They say that people have always been the same, but that's bullshit. As I've developed ManComics: ClassicComicsForToday'sFuckin'AMan, now the number one comic action series on correctional center Internet, I've noticed some trends in classic comic book advertising that prove our grandparents were very, very different from us. And I don't mean that the market has died out for hernia belts and $1.99 real, working submarines. I mean that I'm about to prove that the human race has only been sane for about 30 years.
These ads are all real.
Homicidal Safety Tips
Here's the difference between our safety and the safety of our grandparents: When we were kids, commercials told us not to play with a downed power line. If we'd grown up in the 40s, those same commercials would have told us to throw a cat at it to see if it was live, and if so, how many hands we need to grab it with to not get shocked. A kid with a comic in the 40s could order firecrackers and axes by mail and learn the secrets of the ninja. Safety literally hadn't been invented yet. For example, let's begin with this Captain Tootsie ad. See if you can spot where it might be giving irresponsible, maybe even unsafe advice to children.
So here's a look at Captain Tootsie's poisonous snake safety procedures.
Safety Step 1. A snake is attacking! Tell the children to stay! Sure there's a poisonous snake here, but there might be three somewhere else.
Safety Step 2. Eat a Tootsie Roll. Sure, why not? It's not like you need candy anymore -- the children have already been successfully lured into the woods.
Safety Step 3. Leave. This is actually pretty smart, and the snake will never expect it. The children you left behind probably should have.
Safety Step 4. Come back later and throw a rock at the snake. Try not to miss because a startled rattlesnake will probably kill a kid and good luck getting the other children undressed next to a poisoned corpse. Ignore this advice if you're not a child predator, but seriously, if you're not then what the hell is going on here?
Safety Step 5. Teach young children how to catch poisonous snakes. Wait, what? Holy shit.
Safety Step 6. Listen to the little boy's plan to find that fucking snake's wife. When you do, pin her head down with a stick. Find someone who can speak snake and tell her what you've done. Her rage is the only thing that brings you happiness, her tears the only thing that can get you off.
Ray-O-Vac batteries had a running series of these "safety" ads. Most of them were comics about young boys finding flashlights because from what I understand, once you have a flashlight all your problems are solved. For instance, in the left comic you see that a gorilla is on the loose! This ends up being fine, almost irrelevant since our heroes, who totally know they might run into a loose gorilla, find an old mine where there are no loose gorillas but one flashlight. I think the message is that Ray-O-Vac batteries are so reliable that unpredictable gorillas instinctively have no interest in them.
In the second comic, the boys are chased into a cabin by a bear! But what's this in the cabin? An old flashlight? Then I guess they'll be fine. In fact, a flashlight so obviously implies safety that the comic actually skips the boys' daring escape from the bear. There's even a panel that clearly shows that their flashlight isn't doing a goddamn thing except making that bear more interested in killing them. When you tell someone your batteries are safe right next to a picture of them causing children to be eaten by a bear, that's confidence. Let's take a look at how Eveready battery deals with flashlight safety tips.
You will never see an ad like this again. I'm not saying people don't need to know how to solve wild dog problems. They do. And shining a flashlight "directly at the dog's eyes to blind and perhaps bewilder him" is an awesome idea. But I don't think a modern battery company is ready to take on the legal responsibility of giving dog fighting advice to children. Today, this ad would be printed right next to an ad that said, "Call Schuster Weinman and Goldstein if you or a loved one have been bitten by a dog after your flashlight didn't cure its rabies."
If you tried to sue someone for this in the 50's the judge would say, "Look, I'm sorry your kid was eaten after following that battery's advice, but are you sure he was holding the flashlight right? According to these studies, flashlights solve all bear, gorilla, and dog problems. Hell, I shine a flashlight on my wife when I fuck her so she'll give me a son. Case dismissed."
Violence as a Solution
Besides flashlights, our grandparents had another cure-all for every problem: punching it in the face. People say that violence never solves anything, but historically speaking, that's how every single thing was solved in the 1940's. It was a lesson they taught children, usually by hitting them. If the BP oil spill happened in 1948, they would have fixed it by punching oil executives and then sending skin divers down to punch oily fish. The only trouble is that using violence as a solution only works on things that are less tough than you, so 70 years ago pussies couldn't solve anything at all. Today, a determined pussy can ruin your life.
