Aug 15, 2013

My Crush on Bazooka Joe

Ok, I admit it.  When I was a kid in the 1960s, I had a little crush on Bazooka Joe.

Bazooka Gum consisted of an individually-wrapped, pillow-shaped square of Pepto-Bismol-colored bubble gum.  You could buy five of them for a nickel at Dewey's Candy Store, across the street from my grade school.  I wasn't a big fan of the gum, but I liked the wraparound comic, about 1.5 x 1", starring a blond boy named Bazooka Joe and his friends.

You can't do a lot of characterization or plotting in 3 or 4 tiny panels and less than 50 words, so the stories were minimal, usually setups for lame jokes or gags.  But none of the setups involved dating or romance; sometimes Joe was shown with a girl, but no doubt she was his sister.

You can't do a lot of detailed drawing in 3 tiny panels, but the artist somehow managed to make Joe a hunk, with a tight, spare frame.  Notice the second panel, where slightly curved lines suggest a rounded shoulder and bicep-bulge.  That took forethought.

His name, Bazooka: a big gun, powerful and dangerous.

His eye patch: he'd lost an eye, like Popeye or a secret agent.  No doubt in a fight with a villain.  No doubt he also had Popeye's superheroic strength.  Perfect for a gay-coded "my hero" rescue!

Muscle, power, danger, everything you want in a fantasy boyfriend, all in a 1-inch throwaway comic!

Turns out I got Bazooka Joe all wrong.  His artist, Wesley Morse, is mostly famous for drawing leggy dames in strips like Kitty of the Chorus and Frolicky Fables, not to mention a series of x-rated porn comics called "Tijuana Bibles."  He wasn't deliberately trying to draw Bazooka Joe as the object of an eight-year old's romantic fantasy.

Bazooka Joe hadn't really lost an eye: he wore the eye patch in a parody of a series of once-popular magazine ads about "The Man in the Hathaway Shirt."

And he did have a girlfriend; I just missed the strips involving heterosexual dating and romance.

The strips appeared in Bazooka Gum for over 50 years, making Bazooka Joe the most recognizable candy mascot in the world.  He has been referenced on Seinfeld, 30 Rock, and Mad Men,  and there is a professional wrestler who calls himself Bazooka Joe (top photo).


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