stories

wapuu club poster

wapuu_lowredWhen I first started this site I really wanted to make it a 90’s style club. Basically you pay a bit of money and you get a membership kit with some really neat stuff. That is still the plan and I’ve commissioned a poster design that will be the first item in the kit.

This design was done by the super talented Bryan E. West. I really wanted it done in a style that I’ve never seen before. A lot of the recent wapuu stuff all kinda looks the same to me. I think I can safely say that I accomplished my goal. I’m envisioning printing this on 8×10 chipboard.

happy birthday wapuu

happy_birthday_wapuuI can’t believe that wapuu is already five. It’s hard to put into words how much joy he has brought to my life. There is no hardship or problem that can’t be overcome with wapuu’s help.

People think I’m nuts when I say this but I don’t see any possible way to get to 51% without wapuu. He’s a unifying force that I think is absolutely vital for the WordPress community.

wapuu has had a pretty amazing first five years and I can’t wait to see what he does with the next five.

pop_art_wapuu

I struggled for quite a bit trying to decide what to get wapuu for his birthday. In the end I commissioned a portrait done up in a pop art style that I had printed on wood.

Note: wapuu’s birthday is on February 19th and I’m so excited to celebrate it that I decided to celebrating it at 12:01am Fukuoka time. That way I can get away with starting the celebration a bit early 🙂 .

wapuu: origins

As you know I’m wapuu’s biggest fan and I’ve been pestering Naoko for a while to learn more about how wapuu came to be. Now I know the story and I’m so excited to share it with you.

The People

  • Kazuko Kaneuchi: Designer/Illustrator @mutsuking
  • Naoko Takano: Japanese community manager/translator @naokomc
  • Seisuke Kuraishi: aka “tenpura” WP Multibyte Patch developer @eastcoder
  • Takayuki Miyoshi: Contact Form 7 Plugin developer @takayukister
  • Taisuke Jotaki: aka “Tai” Japanese translator @tekapo
  • Odyssey: @odyssey
foxkeh
foxkeh

In 2009 at the WordCamp Tokyo after-party, Matt asked Japanese users what should we do to promote WordPress in Japan. One of the ideas was to create a mascot.

Foxkeh was already a popular local mascot for Firefox, so many community members thought WordPress should have a mascot for Japan as well. Matt said he thought it was a cool idea although many of the ja.wordpress.org admins thought he was kinda joking.

A few weeks after WordCamp Tokyo Naoko was hired by Automattic as a contractor. In May, she flew to San Francisco to attend to WordCamp SF. While there she talked with Matt about the mascot idea. He asked her to have the Japanese community to take the lead and make it happen. He mentioned the “Jazz Cat” idea, but he was open to anything Japanese users like. They also discussed possibly making illustrations of mascot body parts available (just like Foxkeh) so that others can make different versions. Finally they talked about one of my favorite things in the whole world, making mascot swag (plush toys, t-shirts, towels).

neko-bean
neko-bean

Once they decided to go ahead with the project they had to pick an illustrator. The ja.wordpress.org admins shared names of illustrators they felt could do it, based on the style. Kazuko was someone that both Miyoshi-san & Naoko knew, from her previous work on OSS mascots (neko-bean and BaserCMS) and her involvement in the web designer community in Fukuoka.

Miyoshi-san felt it’s important that the illustrator know what’s involved around “open sourcing” the mascot, and they all agreed that Kazuko would be the best person for the job.

Kazuko Kaneuchi
Kazuko Kaneuchi

After talking with Paul Kim (who was doing marketing for Automattic at the time and use to work at the Mozilla Foundation, promoting Firefox), Naoko sent the initial email to Kazuko. Naoko told her about the vision of WordPress, ideas/themes for the mascot, and the licensing requirements for the illustration. Kazuko was offered cash + character goods for the project but ended up doing it for free, as a gift to the WordPress community.

On May 12, 2010 Kazuko sent her first draft to the ja.wordpress.org admins.

During the process, Tenpura added this detailed comment with alternative ideas for idea J (someday I want to see this character come to life too).

