In the Limelight

Back covers have always been filled with exciting offers to sell seeds and nationwide newspapers or asking you to buy Sea Monkeys. For many years, New Funnies, the home of Walter Lantz’s many characters, used their back covers to build a strong subscription base. (#110, April 1946). Many of the ads would promise a free poster of Andy Panda as a bonus. At the time, Andy was enjoying a wonderful career on screen.

Around the end of 1952, their focus changed and they started going to outside advertisers for their back cover content. At first, Wheaties found a home on the back of their books. Shortly after, other breakfast cereal started offering their products through New Funnies.

The Sugar Crisp Bear makes a very early appearance on the back of New Funnies #210 (August 1954). The romance of the rails was still alive in the early ‘50s because he is offering each and every kid one free Railroad Emblem inside every box of cereal! These are not just cheap stickers either, these are real metal emblems. They would look just fantastic on the back of your bike. There were 28 emblems in the series and they covered railroads all across the country. From the Northern Pacific and the Western Pacific, over to the Erie and the Wabash, and finally down to the South, all you had to do get the emblem from your State’s regional railroad line was eat a lot of Sugar Crisp.

Post had a lot of cereals and while it was relatively easy to get a kid to try Sugar Crisp, it was a bit harder to entice a 12-year-old to eat something called “Post Grape-Nut Flakes.” That is why on the back of New Funnies #223 (September 1955), Post offered a scaled down version of a 1955 Ford inside each box!

The plastic cars had wheels that actually turned. There were five models and five colors, starting with the Ford Thunderbird, they offered one of each of Ford’s best selling lines.

Breakfast cereals weren’t the only product that appeared on the back covers. Gum was a natural product that circulated among kids. At the time, gum was looked down upon by all “good” society. That is why you needed to disguise what you were selling, This ad for Juicy Fruit, from the back of New Funnies #223 (July 1956), hides the product behind a public service announcement.

Bill Wisdom is handing out swimming tips for the kids, which are presented similarly to Gofuss and Gallant from Boy’s Life Magazine. The first panel shows an improper way to swim while the second shows the proper way. This format continues along six examples, then at the end, Mr. Wisdom reminds the kids that gum is a healthful treat and doesn’t spoil your appetite!

The advertisers made a word choice at the end that says something about the advertising of the day. They start out by asking the kids to remind mom about gum, but at the very end they say to “Tell her to get some and keep plenty on hand.” The use of the word “tell” makes the request a command. If they had said, “Ask her to get some,” it would have been a slightly different ad.

There is one product that is an absolute obvious choice for the back of New Funnies. Cracker Jack had been around for years, but, like any successful company, they were always looking to expand their market. Thanks to the famous baseball song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, Cracker Jack had all the free advertising they wanted. However, it never hurts to remind the kids that Cracker Jack can be eaten any time at all.

The ad from New Funnies #234 (August 1956) is about as simple and direct as an ad can be. They don’t even mention the free toys that come in every box; they just assume that kids knew they were going to get one. What they are emphasizing is the freshness of the new foil box. The design is very plain and drives the point home with easy to read effectiveness.

A year later, Cracker Jack has another priority. Take a look at the back of New Funnies #246 (August 1957). They are now offering something that any kid in his or her right mind could never turn down; a personalized, glow in the day license plate! Sure, they still have that foil package, and this time they don’t even show or mention the prize that is still coming in every pack. This time out, it is a participation deal that kids had to mail away for the plate. With the plate measuring six inches long and three inches high, this was great looking little item. Sure, that railroad emblem from Sugar Crisp the previous year still looks cool, but it didn’t have the kid’s name on it or glow in the dark.

As much as you enjoy the contents of the comics you buy, never forget to turn them over. You may just find a fun surprise!