I’ve never lived in an area with Big Boy restaurants, so I can’t tell you much about the persona of their corporate mascot. The first drawing of the Big Boy character came in the late 1930’s, a few years after the burger chain’s founding, although the character as we know it today (and at the time of this comic) dates from the 1950’s. Evidently, the Big Boy burger concept was operated under different names in different parts of the country (and one of these eventually was spun off to become Shoney’s!), and there was even an East Coast Big Boy mascot and a different West Coast one. According to Wikipedia, in 1979 there were 1000 (!!!!) Big Boy restaurants in the US and Canada. You may have seen one of the massive Big Boy statues in front of one of them in your travels, as I have. The California-based Bob’s Big Boy is perhaps the best-known franchise using the Big Boy moniker (Johnny Carson used to joke about it on the Tonight Show, as I remember), but there were dozens of other regional variations, including the Pittsburgh-based EAT’N’PARK which was Big Boy-related from 1949-1974.
This particular comic (regular in size but only 14 pages) belongs to that taken-for-granted part of the comics industry, the giveaway (and one would also assume throwaway) comic given to children or with a kid’s meal. These are still given out today at various restaurants, though often they include a coloring book section and some crayons. I’d guess 95% of them are thrown out within a few days of acquisition....or get food stains on them during the meal and are discarded with the burger wrappings and paper soda cups before the family leaves the restaurant.
This particular comic, dating from 1967 (and one of 466 issues published over decades), hails from the Knoxville, Tennessee area, where I’m guessing Fritch’s was the operator of the Big Boy restaurants, though that’s not stated anywhere on the comic. The only regional identifier on this is a big ad for Channel 10 in Knoxville, which proudly lists its Saturday children’s programming, including Tom and Jerry, the Road Runner, the Lone Ranger, Space Ghost, Underdog, Superman, Mighty Mouse, and Leave it to Beaver! Boy, if that is not a BTC-approved TV lineup, I don’t know what is (all that’s missing is a Bowery Boys film).
Besides the comic stories, there are of course word games, puzzles, and the like, as well as letters from juvenile fans of previous issues (or, more likely, their parents).
I think you can imagine what the Big Boy character is like. He’s a grinning, amiable guy, a kind of man-child with an “aw shucks” manner, and I can almost imagine him saying “gee whiz!” and calling to some adult, “hey, mister!”
There are only two multi-page stories in this--one before the word games and puzzles in the middle section, one after. The first one, “Facing The Deadly Monster,” has Big Boy heading to Florida to find his older cousin who has sent a cryptic letter. Turns out Big Boy mis-interpreted the letter, and the cousin is doing just fine, a scientist investigating mosquitoes (I’m not worrying about spoilers here as I doubt any of you will ever read this). In the second one, “The Miraculous Cape,” Big Boy sees someone with a Bat cape and buys it from him....only to discover anyone over a few pounds cannot fly in it. Oh, well!
There’s also a “State Of The Union” section, where Big Boy tells us about different states. This issue features Mississippi (and we’re told the next month’s state will be Rhode Island).
The Big Boy crew also includes his female friend Dolly and the dog Nugget.
I often find giveaway children’s comics from previous decades mixed in with old Archie comics and unwanted yellowed magazines in junk stores and flea markets. This one was slipped in free with some Abbott and Costello comic books I purchased--I’m glad it made it through all these years. One wonders if there were also Big Boy comic paper placemats put under the kid’s meal back in 1967 Tennessee. Now THAT would be a collectible....though for whom, I don’t know.
The most interesting thing about this giveaway comic is that except for some minor aspects of the artwork and some of the wording of the dialogue and the letters section, this could be given out today.
Frankly, when I take my grandsons out somewhere for a kid’s meal, I’m often more interested in the giveaway booklet or comic than they are!
Silent film fans (which means pretty much everyone reading BTC) also know that there was a juvenile comedy actor named Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian, who made a number of shorts at Educational Pictures. He was a child who wore over-sized adult clothing (see pic). Grapevine Video issued a collection of these shorts, and one of them also appears on Volume 2 of Ben Model’s excellent ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED series. Other than the name, however, the restaurant character doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the silent film comedian (or for that matter, with western star and character actor, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).
There are still a number of Big Boy outlets, and on their website, you can even buy items such as their special sauce (pictured). Next time I’m in an area with Big Boys, I’ll order a kid’s meal and let you know what if any comic booklet I get with it