Too Grimm? Mother Goose cartoonist sued by Colombian coffee growers

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

An actor playing Juan Valdez at the National Coffee Park in Montenegro, Colombia.

While it was just a joke, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia doesn't find a recent "Mother Goose and Grimm" comic terribly funny.

In what the coffee growers association calls "an attack on national dignity and the reputation of Colombian coffee," the characters in a comic strip by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Peters call into question the relationship of Colombian coffee growers and the crime syndicates of Columbia.

The cartoonist is being sued not only for "damages [to] the intellectual heritage" of the coffee, but also "moral compensation. A public manifestation," to the tune of $20 million.

At the start of a week-long series of strips, a dog character named "Ralph" finds out that part of chemist and food storage technician Fred Baur's remains was buried in a Pringles can, upon his last wishes. Baur's best known innovation, among multiple, was the patented can and packing method for the Pringles potato chip. The character theorizes what other remains might be interred in their food packaging. Eventually, the dog states that "when they say there's a little bit of Juan Valdez in every can, maybe they're not kidding." This play on an old advertising slogan refers to fictional character Juan Valdez, created by the Federación Nacional.

In a statement Peters says:

Cquote1.svg I had no more thought to insult Colombia and Juan Valdez than I did Pringles, Betty Crocker, Col. Sanders, Dr. Pepper and Bartles & Jaymes. The cartoon is meant to be read along with the rest of the week as a series of which the theme is based on the fact that the inventor of the Pringles can had his ashes buried in one.

I thought this was a humorous subject and all of my Mother Goose & Grimm cartoons are meant to make people laugh. I truly intended no insult.

Cquote2.svg

Julio Cesar Gonzalez, El Tiempo newspaper's famous cartoonist, told the BBC that the lawsuit is "a real waste of time."

In 2006, the Federación Nacional sued Café Britt over their advertising campaign titled "Juan Valdez drinks Costa Rican coffee. In a counter-suit, Britt presented an affidavit from a Costa Rican man named "Juan Valdez", acknowledging that he drinks Costa Rican coffee, and that the name is too generic to be exclusive. A variety of legal challenges and charges from both sides were eventually dropped. The phrase was actually first used in a 1999 speech by Jaime Daremblum, then-Costa Rican ambassador to the United States.

Mother Goose and Grimm appears in over 800 newspapers worldwide; Peters has won the Pulitzer for his editorial cartoons for the Dayton Daily News. Thirty years ago, his editorial cartoon about electricity prices featured Reddy Kilowatt, an electricity generation spokescharacter. The Daily News defended that comic image in the United States Supreme Court, winning on the basis that "the symbol was not selling a product", and thus the satire was legally permissible.

Peters drinks Colombian coffee.

Sources

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