GAWEN RUDDER: SYMBOLS REVISITED
B&T, AUGUST 17–28, 1987, P. 18-19, 26
Symbols of Australia, the book widely recognised as a landmark on Australian advertising and packaging symbols, was recently re-released in a new colour edition. Gawen Rudder, network communications direct or with Mojo MDA (Melbourne), used this thinly disguised excuse to talk to the book’s authors, Mimmo Cozzolino and Fysh Rutherford.
When Mimmo Cozzolino talks about Australian design, he does so with the passion and clarity of a convert, a new boy in a new country. Cozzolino claims “converts speak the loudest” and through trademarks he has found a simple way to prove it.
His beloved All Australian Graffiti, a Melbourne illustration and design studio in the mid-‘70s, well behind him, Cozzolino is now a partner in Cozzolino/Ellett.
His other partner, well he’s a different kettle of. At 40, or almost, Fysh is one of those annoying characters who looks younger every year. This year he looks like a blond version of Nicolas Cage of “Raising Arizona”, he writes at Clemenger and still talks about the “Iron Outlaw”.
It’s been seven years since Cozzolino and Rutherford launched the first edition of Symbols of Australia. It doesn’t appear to be losing its appeal. The book is now available again in its third edition, featuring over 100 colour shots of trademarks, packaging, neons and nostalgia. A snip at $19.95. Buy it now before the next wave of pre-bicentennial tourists snap up this wonderful piece of Australian advertising archaeology.
Tell us about Symbols of Australia.
Mimmo: We launched it about seven years ago. The hardback limited edition sold 1000 copies, the paperback sold fourteen to fifteen thousand copies. That’s considered good becau¬se most of the sales were in the first three to four years. It’s been out of print for nearly three years now and I still get calls for it. And the hardback is now a collector’s item. There’ll be a print run of 3OOO on this new edition. They operate very cautiously on reprints. The demand is there and now it’s really become a reference book.
Is it sold overseas? In Koala Blue?
Mimmo: Penguin, through their English and US offices, commissioned “Symbols of America” but we didn’t get a look in. That came out last year. The English one was started but the guy abandoned it because he couldn’t find enough interesting material. Symbols of Australia, on the other hand, can’t be sold (in the US) because of the complicated copyright thing. I did actually get a request and sent over a hardback. It’s probably ended up on T-shirts, I dunno.
So you get rip offs?
Fysh: Oh yeah. There was a range of clothing with all this stuff pinched out of the book.
Mimmo: I didn’t really want to go in to merchandising just to stop other people from doing it. It’s a very tenuous copyright problem anyway. Theoretically, I’ve got the copyright of the format but that’s nothing. A lot of people think I’ve made millions out of the bloody thing. But it was basically a labour of love. It was a kudos thing more than anything else, I probably made more money out of it indirectly because I’ve virtually never had to look for design work.
So you’ve become an authority because of the book?
Mimmo: Yeah. It’s easy to impress if you whack your very own book on the table. A book’s a wonderful thing like that.
Someone once said every man should write a book, father a son and plant a tree.
Fysh: I’ve got two things to go. There’s about 1600 symbols in the book and every one of these would have been bromided at least three times and retouched. The amount of work in it was massive.
Mimmo: For about five years I’d been picking up things, collecting stuff. because I wanted to do a book on contemporary trademarks. I went to see Ken Cato and he said there isn't enough material about.
I'm not sure if it was him or someone else who suggested I do something more on historical side. So I took a trip down to the Patents & Trade Marks Office. When I used to go there they didn't have any microfiche. Now it's on computers, but they've still got lots of stuff locked away. I couldn't believe it. What happened, it was more or less the first year of Graffiti, '75, and I had a lot of spare time at that stage. I started going regularly, if I'd a delivery in the city I'd stop off at lunchtime. Then I decided to do it on a logical sort of basis. So I started recording stuff, because there's something like probably 200 to 300 volumes. It took probably four years of about two hours a week. At one stage it was six months of four hours a day. You can't do it for more than that. You miss things.
Marshall McLuhan said historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful reflections of society.
Mimmo: I didn't differentiate between advertising and trademarks really. It just had to be interesting. In retrospect I copied a lot of things which at the time I didn't even know had other connections, but with Fysh editing through the stuff, a lot of things happened.
Fysh: I'd been doing odd things for Graffiti and worked on the Kevin Pappas Postcard Book. Years ago I'd written the Iron Outlaw, this comic strip for the Nation Review which the Graffiti guys liked because they were into this Australian thing.
Who worked at All Australian Graffiti?
Mimmo: Con Aslanis, Geoff Cook, Izi Marmur, Neil Curtis was there, but later, and Tony Ward.
Fysh: So, (back to the story) then Mim had this huge volume of little cards of symbols, over 3500. We sat down and Mim said I need someone to help me structure this in a book. And write it.
Mimmo: I needed the discipline of a copywriter, an editor. We laid all this stuff on the floor at Fysh's place and he took two weeks off work and we worked on it day and night.
What did you think of Mimmo? Was he some sort of a mad matchbox collector?
Fysh: No. We've always got on remarkably well. We've never really had a blue. Together we laid each page out. We went back and redid the whole book, chronologically, page-by-page. We knew what we were doing but we didn't.
Mimmo: Fysh’s discipline was good, he wanted each page to read like an ad.
Fysh: I thought it was definitely a picture book and it should be like the “Annotated Alice”. Any writing should be just notations. The symbols were the stars, the writing is just superficial information.
