Pop Rocks: Zimmerman's Happy idea continues to gain followers

Leonard "Porkchop" Zimmerman's Happy campaign has drawn the attention of filmmaker Michael McKinley, who has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to make a Happy film.

A great idea doesn’t need to be complicated.


It doesn’t need a lot of moving parts, agendas or messages.

The greatest ideas, in fact, are often defined by their simplicity.

That’s how I have always felt about Happy.

Augusta-based artist and designer Leonard Zimmerman, known by his friends, fans and admirers as Porkchop, never intended his Happy to be the project that defined him as an artist. More of an experiment, Happy started as a few stickers and a handful of buttons, each emblazoned with a roughly rendered version of one of the distinctive robots Zimmerman often includes in his paintings, passed out to friends and the occasional strangers.

His goals, which remain the same today, were simple.

Make sure this is seen.

Happy is a movement, not a commodity. Profit will never be derived from Happy. Any money made or donated goes into expanding the movement.

What’s interesting is I do not believe Zimmerman predicted what that might mean. Soon, people were donating time, effort and, yes, money to make sure the reach of the simple design and message expanded. Some people sent photos of Happy stickers stealthily applied in far-flung locales. Others offered to buy the next batch of buttons. Soon there were shirts, shoes, the odd tattoo – even billboards. Not a dime made it into Zimmerman’s pocket but his simple message – Happy – was resonating.

Happy, Zimmerman believes, is a decision. The stickers, buttons and other places his smiling robot might appear are a reminder of that.

It’s a message that has proven surprisingly resonant. Zimmerman will send stickers to anyone that sends him a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope – the SASE of yore. He rarely goes out without a pocketful of buttons, although the supply is often depleted by fans old and new.

It’s an idea – so simple – with real legs, and I’m sure that’s what attracted Milwaukee-based filmmaker Michael McKinley to Zimmerman and his story.

McKinley currently has an Indiegogo campaign up and active with the goal of raising the required funds to make a documentary about Zimmerman and Happy.

It’s easy to see the appeal for the filmmaker. Zimmerman’s story is one of love, loss, talent and rebirth – intoxicating stuff for any storyteller.

It’s also easy to see the appeal for Zimmerman. This offers him a new, and certainly unanticipated, medium for his Happy message.

More eyes. More Happy.

It would be insincere for me to admit that I have always harbored some fears and misgivings regarding Zimmerman’s Happy project. It just seemed far too easy for the simple drawing and message to get co-opted for commercial purposes. It seemed inevitable that I would see that distinctive robot relieving himself (or herself – robots are fairly gender-neutral) on a Ford logo. But that has not happened yet and I feel like this project does nothing but strengthen that position.

Hopefully Porkchop’s faithful fans will be able to raise the money required to make McKinley’s Happy movie a reality.

To learn more and contribute to the Happy film fund, go to: www.indiegogo.com/projects/happy-a-small-film-with-a-big-smile#/story.