The 2010 Vancouver Olympics has unveiled their cuddly new mascots: Quatchi, Miga, Sumi – and a sidekick named Mukmuk, a Vancouver island marmot. Picking mascots for major events is never easy: they have to be a graphic icon, irresistible to children, and ridicule-proof. Sometimes mascots are based on real animals, sometimes they're totally invented creatures. Vancouver seems to have followed a middle path by basing theirs on local First Nations mythology: Sasquatch (Quatichi), Sea Bear (Miga) and Animal Guardian Spirit (Sumi). Cuddly as they are, they have a serious job to do. One of Sumi's jobs is to brandish a gun in peace-loving Canada. Yes, mascots mean business. They actually have critical roles to play, which is why the process of designing and picking them is so serious. They symbolize a multimillion-dollar event (billions if you count infrastructure improvements), they can broaden (or shrink) the market, attract (or repel) kids and families, and boost (or tank) souvenir sales. They also have to be safe: a goofy mascot can be a pr and marketing fiasco. No one knows this better than the organizers of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics whose mascot, Izzy, was a flop. He was a scary amalgam of parts resembling something created by a committee chaired by Dr. Moreau – on LSD. Even the designers didn't know what he was and called him "Whatizit." After much public scoffing, he underwent some plastic surgery, a steroid regimen, and a name change. Still, few wanted an Izzy plush toy. If you're interested in seeing the roster of Olympics mascots since 1968, you can find it here. China has a panda and multiple other creatures for its Beijing games. Olympic events aren't the only ones that have mascots: so do world's fairs. My friend Urso Chappell, graphic designer and expo expert, sent me this visual round-up of recent expo mascots. Among the more successful are the two Bigfoot-like characters from Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan. One of the worst: Twipsy from the 2000 Expo in Hanover. He looks like road kill. But then, who expects warm and cuddly from the Germans? Now why does Sumi hold a weapon? Is he threatening Quatchi? Is he seeking revenge on behalf of all slaughtered animals? Nope. One of the job mascots have is to be a graphic element that helps bring sports to life. In the Winter Olympics, that includes the biathlon, in which athletes act like the Norwegian underground and ski through the woods shooting at Germans – uh, targets. If you want your kid to bond with biathlon, follow Sumi. Sumi is also getting chuckles because of his name, which is pronounced Sue-me. Now we know why he can afford to be so brazen: he's locked and loaded and ready for 2010.