Humor Medicine Politics

Everything I know about the dangers of drugs and alcohol I learned from the comics

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.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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