Odious Rumours: Arachnid-Enhanced Bubble Yum

« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger

The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.

This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.

Art by Tomm Coker, from The Big Book of Urban Legends (1994, Paradox Press/DC); edited by Bronwyn Carlton Taggart and featuring the most inconstant levels of skill and talent you’re ever likely to encounter in a professional comics publication: a couple dozen or so versatile cartoonists, and over a hundred superhero hacks and/or photo tracers utterly out of their depth, a reminder of just how shallow the talent pool is. This isn’t one of the good pieces, but it’s nowhere near the bottom.
A trade ad from 1977, the year of Bubble Yum’s national (and international, as this Canadian can attest) rollout.

But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):

The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.

This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).

But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”

From Morris County, NJ’s Daily Record, March 27, 1977 edition.

Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and
Corporate Communications
:

Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.

The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.

Speaking of advertising: Marvel’s knockoff of Scholastic’s Dynamite, Pizzazz (1977-79), which included lots of ads, featured this piece in its 6th issue (March 1978, Marvel). This gives you a sense of Bubble Yum’s success, as the product was, in its field, what’s termed a disruptive innovation. Chewing gum no longer had to be hard.
Inevitably, the imitators came! Smooooth N’ Juicy, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious, the oddball Freshen Up, and so on. Marvel switched its advertising allegiance to Topps. This is from Pizzazz no. 11 (Aug. 1978, Marvel). The art looks to me to be the work of Mad magazine veteran Jack Rickard (1922-1983).
A few issues later, (Pizzazz no. 14, Nov. 1978, Marvel), in a brazen display of corrupt insincerity, came this so-called Consumer Guide (note that only Topps products are pictured). Really, is Bubble Yum “the hardest, toughest gum our testers had to chew“? Surely anyone who’s ever tried to chew something from the Bazooka family knows better. My jaw aches just from the memory.
The company continued efforts to restore its reputation in the New York market, where the rumours had caused the most harm. A piece from The New York Times‘ Tuesday, July 22, 1980 edition.
This ad ran in Adventure Comics no. 487 (Nov. 1981, DC) and several other titles in the following months.
Now that’s better: in 1982, they turned to the incomparable Jack Davis to illustrate one of their print ads. Given his prodigious speed, he couldn’t have spent more than an hour on this specific piece, but it works far better than its predecessors. Incidentally, the ‘Super Yum’ thing (replacing Soft ‘n Juicy) appears to have been a move to block a competitor from using the appellation.

But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.

For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;

And 1988’s spot co-starring a young Leonardo DeCaprio, which shows us he was clearly born with that insufferable smugness, or at least had honed it to perfection by his teens.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Do Send Us a Postcard, Luv!

I don’t know about you, but for me postcards are an intense evocation of nostalgia – so ubiquitous in the last century, and just a pale shadow of their former glorious selves in this day and age. Fortunately, a lot of them have survived through the years, and collectors have taken care to preserve these snippets of the past, whether crass or elegant, stunningly illustrated or just the barest sketch of an idea.

We’ll start with the oldest postcards of today’s post from quite a long time ago – the beginning of the 20th century in France.

These following two French postcards from 1910 are signed by “E. Orot”, though I wasn’t able to find out whose nom de plume that was. The back of the cards says “près des grands flots bleus” (near the great blue waves) which was the name of the seaside-themed series by this mysterious artist.

The poem is something like “Why don’t I have, like this octopus, eight long arms to embrace you, for I would, without getting weary, make my kisses into true masterpieces”.
“Say, why does such a nasty beast have eight arms, and you, so pretty, have only two?”

The following postcard is French, part of a series of images depicting France in the year 2000 as seen by artists in the early 20th century. These were first published as inserts in cigar boxes, and later given second life as postcards. This one is painted by Jean-Marc Côté. « There are at least 87 cards known that were authored by various French artists, the first series being produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Due to financial difficulties the cards by Jean-Marc Côté were never actually distributed and only came to light many years later after the science-fiction author Isaac Asimov chanced upon a set and published them in 1986, with accompanying commentary, in the book Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000. » To see more of these cards, visit A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000, which is also where that quote is taken from.

Moving on to France’s “historic rival“, Britain.

All I was able to ascertain is that this postcard is British, from the 40s or possibly 50s. Are these women giantesses, or is this aquarium exhibit meant for children or possibly dwarves? We will never know.

