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26 Important Comic Books

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By Christa Wagner

Sure, it may seem silly, but, comic books mean something. Soldiers used dog-eared copies of Captain America to keep their spirits up in WWII. The Green Lantern and Green Arrow made kids actually think about issues like racism and heroin. And millions gasped when they heard the news that Superman died. In fact, the vibrant medium is so often pegged as children's pulp, or fun for the feeble-minded, that people tend to forget that comics have actually grown with and continued to reflect the spirit of our times.

HOW THEY GOT GOLDEN

Action Comics #1 (June, 1938)

1.jpgBefore the release of Action Comics #1, the detective/reporter/adventurer-with-alter-ego formula had been used to create countless characters like Flash Gordon and The Shadow—leading men who were heroes, but not superheroes. That all changed with two 23-year-old graphic illustrators from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Together, they created Superman, a hero that came onto the scene hoisting automobiles over his head, speed-walking past moving trains, and effortlessly hopping from building to building. Kids around the world dropped their jaws and allowances, begging for more. Little did they know, Superman had almost been swept off the drawing room floor. Siegel and Shuster drew the original strip in 1934, and for four years tried to sell it to newspaper syndicates with no luck. Finally, in 1938, DC Comics editor Vin Sullivan fished it out of a pile of rejected strips and ran it, changing the history of comic books forever.

Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)

2.gifIssue #27 marked the debut of Bob Kane and Bill Finger's comic creation, Batman. Batman didn't have any super-powers like Superman, but he was tricked out on gadgets. Working under the cover of darkness, Batman appeared more sinister than other comic heroes (or villains, for that matter), and yet simultaneously served as an identifiable flesh-and-blood human. Ultimately, Batman introduced a completely new characteristic to superherodom: fallibility.

Marvel Comics #1 (November 1939)

Picture 62.pngIn the Golden Age, superheroes were all the rage. So to scratch America's newest itch, Marvel Comics introduced three incredible, death-defying heroes: the Human Torch, the Submariner and the Angel. If anything, the rapid introduction of new characters and publishers to the line-up revealed that comic books were fantastically appealing to people, especially kids, who could afford to buy them with their allowances. This meant that, for the first time in American history, companies could mass-market directly to children.

Superman #1 (Summer, 1939)

4.gifAfter the success of Action Comics #1, it became apparent that Superman needed his own comic book, which is how Superman #1 became the first title devoted to a single comic character. Kids' pajamas and bed sheets would never be the same again, but neither would America. Superman was the first incarnation of a new type of hero: an omnipotent do-gooder doubling (admirably) as a working class man. With Superman at the helm, comic books entered their Golden Age.

The Yellow Kid (Feb. 1896)

5.jpgNo discussion of comics can begin without mentioning Richard F. Outcault's "The Yellow Kid," which ran as a series of strips and panels in The New York World and later in The New York Herald. Its star was hardly a superhero, though; the Yellow Kid was a short boy with huge ears, a bald head, and a signature yellow nightshirt. Regardless, the comic became so popular that competing papers started relying on it to boost sales. The strip even spawned the term "yellow journalism," which refers to a brand of sensationalist newspapers. Then, in March 1897, a Yellow Kid compilation was released, and it became the first comic strip printed as a pulp magazine. (The one pictured is magazine #2). But what's the true measure of commercial success? Products galore. The Yellow Kid was the first comic book character to be merchandized on things like t-shirts, gum and even kitchen appliances.

THE 1940s: KEEPING IT GOLDEN

Captain America #1 (March 1941)

6.jpgWith the world at war, Americans desperately needed a superhero who would convince them that good could triumph over evil. Captain America jumped into the ring fist-first, delivering a swift punch to Hitler's jaw on the cover of his first comic (no veiled political overtones here!). The Captain was on a die-hard crusade against Nazism, fighting his nemesis Red Skull, who, according to the comic, was personally appointed to the post by Hitler himself. And although Captain America wasn't the first overtly patriotic superhero (The Shield had donned a similar star-spangled getup a year prior), he was the most popular. Be sure to note the title on this one: Captain America was the first character to be given his own book without being tested in another comic first.

Batman #1 (Spring 1940)

7.jpgAlthough this marked the second time a superhero had gotten his own title, Batman #1 is most important for making celebrities out of Batman's nemeses, the Joker and Catwoman, whom he meets here for the first time. Batman had also recently teamed up with Robin the Boy Wonder to create the world's most dynamic duo (and first superhero sidekick!). But since Batman was injured more often than his comic book brethren (he was only human after all), he sometimes had to hand over his cases to his good buddy Robin.

All-American Comics #16 (July 1940)

8.jpgThis issue launched the enormously popular Green Lantern, the first "everyday guy" to luck into superhero powers. Engineer Alan Scott inherited his new identity after a) finding a lantern made of alien metal, b) making a ring from the metal, then c) logically pressing said ring against said lantern to amazing effect "¦ thus, gaining powers over everything except (strangely enough) wood.

Wonder Woman #1 (Summer 1942)

9.jpgWonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 as a kind of proto-feminist figure, fighting for wronged women in a man-made world. Until that point, the women of comics were mainly girlfriends or secretaries looking to be rescued. Though dually praised and criticized for her role, just a few months after Wonder Woman's debut, a poll crowned her the readers' "favorite superhero," beating her closest male rival by a margin of 40-1.

Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940)

10.jpgThe star of Whiz Comics #2 was Billy Batson, a congenial kid who could transform himself into a super-powered hero called Captain Marvel by uttering "SHAZAM!" (an acronym invoking the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury). Young boys everywhere became fascinated with Captain Marvel, and the fantasy of transforming themselves into a superhero and back again.

