Wednesday, April 1, 2009

1935 Advertising Comics

Suds and Cigs
These are the earliest Sunday advertising comics I have. They're from The Milwaukee Journal of mid-1935 (one has strips dated 14 April on the back). Nice reproduction and a variety of art styles make these quite interesting.

While the other strips are drawn in traditional comic-strip styles, the Lifebuoy ad uses a clean-outline style common in magazine illustrations of the time. The balloon-less dialogue further detracts from the comic-strip look. Flash Gordon was one of the few strips that used this approach. It always seemed as if the creators felt balloons lacked class, and eliminated them to achieve a magazine illustration feel. At least we get three lingerie shots and a nude scene (although I defy any real woman to pose her arms that way without revealing her left breast).

Sandwiched into the bottom of the page is the tiniest strip ad I've seen. This Lifebuoy Shaving Cream ad is just over an inch high! You can barely see the stubble on Otto's chin.

On the flip side of this page is an elaborate full page ad for Camel cigarettes. I don't know who the artist is, but he does a solid variation on the drawing style of contemporary strips like King of the Royal Mounted. The extra space gives plenty of room to develop the action. It's a very nice page, except for that poorly-lettered "In the meantime" caption. The last panel is odd. "Jim" delivers a plug for Camels, then refers to a real-life rancher who appears as a photo in the next panel. My first time reading the strip I thought Charley Belden of Pitchfork, Wyoming, was the cowboy in the comic. No, he's only a one-panel wonder. Perhaps the client felt a real person was necessary to attract readers who don't listen to sales pitches from cartoon characters.

On the 14 April 1935 page are two strips for Lux soaps: toilet soap on top, soap flakes on the bottom. "Dixie in Hollywood" is apparently a continuity strip, a rarity in advertising features. The two rows of panels provide the story plenty of room, though the narrow gutters between panels give the whole thing a crowded look.

But what was in the writer's head? Our heroine, Dixie Darling, is almost fired because she can't act. Only her gorgeous Lux Toilet Soap complexion saves her. That's fine for Dixie--she launches into an embarrassing paen of praise to her soap bar. But the fact remains that our heroine can't act! Dixie's boyfriend has reason to worry. In his note the director doesn't assure Dixie that she's a good actress after all. Instead he says don't worry, her body will get her by. Clear a place on the casting couch for Dixie! I like that portrait of Joan Blondell in the final panel. though.

The "Peggy Lux" feature also has story problems. Peggy fingers the ludicrously-dressed "court detective" in panel 4 and the man confesses. That means he must be the guy wearing handcuffs in panel 5. If so, he's changed clothes and lost his hat. He doesn't even look like the same person.

What's more, who is saying "She's there!" in the same panel? It should be Peggy making the big reveal, not Lady Marie. Lux may have made good soap, but they hired sloppy writers and artists.

I usually associate advertising comics with the 1950's, but as we see the format was already well-established twenty years earlier. I'd like to find more ad strips from this period. Especially "Dixie in Hollywood." Did poor Dixie ever learn to act?

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