The three following postcards are British, but from varying decades. The Bill going on a date is from the 1950s. Bill’s cold, octopus-like hands (is it the same Bill, some twenty years on?!) are from the late 70s, published by Kromekolor, which seems to have had a chunk of the British market, though very little information is available online. And the nameless guy playing around with a fishing girlfriend is from sometime in the late 60s, and I would not at all be surprised if his name was William.

We have talked about Donald McGill, the king of comic postcards (take a look here) before. I was delighted to find two tentacular offerings from the vast collection of postcards he has drawn.

Continuing in a British vein, this postcard is part of the Seaside Spooners collection by Tom Browne, (another extremely prolific British artist and very much a contemporary of McGill) and is entitled The Lovers’ Seat.

Moving on the good ole U.S. of A. – here’s a pair of American postcards from the 50s, with rather similar jokes.

It’s not very clear why Horace is being propelled out of the boat like that. Is he perhaps terrified of octopuses? Note that it is exactly the same “gag” as in a British postcard featuring William.

And another postcard from 1954. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the illustrator is in either case. I like how Melvin looks puzzled, not scared, by this cephalopod intrusion.

I hope you enjoyed this little voyage! Until next Tuesday…

~ ds

Nomenclature, or How to Tell Your Thingamajig From Your Whatchamacallit

« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius

To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:

Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.

This most edifying illustration was the work of Mike Witte (b. 1944), who later chucked this charming infusion of the old ‘big foot’ school of cartooning to settle into an in-demand but pasteurised version of Ralph Steadman‘s style (itself, I would argue, a more grotesque version of Ronald Searle‘s approach). Still, bully for him — it’s a hard business to earn a proper living in. Sure, the classic big foot tradition already had a modern master in Elwood Smith… but the more the merrier! (and speaking of Onomatopeia…)
Mort Walker‘s Beetle Bailey Sunday strip from July 9, 1978, a most judicious choice, was dissected.
Here’s my well-thumbed, yellowing copy of What’s What: it’s the first book trade edition (Nov. 1982, Ballantine), copies of which, or the updated edition, circa the early 1990s, can still be obtained dirt cheap. And “Nose leather?” Awww.

To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!

A page from Nazi “X” (Captain America no. 211, July 1977, Marvel) with the wild and wooly Arnim Zola – the Bio-Fanatic – flexing his mental muscles. Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by our dear Mike Royer, and coloured by Glynis Wein.
Another example, to make sure everyone gets it straight? The sky’s ablaze with Kirby Krackle in this ominously magnificent splash from Kamandi no. 24 (Dec. 1974, DC) and its tale of The Exorcism! Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Douglas Bruce Berry, and most likely coloured by Jerry Serpe.

-RG

Of Confectionery and Clowns

« This world is run by clowns who can’t wait for it to end. » — Too Much Joy, ‘Clowns

Well, the topic of this post kind of snuck up on me. I’ll explain: last Saturday, as we were out of Russian marinated mushrooms (a simply unacceptable state of affairs in this household), we ventured into a European deli in quest of something to tide us over until we could properly restock. They had some button mushrooms in oil, fair enough. As we reached the counter to tally up our purchases, something caught my eye: a display for a French confection called Carambar, which I’d known about for most of my life, but never encountered in the wild.

After a moment’s hesitation (which baffled my partner), we picked up a sample and added it to our bounty.

It happens that Caram’ Bar (as it was called until 1977, when the apostrophe was dropped) ties into a minor childhood incident whose recollection elicits, in equal parts, snickers of amusement and pangs of guilt. It was in, oh, the second or third grade. We were standing in rows, about to return to class after recess. I turned to my neighbouring classmate, and asked him whether he knew… oh, never mind — it went exactly like this:

Mister Pipo! I will pose you a riddle!” “Do you know what the difference is between a Caram’ Bar…” (I love riddles!) “… and a Super Caram’ Bar?” (They’re the same!) “But of course not, Mister Pipo!” “The Caram’ Bar was this long…
The Super Caram’ Bar is THIS LONG!” The full-length Super Caram’ Bar fumetti, as it appeared in the pages of Pif Gadget no. 171 (May 1972, Vaillant).

Regrettably, the back of my hand connected with my classmate’s nose, not his cheek, and he wound up with a nosebleed. Désolé, Germain!

