Perhaps if it wasn’t for the demise of Hostess products a few weeks back, America wouldn’t have even noticed. Either way, news broke a few days ago announcing that Bazooka Joe, comic strip character of Bazooka bubble gum wrappers for 59 years, would have the strip wrappers retired soon. They’ll be replaced with puzzles and brain teasers, with Joe and his gang only living on as character inserts on them. The move has caused all varieties, from journalists to casual bloggers, to start chasing Bazooka Joe and writing about this spiffy, eye-patch clad kid.
Being Bazooka Joe is about to hit his 60th anniversary, complete with a collected hardcover from Abrams reprinting years of the comic strips, and even recently as 2009 a movie script being worked on, it is a questionable move from Topps on why they would do this. At this point, though, I have tried to give up trying to understand the minds of business executives who run companies and the choices they make. We face a world in which Disney owns Marvel, Warner Brothers owns DC Comics, and no one at those places actually cares about the comic books themselves, only the money they can make off characters by putting them on other products (movies, video games, toys, etc.). One could even be as cynical and say in light of the Hostess fallout, Topps did this purposely because they knew it would make headlines and sell gum, causing a collector’s frenzy of folks wanting to get “the last” Bazooka Joe strips.
Bazooka Joe losing his strip to me is a loss of something from my childhood, but perhaps it was only a matter of time. The geek in me wants the strips to continue. Even as recent as about three years back I bought a bucket of that terrible gum for fun to just chew and read the strips, totally based on nostalgia. However, that was one time, that was three years ago, and that was me basking in nostalgia. As a guy in my late-20s with mortgage payments and such living in middle class America, buying Bazooka Joe gum isn’t a priority. Call it a mindset of plenty of folks these days across America. As much as I want to get mad at Topps, I can’t. The gum is aimed at kids not adults. Kids do love puzzles, and stuff from the Professor Layton video game series and so forth is hot with them these past few years. Also even in 2012, there are parents who won’t buy gum for the kids because it’s just sugar and a comic, but a brain teaser to make the mind think, that’s now an educational spin making it a different product now in their eyes. Also, we can’t forget with the decline of nickle-n-dimes and drug stores, kids don’t have large access anymore to buy individual pieces of Bazooka themselves, so it’s up to them to sucker their parents at grocery stores into buying them multi-packs of it.
In some ways it’s similar to the digital vs. print debate for over a year now. “Average-Joe-America” wants to be entertained cheaply, and things need to be marketed to this crowd differently than they use to be. Digital comics have done well because they are cheaper and easier to store. DC recently aimed their digital releases to come out at midnight instead of midday, causing a ruckus among comic shop owners. I think those owners fail to see that this move targets non-traditional comics readers or elapsed readers who don’t realize they still publish comics. “But what?! People don’t think comics are still published?!” 110%, dear reader. I write from Buffalo, NY. We have four major comic book shops here. One day I was in Barnes and Noble, and a guy was buying comics for his son and saw me reading. He struck up a conversation with me about comics. This Dad, only about 35 or so, was buying collected editions of Spider-Man and didn’t even know in the magazine isle they had the current floppies. Furthermore, he, in a city with four comic book shops, didn’t even know they still made comic books! He honestly thought some book publisher was just reprinting old comics to tie-in with the movies. Fluke? Nope. I began to question this and checked with several friends around the country, and those who didn’t live in a major city like New York, Los Angeles, and the like, easily found a ton of people who didn’t know comic books were still being published. So how can the industry reach out to all these folks who populate a large portion of the country: through new mediums, like iPads and such. Coming back to the point, Topps is just doing the same thing: trying to sell the gum by giving it a new marketing twist.
It’s a brave new world, so why are so many of us chasing Bazooka Joe? I think it’s just nostalgia. Maybe the strips will be back one day, maybe they won’t. For now, I’ll pre-order my collection of the strips that Abrams is releasing in a few months.
Drew writes our weekly all-ages comics column, From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma-Rays, check it out!