i-105094a11ea2a8eaf9af9430165bdfff-coverimage.gifEvery so often, just for laughs or my own personal edification, periodically I check my referral logs to see who’s linking to me and what posts are being linked to. Most of the time, there’s not much there worth commenting on. Sometimes, it’s bloggers who agree with me; other times, it’s bloggers who were simply amused enough by something I’ve posted to link to it; and occasionally, it’s bloggers who really, really don’t like me, for reasons that most of you would find obvious. Sometimes, however, there’s a link that catches my attention. In this case, the link came from here.

At first glance, it looks like nothing more than a link roundup that happened to link to a post I did in which I embedded a YouTube clip of a Star Wars parody. No big deal, right? Right. However, when I started clicking on the other links in the roundup, I discovered something quite extraordinary.

I discovered how comics can save your life.

Yes, indeed. I found a link leading to a page called Comics With Problems, and the contents to which it led taught me everything anyone needs to know about the evils of liquor, cigarettes, and drugs, all thanks to public service comics produced either by governmental agencies or others between the 1960’s and the early 1990’s. Some of them are fairly pedestrian (i.e., totally “square”), but some of them are truly bizarre. One even approaches such heights of surrealism that I have a hard time figuring out what, exactly, the message is.

Let’s take a tour of the highlights of this collection. (I have to tell you, though, after you have a taste of these, you’ll want to read them all. You’ll waste tons of time reading every bit of delirious fun these comics offer. You’ve been warned. I won’t be held responsible for the consequences of your clicking on the links that follow.) Just to ease you into the whole thing, I’ll start out with the less surreal examples. How about a little bit from 1980 in which Rex Morgan, M.D. talks about the dangers alcohol poses to your unborn child (click on pictures):


Ya gotta love the way the words “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome” are in bold letters!

As you might expect, this one’s a mess. A pregnant woman goes out drinking with her friends and while drunk cuts her wrist badly enough to require a tendon repair. This gives Dr. Morgan the opening he needs for some serious 1950’s-style, old-fashioned Dr. Kildare paternalism that we know and love. (“I’m a doctor. Trust me.”) It also provides a chance for some good old fashioned sexism when it takes this to persuade the young pregnant woman to stay in the hospital and get her tendon repaired:


As with many of these comics, even though the main message is certainly worthwhile (after all, who would argue that it’s OK for pregnant women to drink to excess during pregnancy, knowing what we know about the effects of alcohol on the fetus?), the execution is such that the very people who could benefit from the message will probably hoot in derision at it. But let’s move on.

Here’s a nice public service comic from the American Cancer Society circa 1965 warning against smoking:


One thing that leapt out at me was how annoying I found Ricky’s little sister. Another thing that struck me was how utterly boring the lecture part of the story was, where all the dangers of smoking were being presented, although I do have to admit that the beaker containing the same amount of tar that would go into a smoker’s lungs over the course of a year was a suitably disgusting touch. Amazingly enough, this comic remained in circulation as late as 1978, when I was a teenager. Had I seen it then, I’m sure I would have found it even more hysterically amusing than I do now. On the other hand, I sort of have to be impressed at this comic, coming a mere year after the Surgeon General’s official warning that smoking causes lung cancer and other health problems.


Of course, no set of comics about problems would be complete without a pamphlet about how not to catch venereal diseases:


Far out, man, in a sort of Yellow Submarine way.

But these are just the warmups. It’s time to get to my three very favorites. First, there’s a pamphlet about AIDS that was distributed at a Madonna concert at Madison Square Garden back in 1987:


Words fail me, at least about the cover. The rest of the comic is a pretty dull and conventional affair, alas. It’s hard to believe that this was published almost 20 years ago, though.

Next, here’s my personal favorite. It’s an anti-marijuana comic. It looks like it should be from the 1960’s or 1970’s, but it was originally published in 1991. It’s about a young girl who’s a gymnast and an A-student who ends up being lured by the proverbial bad boy into the evils of marijuana use. True to the moralistic convention of such stories, she suffers the consequences of her mistake in the form of declining grades and an ankle injury that keeps her from competing in the state championships. But, best of all, for no apparent reason, it has a robot in it!


Yep, for no apparent reason, a robot named (appropriately enough) Alpha the Robot shows up, summoned by the geeky Asian kid, to explain just how bad marijuana really, really is for you. I’ve never tried pot in my life, but, I have toI tell you, the whole cartoon is almost enough to make me want to take up the demon weed myself.

But for sheer, mind-blowingly bizarre, utterly incomprehensibly wildness, for serious surreal lunacy, nothing beats The Incredible Coming of Al Cohol. It’s quite literally almost indescribable. Here’s just a taste of the mental carnage:


Many mysteries are contained within this comic. For example, why didn’t the polar bear eat Al Cohol? Who are the Ravaging Ravens, and why do they want to wreak havoc with the seemingly defenseless (except for Al Cohol, of course) Inuit? And here’s the biggest mystery of all: Why on earth did the Canadian government think that a blond, blue-eyed man from outer space with a special sensitivity to alcohol would be a good vehicle through which to proselytize about the evils of excessive drinking to the Inuit living in the Northwest Territory? Alas, the promised continuing adventures of Al Cohol seem to be lost in the mists of time.