The acquired item.
…. unwrapped. CaramBar wrappers have, since the 60s, famously featured corny gags, which once were selected from entries provided by consumers. A kid whose joke got the nod could win his weight in candy. Here’s one of the pair I got here (the other doesn’t work in English)… Q: Why are elephants grey? A: Because if they were pink, they’d get confused with strawberries. It may come as no surprise that in France, a ‘blague Carambar’ has become shorthand for a lame joke.

The preceding Super Caram’ Bar ad was quite unusual in that it was a full-colour three-pager, which must have cost the candy maker a bundle. Indeed, it only ran au complet once or twice; thereafter, only its concluding page appeared.

Looking back at this campaign, I wondered whether these clowns were merely company mascots, or something more. As it turns out, Sergio (né Serge Drouard in 1950, so 21 years old at the time) was in the early stages of a remarkable career in the circus, first as Clown blanc Sergio (here are a brief video profile from 1970 and a lovely 1975 performance at Paris’ legendary Cirque d’hiver) and then as ringmaster M. Fidèle. Now seventy, he more-or-less retired after the 2010-2011 season. As for poor Pipo, I’m afraid I don’t know. He’s similar to the famous Dutch clown Pipo de Clown, but they’re merely homonyms.

Clowns are a curious proposition. Kids used to (presumably) find them amusing and endearing, but several generations of thin, gruelling antics and downgrading of the brand and métier, not to mention the sinister hijinks of the infamous Pogo the clown, have flipped the cultural perception of these once-beloved entertainers. At this point, Coulrophobia is impressively widespread, and not just among the wee ones.

For my part, I’m not so eager to condemn en bloc. Your run-of-the-mill, unqualified local kids’ show, mall-opening Bozo is but a faint, hopelessly distorted echo of the great clowns of history. They were the fruits of a complex, nuanced and codified tradition with its thick, gnarled roots in early 16th century Italy’s Commedia dell’ Arte.

But I don’t need to reach quite that far: I grew up on Radio-Canada’s absurd, minimalist masterpiece Sol et Gobelet (1968-71). Sol (Marc Favreau) was a naïve tramp clown who creatively mangled language and logic and Gobelet (Luc Durand) was the poetic, reasonable, refined Pierrot type. Here’s a classic episode. Such is the duo’s cultural significance that a public library (Favreau) and a nearby public park (Durand) have been christened in their posthumous honour.

And since we’re on comics and clowns, here’s a bonus short tale.

« Sergio has also learned that one must never try to catch a falling performer. One should only push them to redirect their path and cushion their fall. One day at the Paradis latin, he had no choice but to tackle in flight a trapeze artist who was about to land on a table. The outcome : a few collapsed vertebrae. » Also, « When a lion attacks, it always goes for the testicles. » Keep these sage verities in mind, next time you’re under the big top!
Laugh Clown — Die, Clown appeared in It’s Midnight… The Witching Hour no. 21 (June-July 1972, DC). It was scripted by editor Murray Boltinoff under his Bill Dehenny nom de plume and illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti.

While LCDC is the flimsiest of stories, just a troupe of stock characters going through their hoary paces, Grandenetti’s artwork elevates the affair. It’s as if, having precious little to work with, the artist opted to push against the material, moulding it oddly, imbuing the proceedings with unstated implications. Consider, for instance, how sinister is the depiction of the ringmaster. Nothing in the dialogue or plot indicates that the man is up to anything untoward or malicious, quite the contrary. The second panel of page four is quintessential Grandenetti.

And how was my first Carambar, you may ask. We both tried it, and… were singularly underwhelmed. Perhaps it was a question of freshness, but it was disappointingly brittle in the beginning, almost chalky, hardly what you’d expect from a caramel product. Then it just fell apart and faded, like third-rate taffy.

« I found something in one of my pockets. It was about as big as your shoe, but it was shaped like a rocket! » — a not-at-all ambiguous statement from litigious chuckler Bozo the Clown

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 26

« … a radical series of crappy jokes & trashy art mopped out of the Bowery’s least washed lavatories. Fueled on bologna sandwiches, black coffee & cheap cigarettes, these are the ugly buttons that scream ‘America‘ to an America that has forgotten itself. » — a tasty bit of hype from Goblinko

Fabled pulp illustrator Norman Saunders (a definite favourite around these parts) is legitimately appreciated for his body of work, but I do believe he isn’t sufficiently lauded for his humorous work. After all, he could hold his own against the likes of Basil Wolverton and Wally Wood, and how many of his peers could lay claim to such a lofty achievement?

