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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Comics: Big Boy And The Power Of Licensing

This post is just the tip of the iceberg... see reason number 2 on our The Top Ten Reasons To Support The A-HAA for links to more great posts about print cartoonists.

Bobs Big Boy
In 1936, entrepeneur Bob Wian opened a small lunch stand. He had a brilliant, yet slightly devious idea for a hamburger. If he took a standard hamburger bun and sliced it down the middle twice, instead of once... and if he took a standard hamburger patty and divided it into two small patties... he could create a double-decker hamburger that appeared to be larger than the average without costing him any more to make. He named it the "Big Boy".

Bobs Big Boy
Wian hired pretty high school girls as car-hops and dressed them in short skirts and cowboy hats. But something was still missing...

One day, animator Benny Washam was lunching at Wian's stand, doodling on placemats. Wian saw that he was a cartoonist and asked him to draw a caricature of Richard Woodruff, a chubby, apple cheeked boy who helped out at the stand sweeping up after school. Washam obliged, depicting the lad in oversized checkered overalls munching on a burger. He gave it to Wian to use as a mascot for the stand and didn't think any more of it for many years...

Bobs Big Boy
Bobs Big Boy
Bobs Big Boy
Wian turned the caricature into an empire, branding not only his hamburger stand, but a line of sauces and spices and a franchised chain of family restaurants that eventually covered the entire country. A cutened version of Washam's doodle was plastered all over the menus, signage and television advertising.

Bobs Big Boy
Bobs Big Boy
Wian knew who in the family made the decisions about where to eat... It wasn't mom and dad, it was the kids. Outside each restaurant in the chain, he placed a huge fiberglass statue of Big Boy as a beacon to attract children...

Bobs Big Boy
And cartoonists, like assistant archivist, JoJo Baptista!

At the restaurants, Wian gave away free comic books featuring the character. Here is an extremely rare example... Big Boy comics number one from 1956. These comics were produced by Timely Comics, which later became Marvel. They were written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett. Later issues featured the work of Archie comics artist, Dan DeCarlo. Adventures of the Big Boy is one of the longest continuously running comic book lines. It's still being produced fifty years later.

Bobs Big Boy
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Bobs Big Boy
Years later, when Big Boy had become a familiar figure to the entire country, Washam admitted to his fellow artists at Warner Bros that he was the cartoonist who had created the character. They laughed and teased him, saying, "Benny, you should have been heir to a hamburger fortune, but no! Your lot in life is to toil day and night making animated cartoons!" They were joking, but there's an element of truth in it. Never underestimate the power of a doodle. The Big Boy sketch that Washam traded away for a free meal in 1936 ended up selling millions and millions of dollars worth of hamburgers.

If you would like to see more Big Boy comics, let me know in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, see... Jim Tyer Funny Animal Comics; Harvey Kurtzman Comics; Harvey Eisenberg's Foxy Fagan; Milt Stein's Supermouse Comics Part One and Part Two; Virgil Partch's Here We Go Again, The Wild Wild Women and Man The Beast. Milt Gross Sunday Pages Part One, Part Two and Part Three; Basil Wolverton's Powerhouse Pepper; Basil Wolverton On Cartoon Sounds Part One and Part Two; and Milton Knight's Great Brown Pericord Motor.

Stephen Worth
Animation Archive

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At 2:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Adventures of the Big Boy is the longest continuous running comic book line in history"? Perhaps in America.

Spike and Suzy (Suske en Wiske) is one example I can think of that has had a longer continuous line, starting at 1946 and still going today.

At 2:16 AM, Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Thanks for the tip! I made a correction to the article.


At 4:09 AM, Anonymous JeffConn said...

Yep, i'd like to see more Big Boy comics. Those were always a fun way to while away the extremely long wait for your burger to arrive. BTW, are you sure that Big Boy comics are being published today? i seem to recall that Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide listed that the title ended quite a few years ago.

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Phillip said...

I don't know if they're still being published, but I know Craig Yoe was behind them for a while. It's weird to see something from Timely/Marvel that's so L.A.-centric. I can't picture Stan Lee in Los Angeles, except as an old guy. Also, is that a Bill Everett drawing of Sigourney Weaver's dad? Wild!

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Mike S said...

Interesting coincidence: Rey Washam, nephew of Ben Washam and amazing drummer, was an early if-not-original member of the Austin-based Big Boys--one of the most infuential post-punk bands EVER.

(He later went on to play with such bands as Scratch Acid, Rapeman, Daddy Longhead and Helios Creed.)

But this connection makes me wonder: Were the Big Boys so named because of the Washam connection?

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Actually, Winstead Sheffield "Doodles" Weaver is Sigourney's uncle. Her father, Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, was the president of NBC between 1953-1955.

For more on "Doodles", see:

For more on Sigourney's father, Pat, see:

For the record, this is a teriffic article!

At 2:54 PM, Blogger kostia said...

Love the last page with the ad for the local TV personality Captain Kangaroo!

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Holy crap! That's amazing. I mean, scantily clad high school girls are enough to make me happy, but if you add a fat kid in checkers overalls into the mix, it's even better!

At 7:26 PM, Blogger murrayb said...

I think steven hillenburg owes benny a free lunch for his millions too...Big boy is spongebob's predececor for sure.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Phillip said...

D'oh! Wrong Weaver!

At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more comics- that would be a blast! Thank you!

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Kris said...

Are you interested in possessing more Big Boy Comic books? I found issue #'s 134, 159, and 161 in my mother's stuff when moving her last year?

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Yes, we would be interested in your comics. Drop me an email at



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