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Has Gumby Been Robbed in Shanghai?

Apr 30, 2010 – 3:21 PM
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Jonathan Adams

Jonathan Adams Contributor

(April 30) -- The Shanghai Expo, the biggest world's fair ever, opened today amidst fireworks and lavish performances from Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. But as the event's five-month run begins, at least one nagging question remains unanswered: Is the ubiquitous symbol of the extravaganza a straight rip-off of Gumby?

The issue came up amidst uproar at a Shanghai news conference April 23, when a National Public Radio reporter produced pictures that highlighted similarities between the beloved, bendable green American character and the Shanghai Expo's mascot, Haibao.

According to NPR, Expo spokesman Xu Wei responded, "Haibao was unveiled a long time ago. If anyone thinks that their copyright has been violated, that person would already have used legal means to address this by now."

Haibao on a street in Beijing on June 18, 2009.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP / Getty Images
Haibao's creator, Wu Yongjian, said he never set eyes on Gumby before making his character and called any accusations of plagiarism an insult.
In comments to United Daily News, Haibao's Taiwanese creator Wu Yongjian strongly denied plagiarism, saying he had not seen the Gumby character before conceiving Haibao. He said the accusations were a "huge insult to his integrity" and reputation, and that he would not rule out legal action against anyone making reckless claims.

Gumbygate followed similar charges in the Japanese media that a tune used as an "official" song for the Shanghai Expo was a knock-off of a Japanese pop song, and that the Expo's China Pavilion borrows concepts from a Japanese architect.

Japan's NTV News even tracked down Joe Clokey, the son of Gumby's late creator Art Clokey. "It looks like they were influenced by Gumby, because that's Gumby's eyes, Gumby's shape, and the cowlick, [it's] a little bit like Gumby's hair," the junior Clokey said.

"When people want to use Gumby's shape ... they should just contact us. Gumby could be in China," he said, before joking, "Looks like he already is!"

Chinese blogger Han Han had other concerns. "Haibao makes my head hurt," wrote Han Han, as translated by China Smack. "When everyone saw that he was flat, it raised a big problem for those who were trying to make three-dimensional Haibaos: what should his back look like? Does he have a tail? Does he have a butt? Does he have a butt crack?

"No one knew, so when we saw statues of Haibao in the city, the front sides were all the same, but some Haibaos had backs without cracks, and others had cracks. But recently, because the Haibaos without butt cracks were more numerous, the butt crack has been announced officially as having left China."

Herewith, a brief look at how the two cow-licked humanoids stack up:
Gumby, left, and Haibao
Getty Images

  Gumby Haibao
Shape Humanoid with flared legs and skinny arms Humanoid with flared legs and skinny arms
Color Green Blue
Distinguishing Feature Cowlick on right side Cowlick on left side
Butt Crack? No Not officially
Creator Art Clokey Wu Yongjian
Conceived in Clokey's California home A Shanghai cafe, after a cup of cappuccino
Introduced in The 1953 short film "Gumbasia" A Dec. 18, 2007, unveiling
Meaning of Name From "gumbo," slang for a slippery, muddy road Mandarin Chinese for "sea treasure"
Inspiration "Gumby represents the inner soul of everybody, all children and adults," Clokey said. "What I did was try to find another way to interpret China, a more abstract way," Wu said.
Archenemies The Blockheads, a mischievous duo that constantly stirs up trouble Foreign media, a mischievous bunch that constantly stirs up trouble
Filed under: World, Weird News
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