Guest blogger Kirk Taylor is the curator of the Taylor-Morse Collection and the great nephew of Avonne Taylor. An artist and writer, Kirk is currently completing work on the biography of Wesley Morse with co-author Nancy Morse. You can visit his website and follow him on twitter here@TaylorMorseArt.
Today marks the release of the Bazooka Joe and His Gang book from Topps and Abrams ComicArts. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the iconic brand with a comprehensive history, it reveals for the first time the truth behind its enigmatic mascot.
Like Wacky Packages, the humor card series we most associate with Topps, Bazooka Joe may be considered Topps earliest parody, a spoof of the eye-patch-wearing Baron George Wrangell and the innovative ad campaign for Hathaway Shirts of the 1950s. The characters of Joe and the Gang are modeled on that classic comic strip trope, the gang of kids. A staple in American and international comic strips since the early days of the art form, it is an archetype which strikes a chord of the kid in all of us. But it is that characteristic trait, the eye patch, that gave Joe his edge. That and the half billion or so comic imprints depicting his exploits being packaged, shipped, unwrapped and read worldwide.
Bazooka Bubble Gum had embedded itself into popular consciousness as a brand for nearly twenty years before Wacky Packages arrived on the scene in 1967. There wasn’t a consumer product that wasn’t fair game for the artists of Topps to turn their sharp satirical minds on, especially Topps’ own products. And Bazooka was one bubble they couldn’t resist popping! Of all their concoctions, it became their most parodied. Starting with Gadzooka from the ’67 die-cut series in a gag written by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman and painted by Norm “Mars Attacks” Saunders. The school teacher is a cliche from old comics that Speiglman and fellow cartoonist and Wacky co-conspirator Jay Lynch had been using since their fanzine days. The ensuing decades brought Badzooka, Batzooka, Badzooka again, Buzzooka, and who can forget Bazzuchini!
Fast forward to today. Artist Chimel Ford patrols the isles of a neighborhood grocery store, camera in hand, taking photographs of products in their natural habitat, documenting the distinctive patterns and colors of the many varied cans, boxes and bags.
Composed without a hint of irony, Ford paints fond depictions of consumer goods. Non-Wacky Packages. Every aspect of the packaging detail is given the meticulous attention of his thickly applied paint stroke. He’s not asking us to see them any differently, just see them. The brands’ familiarity, their ubiquity, offer a kind of comfort. I buy these, my mom buys these, I see friends eating them, this stuff is plain yummy. It also allows Ford the freedom and comfort to not have to invent. Like a still life painter with a bowl of fruit, the box of Bazooka Bubble Gum is what it is. A box of Bazooka. Distinctly, and characteristically itself.
The Bazooka Joe and His Gang book is itself a loving recreation of that brand’s appeal; its bold alternating red, white and blue font, the wax wrapper jacket flap, the pink of its bubble gum, right down to the painted page edges. Not a spoof of its subject but a tribute. Inside are our fortunes, our stories, our prizes — our childhood.
Featured Artist, Chimel Ford.
Of all the stories coming out of StudioWorks day program during 2012, perhaps the most compelling is that of 23 year old Chimel Ford whose desire is to become a professional artist. In the two years he has been attending StudioWorks he has made great strides towards achieving his goal with the assistance of the StudioWorks staff. In March 2012 he was the first StudioWorks artist to have a one-person show in their spacious gallery, with a grant through the Power2Give program helping to underwrite the expenses. Most of Ford’s 24 paintings on canvas and paper sold! As a result of this exhibition, he completed another dozen paintings which were direct commissions from the art-loving public. StudioWorks artists receive an 80% commission on all sold work.
Studio Works is a not-for-profit art studio and program venue of Zoom Group benefiting adults with developmental disabilities. It began as a day program for clients with an expressed interest in the visual arts. Since the program’s inception over eight years ago, it has grown from a room in a coffee house to its present 4600 square foot studio/gallery on Eastern Parkway in Louisville, Kentucky. Each move has been a result of the clients’ hard work, growth, and success.
Zoom Group, is celebrating its 27th anniversary of providing services for adults with developmental disabilities. Although primarily involved in vocational opportunities, with more than 150 individuals in commercial and supported employment positions throughout the Louisville metro area, Zoom Group also operates several day programs where persons who require special care are given the attention they need.