By Jenna Jay
Gordon the Giant Clam with ESP (that’s extra-special powers, not extrasensory perception) might as well be San Diego’s mascot. Since the 1960s, Gordon has made cameo appearances in advertising pitches everywhere, but his La Jolla roots keep bringing him back to this land like lapping waves of the tide. The cartoon character is a figment of longtime La Jolla writer/illustrator Geoff Relf’s imagination. Gordon’s latest adventure (as told to Relf) springs to life in an upcoming children's book, "Blue Planet Blues."
Relf's first such work, "Blue Planet Blues," sees Gordon traveling from the Indian Ocean to the West Coast of the United States, incorporating ecological information into the storyline. The book is still in the publishing process, but readers can catch a sneak peek of "Blue Planet Blues" throughout the month of May at the UCSD Arts Library on the lower level in the West wing of Geisel Library, opening just in time for Earth Day on April 22.
Along with Relf's illustrations and bits of copy from the "Blue Planet Blues" publishing process, the Spring Quarter Exhibit also features several other memories on lend from Relf — including posters from advertising jobs, his late wife's hot-fusion glass art, and even mementos from his time spent as a Naval Aviator in the Korean War.
Relf's display also depicts his deep-rooted involvement with the San Diego community — through work with Hotel Del Coronado to a cover design he crafted for San Diego Magazine to his creation of UCSD's "Explorer" publication, and much, much more.
Not surprisingly, many of these artifacts also star Gordon the Giant Clam with ESP.
Gordon is partly to credit for Relf snagging a job as the first ad agency account executive for Sea World in the 1960s. In an initial meeting for the job, Relf recalled, "I made the pitch about the fact that I had a consultant who knew everything about the marine world. It was actually a joke.
“I said, 'He's very familiar, I mean he's really into the marine scene,' and they said, 'Well, who's that?' and I said, “His name is Gordon. He's a giant clam and has ESP and consults to me with his ESP.’ They laughed like crazy, of course, because it was a gag and I was just using it, but they hired me."
What began as a lighthearted attempt at ecological humor blossomed into a longstanding theme for Relf, who has a background in marine science. Relf weaved Gordon into several of his projects through the years, including an ecology promotion for a major San Diego shopping center in the 1970s.
"I, back in the '60s and '70s, was well aware of the importance of ecological awareness," Relf said.
Using Gordon the Giant Clam as a vehicle for speaking out without forcing a viewpoint on listeners, Relf designed a captivating way to present his information. It is with this method that he hopes "Blue Planet Blues," will resonate with audiences.
"There will be the opportunity, hopefully, to do a series of books featuring Gordon, but with serious content," Relf said.
If you go
Spring Quarter Exhibit at the UCSD Arts Library
West Wing of Geisel Library, 9500 Gilman Dr.
8 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Sundays through May 31