Mimmo: I get the credit for designing it but Fysh did the grid. Writers tend to be a bit more logical (than designers).
So what got you into design?
Mimmo: Dad was a printer but that had nothing to with it. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I was a migrant. I did engineering because I was good at maths. My old man couldn't advise me. I met Con through film, he was doing art at Preston. Con's Greek. In second year I changed over to graphics because you couldn’t do film then. I did graphics at Prahran. I’m not a natural designer, I’m more of an organiser, I like to see people making their marks, I’m not an illustrator and I can’t draw for nuts. But I can tell when something’s right or something’s wrong. I’m a spotter.
It’s the difference between a creative director who is a creative person or a person who simply directs creative people.
Mimmo: The success of All Australian Graffiti was that I was the mediator between all these prima donnas. Manic talents. Con was the vision, he did the kangaroo. I just flogged it.
And you’ve emerged as the most public of them all.
Fysh: That’s because Mim is a great extractor of talent. Graffiti only lasted three years but there are design groups around the country who look upon it as being one of the great Push Pin Studios of Australia. I think it was single-handedly responsible for the whole Australiana revival. It picked up on what had happened in the build up to Labor getting back in and the rejection of internationalism, and LBJ, and Vietnam, and these “new Australian” guys implemented it in a very commercial way which just had not been done before.
Was it the fact you were “new Australians”?
Mimmo: Well Con, he was really paranoid. Con used to say to me: ‘These people out there really don’t like us, do they? Us wogs.’ And I’d say: ‘What do you expect? They fought the Turks at Gallipoli. You look like a Turk and I’m an Italian and they fought them in World War II.’ So it was a bit of fear of making it in the industry. Cesare (Leonardi), I met him at USP when he first came to Australia in ‘72. He was the only Italian I knew in the business.
Ruth Ostrow’s book The New Boy Network lists page after page of new Australians who’ve made it to the top in this country. But guess what? Not one in our business.
Mimmo: There’s Cesare… and younger blokes like Joe did Stefano. But most of the Italians and Greeks work in accounts.
That other great multi-national city, New York, had names like Jerry della Femina (Italian), Bill Bernbach (Brooklyn Jewish), George Lois (Greek) and Carl Ally (Turkish).
Fysh: We've got lots of Pommy migrants who’ve made it here in advertising. It’s probably that adoration of the English language.
Mimmo: I’ve never felt confident with the language. That’s why Fysh got involved. I still don’t understand sentence structure and stuff.
Fysh: Today you don’t have to know too much about syntax to rhyme “scones’re” with “bonzer” in the so-called Mojo margarine style. Mimmo probably speaks street language better than most of us.
Do you think All Australian Graffiti would, or could, happen now?
Fysh: No. Because I think this whole Australiana thing will die with the Bicentennial.
Mimmo: I disagree. I think that there’s something fairly gradual in this awakening. It’s been happening since the early ’8Os. I got a feeling it’s kind a gonna keep going, this gradual rediscovering and reassessment. We’ve got to say that it’s important to be Australian. So whether we decide to flog ourselves overseas like you blokes have done, somehow we’ve got to survive internationally, not just here, and our identity will have to support us in doing that.
Fysh: I think Australians are fed up with this Australian revival and we’ll go back to internationalism. So you wouldn’t want to start Graffiti here now. I mean Mojo, very smartly, have moved into America. The ocker and Australiana have moved to America and that’s really symbolic because if we don’t want it here anymore, we should export it. So that’s where I’d start All Australian Graffiti and make a fortune.
Mimmo: Like Ken Done. I actually wanted to write him a letter and say, you know, all this shit that people are throwing at you is kind of unfair. I was wandering through Myer and I looked at the bedspreads and I thought this is great, it really is.
If Done’s done a doona, is Cozzolino going to do a…
Mimmo: Nuh, I don’t make the markets. Ken does. Anyhow I saw this thing and I thought this is the first time probably in the history of Australian popular culture where some bastard has actually come out and put his name on something. And all these years we’ve had unknown shit that’s been heaped on us on bedspreads and stuff. And every man and his dog in advertising and the arts is heaping shit on Ken Done. I think that’s wrong.
What would you do if the Medicis knocked on the door?
Mimmo: What I’d like to do is setup a museum of Australian advertising art. We’ve got things scattered every where but we don’t have a museum of advertising and I think it’s a shame that we’re such a selfish bloody industry. The AFA or you blokes should put together a trust, find a warehouse some where to put this stuff together. Even from a reference point of view there’s nothing in most companies except the big ones like Kraft, Nicholas, Qantas and Rosella. It needs someone with amazing energy. All they’d have to do is pay me a measly salary. The Powerhouse has a little corner I think. The Smithsonian Institute in the States has a history of American Packaging and there’s a museum in England, the Opie I think, but here in Australia…
Fysh: There’s that Virginia Mullumby history of tv ads but you can’t get a copy of the video show, it’s disappeared.
And the history of radio on The Wonderful Wireless - The Ads cassette by Glenn A Baker, but virtually nothing on advertising history except maybe that book by John Bryden-Brown, Adams With Added Enzymes and Singo’s True Confessions.
Mimmo: Anyway, then what I’d like to do would be a book of all the stuff in the museum. Did you know the XXXX man was a dwarf? Just have a look at him, the size of his head, he used to give racing tips in a Brisbane pub.
Fysh: That to me is one of the most amazing graphics in the world if you think about it. So Australian, just four Xs. I saw this sign when I was up at the Caxtons, it just said: “XXXX, Drive In”. Beautiful. What a terrific symbol. So Australian.