Many generations of youngsters have purchased the almost square pieces of bubble gum wrapped in Bazooka Joe comics and spent happy hours blowing bubbles. The gum has been around for 60 years. In commemoration of the 60th anniversary, Abrams has published a 225-page book, Bazooka Joe and his Gang.
The first several pages of the book reintroduces us to Joe and his gang: Butch, Janet, Pesty, Lil Pats, Walkie Talkie, Hungry Herman and Sarge. There’s a great preface by Talley Morse, son of Wesley Morse, who created Bazooka Joe in 1953 for Topps. Collectors will recognize the name of Woody Gelman, who was the head of product development at the time and he is the one who hired Wesley. It is interesting to note, the drawing of the original Bazooka Joe featured a dark-haired boy with a beanie. Topps soon decided a blond-haired boy with a baseball cap would be more popular and Morse drew the strip from 1954 until his death in the early 1960s. Did you ever wonder who Bazooka Joe was modeled after? Some say it was Joe Shorin, founder of Topps but there is another opinion found in this book. Another question is did the word “Bazooka” came from the famous WWII weapon or a crude instrument created by comedian Bob Burns who later was on the radio and in movies (the sound from the instrument was “bazoo”)? Some say the weapon was named after the instrument while others say the instrument was named after the weapon.
The heart of the book is a 22 page feature written by Bhob Stewart, where he discusses the influences and various people associated with Bazooka Joe. Stewart has done work for Topps over the years. Of note is the Funny Lil’ Joke Books set written by Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, and Stewart with illustrations done by Tom Sutton in which Bazooka Joe puts in an appearance. The Stewart and Morse features help us understand the history of Bazooka Joe, explaining what led up to and came before the creation. The afterword by Jay Lynch further explains some of the history. Lynch wrote the jokes for many years.
The book pictures tons of flyers showing products and prize offerings (prizes were always associated with Bazooka Joe), various wrappers, boxes and early comic strips, beginning in 1954 and up to 1979. Mark Newgarden, another former Topps’ employee, wrote many of the fortunes in the late 1970s.
Topps is known for spoofing their own products and has done so with Bazooka Joe in both Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids. The spoofs are shown and there are trading cards included with the book but the original cards sets from the mid-1970s are not mentioned. As a non-sport card collector, I have worked on these sets for years and some of the sets are complete and some are not. Some are dated and some are not. Some are white-backed and some are grey-backed. One would assume the artwork is the same as what is found on the paper comics but to the best of my knowledge, these cards have not been documented anywhere. I even have a hand-full of Canadian cards and a wrapper. In all, I have 14 different packets of started and finished sets.
By adding this book to your library, you see all of the associated products, found both in the U.S. and abroad. You may find it tempting to start your own Bazooka Joe collection. The book certainly gave me some ideas of what to look for to add to my own collection.