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shoupies & pop pops

July 9, 2008 at 1:50 am

I finally gave in to temptation and bought the multi-multi-pack of many-colored permanent markers from the Big Top Flea Market in Atlantic Mills:

Given that these are from the flea market, they are not actually Sharpies but Shoupies, and they cost me $2. This was not the temptation to own a lot of colorful permanent markers, but the temptation to own a product very carefully crafted in imitation of a really-carefully-branded product. I probably should have left them in their packaging as an art object, but I’m too practical for that, and… there’s a lot more where they came from. (At the flea market, I had the choice of two other non-sharpie ‘brand’ names, written in the same font, both with the same capital S. No photos: I didn’t want to attempt explaining to the friendly Chinese girl working the booth that I am a graphic artist with an arcane interest in fake products, not the undercover trademark police…)

They did a pretty good job. I am always thrilled by seeing off-brand objects that use graphics to imitate the product they are ripping off — it makes me painfully aware of the powerful imprint that the brands have had on my consciousness. My response to just a glimpse of the packaging is an unconsciousness repetition of the brand name (“oh hey, sharpies!”), that is pretty violently disrupted by realizing that the expectations that go with the packaging are not coherent with the object inside. The feeling of betrayal by a trusted friend — combined with the conspiratorial delight of smashing established ideas. And of course, with that realization comes the sickening reminder that even the authentically branded product is a totally constructed idea, and that the graphic identity underlying it is simply a collection of shapes and colors…

I’m especially fascinated by ‘fake’ products from China (where I’ve never been).
The translation across cultures highlights the physical nature of the object, the concrete qualities utilized to build the abstract idea of the brand. These qualities are mostly appearance — function or usefulness are almost irrelevant. A marker that looks like a Sharpie must be more valuable, somewhere along the line, than a generic Chinese permanent marker, or nobody would bother with all the work of replication. However, the graphic requirements to make these things look ‘right’ for an overseas market must be pretty meaningless to the factory workers turning them out, or even to the local designers who are copying (and modifying!) the pen-strokes in the Sharpie font, or tracing, once again and on into oblivion, the outlines of the Pop Pop Snappers girl:

[images from fireworks websites and from flickr — I’ve been collecting pop pop boxes for a while, but couldn’t find any right away while writing this]

I wonder what level they have to get it to before their supervisor comes around and says, “hey, all right, that looks pretty much like it, good enough!” or maybe nobody really cares and all that matters is that they have the file ready to go to press in under 15 minutes. Who is creating the molds for the marker lids and barrels? Who is matching the colors? Who reviews the design? Are they working from an original Sharpie, from a copy of a copy, or just from a photo and a pilfered chemical formula? Who decides that this is even important, that it’s worth it to set up a plant to manufacture Shoupies?

Another object I ask the same questions about are the insert cards for Du-rags, which I find discarded on the street all around my neighborhood. They are all made in Korea, China, or Thailand, and the card always features an African-American- or Hispanic-looking man wearing (or photoshopped into wearing) a do-rag of whatever style they are selling (tie-down, two-tone, etc). The implications here are more complicated… but the images are fascinating. I’ll put up more in the future…

Shoupie outcome: The markers all work, they bleed out and through the paper pretty fast, but I really like the brightness and weirdness of the colors, and the liquid-ness of the ink makes them a little bit more painterly than real sharpies. The plastic of the marker bodies have their own strange smell — different from the smell of the plastic of the authentic sharpies. The smell of the ink varies by color, but mostly it’s no worse or better than the real ones’ smell — in other words, gross and chemical-y. Lightfastness: it’s too early to tell. I am, obviously, excited to mark whatever I want.

As a last note, from quick research around my room: the 9 regular sharpies I have all say “Made in USA” on them. My 8 sharpie poster-paint markers are made in Japan. The 3 retractable sharpies, and the 2 little keychain sharpies, say “China” on them, in small, hidden letters. I couldn’t find any information on the Sanford website about the locations of their manufacturing plants…


  1. regarding the origins of the du-rag pictures… I was reading this woman’s blog a while ago (can’t remember which). she was traveling in the carribean, and saw a package of hair extensions that used a photo of her on the insert. it was some sort of head shot or something. The extensions were manufactured in SE asia somewhere. she figures that someone found the picture online and just used it.

    Comment by miriam — July 11, 2008 @ 9:44 am
  2. whoah… I never thought of that as a possible source for the du-rag images… though it’s pretty obvious, what do *I* do when I want a reference image of something, right?

    These shots seem so posed… but then, there are a million actors out there putting up headshots on the internet…

    like [edit] my handsome brother who didn’t want me to link to his website yet. oh well, you will have to wait a little bit to see all the handsomeness…

    Comment by jean — July 17, 2008 @ 6:34 am
  3. I’m hoping this doesn’t have too negative an effect on the future of the flea market at Atlantic Mills, and on the building itself…

    from the Providence Journal:

    13 arrested, fake goods seized in raids on Providence flea markets

    06:47 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    By Gregory Smith

    Journal Staff Writer

    PROVIDENCE — The police are sitting on a warehouse-sized haul of nearly 20,000 alleged knockoff designer goods and pirated music CDs and movie DVDs after raiding two flea markets.

    They also arrested 13 people, mostly on charges related to the possession of counterfeit goods.

    Tipped off by the industries whose goods allegedly were copied and manufactured and labeled without permission, officers moved in Sunday morning at the Big Top flea market at 120 Manton Ave. in Olneyville and the Americana flea market at 50 Murray St. in Silver Lake.

    At the Big Top, they said some vendors quickly moved away from the tables that they were tending when they realized the police had arrived, and disclaimed ownership of the items for sale.

    …read the rest of the article on the Projo website…

    Comment by jean — September 24, 2008 @ 9:10 pm
  4. Nice. :)
    I was just at my first flea market in YEARS and bought a package of these.
    It wasn’t till I got home that I realized they were Shoupies. I was so fascinated and delighted by this finding that I googled them. I also paid $2. $2 well spent. I may start my own collection of knock off Chinese goods. As long I do not face prosecution.

    Comment by Nikki — July 13, 2009 @ 3:11 pm
  5. omg my frand had a “shoupie” and i said whatever and i dint belive her. so i wnet home typed in shoupie at google then this came up and low and behaold SHOUPIES LOL

    Comment by kaye — December 4, 2009 @ 11:39 pm
  6. i ♥ shopies

    Comment by kaye — December 5, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

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