According to the New York Times, "studies suggest that cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine.” With that in mind, I’m going to suggest that you take a look at some of the fantastically cute stories in the 40th Anniversary Hello Kitty book.
In honor of the anniversary of the creation of Hello Kitty, Sanrio have released a fantastic book packed with 40 stories (plus one for good luck) about our favorite two-dimensional kitty character. Each wordless adventure comic strip has been contributed by well-known comic book creators from all over the world. It was a surprise to see some of these authors depicting Hello Kitty so lovingly, but all of them did a great job of giving Hello Kitty their own spin. Initially I assumed that, as a book without text in the stories, it would only appeal to little children. But each 2-4 page story manages to be dimensional and engaging, with twists and turns which make them truly all-ages appropriate.
My favorite stories in the great, big, beautiful, hardcover Hello Kitty anniversary book are by Martin Hsu, (who re-imagines Hello Kitty as a delicate watercolor story of Japanese ritual), Chuck BB, (depicting Hello Kitty and her friends playing Dungeons & Dragons), and Gene Yang, (who’s got Hello Kitty squaring off against the Minotaur). Using only their art, each of the 45 comic book creators shows us their own viewpoint of Hello Kitty, and in interview excerpts in-between the stories they share why they love Hello Kitty and her spirit of fun and friendship.
When I was at San Diego Comic Con this summer I saw a few of the other amazing items created for the 40th anniversary, (some of which can already be found on the Sanrio website). The most impressive of these would have to be the Hello Kitty Chogokin. Chogokin is is a giant robot ship, in this instance the giant robot is shaped like Hello Kitty, which means that she can get in and drive, fly, or dive it! Forget Kubricks or Transformers, this is the ultimate robotic character, complete with an appropriately adorable origin story movie. If you’re interested in this sort of thing at all, it’s worth spending some time on the celebratory section of the Sanrio site to browse the insanity.
Now some of you might be saying that you’re too old for Hello Kitty, or that you’re too much of a badass to like her. Bollocks! I say to that! I’m telling you that even the nastiest, angriest, biggest asshole in the world has space for something cute and that might as well be Hello Kitty. Hell, I’m living proof of it. I went through many bleak years trying to pretend to be an adult and rejecting all of the cuteness I’d loved so much as a kid, but now I’m nearly obsessed as I was at 7 years old and it has brightened my life.
When I was growing up in London, sometimes my mum would go on business trips to Germany or Holland, or some other relatively close country, (it was just far enough to seem scary and foreign to me as a kid). What saved me from freaking out, was that I knew she would bring me some tiny little Sanrio item, she promised and she always did. Back then Sanrio characters were new and hardly ever seen in Britain. But when my mum visited the rest of Europe she would find me a special pencil set, or tiny writing pad branded with the primary-colored Hello Kitty, My Melody, or Little Twin Stars. They were the first objects I ever owned that spoke so completely to my aesthetic at the time, (I was a little kid, I don’t think I even know that I had a specific taste before then). They had all of the graphic, bold lines of my favorite Miffy books, with the added excitement of every tiny detail branded on tiny, little writing objects (something very exciting to someone who was just beginning to write at the time).
At some point in my development I made the astute observation that most the “cool” adults I looked up to were gritty, angry, and bleak as hell. I logically abandoned anything cute or fun, and went about emulating these “adult” values in an attempt to grow into my heroes shoes. Completely unaware of the massive teenage cliche I was becoming, my wardrobe was largely monochromatic and my brown hair was dyed black. I smoked stinky cigarettes, drank scotch, and I was well on my way to becoming an adult car wreck. As a tutor in art college pointed out, every single artist I admired had died by suicide or misadventure and it wasn’t exactly a great pattern to emulate. It was starting to be a bit worrying, even to oblivious me, but it took me a while to see the next step.
Then one day, when my health was wonky and I could no longer use the distractions of damaging booze and smoke to distract me from my feelings, I read about the healing effects of kawaii. Learning that cute imagery could stimulate endorphins, I tentatively embraced this alternate high. At first I started slowly with the (relatively speaking) tasteful black Chococat character on a mug, but before I knew it I was plunging back into the world of Sanrio, filling my home with boldly-colored, two-dimension toys, bowls, and clothes. While I try to keep things low-key in my home, in my heart I’m adore the characters and I can’t pass a Sanrio store without spending far too long checking out all of the new ephemera. It just makes me happy for no good reason.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that Hello Kitty is celebrating her 40th anniversary, she is still so new and fresh looking. As a concept and a design she is quite brilliantly ageless (thanks to designer Yuko Yamaguchi). There was much furore a few months ago when it was erroneously reported that she is not a cat. Of course she is and she isn’t as well… Just like Mickey Mouse isn’t really a mouse in any way that we’d recognize as a mouse, but he’s still a mouse. Hello Kitty is a nice girl from London… who’s also a cat. As you can imagine, I can relate.