A passage from his son David’s definitive monograph, the simply and fittingly titled Norman Saunders:

Ugly Buttons came out in 1967 to exploit the popular trend of protest buttons with witty sayings. The macabre humor of Ugly Buttons reflects their Halloween release date as well as the morbid comedy of popular TV shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters. Norm Saunders created half [ eleven, actually ] of the twenty-four images in this set, while Wally Wood created the other half.

A sample of the original packaging…
I’m sorry… but that bat is just so adorable…
You can see why these are perfect Hallowe’en fodder!
Macabre, and with a tidy moral to boot! At a nickel apiece, an undeniably excellent value.
Well, perhaps not *strictly* altogether moral.
The final Saunders button, shot from the original art. This looker was entitled Peek-a-Boo.
One of the original boxes, which held 24 packs. Featured buttons Here’s Looking at You and I’m a Cool Ghoul were designed by Wally Wood.

Collectors find this set very difficult to complete. Although the series was a popular success in 1967, the buttons appear to have rarely survived. This is perhaps attributable to the design of the tin back pin, which was made in Japan with a hair-trigger clasp that instantly popped open and fell off.

Here’s one of the underperforming bad boys in question. To be fair, this one’s still holding together, which surely has earned it some kind of goodwill, a half-century hence. Those old enough (enough, enough!) will recall when ‘Made in Japan’ was an indicator of shoddy goods. All that’s been turned on its head since, interestingly. The Japanese people have admirably overcome much adversity, that’s evident.

By the way, I don’t know just how sanctioned these reissues are, but the cool cats at Goblinko have made these lovely buttons available once more, presumably sturdier and certainly at a perfectly reasonable price (forty times the original, I’ll grant you… but you do get to pick).

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 20

« When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself. » — Plato

The waning years of the 1950’s marked the beginning of the monster craze, which coincided with Mad Magazine’s ripest period of influence. Here, then, is a publication that sought to capitalize on both occurrences. Alas, chasing fads too eagerly always did land you all-too-promptly in the cultural ditch. Still… Thimk had its moment.

This is Thimk no. 3 (Sept. 1958, Counterpoint). Edited by Alan Whitney, cover by Sam Hayle (1911-1996), who later did a bit of work for Cracked.
This is Thimk no. 4 (Dec. 1958, Counterpoint); cover by Sam Hayle. Elvis finds out first hand how fickle teenyboppers can be, and how a two-year army hitch might as well be an eternity, as far as they’re concerned. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!

Thimk was a short-lived (6 issues, 1958-59) would-be Mad, also in the black and white magazine format.

One holiday gleefully bleeds into another… this is Thimk no. 5 (Feb. 1959, Counterpoint). “Free… for 25 cents!”
Thimk no. 5‘s back cover… a well-aimed barb at Viceroy Cigarettes.
And some samples (there were many, many more!) from the object of parody, Viceroy’s The Man Who Thinks for Himself ad campaign. Lookit all them deep thinkers! (Martin Fry, cancer survivor, bottom left)
And it wasn’t to be the last Viceroy parody, either: the brand was also an early Wacky Packages target. This entry hails from Series 1, featuring a rough concept by Art Spiegelman painted by Norman Saunders (1973, Topps).
Heads up, Marlon… some… thing is about to cut in for a dance. Is his date dismayed or delighted? Last call: Thimk no. 6 (May 1959, Counterpoint) was the final issue. Cover art, again, by Sam Hayle.
From Think to Thimk in one easy step. What began as a ubiquitous IBM slogan soon, inevitably, led to parodic counterpunches.
During the late 50s, it spread seemingly everywhere.
Legendary Detroit DJ Paul Winter (station WXYZ) got in on the act early (1957). Here’s a sample, Fallout, featuring Charlie Byrd on guitar!
And of course, the great Steve Ditko took the slogan to heart (and mind), famously making his own sign. I wonder where it is now.

-RG

think small!

« It did not occur to me that I might be a writer until I flunked out of my first year as a chemistry major, and found work as an apprentice writer of Volkswagen ads. » — Peter Carey

Ah, the delicate art of the soft sell.

You’ve surely heard of the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency’s revolutionary think small campaign for Volkswagen, launched in 1959. You haven’t? Well, it’s only considered, by its industry, to be the greatest advertising campaign of the 20th century.

