Herr Hirschhorn wouldn’t have objected to my drawings. We were off to the races! From there grew a happy professional relationship that lasted for years and produced tons of fun work. They’d call, I’d sketch, fax, finish, and mail in the drawings.

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I should’ve left off the highlight on the dome, but it was an ongoing pursuit to render metal. You can see it again in the meat grinder. Now, the things going on in that drawing… but it was approved. Go figure.

A few months in, my contact, the CEO, married his secretary. All of us had become friendly, and they invited me to their wedding in Hamburg. “Wonderful! How do I get there by train?” “Don’t bother with the train, just hop on the A2 and drive up. Two hours max.” This was a problem. “Uhm… Herr Arp… I can’t drive up. I don’t have a driver’s license.” He hesitated. “DUI?” “No, I just turned 18 and I haven’t gotten around to my license yet.” Silence on the line. “What?” Beat. “Are you kidding me?” “No.” “You’re 18 now. So when you first started talking to us you were…” “16, sir.” 

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All the props came from our own kitchen. The pots and plates in these two drawings are an heirloom from my dad’s side of the family in Austria. We went with the bear on the right. Even the chance of smashed porcelain wasn’t quite on brand.

Now this had happened to me before. People would talk to me on the phone, and couldn’t tell from my voice that I was just a kid. They’d be happy with my work, but when they found out my age they’d get really, really mad. As if I’d somehow played a trick on them.

“16,” said Herr Arp. “Ha! That’s fantastic! Well, I was happy with your work before I knew that, so why wouldn’t I be happy with it now?” That man was a class act. I was so fortunate to have the Glashaus as an early model for a productive, respectful client relationship. I did a lot of work back then that seems a little silly now, but I’m still proud of the illustrations I did for the Glashaus. And hey! Look at the way the eyes evolved. It didn’t take long for Hirschberg’s original irises to turn into Monster eyes! 

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This illustration announced the launch of a new phone system on May 3, 1991. “Hopefully it‘ll work!” I was very proud of the way that cord draped around the cub.

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After the initial catalog covers Herr Arp asked me to come up with custom greeting cards they could send to their customers. This one celebrates the launch of a new business.

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This card was a general purpose card of congratulations, If it was an anniversary, you’d write the number into the big champagne bottle. Thsi bear makes a cameo in my Memphis Talk.


Incidentally, I saved all the money I made drawing these bears, and used it to take my first solo trip across the United States in the summer of 1991. Over the course of five weeks I traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago to Washington, DC, and finally wound up in New York. Not that that changed my life in any way or anything.

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This card saluting births in the family was my last job for the Glashaus, completed on May 1, 1992.
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