In various LOAC books we’ve shown (and discussed) examples of the intersection between comics and the world of advertising, yet it’s not a topic we’ve lingered over in this space. I decided to change that just a bit recently, when going through the contents of a bunch of Life Magazines. (One of the perks of this job is being able to sift through old magazines and newspapers, to get a look at — or in some cases, remember — The Way It Used to Be.) These Lifes had a variety of comics-based advertisements, so I snagged a batch of them to share with you.
The earliest Life ad I found with a comics connection was in the magazine’s April 15, 1940 issue. I knew Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff were popular, but until I saw this I had no idea they were experts on digestive difficulties …
Almost eighty years later, the same advice can be found in certain TV commercials — though of course, Mutt and Jeff are no longer delivering it, alas.
From the opposite end of the 1940s, I was delighted to find this ad in a November Life, featuring a nifty progression-view of a special Blondie strip touting U.S. Savings Bonds:
We’ve often touched upon how, in the days when America was a country of readers, many cartoonists were celebrities who regularly attracted coverage in print media and, later, on radio and television. It should come as no surprise that sometimes the “star power” of the cartoonist was deemed a selling point that would resonate with the product-consuming public. Here are two examples: George (Bringing Up Father) McManus pushing coffee in October of 1952, followed by an ad from November 14, 1955 featuring Cartoonist-in-Chief Milton Caniff hawking Thom McAn shoes:
(Much as I adore Bringing Up Father — and I do, as I hope is made clear by my essays in our two B.U.F. releases — McManus couldn’t sell me coffee if he came to my home to personally brew it for me. I just don’t drink caffeinated beverages. hot or cold.)
Not every comics-based ad was intended to promote the sale of products, of course. Much has been made, in LOAC and elsewhere, of the charitable contributions from many cartoonists, and all that coverage is richly deserved. Strip creators have a proud history of lending their talents to worthy causes, from doing their bit in support of the War effort throughout the 1940s to 2017’s “Thanks + Giving” auction of original strip art by Lynn (For Better or For Worse) Johnston and others to benefit those in Puerto Rico and the States affected by major hurricanes and wildfires. Here are two examples of United Way spot-illos that appeared in various 1950s issues of Life: one by Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, the other by Bil Keane of The Family Circus.
If you like seeing this sort of material, you’re in luck — keep watching this space in the days ahead for a second collection of ads I culled from my batch of Life Magazines!