Sometimes, the Johnny-come-lately overshadows that which he imitates. Such was the case with one Bazooka Joe, who appeared in 1954 as an answer to Fleer Funnies, which had been around since the 1930’s.
Bazooka bubble gum actually appeared in the 1940’s. Topps saw Fleer’s success with comic-wrapped gum, and decided there would be room in the market for competitors. So they created Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy.
As is stated in Ecclesiastes, a name is better than good oil. But that was a name that simply didn’t catch one. So the first mascot was abandoned in short order.
Topps put other comics in with their penny gum, but didn’t really hit it big until they dreamed up the character Bazooka Joe in the aforementioned year of 1954.
NOW, they had a hit on their hands. It wasn’t that they took customers away from Fleer’s Pud and his friends, it was that kids just liked bubble gum comics with familiar reoccurring faces. Kids weren’t really sure who was in Pud’s gang or who was in Joe’s, and they didn’t care. They simply bought millions of dollars’ worth of comic-wrapped gum, one penny at a time.
Bazooka Joe’s friends include Mort, who is the one I remember best. He wore a red turtleneck sweater with the neck stretched over his mouth. I remember trying that myself with a turtleneck shirt I had. I wasn’t impressed.
Other friends included Pesty, Zena, Gloomy Gus, Silent Sy, and Hungry Herman.
The comics were only part of the fun. There were also fortunes printed at the bottom of the page. which were pretty funny. And you could save wrappers and send them in with a dollar to get funky toys and such.
But I never knew anyone who ever actually did so. Instead, we would open the wrapper, pop the pink gum in our mouths, and read the comic. We would pass them around, and then they would likely be discarded.
Enough kids saved them, however, that they are affordable collectibles today.
In the meantime, Bazooka bubble gum has become a worldwide best seller. You can find the familiar red, white, and blue wrapped gum with numerous different languages written on them. The characters also look different based on locale, for example the Nigerian flavor features black characters.
So, worldwide, Bazooka Joe has overtaken and passed Pud for familiarity. But back in the 60’s, we kids just wanted a funny comic to go with our chew. The faces that populated the strips really didn’t matter.