Image credit: Tulipop
Tulipop is a fantasy world created by illustrator Signý Kolbeinsdóttir and marketing whizz Helga Árnadottir. Since 2010, the dreamy volcanic island, Tulipop, and its oddball characters have reached an ever-expanding audience. The dynamic duo most recently secured a co-production contract with the kids' entertainment powerhouse Zodiak Kids to develop a TV series that will bring Tulipop’s endearing inhabitants to audiences worldwide.
Rather unconventionally, Tulipop was initially a quirky production line of toys and merchandise, and although their characters were fully formed in Signý’s mind when she began to draw them, it took a little bit of elbow grease out to extract the characters' full histories and translate them into the first Tulipop book, Mánasöngvarinn (The Moon Singer) written by Sugarcubes mastermind Margrét Örnólfsdóttir.
The stories have now become full-fledged webisodes available in four languages and a TV show produced by the Icelandic broadcasting service, RÚV. The voice behind Fred in both English and Icelandic is none other than Ólafur Darri from HBO hits like ‘True Detective’.
Tulipop produces a trendy clothing line for kids in partnership with one of the oldest clothing brands in Iceland, 66 Degrees North; the meeting of these whimsical characters with fine quality craftsmanship make a perfect medley: kids will want them and parents will want them to wear them.
On July 18, 2018, Tulipop secured a contract with Zodiak Kids to develop an animated kids’ show that will bring the world of Tulipop to the televisions and touchpads of kids across the world.
My best friend's daughter has had Tulipop's merchandise since I can remember; so, with all of the recent chatter around the brand's growing momentum, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing into the wonderful world that is Tulipop.
Tulipop's flagship store opened in July 2017, just down the street from the iconic Hallgrímskirkja on trendy Skólavörðustígur, and it's already received an award from the city of Reykjavík as 'the best new addition to the downtown market'. As I step into the airy and bright Tulipop store, I'm warmly greeted by one of the creators of the magical fantasy world of Tulipop, Helga Arnadóttir.
Helga and illustrator Signý have been friends since elementary school, and so I ask her how the Tulipop characters came about: “Signý started by creating the characters and I think the amazing thing is that they were fully born in her own mind when she started drawing them down, but the process has been extracting them from her head and getting those ideas down on paper".
She goes on to explain how the volcanic world of Tulipop is very much inspired by Signý’s home country, Iceland. Just like Iceland, Tulipop is a magical, beautiful volcanic-island world created thousands of years ago when an underwater volcano exploded. Helga explains that many of the characters could in many ways be based on Signý’s friends and family.
The aptly-named character Mama Skully (she is a skull!) gave life to the rest of the island; she cares about each character, but she herself can be a bit fierce. After all, she has a candle burning on top of her head instead of hair.
A talking skull may seem like an unusual choice for a staple character in a kids’ TV show, but a lot of Icelandic folklore and children’s stories are quite dark. Helga explains that they were both inspired by Nordic storytelling traditions, and their inspirations include Astrid Lindgren, Hans Christian Andersen, and Roald Dahl.
Helga loved to read scary books when she was younger; one of the lessons that stayed with her from Scandinavian literature, one that she would like to 'pay forward' in Tulipop is the notion that “no-one is perfect, both the parents and the children do silly things and that’s just how life is...bad things happen, silly things happen but then life goes on and everyone stays friends”.
This valuable lesson is interwoven as part of the brand's touchstones: the characters are loveable and cute, but they're also flawed like normal people. Helga adds that Gloomy, for example, is a boisterous purple toadstool that's borderline ADHD. She can be hyperactive and doesn’t always behave well, but she’s not mean or unkind. Her brother Bubble, a red toadstool, is the sensitive one and might even be described as slightly depressed. He's a bit anxious, slow-moving, and doesn't like to leave the house.
Both of these character profiles are easy for children and adults to connect with, which is one of this fantasy-world-incarnate's best attributes: it communicates. Helga explained that, when they were building up the merchandise, they wanted to create products that kids would want and parents would want to have in their homes. (I can attest to their fashion value --as a sort of adult myself. At the shop, I gleefully procured for a set of adorable fridge magnets and my very own Fred keychain).
The ethos of the brand is largely in transforming gender binaries: the characters and their many plot lines challenge gender stereotypes by using muted, but bold, colours that work hand in hand with character attributes. "Nothing is pink with ribbons and unicorns, just normal flawed people in fairytale costumes."
After a visit to Tulipop, I felt assured that everyone is right: the Tulipop duo can expect great things in the not too distant future. And with 52 episodes clocking in at 11 minutes each, they have their work cut out for them. Keep on the lookout for them!
You can find the Tulipop store at Skólavörðustígur 43, 101 Reykjavík. Visit the website at www.tulipop.com. All photos featured in this article are from Tulipop with permission.