The Symbiosis Between Cartoons and Balloons

photo(2)By Devin T. Quin, writing for Bleeding Cool

Just like every comic book writer is only doing their best to break into feature films, every cartoonist is really only drawing to break into the spectacular world of Giant Inflatable Balloons! Nothing says “success” like having your character turned into a wind-blown, vinyl version of itself. Outside the San Diego Comic Con are large scale promotional balloons of Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show” regulars Rigby and Mordecai, as well as the entire roster of the Teen Titans.

Here is a photo of the Teen Titan’s Beast Boy. Note the self satisfied ease across his face. Beast Boy is now a giant inflatable. He can cross that off of his cartoon character bucket list.

Until we, the comic book press elite, are allowed into the convention center we have naught to do but seek the solitude of quiet, dank places and file stories about our surroundings. On the plus side, the San Diego Comic Con has a great deal of impressive outdoor advertisements that speak to geek culture. Unfortunately, they involve being outside in the sun.

Have you ever thought to yourself “Where do giant inflatable versions of my favorite cartoon character’s come from?” If the answer is “NO,” then you are lying, as reading that sentence made you instantly ponder the question. It’s good news that we, the media, are here to do your thinking for you.

While some of the biggest, Macy’s scale balloons are made by giant rubber producer Goodyear, Cartoon Network seems to use the cheerful folks at Landmark Creations International of Burnsville, MN. Landmark employs roughly 15, has been in the ballon business since the 90′s, and is easily accessible via phone call at 12:45 San Diego time.

ballons_flagHere’s a photo of the flag of the Town of Burnsville. Does YOUR home town have its own flag? NO? tisk, tisk, tisk.

Landmark Creations handles the majority of Cartoon Networks balloons. “We have about a half dozen large balloons [for Cartoon Network] out there currently,” said Stephanie Meacham, one of the heads at Landmark, “and maybe a dozen small ones.”

YES, I contacted the balloon manufacturing people for this article. DO YOU KNOW who you’re dealing with?! I’M DEVIN T. QUIN!

The designs for the balloons come from Cartoon Network. “They call the shots,” states Stephanie. Turn around can be 4-6 weeks, depending on how many intense conference calls get involved. Stephanie played a pretty good game of defense when talking turkey on prices, but it seems that a ball-park price for a big, billowing version of Beast Boy could be anywhere between $2,000 or $20,000. Like the San Diego Padre’s stadium, that’s a pretty big ballpark.

titans3

Rarely do the balloon designers, roughly a team of ten artists and production people, get to talk to the cartoonists on the other end of the pencil. Stephanie did tell me the team was excited to work on the Teen Titans balloons, as the Landmark team were “Big fans.”

San Diego is a fascinating show. As the biggest “Comic Book Convention” in America, it is still a place where comics get promoted, unveiled and celebrated, though the proximity to Hollywood and the glut of Super-Hero movies encroaches on its humble beginnings each year. Even within the industry, many don’t know what comics will look like a few years down the road.

The big business of comic books is all in the licensing, hence the need for giant promotional balloons.

And the future of giant promotional balloons?

“Knock on wood,” says Stephanie Meachuam, but the business grows every year. Balloons are large and physical, can tour to multiple cons and make a fun, colorful impact.

ballons_brainThis is a photo of one of Landmark Creation’s strangest creations, a scientific model of a Dogfish’s brain rendered in inflatable glory.

There are countless panels at the San Diego Comic Con for the hopefuls wanting to break into comics. They dream of creating the next Deadpool, Green Lantern or Cyborg. They dream of, one day, seeing their character rendered as a promotional balloon for photo ops and terrifying parade spectators.

Is there an incredible back-door to the comic book industry we’ve never considered before? Deep in sleepy Minnesota is an American owned and operated business doing very well for itself creating beloved characters and lasting impressions.

Next year at SDCC, I’m hoping for a “Breaking into Giant Inflatable Balloons” panel.

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