Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Prohibition - A Comic View, Part 1

Ken Burns' new series "Prohibition" has brought an unusual piece of American history to light. Not many people, though (including the documentarians) are aware just how thoroughly contempt for the Amendment permeated American society.

I recently picked up  the first volume of a new "Gasoline Alley" reprint series. The volume covers the years 1921 and 1922, when Prohibition was still new. The focus of Gasoline Alley was a group of men and their cars (a hot topic back then), that gradually morphed into a story of a family.

Below are two examples from 1922 of the many I found relating to Prohibition (click on images to enlarge).

In the one above, Walt Wallet, the hero of the strip, talks to his friend Bill about alcohol and how he never used to drink -- before Prohibition.

In the second, Avery shares some of his home brew with Walt -- all very discretely, of course.

Now here's the thing: this was a  comic strip run in daily newspapers all across the country. The humor was considered appropriate for both adults and children (Gasoline Alley was popular with both demographics). Prohibition is treated pretty lightly, here.

If you want an idea of exactly how lightly,  substitute references to marijuana to those of liquor. What if the first strip Walt talked about everyone offering him weed, and how he'd never smoke if it wasn't illegal. Or if Avery offered Walt a joint from marijuana he was growing and Walt made a funny comment about the quality of the pot? Any chance of those gags being run in a mainstream newspaper (either on- or off-line)?

Ignoring  Prohibition wasn't just something hard-core alcoholics did. Everybody did it. And artifacts like these old comics document just how much in contempt the average person held the law.

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