I think it was some time last year, sometime between 10 and 14 months ago, that I found a package of Bazooka Joe bubble gum at one of my local Dollar Trees. Probably the cool one. Remembering the thrill of being a child and finding three dirty pennies behind the couch, and walking the quarter mile to the store and buying a piece of bazooka bubble gum, when there were still bins of penny candy, I bought it. And it quickly ended up, like many other marginal purchases from the Dollar Tree, at the book of my kitchen cupboard, behind several cans of lentil beans and the like. Tonight, I decided to see whether this package of gum included the traditional microcomic. After some fumbling with the packing, I discovered that it did.

Here is the 23rd of 48 possible Bazooka Joe comics, in four panels, measuring 3 cm by 2 cm, perhaps.

  • First Panel: "Herman, you owe me money" says a running figure, with little droplets of sweat flowing behind him, as he approaches a shorter, rotund figure.
  • Second Panel: "I can't pay you this week" exclaims this shorter figure, apparently Herman, as sweat drops flying from his head signal his nervousness.
  • Third Panel: (In silhouette, the first figure overbearing on the retiring figure of Herman): "You said that last week and the week before!"
  • Fourth Panel: "Well, didn't I keep my word", Herman says, turning his back on the astonished face of his accuser, whose sweater is pulled over his face, apparently his trademark look.
  • Fifth "Panel" (No panel walls, merely text) FORTUNE: A PERSON IS MEASURED BY THE PROMISES HE MAKES. KEEP YOUR WORD.
Within these short words, we are transported from the first burst of action, to a social conflict, to a witty retelling of the Cretan Paradox (because if someone tells you they are unreliable, are they therefore reliable) to the denouement, where we are given a reminder of the Kantian categorical imperative, although with a behaviorist twist: it is the "measurement" of others that is important, not the autonomy of the promise maker, who in this case seems to be a bit of a trickster figure, anyway.

But the most astonishing thing for me is the blank spaces in the narrative. This is story 23 of 48 and the other adventures of the Bazooka Joe and his Gang seem to stream out from this story. I remember, even as a child, being fascinated by the fact that I had only a piece of the puzzle and that there was a wider story around it. Although I would not have phrased it that way at the time, the ontological priority of the story was not in what was seen, but in what was unseen. What happened in the other 47 microcomics? Would I learn more about the characteristics of sweater-face and conniving Herman? I am driven to know more about their world, to explore the sequence, and if I can stomach chewing the gum, which after a year tastes like corn starch and has the texture of a corncob, I will try to get through the other nine pieces in the package, and see what else happens in this world. And after all, someone must be collecting these things.

lizardinlaw says re Bazooka Joe and his Gang (23 of 48): ...you don't have to chew the gum!
I have to maintain some standards. It is cheating to read the comic strips without chewing the gum.

JD says The guy with the red sweater/turtleneck pulled over the lower half of his face is "Mort."
Interesting information, but of course it is the stories negative space that is the fascinating. Now that I know that this character is named, can I read it the same way again?

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