Richard J. Lenz is founder, president, and CEO of Lenz, Inc., a full-service advertising, marketing, and public relations firm based in Decatur, Georgia. Currently serving as Vice President, Lenz Joined the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival Board of Directors in 2005 to help steer Decatur’s first literary festival with his expertise in branding, marketing communications, fundraising, and events.
“It’s not easy being green,” Kermit the Frog sang, and he was right. But I believe he was warbling about his place in the world, not the risk of passing out from heat stroke and collapsing on top of a clamorous, knee-high gang of kindergarteners.
Bookzilla, when not out getting a spa treatment (i.e., dry cleaning), is the green, vaguely reptilian costumed book lover who lives in a building next to the square. When Booky goes out for a stroll, his fitbit isn’t going to rack up a lot of steps because he usually gets mobbed just paces from the front door. Like most lizards, he is commonly seen in summertime, around the time of the Decatur Book Festival, which is his annual coming out party where his presence is intended to inspire younger folks to consider books as important and entertaining as say, Candy Crush.
Like Puff Daddy, he generally travels with a posse, and also for safety reasons. Despite wearing glasses, he has very poor eyesight and big, clawed feet, and Decatur has dangerous obstacles like curbs. So he must be led.
Bookzilla first appeared in two-dimensional form when he was conceived in 2009. It was a long gestation—three years—before he fully emerged in 2012 in three dimensions, bursting on the Decatur political scene as a member of the Green Party running for President. His grunting announcement speech, with translator, flanked by secret service detail, at the annual Book Festival launch get-together at Eddies Attic, was going well until a member of the press asked about “inappropriate relations with a reptile on his staff.” He abruptly stomped out of the room. Later, in the primaries, he got swamped by the usual Republicans and Democrats. Still, I’m proud of my “Don’t Blame Me I Voted for Bookzilla!” bumper sticker.
I have a fondness for his appearances, because it always causes a stir. And what is a marketer’s first job if not to attract attention? Watching people respond to a costumed creature is an unscientific experiment concerning people’s attitudes to encounters with the unusual and unexpected. Their reactions, regardless of age, run the gamut of human emotions.
Many young children will yell his name and run up and hug him in pure happiness. Parents then yank out cellphones and take pictures of beaming faces. That’s all very nice. However, occasionally, Bookzilla’s jaunts spark minor acts of violence. More than once he has been on the receiving end of a hard punch to his light green, nine-pack abs, usually from a superhero-obsessed boy. Some small children go into stranger-danger mode, and who can blame them? Bookzilla is not something you see every day. And he is a book monster.
Interestingly, adult reactions are actually much the same. I’ve seen grown men and women turn and run upon seeing him. Meanwhile, others line up to get a selfie.
Also, the adults are much more likely to try to start a conversation with Booky than are the speechless, slack-jawed children. It runs in two flavors: either they talk to him like he’s a human person, or like he’s an actual living, breathing, book-monster thing. I’m sure the same happens at Disney.
As Bookzilla doesn’t speak English but can only grunt, he doesn’t have many extended heart-to-hearts. This leads to frustration and awkward moments:
— “Hey, Bookzilla! How are you doing?”
— “Hot enough for ya?”
— “Hey. Who is in there any way? What’s your name? Are you a girl or a boy?”
— “Well OKAY. If that’s the way you want to be.”
Most are curious about what it is like to wear the suit, especially on a hot day. Well, it is not for individuals with a strong need for personal comfort.
First, the suit is heavy and hard to maneuver with big unfeeling feet and a head the size of a suitcase. Visibility is very poor. Inside the suit, it smells like a mix of road kill, wet dog, and a high school locker room. And despite the battery-powered fan secreted in the head and the wearable cooling packs, it is brutally hot inside. After a foray around the festival, it is not unusual for those who have worn the suit to return to home base in need of assistance with the costume, having soaked through their clothes and with several pounds of sweat.
And that’s why it isn’t easy being green. But as I tell our “actors” who portray Bookzilla, that’s a small price to pay to be in show business!
—Richard J. Lenz