How Belle­fonte-born mas­cot Gritty won the in­ter­net in 2018

IT’S HARD TO PUT A FIN­GER ON WHAT HAS MADE GRITTY SUCH A SUC­CESS, BUT ALLEN THINKS IT HAS TO DO WITH GRITTY’S AT­TI­TUDE, AND HOW HE CAN BE LOV­ABLE AND TER­RI­FY­ING AT THE SAME TIME.

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY LAU­REN MUTH­LER lmuth­[email protected]­tredaily.com

On Sept. 24, Belle­fonte graphic artist Brian Allen did his best to try to avoid so­cial me­dia.

The mas­cot that he de­signed for the Philadel­phia Fly­ers — Gritty — had just been un­leashed on the world, and the Fly­ers or­ga­ni­za­tion warned Allen that the ini­tial re­ac­tion might not be all that great.

But as hard as he tried, Allen could not com­pletely block out the gi­ant ti­dal wave that washed over all cor­ners of the in­ter­net when the or­ange, fuzzy mon­ster with wild goo­gly eyes and a beer gut first shim­mied and shook his way onto the stage in front of a room full of scream­ing chil­dren at the Please Touch Mu­seum in Philadel­phia.

“The first two days, the re­ac­tion was kind of over­whelm­ing and neg­a­tive, mainly from the most hard­core fans, and I tried to stay away from that, but it’s hard to dis­con­nect your­self com­pletely, ob­vi­ously,” he said.

@Grit­tyNHL in­tro­duced him­self to the Twit­ter world with a signed por­trait of him­self with his arms out­stretched, with the cap- tion: “It me. #Gritty.”

The re­ac­tion — mostly neg­a­tive — was quick to fol­low.

Gritty was cast as “ter­ri­fy­ing,” “night­mare fuel,” “hor­ri­fy­ingly de­light­ful” and a cross be­tween Gri­mace and An­i­mal from “The Mup­pets,” as well as var­i­ous other mas­cots — on meth.

“Has to be the most scary mas­cot I have seen in a long time.” “OMG...KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!! # whatisthat.” “I say this as a life­long @ pen­guins fan. Fly­ers fans de­serve bet­ter...” “Ev­ery­one in­volved in the mak­ing should be fired.” “This might be the WORST mas­cot of all time lolo- lol.”

Then the memes started. Peo­ple took to Pho­to­shop­ping the new mas­cot into scenes from hor­ror films like “The Shin­ing,” crawl­ing out from street gut­ters, peer­ing out from be­hind trees and post­ing videos of chil­dren scream­ing af­ter get­ting their first glimpse of Gritty.

But then, within 24 hours, the tide started to shift, and Gritty went from be­ing re­jected, to em­braced — es­pe­cially by those in Philadel­phia.

It started with a few tweets. Gritty “clapped back” at the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins af­ter they retweeted Gritty’s pic­ture with the cap­tion “Lol ok,” with “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird,” and a GIF of Gritty turn­ing his head men­ac­ingly to­ward the cam­era.

Then came Allen’s all-time fa­vorite Gritty tweet — a re-cre­ation of Kim Kar­dashian’s

#Break­theIn­ter­net Paper Mag­a­zine cover where he squirted a Ga­torade bot­tle full of liq­uid into a cham­pagne glass bal­anced on his rear. “Good­night, in­ter­net,” the cap­tion read.

He also made his de­but on ice, wip­ing out, sev­eral times, shoot­ing un­sus­pect­ing peo­ple in the back with a T-shirt gun and caus­ing gen­eral chaos be­tween pe­ri­ods.

“In­stead of run­ning from the neg­a­tive re­ac­tion, they re­ally em­braced it and re­acted to it hour by hour, re­ally,” Allen said of the Fly­ers’ mar­ket­ing team. “They did plan a lot for this, but there’s only so much you can plan for, so they were re­ally just think­ing on their feet and im­pro­vis­ing and do­ing a lot of great lit­tle things quickly that built up Gritty’s per­son­al­ity as sort of an an­ti­mas­cot, sort of a guy with an at­ti­tude, which was per­fect for Philly.”

Once Allen’s name was out on the in­ter­net as the artist be­hind what was si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­com­ing both the most feared and loved mas­cot of all time, the Penn State grad­u­ate’s in­boxes started to get bom­barded by mes­sages. Some were still neg­a­tive, but many were pos­i­tive — invit­ing Allen to join var­i­ous Gritty fan clubs and send­ing him fan art of all kinds — cakes, piz­zas, draw­ings, and his fa­vorite — a re­al­is­tic Etch A Sketch recre­ation.

Peo­ple were even get­ting Gritty tat­toos, which to Allen meant Gritty had made it.

“I don’t know, for some rea­son, see­ing some­body will­ing to put that on their body for­ever just con­vinced me that Gritty is here to stay, and I think he was start­ing to earn peo­ple’s re­spect,” Allen said.

