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VOL. 126 | NO. 60 | Monday, March 28, 2011

10 Years of Jabberblabber

Mag, character eye growth of educating area’s children

By Aisling Maki

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The Bluff City’s favorite giant, green, googly-eyed monster this month celebrates 10 years of fostering childhood creativity and encouraging fun, educational family interaction.

Over the past decade, the Jabberblabber has become synonymous with family life in Memphis. Even if you’re not a parent, chances are you’ve spotted the enormous costumed character (played by a very tall man named Jim Lord) and his trusty cowgirl sidekick, Quick Draw Drew, making the rounds at family-friendly festivals or child-focused events in the Memphis metropolitan area.

You may remember his WYPL television show, or perhaps you’ve picked up a copy of his colorful namesake children’s publication at any number of newsstands across the city.

Jabberblabber was born in 2001 in the heart of Midtown, when Graffiti Graphics founders Theresa Andreuccetti and Nikki Schroeder realized there was no publication specifically designed to engage Memphis children.

“This was a real need in our community,” said Schroeder, chief financial officer and art director of Jabberblabber/Graffiti Graphics, who plays Jabberblabber sidekick Quick Draw Drew. “Seeing as we already had a graphic design studio and the talent and capabilities to create such a thing, that’s how it started.”

Graffiti Graphics, a successful 25-year-old Memphis-based company at 1985 Madison Ave., has designed graphic art for national companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Sun Orchard Juice, and for regional and local companies including Malco Theatres, Lenny’s Sub Shops, Paggio’s Salon, Lifeblood and the Memphis Italian Festival.

Passionate about early childhood education, chief executive officer and editor Adreuccetti decided to produce a free, hands-on creative publication for the city’s children, parents and educators.

“When we started in 2001, it was to encourage the creative child in everyone,” Andreuccetti said. “It was all about encouraging children and adults to be creative. … We’re all born artists, and if we could just remember that, we could have a lot of fun in life.”

During a brainstorming session, the Graffiti Graphics staff compiled a list of possible names for its new child-focused publication that also included “The Kid’s Backyard,” “The Purple Caterpillar” and “The Green Beetle.”

The staff asked a number of children to vote on the names, and Jabberblabber won out.

When Andreuccetti decided the publication needed a mascot, she looked to Schroeder to design one as unique and fitting as its name entailed.

Typically, the Graffiti Graphics staff presents several sketches before voting on a favorite, but Schroeder created the perfect character in a single, inspired evening. The staff agreed, and Jabberblabber was born.

The small business began producing and distributing across the city its new, free monthly publication featuring educational games, puzzles, art prompts, family activities and valuable community information for parents and children in a colorful, entertaining format.

Within the first year of the magazine’s launch, WYPL, the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library’s station, approached the Jabberblabber staff, asking them to write and produce an accompanying television program.

But budget cuts to an already low-budget program halted production after seven episodes of the well-received children’s variety show.

“It was with great reception that it ran, but it was so low-budget and everyone was volunteering and doing it for free, and we just couldn’t continue,” Schroeder said.

Several years ago, Jabberblabber’s magazine took a new direction when it added to its already-rich educational activities format by incorporating a “green” emphasis to engage the city’s children in environmental awareness, impact and responsibility.

“We made that decision based on what was going on in the world,” Andreuccetti said. “We’re trying to keep up with important issues, the energy and climate crisis. So we changed the focus to one we thought was more important for these times.”

The new green format has proven successful, attracting an array of new sponsors, including Elvis Presley Enterprises, Sekisui Restaurants and Jason’s Deli, and partnerships with United Health Care, the Urban Child Institute and Shelby County’s All Babies Count program.

In addition to a longstanding presence on newsstands, Jabberblabber recently formed a partnership with Walgreens, enabling distribution throughout the company’s numerous area stores.

“The reason we’re soliciting much more sponsorship lately is because there are 118,000 elementary-age children in our community,” Schroeder said. “Our goal is to provide every single one of those children with a magazine.”

Distribution currently stands at about 30,000, with a pass-along rate that reaches about 100,000 readers.

Jabberblabber also distributes its publication to Memphis City Schools, Shelby County Schools, DeSoto County Schools and local private schools.

“Sometimes it’s astonishing to us to see the amount of feedback we get from teachers,” Schroeder said.

“We get hundreds of letters each week. Teachers will take the time to send in packets of student artwork and letters, sometimes with a little note that says how much they love Jabberblabber. It’s extraordinarily rewarding.”

Given both women’s passion for fostering creativity and promoting environmental stewardship, it’s only natural that Jabberblabber has surpassed partner business Graffiti Graphics in becoming its primary focus.

“Graffiti Graphics has basically funded and pushed Jabberblabber, so we’re grateful for that business, and we still do a lot,” Schroeder said. “But we’re kicking off the training wheels to focus on Jabberblabber.”

They hope to take the magazine concept national, and in the next month they plan to unveil a new Jabberblabber e-magazine.

They’re also working on a television pilot featuring Jabberblabber as a green superhero who tackles things like littering and visits sites such as recycling and solar-energy plants.

They’ve hired an agent who’s busy pitching their idea to networks.

“It’s very exciting,” Schroeder said. “We started out growing slowly because we had so many other focuses and things going on. Now we’ve really started realigning our focus, directing all our energy towards the TV show and the magazine.”

Jabberblabber is planning an official birthday blowout for April 23 at Malco Paradiso, 584 S. Mendenhall Road, featuring a showing of “How to Train Your Dragon.” Attendees are invited to fill out a form inside the magazine to receive free tickets. For more information, visit www.jabberblabber.com.

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