Until the Beetle hit the market, automotive marketing copy was full of bluster, and the images (often illustrated) were flights of fancy, emphasizing low, long lines and a fantasy lifestyle.

The clean, simple photography on a white background that emphasized the Beetle’s compact, practical form may seem commonplace these days, but it was a revolution in a world where Americans grew up obsessed with muscle cars, horsepower, and tire smoke. Making the car small, when the convention was to make it fill the page, was also novel. The simplistic approach to design and layout was totally contrary to the advertising conventions of the time. [ source ]

While I object to the misuse of the rather pejorative “simplistic” to denote what is instead commendably stripped down, uncluttered, or if one must, ‘simple‘… that’s the gist of it. After all, these folks are gearheads, not graphic designers.

One of the lesser-known components of the long-running campaign was a nifty 1967 promotional book that was graciously given away by one’s friendly Volkswagen dealer.

They gathered all the big guns and asked them to think small. Illustration by Charles Addams.

Let’s take a look inside.

One by perennial bon vivant Eldon Dedini, working one of his pet motifs, but with his customary panache. Under Eldon’s pen, the car’s lines acquire a lusty fluidity.
A beauty by local favourite Virgil Partch (1916-1984). Such a graceful line the man had. Simple… not simplistic!
Don’t be confused: like the Porsche and the Corvair, the VW Beetle’s trunk is located in the front of the vehicle. Cute details: the booted husband’s still-smoking pipe and his glasses remain in the garage. VIP delivers, as usual. Read how he met his demise.
An adorable entry from long-time The New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin, who passed away last June at the age of 94. I can just hear the German accent.
Another Playboy regular, Phil Interlandi (1924-2002) stretches out a bit, and very successfully at that.
Yet another WOT favourite, Gahan Wilson (1930-2019). Here’s a birthday homage I wrote a little while back.
One from the book’s royal guest, Charles Addams (1912-1988). It’s a fine joke, but I find that many people don’t get it; it would have benefitted from a more vertical composition. Still, trust Uncle Fester to know what’s going down.
A second dose of Mr. Addams. I wasn’t going to say no to a giant mutated toad and toadstool. Here’s our earlier sampler of his macabre wit, from (un)naturally, our first Hallowe’en Countdown.
The couple of decades he spent drawing his successful syndicated strip about unceasing marital strife, The Lockhorns (whose début came the following year!) have perhaps dimmed the critical reputation of William ‘Bill’ Hoest (1926-1988). But he was quite good, when given a chance to stretch out a bit. It’s been since proven that women are the better drivers, incidentally.
And finally, a bat-entry from John Gallagher (1926-2005), a then-ubiquitous panel gag cartoonist in many of the biggest names in magazines: Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, True… I love the absurd size ratio between the members of The Dynamic Duo. That’s one sidekick you could accidentally kick aside!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Geopolitacles

Many years after the fact, political caricatures are hard to appreciate properly, generally speaking – politicians’ names get forgotten, events become blurry in the collective memory, and what was surely witty and acerbic just seems incomprehensible.  They’re of great historical interest, and often of considerable artistic merit, too, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. That being said, nothing rekindles my enthusiasm like an octopus, especially if he’s sprawled all over the map of Europe, or, heck, the whole world. Power is an aphrodisiac!

People far more erudite than myself have written about political cartooning and its historical usage of octopuses. For a good overview of the subject, head over to an article published in Never Was Magazine. If you just like looking at pretty pictures, for a more comprehensive gallery of images I recommend The image of the OCTOPUS: six cartoons, 1882-1909, which breaks down components of six historical political caricatures of the tentacled kind, and Cartography’s Favourite Map Monster: the Land Octopus, superbly informative and thoroughly illustrated. There’s a also this fascinating article, but alas, in French, so only our French-speaking readers (of which we have quite a few) will be able to partake.

I have no system – I tried including images that aren’t seen too often in articles of this kind, or ones that are stylistically striking.

Squid-RussianPropaganda
Does this look like an American tycoon to you? Nah, I didn’t think so. His name is Wall-Squid (some pun on Wall Street, I think), and he was published in a Russian magazine in the 80’s. The quatrain underneath doesn’t really rhyme, so it won’t lose much in translation: « Everywhere he goes, this squid strangles Freedom, poisons and recklessly pokes into people’s lives. But those who do not heed the People’s anger risk losing their tentacles! » Subtle.

