Bazooka Joe is a comic strip character featured on small comics included inside individually wrapped pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. He wears a black eyepatch, lending him a distinctive appearance. He is one of the more recognizable American advertising characters of the 20th century, due to worldwide distribution, and one of the few identifiable ones associated with a candy.
With sales of Bazooka bubble gum down, Bazooka Candy Brands announced in November 2012 that they will no longer include the comic strip in their packaging. The new wrapper will include brain teasers, instructions, and codes that can be used to unlock videos and video games. The company stated that Bazooka Joe and other characters will occasionally appear on the new packaging.
Characters and story
Bazooka Joe is joined in his various misadventures by a motley crew of characters, who came from the tradition of syndicated kid gang comic strips such as Gene Byrnes' Reg'lar Fellers and Ad Carter's Just Kids. The group includes:
- Pesty (formerly Orville), who may be Joe's younger brother, with a 1950s cowboy sombrero
- Mort, a gangly boy who always wears his red turtleneck sweater pulled up over his mouth
- Hungry Herman, Joe's tubby pal
- Jane, Joe's girlfriend
- Toughie, a streetwise type who wears a sailor hat
- Metaldude, a blond mulleted fan of heavy metal music
- Walkie Talkie, a neighborhood mutt
The comics generally consist of soft, child-friendly jokes, as well as small advertisements for kitschy merchandise one could obtain in exchange for comics and a few cents or dollars. From the very beginning in 1954, the bottom of the comics included "fortunes" similar to those one would find in a fortune cookie, sometimes with a comedic bent.
Sometime between 1952 and 1954, Woody Gelman and Ben Solomon, the heads of Product Development at Topps, approached cartoonist Wesley Morse to create Bazooka Joe and his Gang. The character was named after a contest was held asking for suggestions. Morse was the original artist on Bazooka Joe.
In Heroes of the Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends of Comic Books, Drew Friedman wrote: "Gelman, along with his friend and former co-animator Ben Solomon, created Popsicle Pete, who appeared in ads and packages for Popsicle ice pops for decades. Popsicle Pete caught the eye of president of the Topps Company, Arthur Shorin, who hired Gleman and Solomon to work for him full time in Brooklyn. Gelman worked as an editor and writer for Topps, and Solomon became its art director. Gelman soon became head of the new product development department, where he developed the Bazooka Joe mini-comics (drawn by Wesley Morse) and had his hand in many successful innovations for trading cards and other products."
The style of the Bazooka Joe comics changed with the times, as with almost all advertising characters of the 20th century who had any sort of longevity. Joe eventually adopted a more contemporary look by the 1990s, complete with low-slung, baggy jeans.
Bazooka Joe comics were localized or translated for sale in other countries. For example, the Canadian version featured bilingual (simultaneous English and French) text balloons.
- Newman, Andrew Adam (November 29, 2012). "Change Comes to Playground Funny Papers". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, p.117, Dave Jamieson, 2010, Atlantic Monthly Press, imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc., New York, NY, ISBN 978-0-8021-1939-1
- Friedman, Drew (2014). Heroes of the Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1606997319.
- Gene Weingarten (November 20, 2012). "Chewish humor". Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved December 3, 2012.