Cartoon scavenger hunts brighten Portland

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

image copyright@mikebennettart
image captionThe cutouts are based on characters such as Spongebob Squarepants (Viacom International Inc and Stephen Hillenburg), Pikachu (Pokemon) and Bugs Bunny (Warner Bros)

Giant cartoon cutouts are popping up in parts of Portland, Oregon, in the US, thanks to one man's love of scavenger hunts and his dream to "just put a smile on people's faces".

By day, Mike Bennett spends his time in an estate agent's office, working on spreadsheets, administration and paperwork.

By night, he is in his home workshop, using recycled wood and paint picked up free from Craigslist to give physical form to online memes and childhood cartoon favourites, such as Spongebob Squarepants, Pokemon's Pikachu, Futurama's Fry, and Homer Simpson.

At first, they were displayed in his garden - but three times over the past fortnight, he has unleashed his creations across Portland, leaving clues to their whereabouts on the city's Reddit forum and earning himself the title of Regional Memesmith, from its moderators, in the process.

image copyright@mikebennettart
image captionMike finds inspiration in pop culture such as the Why not Zoidberg? meme (Futurama and 20th Century Fox)

The next of these scavenger hunts will be on Friday.

"I've been experimenting with these images for a while," Mike, who goes by the name Lemmy_Koopa on Reddit, told BBC News.

"I just want to give people an excuse to smile.

"I've always loved scavenger hunts but I've been blown away by the reaction."

image copyright@mikebennettart
image captionThis cutout of Hobbes was used to ask Reddit for ideas for Mike's next project (Calvin and Hobbes copyright - Andrews McMeel Publishing and Bill Watterson)

One fan even left an anonymous donation of plywood outside Mike's house.

Mike made his first big cutout three months ago, when snow was expected in Portland.

"I'm a huge fan of the comic Calvin and Hobbes," he said.

"When it snows, Calvin makes snowmen that his parents can't stand as they are just grotesque and violent.

image copyright@mikebennettart
image captionMike drops his characters in unusual locations, such as this tea-sipping Kermit the Frog (The Muppets Studio, LLC) in Portland Rose Garden

"I created some out of spare wood we had and put them in the front yard. This is how the idea started."

Fellow Reddit user cuterus-uterus sums up of a lot of the response to Mike's project throughout a town known for attracting people across the US to live and work: "You seem like a fun person and your wooden monstrosities are amazing.

"Seeing those suckers around town would be a lovely reminder to all the transplants why they chose this odd little city to call home."

image copyrightMike Bennett
image captionMike Bennett loves illustrating comics and cartoons

As well as his "art drops", Mike also creates films for Instagram and the short-video app TikTok.

In these, he shows how he makes the large sculptures that have propelled him to minor fame, as well as his attempts to cheer up the community by going into local shops and adding cartoon faces and little drawings to everyday items such as bananas and books.

At one company, they give him pizza, make a donation to charity and ask 30 staff members to take part in some sort of community service in lieu of payment for Mike's work.

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Is this the Biggest Chungus? I must know.

A post shared by Mike Bennett! (@mikebennettart) on

"I don't make a penny out of this," he said.

"I just like making things out of wood and then sharing the creations on social [media].

"It's great that people are taking the ones they find home.

"So far, we've only had one instance where a, [video game] Mario, character seemed to have been picked up by someone not from Reddit."

There are some creations Mike is loath to give away, however, and so they will be staying local.

image copyrightMike Bennett
image captionIf you're in Portland, you may spot Homer Simpson (20th Century Fox) peeping out from a bush

He has paid homage to a gif of Homer Simpson moving backwards into a bush, for example, by installing his own version in his garden hedge.

"Homer's a fan favourite," he said. "People who spot him in our neighbourhood like to take pictures of him.

"I also don't want to burn myself out.

"I want to move beyond the memes and make what people appreciate.

"When I asked Reddit what I should make with the plywood that had been left outside my house, the votes came out in favour of Dr Seuss's Lorax, so I'm working on that right now."

All images courtesy of Mike Bennett

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