The most ubiquitous example of violence as a solution comes from Charles Atlas:
In Charles Atlas' world, if someone kicks sand on you, you punch them. And if they're too big, you lift weights until they're not. There's such a pragmatism to the way brains worked back then that it's hard to relate to. Looking at it with a modern brain, nothing here makes sense.
First, a modern couple wouldn't scream at the guy who accidentally kicked sand on their blanket. They'd mumble under their breath and let their shared frustrations silently build inside. Then one day much later, they'd let it all out during a five hour screaming match about how she sent a Facebook message to her ex-boyfriend.
Second, it takes a long time to double in size with weight training. About five minutes into the first workout, a modern man would say, "This is heavy and boring. There's no way I'm still going to be pissed at that guy by the time I'm big enough to punch him."
Third, that's felony assault. And besides, couldn't he just buy a Charles Atlas book and punch you back? Man, a modern brain can talk a person out of giving someone an ass kicking way too easily.
Fourth, and most importantly, why would he take that horrible woman back after what she did? She basically left him for his worst enemy as soon as that worst enemy came to exist. You can't betray someone harder and faster than that. And if she's still with the bully by the time Mac is bulked up, that means they've been dating what, a year? Two? And she's going to throw all that away for the first guy who sucker punches him? That's twice she's done that! You can't trust this bitch! Is it really that hard for Mac to find a different cranky girl shaped like a hot dog?
You might be wondering, "Hey, if they solved every problem in the 1940's with punches, why didn't Mac hit his girlfriend for mocking him after the bully left? I would, but that's not why I'm in prison. Hi, I'm Nate." Well, Nate, I can answer that with a comic from the same era:
See, back in the 40s violence even solved domestic violence. The whole time that guy was being whipped he was thinking, "I've got to get home to my wife and thank her for this."
Charles Atlas produced many variations on the bullied weakling storyline. In this one, Jack gets bumped on the dance floor and holds a grudge long enough to bulk up, buy an identical suit in a larger size, build a time machine and go back to the same party. This guy and his date probably have no idea why he's being punched. These ads are stupidly impossible, but they show how crazy people used to obsess about revenge in the 40s and 50s. If you wanted to appeal to the same audience today, it would be called "The Insult that made a Murder Suicide out of the Prom." Jack would come back after staring at a high powered rifle for 235 panels and shoot at all the beautiful people. Our grandparents were quick to punch, but we are slow to go completely fucking crazy.
Gratuitous Animal Cruelty
Today, if you worked in advertising and you handed this to your client, they'd say, "Obviously, you're fired. But before you go, what made you think to include a cougar being shot in the neck in our cough drop ad?" Sixty years ago, this is how they advertised everything. For kids back then, knowing which cough drop to suck on while shooting animals was a huge selling point.
These are ads for bike tires and Tootsie Rolls. See if you can spot where the lions are being strangled to death.
This is the origin story of Volto From Mars, an incredible space man who recharged his magnetic powers by eating Grape Nuts. Science still doesn't quite get how fucking magnets work today, so they had absolutely no clue back then. The closest the writers could come to an explanation was having Volto blast a mountain lion into the sky. Killing animals was so normal it was like the comic artist's equivalent of a shrug.
Shooting animals when they got out of their cage or passed harmlessly by in their natural habitat was so common in comic book ads that Pepsi had to make this escaped gorilla bulletproof just to add tension. Pepsi's mascot had a gun, and in 1950, if you had a gun and an escaped gorilla the idea of not shooting it wouldn't even enter your head. If this thing could be killed by bullets, the reader would be like, "Pepsi must think I'm an idiot. Ooh, a gorilla near a gun. What could possibly happen here?"
People in the 40s and 50s hated animals. They'd mail monkeys to any random child who wanted a free miniature monkey. Does that sound like something you'd do if you cared whether monkeys lived or died?
Murdering animals simply to watch them die was so normal that as soon as someone in this comic sees bear tracks, everyone's first thought is kill it. The bear never did anything except live where bears live, and Captain Tootsie forces the children into hard labor in a lunatic scheme to murder it. Parents, when you leave your children with Captain Tootsie, it's implied that you don't expect to see them again.
Luckily, they're caught by park rangers who... hold on, the park rangers don't care that there's a child molester digging pit traps to illegally bait and hunt bears? In fact, they seem to love it. They even brought a cage so it can die confused. I understand that the idea of being nice to animals was foreign to 1940's people, but why did this comic about pointlessly fucking with a bear make them hungry for candy?