When crafting a fairytale world, it can be easy to idealise the characters and create a universe that’s completely disconnected from our real world. In an effort to shape a place that is “kid friendly,” authors can end up leaving out the more difficult elements of life that make us human. Imperfections, nuances and complexities may be omitted and each character can come to symbolise just one personality trait, so that children can more easily understand the concepts at hand.
For the co-founders of award-winning Icelandic design brand Tulipop, it was essential to create an enticing fairytale world without such simplistic depictions. The Tulipop world, with its flawed and sometimes insane Tulipoppers, has now been spotted by the production company Zodiak Kids, which recognised the brand for this exact quality. The two companies are currently working together to turn the Tulipop universe into an animated TV show, while retaining Tulipop’s dark and original artistic vision.
The beginnings of Tulipop
Tulipop was created by Helga Arnadóttir and Signý Kolbeinsdóttir in 2010. The two originally met in high school and Signý went on to study product design in Iceland, while Helga pursued an MBA from the London Business School. Upon returning home from London, Helga saw the potential in Signý’s creative works.
“Signý was drawing these fantastical characters that would later become the Tulipop characters,” Helga says. “I sensed that there was a magical quality to her work, and I loved the aesthetic. When I showed friends and family the designs, they wanted to know the background stories of the characters and who they were. It really spiraled from there. Signý and I shared the belief that we could create something together.”
The inspiration for the characters came intuitively to Signý, who has always been drawn to natural elements such as the mushrooms and trees that characterize the Tulipop world. “When I was little, I did a tiny, tiny book about mushrooms,” she says. “I think the designs are part of my subconscious. And the stories behind the characters take inspiration from the folk stories of Iceland I grew up with.”
No bad guy
Signý is now the Creative Director at the company, while Helga manages the business side as the CEO. They’ve created a merchandise line based on Signý’s original designs, featuring products such as lamps shaped like the various mythical beings, and everything from water bottles, to stationary and tableware bearing their images.
Signý comes up with the stories behind the characters, which customers can read about in pamphlets that accompany the Tulipop products. Everything is based on her original ideas. “I wanted this world to showcase darkness and complexity, alongside goodness,” she says. “The characters are based on family members and friends. No one is perfect. The characters are like human beings in fairy tale costumes. They are not idealised.”
Signý adds that she often sees characters in children’s TV shows who are stripped of flaws. “There’s a good guy and he’s really good,” she says about these types of shows. “And there’s a bad character and he’s really bad. In the Tulipop world, there is no bad guy. You don’t need a bad guy—it’s not relevant. Do you know anyone in real life who is strictly bad? Everyone is flawed. Everyone has their good side. We want to avoid creating a simplistic world.”
The kids will be fine
Speaking of the impact that these stories and characters have on children, Signý emphasises that children can handle much more than we give them credit for.
“Many children’s shows speak down to children,” she says. “The material has been sterilised so that kids ‘can understand.’ They depict worlds that turn a blind eye to the difficult aspects of life. I have always admired the films of Studio Ghibli and the stories of Astrid Lindgren because they can be mystical and scary even though they’re for children.”
“The kids will be fine,” she adds. “They engage in these stories and they learn that life is full of complexity. They learn that life goes on.”
Expanding into animation
Ever since forming the company, Signý and Helga have steadily expanded Tulipop. They published a storybook based on the Tulipop universe in 2012, which was written by the award-winning children’s book writer Margrét Örnólfsdóttir in close collaboration with Signý. The pair also recently started a Tulipop YouTube channel featuring short animated “webisodes” produced in collaboration with Wildbrain.
The idea to make the mystical world of Tulipop come to life through an animated TV series seemed like an organic next step. “It was always our plan. We’ve always wanted to do animation,” Helga says. “Our customers have wanted to see ‘more’ in relation to the products ever since we founded the company.”
“We just never imagined it would happen this quickly,” Signý adds, smiling. “We’re now in a position where we are working with an awesome group of people to make our visions come true.”
Full creative control
Tulipop has been approached in the past by a variety of production companies that wanted to turn the universe into an animated TV show. However, Helga and Signý have waited for a fitting match to appear.
“The studios that have approached us in the past wanted to change things,” Signý explains. “They wanted to change the characters or the stories or the colours to fit their visions. Some of them would comment on our dark content and go, ‘That’s not for kids! Kids are not allowed to watch that.’”
The deal with Zodiak ensures that Signý will retain creative control of the Tulipop world. “Zodiak wants to keep it as it is,” she explains. “I’ll be collaborating with them closely and approving the ideas that their script writers come up with.”
The plan is for the TV series to screen worldwide, with Zodiak holding the worldwide distribution rights (excluding the Nordic territories), while Tulipop retains distribution rights in the Nordics together with the global licensing and merchandising rights to the brand.
The sky’s the limit
For their upcoming projects, Signý and Helga hope to expand the Tulipop brand even further. “We want to continue the quality and create beautiful products, books and games,” Helga says. “And we hope that this deal with Zodiak will result in a second series.”
“We’re thinking big,” Signý interjects. “What about a movie?” She grins. “You know, the sky is really the limit. But we want to retain what Tulipop is at its core. The flawed, complex characters that inhabit the world are part of what characterises the brand. We want that artistic vision to stay the same.”
Visit Tulipop’s flagship store on Skólavörðustigur, or find out more at tulipop.com.