But let’s go back to the 19th century, seemingly the golden age of tentacled propaganda. The line between propaganda and social criticism is blurry, of course – with my environmentalist tendencies, I think of the following trio, all condemning stabs at Standard Oil, attacked for being an unlawful monopoly, as perfectly justified attacks drawing attention to a serious problem.

A-horrible-monster-1880
This one is from 1880, published in Daily Graphic. Standard Oil, “whose tentacles spread poverty, disease and death, and which is the primal cause of the nuisances at Hunter’s point“, is portrayed as an octopus with a somewhat vacant stare, as if it had no awareness of the havoc it’s wreaking.

TheMonsterMonopoly-1884A
The Monster Monopoly by Frank Beard, a cartoonist who helped usher in the American Prohibition. This was published in Judge in 1884.

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler-1904-Next
And again in 1904. Next! was published in Puck Magazine. This octopus is considerably meaner – its intent is to destroy.

Another monopoly that was detrimental enough to warrant an octopus caricature was the Railroad Monopoly:

The_Curse_of_California-G.F.Keller
The Curse of California (I believe it has many more, now) by George Frederick Keller, “its many tentacles controlling such financial interests as the elite of Nob Hill, farmers, lumber interests, shipping, fruit growers, stage lines, mining, and the wine industry“.

The following trio take on the same map, making for interesting compare-and-contrast material. The years may go by, but Russia continues to be grabby… Incidentally, as I am Russian, apparently these Tentacle Tuesdays of mine were pre-ordained by Fate.

Serio-ComicWarMap-1877

Serio-Comica-Carta-1878

Serio-ComicMapJapanese
The Japanese answer to the serio-comic octopus map of some decades past. created during the Russo-Japanese conflict of 1905.

Speaking of Russia…

HowCommunismWorks
Entertainingly, these days, one can purchase this image as a poster on Amazon or at Walmart.

And speaking of communism…

Pieuvre-france
« All European countries have vanquished communism – only France remains under threat. »

Lest I be accused of all this having no relevance whatsoever to today’s political climate… well, fortunately some traditions die hard, and tentacles as a representation of an all-encroaching evil are here to stay!

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Illustration by Mark Bryan. Painted in 2016, this is the artist’s vision of what a Trump presidency would be like.

I wasn’t going to let the other party off the hook… Or is it one and the same?

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Cartoon by Graeme Mackay.

≈ ds

Chew on This: Howard Cruse’s Bazooka Joe

« So to this my life has come: there’s meaning in a piece of gum » — Parthenon Huxley, Bazooka Joe

We recently lost another fine cartoonist in Howard Cruse (May 2, 1944 – Nov. 26, 2019), and while he’s most frequently celebrated for his pioneering work in Queer comix and his graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, I’m much fonder of his comparatively ‘lightweight’ humorous work. In other words, I’ll take the wacky short stories over the Ponderous Magnum Opus, thank you.

And things don’t get any lighter than Bazooka Joe, now do they?

In 1983, Howard Cruse was engaged by Topps to redesign Bazooka Joe and illustrate a new set of strips, the series’ first true update since co-creator* Wesley Morse‘s passing in 1963. Topps, figuring on more-or-less total turnover of its kiddie audience, had been rotating batches of strips every seven years, drawing on the vast hoard of unpublished strips left by Morse, and now and then hiring freelancers to pad out the lot.

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An unpublished Howard Cruse instructional comic, mid-1980s. Cruse recalled: « I always liked  this strip because it’s practically the only time I was invited to draw the character at a size large enough to allow some stylistic personality. » I added the colouring, just because.

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Howard Cruse Bazooka Joe model sheet, prepared for 1983 revamp.

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Cruse’s model sheet for the rest of the 1983-vintage cast.

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Chameleonic cartoonist R. Sikoryak, who contributed gags to the second Cruise series, posits that « One of the pleasures of the traditional comic strip is the conciseness of words and pictures, and the Bazooka format takes this compression about as far as humanly possible. As with haiku, there is a great power in the constraints that must be respected in obeying a format. »

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Samples of the 1983-84 vintage.

