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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Junk food and the comics

Currently there's a campaign to ban all junk food advertising aimed at children. Ofcom want no tv ads for such foodstuffs advertised on tv until after the 9pm watershed, and the Advertising Standards Authority are pressing for a ban on unhealthy foods in the pages of children's magazines (which would include comics). Apparently 21st Century parents can't explain to their kids that sweets in moderation are okay because their 21st Century kids have such addictive personalities that they'll stuff their faces with chocolate and sweets until they turn into Jabba the Hut, and even then they'll still put their parents "under pressure" to buy them more. (Mind you; who's going to argue with a 70 stone kid?)

I have to wonder if any representative of Ofcom or the ASA has ever visited a newsagent. If they had they'd see kids spending ages staring at the chocolate selection whilst stuck in an indecisive zombie-state trying to choose between Milky Way, Curly Wurly, those penny chews that dirty-fingernailed scruffy kids fumble through or any other primary coloured confectionery. Surely if advertising was so potent as the pressure groups claim those kids would be in and out of the shop with SAS precision, chomping on their purchase while the tv jingle was still fresh in their ears.

Still, best not to admit that advertising isn't as effective as people think or we'll have advertising executives in rehab. Personally I like the idea of advertising in comics, as long as it's not at the expense of too much comic material. For one thing they provide the comic with revenue, but in a historical and social context they present us with a glimpse of the culture of the times. Take a look at the ads here for example. These are just a few from 1950 to the early 1970s when advertising confectionery towards kids wasn't looked upon as the scheme of a James Bond super villain. Let's go through them...

1: Ice cream keeps you fit. This was the moral of the Tommy Walls strips which ran in the early years of Eagle. Sponsored by Walls, these strips originally featured artwork by Frank Hampson and were later illustrated by the likes of Harold Johns and Richard Jennings (who went on to draw The Dalek Book in 1964). These two examples are from 1950. The second strip has some particularly nice imagery of life in Britain at that time. Favourite unintentionally funny line: "He was carrying a handbag. He's got away with it."

2: Mars feeds you goodness. Well, I don't know about that but it might make you feel good for a short while. Mars was always promoted as being good for "work, rest and play" in those days. I'm sure Mick Jagger would agree with the latter.

3: How times change. Today's society is on the verge of treating chocolate like hard drugs but in 1959 that bastion of the establishment Eagle had its own Fry's Fun Page to promote Fry's range of chocolate. Fry's Five Boys bar had its pieces embossed with the facial expressions of five schoolboys. No. I never understood why either.

4: "Suck it and see, it's magic!" said Crackerjack's Leslie Crowther. He was talking about Wiz, which was a very tasty banana flavoured lolly with soft toffee inside. Look at the image in the ad though: someone's bitten into the lolly when Leslie clearly said they should suck! Bloomin' sixties hippy anarchists.

5: Sugar Smacks (like Sugar Puffs but, in my opinion, tastier) had their finger on the hyperactive pulse of every sugar-addicted kid in the land, and were always running free gift promotions like this one which tied in with contemporary tv shows. Those free Captain Scarlet badges were great, and are no doubt highly collectible today.

6: Kinky! Yes, it's 1968. How did you guess? Walls launched their newest lolly covered in hundreds and thousands. Dozens of which fell off as you ate it.

7: Super Mousse was regularly promoted in comics during the early 1970s. Hey kids, you could send away for Apollo badges. Apparently you could wear them and be the "envy of your friends". A kid at our school had some. They were alright I suppose. I wasn't envious though. I wasn't. Honest.

8: Golly's Fun Book. Yes, it's Robertson's Jam trying to distract the reader's attention away from the racial stereotype with the chance of winning a chopper bike. These were a big craze in the early seventies you know. Okay, jam isn't exactly junk food unless you eat a whole jarful in one go but you still couldn't get away with this advert in comics today for obvious reasons. And rightfully so.

9: "It's frothy man!" So said the Cresta Bear on a tv promo that turned into a 1970s catch phrase. Fizzy pop, basically. The fizz went out of the catch phrase when adults started using it.

10: The Gumslinger used a rather flatly drawn but active comic strip to promote Rowntree's Liquorice Gums. Only 4d a tube in the days when comics and confectionery were around the same price.

11: Count Dracula's Deadly Secret. Yes, it's a 1973 lolly that turns you into a vampire, going by the advert. No chemical reaction caused buyers incisors to grow, but it was a refreshing taste. They should bring it back. I'm sure a black ice lolly would go down a storm with Goths.

Chances are advertisements like these will not be appearing in comics for the foreseeable future. For better or worse? You decide... or rather you don't, as bodies like the ASA, under pressure from the government, are deciding it for you.


Anonymous said...

Great selection there Lew, seeing the page from the original Eagle makes me think if the Tommy Walls strip that they ran for years (from issue 1). Have you ever come across the strip? The earliest strips show Tommy able to perform almost any feat, no matter how ridiculous, once he's scoffed some Wall's ice cream [in the first story he leaps from the ground onto the wing of an aeroplane in flight]. Later on the strip settled down into being a sligthly more straigthfroward Eagle style adventure strip with some Wall's ice cream always the present at the end of some adventure or other.

Richard Sheaf

Lew Stringer said...

Good point Richard. I'll see if I can find one of those strips later and add it to this entry! Thanks for the reminder.


Anonymous said...

These are fantastic,Lew.
Hope you don't mind as I've borrowed a few for a forum I mod?
More please
Keep up the great work!

RosieB said...

Great article, thanks! and your frys page solved a problem that was bugging a few of us on a forum!

Re you comment about the golliwogs - I remember stories about piccaninnies (spelling?) and the golly badges. I just never associated piccaninnies or golliwogs with the west indian immigrants who came along in the 50s. not sure if that makes me slow or niaive!!

Unknown said...

I can't believe how depressingly dull and corporate todays world of sweets and lollies is. As well as the appealing packaging and advertising, things like Count Dracula, Lord Toffingham, Cresta etc had tastes and textures you never forget!

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