Wife Gets Smart, Makes Husband Happy: Supermarket Comic Strip Ads of World War II
The American comic industry has always had a space for small, independent publishers, and I’m glad, because it means you can sometimes stumble across something like this.
Wife Gets Smart, Makes Husband Happy: Supermarket Comic Strip Ads of World War II, compiled by Nat Gertler and published by his About Comics, is odd but strangely readable. Oh, not all at once — the messages are simple and repetitive. Yet there’s a compelling charm to how some anonymous advertising writer managed to come up with so many ways that shopping at Safeway could make people happy.
A foreword by Dr. Vicki Howard explains where these comics came from and the context of the times. They appeared as part of a weekly ad page with specials and prices. Each stands alone, as a result, with a simple problem, a friend or relative saying “shopping at Safeway will solve that!”, and a happy woman at the end. Going to this supermarket will mean getting to the movies on time or affording a new hat or new school clothes for the kiddie or making a full glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice for your husband.
The comics here run from summer 1941 to 1946, so quickly, wartime rationing and other intrusions become visible. The smart shoppers are buying defense bonds or entertaining soldiers home on leave with high-quality steaks or carpooling to the store to save gas and tires.
It fascinates me, as a child of the suburbs, that the idea of a supermarket has to be explained to shoppers. But that’s the recurring message of most of these comics. The strips hit the same points over and over: There’s free parking! You’ll save so much you can buy other things or pay your taxes without worry! Buying fruits and vegetables by the pound means no waste and you can pick out the ones that look best and suit your recipes! You don’t have to go to multiple stores so you’ll save lots of time!
Although the reproduction can be murky at times (unsurprising, given the age and how forgotten this material was), and the comics are very wordy, the art is lovely, with that mid-century detail. I enjoyed seeing the outfits and hairstyles of the time, as I have a fondness for social history.
The book also contains a set of one-panel gag comics with the same themes and various runs of more generic strips that allowed regional stores to sub their logos in. It concludes with a similar set about clothing stores. (The publisher provided a review copy.)