« 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.
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.”
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.
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;
« … 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.
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.
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).
« 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.
Thimk was a short-lived (6 issues, 1958-59) would-be Mad, also in the black and white magazine format.
« Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life. » (Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat?)
Bats and octopuses, now there’s a combination that doesn’t often occur in nature – while both are admirable, fascinating animals, they’re not linked by lifestyle or environment, and neither is the other’s prey. Batman, on the other hand, has definitely tangled with many tentacled monsters in his time (which proves that he’s not a bat). I’m sure today’s post didn’t unearth *all* the octopuses that Batman has had the pleasure of defeating, especially those of a more modern vintage (with mostly horrible art, which is why I’m not too worried)… but today’s selection, you will have to admit, is quite fair.
Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk(he must be from Poland, with a name like that), scripted by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 113 (November 1960):
Since they threatened us with the continuation of the story, I followed up, and dug up more tentacles. Deathgrip, scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Don Newton and inked by Dick Giordano, was published (as promised) in Detective Comics no. 524 (March 1983):
Enigma of the Death-Ship!, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Jim Aparo, was published in The Brave and the Bold no. 142 (July-August 1978):
I mentioned modern comics, earlier – I’ve chosen two examples published relatively recently, with passable art.
The pompously titled Leaves of Grass, Part 3: Comedown!, scripted by Alan Grant, pencilled by Dave Taylor and inked Stan Woch, was published in Batman: Shadow of the Bat no. 58 (January 1997):
Knightmares, Part 4, scripted by Tom King and illustrated by Jorge Fornes, was published in Batman no. 66 (May 2019):
To conclude on a more pleasant note…
Tentacled Terror, number 8 in Topps‘ 1966 Batman ‘Red Bat’ trading card set, boasting painted artwork by Norman Saunders.
I say, the year’s first Tentacle Tuesday is a big responsibility! That’s why I’d like to start with some slimy or furry, squirming or pitter-pattering, whimsical or gnarled, skittish or spine-chilling, drooly woolly creepy crawlies with toupees and bloodshot eyes. After all, the 2020s decade is sadly guaranteed to be full of ’em… but of a significantly less cute variety than the lot that I’m featuring today.
Topps‘ Ugly Stickers have a lot going for them: excellently drawn, tongue-in-cheek monsters in various states of putrefaction. If there’s one commonality between them, it’s that most of them showcase teeth any dentist would be thrilled to drill through. Many of them have far more appendages that a regular creature needs… and a lot of these appendages are distinctly tentacular, which is of course where we come in! And they’re all cute as a button.
«In 1965 Topps released Ugly Stickers. This set was initially based on the grotesque drawings of Basil Wolverton, but when he demanded copyright control, he was paid off for his first twelve images and then fired. The rest of the creatures in the set were designed by Norman Saunders and Wally Wood.
The creatures that appear on the display box, the wax wrapper, and the giant twelve-piece puzzle were all designed by Saunders. He also painted all 44 Ugly Stickers. These were so popular they were reissued in four later versions and even spawned a line of rubbery toys called Teacher’s Pets.»
So what’s the break-down? Out of the original 44 stickers, Wolverton designed 10. The rest were the handiwork of WallyWood and Norman Saunders. The total set numbers 164. Not all cards were repeated in the re-runs, which is why the numbers don’t compute, for those of you who multiplied 44 cards by 4 versions and obtained 176, not 164; there were 4 groups of 40 cards + 4 non-repeated cards.
In some print runs, the creatures did not have names, doubtlessly leaving that part to the reader’s imagination. Most cards, however, do have names, with genders shamelessly swapped, making guys into gals and back into guys again. Take a peek at the full list of name changes over at this very instructive website, Bubble Gum Cards.
Does s/he look like a Jacqueline to you? Or maybe an Edward? I vote for the former; such an elegant name for a bug-eyed, displeased brain-thing, Just look at the flair with which she wears that pink tuft of fur underneath.
Joseph and Evelyn (or Stanley and Renée, or…) were previously used by my co-admin RG in his Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 24 post, but they distinctly have tentacles, so I believe it’s worth running them again.
As a little bonus, here’s a lady from Topps’ 1966 Ugly Name Stickers series who asked to be included. Her name was… Donald, Sylvia, Angelo, Phyllis, Barney, or Rosemary. “Barney” is really pushing it!
« 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.
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
*with Topps executive (and Golden Age comic book artist) Woody Gelman.
« Somehow, this thing had caught the spark of life! And, anything that lives will fight to stay alive… even if it’s just a Rag-a Bone and a Hank of Hair! »
Ah, Brother Power, the Geek. A notorious flop for DC in 1968… or was it? At the time, it took several months for a book’s initial sales reports to make their way back to the publisher. Axing a title after two measly issues is quite a preemptive and premature strike against it. I suspect a case of toxic in-house politics. From the onset, editorial cold feet had the suits meddling with the project: the character of the animated rag doll was to be called The Freak, which was nixed in favour of the less druggy but more chicken-head-bite-y TheGeek.
Brother Power the Geek, despite its commercial failure and infamy, offered a good-natured, unpretentious romp, even if didn’t quite show us « The Real-Life Scene of the Dangers of Hippie-Land! » You can’t always get what you want.
Brother Power was brought back under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993, but as with the revival of its fellow Joe Simon creation, Prez, it received a « groovy » and « ironic » hipster treatment. Bah.
There are places and situations where one definitely expects to run into octopuses – in seas and oceans, on other planets, in brothels and harems (much like one can put a box in the middle of the room and a cat will suddenly appear to sit in it, even when one does not own a cat, a nearly-naked woman is almost guaranteed to summon an octopus). But sometimes the presence of tentacles is quite unexpected. Just when you think you’re safe – no, oops, a touch of the cephalopod springs abruptly into your life.
Tentacles at the cinema? No way. What would they be doing there?
« Here, plainly, was a guy for whom cartooning held no mysteries. He was more than a master; he was a virtuoso, a source, an innovator whose style was completely natural and original and flexible enough to embrace dashed-off vulgarity and painstaking elegance, often in the same panel. » — Jim Woodring on Jack Davis
Here we are, coming to the end of our countdown (or count-up, depending on your point of view), and who better to convey the magic of Hallowe’en than the late, great Jack Davis (1924-2016)? Don’t answer that. 😉
A 1959 collection of humorous horror songs by Alice Pearce and Hans Conried, Monster Rally (LPM/LSP-1923) sports a classic Davis painting – blending horror and humor into what amounts to a cutely-weird piece of art. Davis has mentioned that this scene is one he really enjoying doing and that he was quite pleased with. An ad for this album in issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland from back then read:
An insane and fantastically entertaining album featuring Hans Conried and Alice Pearce, singing and screaming ghoulish new songs like ‘Monster Rally’, ‘The Thing‘, ‘The Invisible Man‘, ‘Not of This Earth‘ and others. The album cover by Jack Davis is a masterpiece – suitable for framing.
[ Excerpted from Dick Voll‘s article Just for the Record: The LP Cover Art of Jack Davis (Fanfare no. 5, Summer 1983; edited and published by Bill Spicer). ]
And here are a mittful of extras, since I’m more inclined to treat than to trick on this special day.
In closing, thanks for bearing with all my divagations through this second edition of WOT’s Hallowe’en Countdown, and let me wish you a most spooky Hallowe’en, one and all!