With a few quickly drawn lines, Javier Mariscal has given the Olympics its mascot, Cobi

July 24, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

Barcelona, Spain -- Olympic mascots. You know the M.O. A little ugly, definitely cute, quite furry. Squeezable, huggable and oh-so-profitable, a cross between a pillow and a piggy bank.

You expect Walt Disney to design the precious darlings. Or maybe some sort of Raffi type holding a paintbrush instead of a guitar, oozing all sorts of Nutrasweet sincerity about children, the environment and the fate of the Earth, while making sure to lock up worldwide marketing rights.

And then you come to the 1992 Summer Olympics, and this scruffy Pyrenees dog named Cobi and this artist who loves to dress up with a red cape and devil's horns, toss firecrackers, create nightclubs and smoke dope.

He used to drop LSD, too. The artist. Not the dog.

Javier Mariscal is not your every-day vision of an Olympic mascot creator. He is to Spain what David Hockney is to America, which is to say, hip, hot and available to the highest bidder.

In a city of architectural landmarks that span the centuries, Mr. Mariscal's vision can alter the landscape.

He topped a restaurant with a 50-foot lobster. He turned a nightclub into a '60s psychedelic fantasy. Dead Heads would feel at home in Torres de Avila, a four-story journey through hallways that lead nowhere, past mirrors without reflections, into rooms that are painted neon pink, dead-ending at bars that serve beers for $10.

And then there is the shopping bag.

Bloomingdales commissioned Mr. Mariscal to design a nice, little paper bag for the nice suburbanites who would buy gobs of Spanish bric-a- brac on sale. The store sought a bag that reflected Spanish myths and symbols, balancing the tradition and modernity of a country once again coming of age.

So Mr. Mariscal gave the store a bull pawing a naked woman.

Bloomingdales was not amused.

"This woman from New York, she called and said, 'Uh, Mr. Mariscal, we love the work, we really do. But could you move the bull over, and put a bikini on the woman?' " Mr. Mariscal said, squeezing his nose with his right thumb and index finger, trying to sound like an officious, offended New York advertising executive.

Bloomingdales' loss may be the world's gain.

Mr. Mariscal is huge. On the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, his stuff is everywhere in his adopted hometown, from $5 Cobi dolls to $80 Cobi books, from Cobi billboards to Cobi posters to a Cobi television cartoon.

"I wake up and think, sometimes, 'Is this a big mistake?' " Mr. Mariscal said. "Now everyone calls me for new jobs. This is very strange. You think you have a responsibility to your work. You are very serious. And people pay you for this?"

Mr. Mariscal's cavernous studio lies on the industrial edge of Barcelona's northern coast. The cluster of warehouses is so remote it takes two taxi rides to find the right address, and one driver says, "If Mr. Mariscal is so rich, what is he doing in a place

like this?"

But inside, the former leather-making factory is transformed into a commercial for Apple Computers. A half-dozen terminals dot the work space. Mariscal posters line the walls. Cobi on a horse, Cobi drinking a beer, Cobi swilling champagne, are littered on bookcases. This could be SoHo, but without the pretense.

It is 6 p.m. and Mr. Mariscal is, well, perhaps still a tad hung over.Seems he was the host of a party that began around midnight and ended after breakfast.

"Crazy, crazy," he said. "Much fireworks. Much dancing. I got to bed, but you know, not much sleeping."

He is 42. Brown curls tumble over his forehead. His eyes are blue-gray and bloodshot. A paunch hangs over the belt of his jeans. He begins an interview by putting a piece of paper on his desk and drawing.

He serves up Cobi. In five seconds.

Picture a Pillsbury Doughboy of a dog on its hind legs, with a smile on its face and three lines for a forehead. That's Cobi.

"It's a little like Barcelona," he said. "Little person. Big stomach. One thing is clear, to be happy and alive."

Four years ago, Mr. Mariscal was one of six artists selected to enter a restricted contest to create the 1992 Summer Olympics mascot. The choice was not as strange as it might sound. Mariscalmania runs wild in Spain.

Born and raised in Valencia, he moved north to Barcelona in 1971 to study graphic design. A year later, he got his break as a comic-strip artist, creating his first character, El Senor del Caballito, The Man on the White Horse.

Other comics followed. Then a logo poster Bar Cel Ona, which brought together the meaning of the city's three words (Bar, Sky, Wave).

Party town by the Mediterranean. A Mariscal kind of town.

The man knows his pleasures, from women to wine to hallucinogens.

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