With the Magic Words, ‘Hey Look!’

« Hey, Look! is essential reading for any cartoonist. » — the late and much-missed Patrick Dean, who truly knew what he was talking about.

Sometimes I think of a post topic and dismiss it with a ‘nah, too obvious’… but on some of my brighter days, I run the idea past my wife, who provides a welcome reality check: ‘Obvious to whom?‘, she asks. Well, there’s been a collected edition… which has been out of print for most of the nearly thirty years since it hit the stands. Fair enough.

As I’ve been lately foraging through the crumbling back pages of Golden Age humour comics (see my previous post), it would be negligently immoral for me to pass over one of the crown jewels of the genre, the era and the medium.

One* of the redeeming features of Marvel’s overwhelmingly crass Dynamite (magazine) rip-off, Pizzazz, was its reprinting of a handful of Harvey Kurtzman‘s majestic Hey Look! strips. Of course, it made perfect economic sense: grab some already (and barely)-paid-for, all-but-forgotten ‘filler’ from the 1940s, slap some new colour on ‘em, and wham! One less egg to fry.

Here’s the collection in question. Published in 1992 by the venerable Kitchen Sink Press, it has yet to be improved upon. In addition to all the Hey Look! strips, it includes an unsurprisingly excellent introduction by the erudite John Benson, and further sweetens the pot with Kurtzman’s other Timely features of the era, namely Genius, Egghead Doodle and Potshot Pete. The latter is particularly worth a look-see.
The earliest Hey Look! strips are cute and of some historical significance, but rather scattershot and tentative. Here’s roughly where Kurtzman starts to really, and consistently, cook. Originally published in Gay Comics no. 33 (Aug. 1948, Timely).
« Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. » — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, circa 1848. Clearly, listening to the news has never brought much comfort to one’s mind and soul. Originally published in Gay Comics no. 34 (Oct. 1948, Timely).
Mr. Kurtzman was ahead of the game, anticipating the superhero genre’s dark turn of the mid-80s and beyond, and pointing out its inherent fascism. Already a bit too close too home at the time of its creation, this piece languished in limbo until its publication in 1966 in a limited-edition portfolio.
Originally published in Nellie the Nurse no. 16 (Dec. 1948, Timely).
Originally published in Hedy Divine no. 30 (Dec. 1948, Timely).
Originally published in Joker no. 35 (Jan. 1949, Timely).
Originally published in Millie no. 16 (Feb. 1949, Timely). Always experimenting: dig here Kurtzman’s elegant use of the scratchboard technique.
Originally published in Nellie the Nurse no. 19 (Apr. 1949, Timely). With the miniaturisation of electronics, and cameras in particular, there’s (of course) been an opposing movement toward huge telephoto lenses. Read into it what you will.
I was, and remain, especially fond of this one, originally published in Gay Comics no. 37 (Apr., 1949) and reprinted in Pizzazz 15 (Dec. 1978)… the one with the Battlestar Galactica cover. ‘Cabazziz’ is made up, but Podunk has roots.
Originally published in Patsy Walker no. 22 (May 1949, Timely). Incidentally, generic ‘teen’ humour character Patsy Walker has since (circa 1976) been refashioned and recycled, in the tried-and-true ‘waste not, want not’ Marvel manner, into a superheroine, Hellcat. Sheesh.

-RG

*one other was Jon Buller‘s riotously surreal Bob the Blob in The Great American Comic Strip Catastrophe.

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

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 27

« Trent’s home under th’bed! »

Marvel’s Dynamite Magazine ersatz, Pizzazz (15 issues, 1977-79), despite ratcheting its model’s celebrity coverage by several notches, while providing the House of Ideas’ usual rabid circle-jerking… wasn’t all bad. For one thing, there was its inspired recycling of Harvey Kurtzman’s splendid Hey Look! one-pagers from the 1940s, lovingly recoloured and presented with painstaking attribution. Fan on board!

And when Pizzazz reached beyond the Bullpen for ink slingers, it often struck paydirt, landing a heady mix of established and burgeoning talent, such as Jon Buller, John Holstrom, Bobby London, Ken Weiner (aka Ken Avidor), Rick Meyerowitz… and Graham Hunter.

PizzazzHalloweenA
The original caption: « Have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN! PIZZAZZ SAYS THANKS… Look at this picture. If you’ve ever written us, you may find your name in it. If not, take a look next month, or a few months after.PIZZAZZ says a big, warm THANK YOU to everybody who’s written us. And KEEP THE MAIL COMING – some month maybe your name will be in the picture! » The feature ran for the final seven issues of the magazine (including a gorgeous Xmas double spread.) This was Pizzazz no. 13 (October, 1978, Marvel). Say, is that your name in there?

Hunter was a bafflingly brilliant pick: his career in comics, as far as I know, consists in the main of a string (1946-47) of one-pagers featuring early soft drink product placement shill/mascot, the prosaically-named Pepsi, the Pepsi-Cola Cop. Guess what he was pushing!

TCV17N4AB
This is Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact vol. 17 no. 4 [310] (October 26, 1961). The issue features TC’s strident screed This Godless Communism, illustrated by EC veteran Reed Crandall. It still sucks. I said they were entertaining, but I draw the line at reactionary politics. Read it for yourselfright here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Of greater interest is the handful of covers Hunter created for the surprisingly entertaining Catholic comic book Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, and this is what must have landed him the Pizzazz gig, a couple decades down the pike.

Nailing this sort of humorous bird’s-eye-view crowd action scene requires some rather astonishing artistic chops. Perspective, proportions, movement, comic exaggeration… and that’s just the basics. This sort of thing was popularized by Dudley Fisher’s Right Around Home strip, which débuted in 1938.

RAHTouristsA
A Right Around Home Sunday from 8-20-39 (King Features Syndicate). Here’s a fine, informative article about the strip, from the indispensable comics mag Hogan’s Alley.

– RG