Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1376 - The Topps Company: Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary Collection

Recently my son gave our daughter a birthday gift certificate for CandyFunhouse.ca and all of us had a ball searching their website, even me who barely has a sweet tooth at all (some exceptions!). For my wife and I it was their nostalgic candy section (you can search by decade), that led us down memory lane. But when we hit upon Bazooka Joe (still available but in a different package), I started reminiscing about the comics and wondered if they'd ever been compiled. That's when I discovered the 60th Anniversary Collection: Bazooka Joe and His Gang published by The Topps Company a few years back.

Remember how terrible it all was? The gum was hard as rocks and held its elasticity and flavour for about 2 good bubbles, then you wrapped it the lame, poorly coloured and unfunny comic wrapper that you'd read a 100 times before. (Or swallowed it and worried about your stomach sticking together or stuck it to the bottom of your desks- which I never did, unlike the rest of you gross assholes.) Still, what is funny is how we sometimes get nostalgic for such things. And surprising considering how poor-quality the product was, the anniversary collection book was amazingly well done.

First off, the dust cover is a replication of their old classic wrapper, complete with a waxy feel. And then, when you take the cover off, the cover itself is coloured that bubble-gum pink (with small flecks of white), the page edges have been coloured pink as well, and the book has the rectangular-dimensions of a scaled-up piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.

Then, inside, there are a surprising number of essays detailing the history of the gum, the comics, the creators, pop-culture trivia, and so on. In some cases these essays repeat one another, but by and large they're well-written and surprisingly fascinating. You'd never know, for instance, by looking at an old Bazooka Joe comic that original artist Wesley Morse, was as talented as he was. But then you see some of his earlier work and read about his training? The man had serious skills. But he was no starving artist and had no qualms about pumping out less serious work for money. (In addition to Bazooka Joe comics he had also drawn a number of Tijuana Bibles.)

It's also pretty evident that most insiders had no illusions that the comics were groundbreaking works of art. They were limited by space and continuity (unlike comic books or even newspaper strips there was no guarantee readers were going to read them in any particular order) and they were repeated after so many years, believing that most of the gum chewers were kids and wouldn't remember the comics of yesteryear. In an essay near the end, R. Sikoryak talks about how comics started being more respected in the 80s, especially after such works as Maus, Watchmen, and American Splendor, and went on to state, quite astutely, "No one would call the Bazooka Joe strips timeless and intelligent graphic-novella packaging for mature audiences." But, equally astutely, he points out the postmodernist charm of the it all and like Sikoryak, I've come around on the corny gags (I'm a dad after all and corny jokes are my currency).

One final bit of trivia: when ordering this book, the thing I remembered most about Bazooka Joe was the odd-ball way he had his turtleneck pulled up over his face. Turns out I'd been remembering that incorrectly and the turtleneck guy was actually Joe's best friend Mort. (Joe was the kid in an eye-patch). Interestingly, and perhaps attributing to my mistake, this mistaken identity was also featured in a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry pulls a turtleneck up over his face and claims to be Bazooka Joe.

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