One thing’s for sure, though. You can learn a lot from comics, whether they’re published by the government, by advocacy groups, or even by public television.For example, we must always be grateful to big pharma, who made a lot of this stuff possible:


Whether what you learn from these comics is correct or what should be learned, of course, is another matter.


  1. #1 Joe Shelby
    February 13, 2007

    For my “generation”, Marv Wolfman and George Perez did 3 anti-drug comics featuring the then #1 comic group (well, when X-Men weren’t having a good month) The Teen Titans. In addition to the less violent “public service” issues, they used similar themes at the same time in a brilliant 2-issue dramatic storyline called “Runaways.”

  2. #2 tim gueguen
    February 13, 2007

    “Man slave?” Look out when some slash fanfiction fan gets a gander at that panel!

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    February 13, 2007

    I foresee a new genre of snowclone humor: “Everything I know about the dangers of drugs, I learned from/in X.” For example, “Everything I know about the dangers of drugs, I learned in kindergarten.” Or, “Everything I know about the dangers of drugs, I learned from Jack Bauer.”

    Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. . . .

  4. #4 Bronze Dog
    February 13, 2007

    Sent this to http://www.superdickery.com

    I imagine we’ll be seeing these again with more funny commentary.

  5. #5 Todd B
    February 13, 2007

    COMICS WITH PROBLEMS is awesome, but what’s crazier is it’s part of an even larger site of comics. Check out the pull-down menus halfway down the page – http://www.ep.tc

    Some favorites:
    http://www.ep.tc/comics/a-bomb/ – tons more

    And I like this ironic 1980s anti-drug music video found there, starring Whitney Houston and Nancy Reagan http://www.ep.tc/stopthemadness

    Cheers, Todd

  6. #6 DuWayne
    February 13, 2007

    Resisting – the – urge – to – smoke – the pot. . .

    I think my favorite was the Madonna – AIDS comic. The whole notion of Madonna and (granted mild) a abstinence message, is just too much for me.

    You weren’t kidding about the addictive nature of these comics. My roomie is already bitching about the link I sent him to the STD comic.

  7. #7 anonimouse
    February 13, 2007

    C’mon, Orac. We all know the Eli Lilly diabetes comics are just an attempt to divert attention from their plot to poison the world’s children through thimerosal in vaccines.

  8. #8 llewelly
    February 13, 2007

    Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a great deal of this sort of propaganda.
    My favorite irony is the way the war on drugz propaganda went on and on about the evils of ‘peer pressure’.
    And then, as exemplified by the Archie comic (and many others) the anti-drug propagandists sought to use ‘peer pressure’ for their own political ends.
    Strangely, despite all that propaganda, all the police-state-like ‘anti-drug’ laws, and gross violations of the 4th amendment, drug addiction runs rampant …

  9. #9 Coin
    February 13, 2007

    One even approaches such heights of surrealism that I have a hard time figuring out what, exactly, the message is.

    Which one were you referring to here?

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    February 13, 2007


    Strangely, despite all that propaganda, all the police-state-like ‘anti-drug’ laws, and gross violations of the 4th amendment, drug addiction runs rampant …

    So, as Bill Hicks was known to say, there’s a War on Drugs — and people on drugs are winning it?

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    February 13, 2007

    While we’re on the subject of propaganda and the attendant surrealism thereof, I thought I’d post a link to the 1979 film Drugs Are Like That. Unfortunately, ScienceBlogs kept throwing me an HTTP 403 error message. For a while, I thought the software was broken, but then I got another, different message to post without trouble.

    When I tried to link to the film again (it’s in the public domain, available on the Internet Archive), boom! Another HTTP 403. I change the URL to point at the Archive’s “Ephemeral Films” contents page, and it works!


    Who’s the arbiter of decency in these parts? It’s really hard to discuss drug use and abuse without linking to web pages with “drug” in the URL. I can understand that nobody wants a blog full of spam, but come on — these false positives are exasperating. We’ve already run into the problem at Pharyngula, where we can’t use the I-word (incest) and the S-word (soma) without absurd workarounds. Actually, I can’t use those naughty words here, either, without breaking out some of that silly trickery.

  12. #12 llewelly
    February 13, 2007

    Blake, it requires 8 neurons and 1 line of code for a spam bot to inert a few italics on / off tags …
    So it keeps us ahead of the spam bots. Or not.
    But things could be worse. On the Intersection, I had trouble posting the word analysis.

  13. #13 Kiwiwriter
    February 14, 2007

    When I was a kid, back in the mid-70s, they gave us a comic book about the dangers of smoking, which was already outdated by the standards of the mid-70s…it had anti-smoking endorsements from Bart Starr and Bobby Richardson, both of which had been long retired by the time they handed us the comic books. We gave the comics a good laugh.

    Another one was about Atlanta Brave slugger Rico Carty’s great struggle against asthma. It made him appear to be a very heroic figure, fighting his way onto the 1970 starting All-Star squad even though he had to be “written-in” on the ballot. I admired Carty for his courage.

    Then I read about his self-serving and disruptive behavior as a member of the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians, and was far less impressed.

    He was the “Beeeg Boy,” because he could “heeeeeet,” but was always late to spring training, because he was a brigadier general in the Dominican Republic Army Reserve, and had to stay late in the Dominican “for the big parade.” I suspect that was about the outer limit of both his military duties and the Dominican Army Reserve’s military capabilities.

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