Alternative idea for concept J
Alternative idea for concept J

The ja.wordpress.org admins discussed it over a bit and in the end decided to go with option “E” (or “4” in the iteration below) which we now know as wapuu. Part of the reason had to do with the fact that it was the character that would allow for the easiest variations. They also liked this one as it is embracing the W logo and sphere that almost looked like a globe.

Japanese WordPress mascot ideas

wapuu’s birthday

On February 19, 2011, the illustration was unveiled (it did not have a name at this point) at WordCamp Fukuoka and on this blog post.

Out of that WordCamp came the first pieces of wapuu swag.

The Name

On August 2, 2011, a poll was started to vote on the ideas collected on this forum thread.

By August 10, 530 people had cast their votes and the winner was “wappy”. However, there was a trademark issue and the runner up “wapuu” was announced as the official name on August 12th.

wapuu’s world domination

Part of the fun for me is finding out the stories behind the wapuu designs. I was lucky enough to meet/talk with Simon at our company meetup and once I heard his story I knew I had to share it with you. Here is Simon telling us how he started a chain of events that led to wapuu taking over the world.

Simon Dickson, a veteran of the UK WordPress community now working at Automattic, has been credited with bringing wapuu to the world’s attention. Here’s how it happened.

wapuu first came to my attention in 2013, in the unlikely surroundings of a Netherlands concert hall. It was the first WordCamp Europe: and one of the presentations was by Naoko Takano, sharing her experiences working within the Japanese WordPress community. It was a real eye-opener, in several respects.

WordPress, it turns out, was big in Japan. Very big. Japanese was the most popular language for WordPress installs, after US English. Japanese WordCamps were huge: Tokyo had more than a thousand attendees in 2013. And WordPress was being used by national and international brands for all kinds of websites.

simon_talk Oh… and then there was something called wapuu. I love the Japanese tradition of mascots for products, companies, cities… everything, apparently. And guess what? The WordPress community had one too. We had to tell the world! – so I tweeted about it. Almost nobody noticed.

All of this blew my mind. I’d been living and breathing WordPress for several years, but its success in Japan had completely passed me by. Weird, huh?

At the time I was running a WordPress development agency in the UK, Code For The People. One of my first jobs after WordCamp Europe was to organise the company Christmas card. So I asked our designer, Scott Evans to craft something. It was fantastic.

holiday_cardScott and I both live in southern England; and we were both involved in the organisation of WordCamp London. We wanted to use iconic London imagery for the event’s creative. The first year, we used London Underground as our inspiration. The second year, punk rock.

I’ve always felt that Open Source has a lot in common with punk. It was born of frustration with the mid-1970s music business: disco, prog rock, and the like felt more corporate than creative. Open Source came from the same emotional place, but our nemeses were tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle. A punk-themed WordCamp seemed apt.

It was the day before Scott finalised his artwork. Everything was well on schedule. So I dared to throw a crazy idea into the mix. I had been keeping an eye on the Japanese community ever since Naoko’s talk, and had seen each event having its own wapuu design. Could we do the same? Could Scott knock up a wapuu with a Mohican haircut, and DM boots?

I admit, my motivation was partly selfish. But I also saw an opportunity to reach out to the Japanese community. WordCamp London was going to be a big event. I hoped that word would reach Japan, that they would see us embracing ‘their’ concept, that we knew they were there, that we were all one big global community.

Plus, it felt like a fun way to demonstrate the GPL in action: wapuu didn’t just represent Open Source, he was Open Source.

punk_swag Scott’s creative for the event was a big hit. He was interviewed by WP Tavern, about the genesis of wapuunk. Within a couple of weeks, there was a wapuunk t-shirt in the WordPress swag store; and if you’ve been to any WordPress events lately, you probably saw someone wearing one.

And then it started to get just a little crazy. WordCamp Belgrade had a wapuu. WordCamp Maine had a wapuu. WordCamp Philadelphia had three. Suddenly it seemed like every WordPress event had a custom Wapuu, reflecting local culture or gently mocking local stereotypes. (On vous regarde, la France…) And all within a matter of weeks, or so it felt.

To the Japanese community: Thank you for creating wapuu. Thank you for making him GPL. And thank you for letting the rest of the global WordPress family share your fun.