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Jay Lynch explains: « Despite the brand managers and marketing companies responsible for the various revamps of Bazooka Joe over the years, and their valiant attempts to make the characters and the gags more ‘hip‘, I’ve always thought that the primary appeal of these tiny comics was their overall lameness. Back when I wrote Bazooka Joe, I’d usually start by going through turn-of-the-century joke books and rewriting the ancient quips to turn the 1908 ragtime aficionados into 1990’s heavy-metal enthusiasts… »

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Some thoughtful suggestions from Cruse for the 1988 crop.

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From my personal collection, original artwork supposedly from the 1983-84 batch… but something doesn’t add up. Incidentally, actual size is 3 x 3 5/8 inches.

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The accompanying certificate of authenticity raises more questions than it answers. To wit, as Mr. Cruse elucidates: « When I was asked… to reconceive Bazooka Joe as a teenager and provide him with a new ‘gang‘, the only holdover from the earlier tykes… was Mort, the weird sidekick who wore a turtleneck pulled up to his eyes. Len [Brown] and Art Spiegelman… thought the ultra-lengthy turtleneck was a bit – in fact, was literally – over the top, though. So for my first series of strips the sweater’s collar was brought down below Mort’s chin… Apparently this change disturbed some nameless traditionalists at Topps, so when I was hired to draw a second batch of strips in 1988, the turtleneck was restored to its original position… » In that case, if my original is from the ’83-’84 series, why is Mort’s turtleneck in its traditional, and proper place?

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Another certificate, this one appearing on the back of Bazooka Jerk (Garbage Pail Kids Giant Series Stickers no. 1, from 1986). Illustrated by Howard Cruse.

Then, in 1990, when the time came for another series, Topps opted to subcontract the work to a marketing company that dismissed Cruise’s work as « too goofy », according to Jay Lynch. Then Lynch, Pete Poplaski and Grass Green took up the gauntlet, which is a fascinating tale in itself… but one for another day.

If such lowly cartoon ephemera hold even the slightest sway over you, you’ll likely be very interested in Topps’ Bazooka Joe and His Gang (2013, Abrams ComicArts, edited by Charles Kochman), which proved an invaluable resource in cobbling together this post.

« Bazooka Joe has become the personification of the lowest form of humor. And this is why he’s one of the most widely known comics characters on the planet. Sure, the jokes were cornball. But that’s their appeal. » — Jay Lynch

-RG

*with Topps executive (and Golden Age comic book artist) Woody Gelman.

Tentacle Tuesday: In Your Neighbourhood and Mine

Today’s post may step a bit outside my usual purview, which is to say that the octopuses I am introducing do not come from the pages of comics per se. They’re used for mercantile purposes, to attract public to a concert, sell a book or deliver a message. But though they are octopuses in advertising, their artists still clearly have their hearts (and fingers) in the cartooning world.

Exhibit A is this cover for Centipede Press’ edition of Masters of Science Fiction: Fritz Leiber. This edition was limited to 500 numbered copies, so it will surprise no-one when I state that it’s quite sold out (See? Tentacles sell.) The cover is by Jim & Ruth Keegan, a wife-and-husband team, also the authors of the comic The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob.

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Next, we have two music-related scenes, both from the Spanish side of things. ¡Fíjate!

The Roctopus Tea Party Festival takes place in Toledo, Spain. (Due to language constraints, I’m not exactly sure how many editions of it there have been.) Each poster features an octopus, but this is my favourite of the lot.

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Whoever designed the festival’s logo knew how to harness the power of a lone octopus eye.

This Mardid “lunch box restaurant & tiki room” (now sadly defunct) held a series of “Galician lunches with DJ” splendidly named Día del Tentáculo. With a little Google Translate magic, I came up with this description: « Imagine a restaurant where you can eat hamburger with shiitake and jalapeños, drink the mythical Mai Tai cocktail or enjoy Tentacle Day with the best Galician octopus. And all while listening to good music in an environment inspired by the 50’s America. Sounds like an explosive mix, right? » The hamburger sounds good, but it’s really the Galician octopus that draws one in!

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As the Spanish artist Roberto Argüelles held a few exhibitions of his art at Lunch Box, I’m going to assume this is his artwork.

This one I spotted plastered over some other poster in my neighbourhood. It states something like « Ultimatum: provide wages for all internships at all levels, or we go on strike. »

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At first I assumed this was poster for a sci-fi convention in San Francisco, but it turned out to be the cover of a comics anthology published by Skodaman Press.

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Art by Chuck Whelon.

~ ds