Monday, February 9, 2015


Surely that other guy's just going to get TWO Charles Atlas books and get TWICE as big. Where will it end?
The interior ads within the pages of our favorite comics have always been eager to turn every willow-thin wimp and tubby tyro into a muscular mass of meaty manhood - and yet look how we all ended up. Seriously, look at yourself. Tch.

It certainly wasn't for lack of trying or absence of densely packed proclamations and promises typeset in cramped quarters on full-page spreads that let us down. Muscles-by-mail programs were featured in literally hundreds of different comics over the course of several decades. Advertisers wanted one thing out of the comic-reading audience - they wanted us to get swole.

Charles Atlas wants to serve you a tiny, shiny muscleman on a silver platter.
The undisputed hero of this particular beach was always Charles Atlas, "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man." Sure, they call him that, but could he survive without oxygen or fly unaided through space? Looks like we still have some development to go!

Atlas' most famous ad featured the extended comic book adventures of "Mac," the misfortunate 98-pound weakling whose beach-based humiliation entered the public consciousness so deeply that it ended up being the foundation of one of the kickier songs in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. That's something, right?

That's Charles Atlas' rogues gallery at the top of the page.
At the very least, terms like "dynamic tension" and "hero of the beach" managed to make it into at least the fringe of popular conversation, which is a pretty impressive feat back in the days when comics were exclusively intended for kids rather than grist for the grown-up movie mill - particularly given that he was never the star of a comic, only the backpage financier.

 "Bloodless, Pitiful Skinny Shrimp" is what they used to call me when I sang the blues.
Atlas wasn't the only recognizable figure hawking the girthful goods. Joe Weider's empire of muscle building equipment, supplements and publishing started with modest ads in comics and trade mags, seeking to sell the legendary bodybuilder's physique to the body-shamed and insecure. He also wasn't alone...

Has there ever been a wiser man than Ted Kluszewski? Let us drink from his fountain of knowledge.
One of the secrets to successful selling, of course, is to sell with fear - and comics had raised young men on a diet of constant physical conflict. It was one thing to fantasize that you had the strength and fisticuffical skills of a daring crimefighter like, say, The Red Bee, but once the comic was put away, the reality for most kids was vastly different. Even assuming that the kids weren't already experiencing a terrifying threat of physical violence from parents, bullies or just random strangers, their reading material had put it in their minds that all life was slugging and being slugged. Just like a modern-day diet of news cycles stuffed with hyper-violent rhetoric seems to transform your average viewer into an armchair Patton plotting a survival strategy for the upcoming race war, kids and young men flocked to the bodybuilding programs so they wouldn't get their ass kicked. Why risk being Mac when there were so many Men out there?

Toxic masculinity by mail.

With muscle-bound might only a coupon away, it's not surprising that America is now primarily known as a nation of buff, trim, muscular champions of athleticism. And if you don't like it, prepare to get shoved in the face the next time you go to the beach!

1 comment:

Bram said...

Seen the return of the Charles Atlas ads?

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