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  • robertvannood

Mercury Marine - 38 Years and Counting!

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Looking back on 38 years of Mercury calendars, 650 illustrations, and how it all began.

I often get asked by people, especially young artists, how I got my start.

Mercury Marine Calendar History ~ 38 Years & Counting

Of all my favourite memories as a kid growing up during the 60’s and 70’s the one that stands out most is visiting my Uncle Fred’s cottage on Elephant Lake located in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands. For me it truly was magical. I spent countless summer hours with my parents, brothers, uncles and cousins boating, swimming, waterskiing, having campfires, playing cards, swapping stories, and laughing…lots of laughing. But the greatest thrill for us all was the fishing. Elephant Lake hosted some of the most incredible fishing from the wily Walleye to the explosive Bass and the formidable Muskie.

The Idea

It was on a hot July afternoon in ’86 when I was in my seventh year establishing a career as an illustrator/designer from my studio/home in Scarborough. I was just wrapping up a project thinking about going for a bike ride around the neighbourhood to be topped off with sharing a pint with some friends before dinner. Although I enjoyed some success as an illustrator/designer I always felt there was a void. As a kid I spent a numerous evenings illustrating cartoons of my friends and myself in all sorts of precarious, humorous, outdoor adventure scenarios. The next day I would show the illustrations to said friends who got a kick out of them. And that’s when it happened…an epiphany. While reviewing my work I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could illustrate a cartoon fishing calendar.’

The Plan

It’s 3 pm and I immediately called an associate, Brian Lyon at one of Canada’s largest marketing agencies McKim in Toronto and told him of my epiphany. He asked me if I had any ideas on who would sponsor something like this and I responded by saying maybe Shimano, Heddon or Abu Garcia. He said he had an idea and would call me back within 15 minutes. Sure enough he did and said ‘you have a presentation 9 sharp tomorrow morning at Mercury Marine in Mississauga with their VP of marketing and sales Bob Paterson. You better have some sketches ready.’ Wow, not 30 minutes earlier I had an idea and now- no bike ride, no pint, lucky to have dinner, and no doubt a sleepless night illustrating.

The Presentation

It is without doubt, the most successful dealer sponsored promotion we’ve ever done. Robert’s ability to convey true comedy without words, gives this art a truly multilingual appeal.

At 9 am sharp the next day I presented my sketches to Bob. He took to them like a pike on a purple spinner. But he mentioned Mercury already had a calendar. My heart sank like a leaky boat. But, he said Mercury has a subsidiary marine outboard engine division and dealership network aptly named Mariner. My eyes lit up! Bob and I struck a deal on a handshake. Three months later Mariner dealerships received my first cartoon fishing calendar which they in return gave to their customers. Within two years I started illustrating a separate calendar requested by Mercury’s dealership network. Eventually my calendar series began to be distributed worldwide.

The Rest is History

What happened next took me by storm. The success of the Mariner/Mercury calendar program created a domino effect; I started receiving commissions from a wide range of Canadian and US government agencies, NGO’s and corporations involved in outdoor recreation. Much of the work dealt with awareness issues from promotion to safety to environmental concerns. Thanks to Mercury, not only did I develop a niche market for myself, but by 1991 it gave me the ability to move to the Haliburton Highlands and build my cottage/studio/home from where I am inspired every day. I have never regretted the move. I think am the luckiest guy alive.

This year marks my 35th anniversary with Mercury Marine. The result has been the creation of over 600 funny wonderfully illustrated art pieces. I still have to give my head a shake that my little epiphany back in ’86 led to where I am today.

Bob Paterson, the now retired Director of Marketing Services for Mercury Marine tells the story this way:

"We first met in 1986, when we had a need to offer our ‘new’ Mariner dealers an equivalent of the ‘then famous’ Mercury dealer calendars, which featured a pretty outboard powered boat each month. Robert’s concept was to create a cartoon fishing calendar. The 1987 calendar was launched, and by 1988, Mercury dealers where requesting the same format. Here it is 19 years later, and dealers still have a steady stream of customers coming in for their ‘new’ annual edition. It is without doubt, the most successful dealer sponsored promotion we’ve ever done.
The Statistics don’t begin to describe Robert’s wonderful talents. He has what I would call “an innate sense of what must go on in the minds of animals”. From “Target Turtle” to “Billy Bass”, and all the animals and fishes in between, there is always something going on in the background, and usually it takes a few moments for the viewer to notice. Robert’s ability to convey true comedy without words, gives this art a truly multilingual appeal."

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