Allen was right, Gritty is cer­tainly here to stay. He quickly amassed more Twit­ter fol­low­ers than any other NHL mas­cot — in­clud­ing the for­mer reign­ing NHL mas­cot king Bai­ley, of the Los An­ge­les Kings, and then tran­scended the NHL into realms not typ­i­cally trav­eled by hockey mas­cots.

He got picked up as a po­lit­i­cal sym­bol by groups on the far left — and then by those from the far right. He got a res­o­lu­tion passed in his honor by Philadel­phia City Coun­cil, ap­peared on late night shows such as “The Tonight Show Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon” and “Jimmy Kim­mel Live,” and has had ar­ti­cles writ­ten about him in pub­li­ca­tions such as Ad Week, The New Yorker and The New York Times.

He even had a grass­roots move­ment go­ing to make him Time Mag­a­zine’s Per­son of the Year.

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It’s hard to put a fin­ger on what ex­actly has made Gritty such a suc­cess, but Allen thinks it has to do with Gritty’s at­ti­tude, and the way he walks that line be­tween be­ing ter­ri­fy­ing and lov­able at the same time.

“Con­sumers to­day are pretty savvy. Ev­ery­one ev­ery­where is try­ing to sell us some­thing. So if you just come out with a tra­di­tional and safe mas­cot that’s just so ob­vi­ously a cookie-cut­ter mas­cot, peo­ple are re­ally go­ing to be turned off by that, and he wouldn’t last a year,” Allen said. “Peo­ple would just for­get about him and ig­nore him. So in­stead, we just tried to make this mas­cot, this crea­ture that no one has ever seen.”

Some of Allen’s ini­tial sketches had Gritty look­ing even scarier, with down­turned eye­brows, fangs and miss­ing or chipped teeth. But the Fly­ers wanted Gritty to be more “fam­ily-friendly” and ap­proach­able for chil­dren. “Some­one you’d want to high-five but not hug,” the Fly­ers told him.

Through sev­eral sketches, Allen worked to re­fine Gritty, mak­ing him look less an­gry, while still “a bit grumpy” and mis­chievous.

“My the­ory — the rea­son so many peo­ple can iden­tify with him is be­cause he is a blank slate. Peo­ple keep ask­ing me what he is, and I don’t have an an­swer. He’s just a crea­ture — what­ever you want him to be,” Allen said. “So I think that’s some­thing that makes him so easy to meme and make rep­re­sent what­ever your cause is.”

Gritty has lived up to his in­spi­ra­tion as a prankster — pick­ing up chil­dren who try to fight him on the ice and throw­ing them into the penalty box — and smash­ing the penalty box and throw­ing tow­els onto the ice when he was thrown in there him­self.

Allen and his fam­ily got to meet Gritty in per­son — or “in mon­ster” — in Oc­to­ber when the Fly­ers gave them tick­ets to a game. Meet­ing his cre­ation come to life was “pretty wild,” Allen said, and his fam­ily was able to get a great photo for their Christ­mas card.

Since knowl­edge of Allen as the artist be­hind Gritty spread, he has been in­ter­viewed by na­tional pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Vox, and even ap­peared on one of his fa­vorite pod­cast for artists, “Ad­ven­tures in De­sign.”

“It’s prob­a­bly the most re­spected art pod­cast,” Allen said. “They in­vited me to come on the show and talk about Gritty, which was a big deal for me, be­cause I had al­ways been just a fan and a lis­tener to the show. I would’ve never dared to dream that I’d be on it, so that was a big deal for me.”

He’s also given talks lo­cally, speak­ing to the [CP]2 group for mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing pro­fes­sion­als.

Allen said he and Fly­land De­signs, the free­lance de­sign busi­ness he runs from his home with his wife, get a lot of con­tacts about Gritty, but they aren’t so much projects as they are peo­ple ask­ing if they can use Gritty’s face for T-shirts, chil­dren’s books and var­i­ous other projects — things Allen can’t give per­mis­sion for.

“I for­get some­times that it’s only been two months since all this hap­pened,” he said. “So it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see what next year brings.”

Some of Allen’s up­com­ing projects in­clude pos­si­bly his first pin­ball ma­chine and an­other de­sign for Hard Rock Cafe, and his typ­i­cal T-shirts, al­bum cov­ers and lo­gos.

As of now, his plans do not in­clude any other hockey mas­cots. How­ever, the Rangers still do not have a mas­cot, and the Red Wings’ gi­ant blowup “Al the Oc­to­pus” was sold last year at an auc­tion.

“Maybe I should give them a call,” Allen said with a laugh.

ABBY DREY [email protected]­tredaily.com

Brian Allen of Fly­land De­signs is the cre­ator of Gritty, the new Philadel­phia Fly­ers mas­cot that was un­veiled Sept. 24.

BRIAN ALLEN Photo pro­vided

Allen had to draw Gritty from the front, side and back an­gles be­fore send­ing the sketch off to Char­ac­ter Trans­la­tions, to turn it into a cos­tume.

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