THE 1960s: THE SILVER AGE

The Silver Age ushered comics out of the 1950s Comics Code doldrums with a brand-spanking-new approach to storytelling.

The Fantastic Four #1 (1961) and The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)

11.jpg12.jpgIn 1961, Marvel writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided that flawless superheroes weren't very, well, realistic. So Lee, Kirby and artist Steve Ditko created The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. These characters had super-instincts, but they also had some personal problems. In the old days, readers knew exactly who the good guys were and rooting for them was easy. But by the Silver Age, readers got a chance to consider more mundane stuff, like what would happen if Clark Kent and Lois Lane wanted to have a baby.

Amazing Fantasy #15 (March 1963)

13.jpgWhen Peter Parker, a nerdy, orphaned teenager, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, it turns out to be a good thing. As Spider-Man, Parker has "the proportionate strength and agility" of a spider. And while his smarts and strict ethics should have made him a hero even before he had super-powers, his triumph as an underdog helped make "Spidey" one of the most beloved superheroes of all time.

Captain America #117 (September 1969)

14.jpgHere, Marvel introduces one of the first African-American superheroes, the Falcon. By day, the Falcon is Harlem social worker Sam Wilson, who has a cautious civil rights platform that discourages black separatism and militancy. The appeal of Captain America, which had a political allegiance that leaned a little to the right, was considerably bolstered by his introduction.

The X-Men #1 (September 1963)

15.jpgStan Lee's X-Men comics made their debut in the Silver Age, but their popularity grew as the years went on. The X-Men are unique in the comic universe in that they are inexplainably born with mutant powers and are severely persecuted as a result. While the team has survived various incarnations over the years, the storyline was slyly created in part to address social issues of prejudice and persecution in way that would get past the Comics Code censors.

The Seduction of the Innocent (1954)

16.jpgAfter World War II, superhero comics wavered in popularity, disappearing into the underground in part due to the publication of Frederick Wortham's The Seduction of the Innocent. Wortham's book warned parents that comic books corrupted kids and made them violent. Comic publishers were sent reeling but recovered quickly with a self-imposed censorship law called the Comics Code Authority. More than a cautionary label, the code ensured that any comic bearing its insignia would be completely free of questionable content.

THE 1970s: THE BRONZE AGE

The chronological boundaries of the next era in comics are ambiguous, but 1970s are considered to be the Bronze Age of comics, with the 1980s generally accepted as the Modern Age — a time characterized by new genres, Marvel/DC cross-over issues, and new titles with the same old heroes.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (April 1970)

171.jpgAmid the civil rights and Vietnam protests of the time, DC Comics found the perfect way to tap into the social climate of the country and boost their sagging sales: by pairing up their conservative vigilante, the Green Lantern, with the left-leaning hero, the Green Arrow. Introduced just a year before, the Green Arrow expanded the scope of storytelling to include relevant social and political issues and capture the idealism of the youth movements of the decade. In the 13 titles that followed, the duo tackled difficult topics including racism, environmental damage and even heroin addiction. Although the Comics Code Authority frowned upon drug-related themes (like when Speedy, Green Arrow's aptly named sidekick, faced his addiction), the New York Times lauded the title for ushering in a new sense of "relevance" for comics.

The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (1971)

18.jpgLook closely and you'll notice this cover is missing the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval. Until this point, ignoring the CCA smacked of commercial suicide, but Marvel saw no ethical problem in dealing openly with the dangers of drugs and stuck to its guns. As with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, publishers began to stand up to the CCA and publish issues without their approval. This, however, was the first mainstream one to do so.

The Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974)

19.jpgThe character Wolverine (later famously attached to the X-Men) made his debut in this Incredible Hulk title. Wolverine, along with The Punisher, signaled the arrival of a new type of hero: the anti-hero. Emotionally imbalanced, the vengeful Wolverine didn't mind killing villains in the name of good or regularly spilling blood in the name of justice.

Conan the Barbarian #1 (October 1970)

20.jpgWhile pulp "sword and sorcery" stories had been around for decades, it wasn't until Marvel's recreation of adventure-book hero Conan the Barbarian that comic publishers began to embrace these older fantasy themes. In fact, Conan inspired a whole slew of sorcery titles, including Marvel's Kull the Conqueror and DC's The Warlord, creating an alternative genre for comic book fans who'd grown weary of traditional superheroes in tights.

Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976)

21.jpgIn 1976, it finally happened: Marvel and DC, the two giants (and rivals) of the industry, united forces to produce this oversized issue. Wide-eyed fans the world over were found salivating, knowing their prayers had been answered. While the title wasn't the first collaboration between the comic companies (they'd teamed up once before to work on a Wizard of Oz book), it was the first major comic book crossover, a gimmick that guaranteed robust sales.

OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM

While there are tons of artists and titles we'd love to highlight (everyone from Daniel Clowes to publishing houses like Dark Horse and Malibu) we just couldn't finish without dropping these names.

Zap Comix #0 (1967)

22.jpgCrude, scathing and obscene, Zap Comix epitomized the underground comic. Its creators intentionally spelled comix with an "˜x' to accentuate the X-rated nature of the book, separating itself from the mainstream. But lewd content wasn't Zap's only distinguishing feature. The writers experimented with dream sequences and stream-of-consciousness and embraced storytelling in its most experimental forms. Zap is also famous (and infamous) for introducing the artist Robert Crumb (creator of Fritz the Cat and the subject of the critically acclaimed 1994 documentary, "Crumb") to the masses.

Maus #1 (1986)

23.jpgArt Spiegelman's Maus became the first comic book to receive the Pulitzer Prize, bestowing a new level of legitimacy on the medium. This graphic novel illustrates the plight and persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, as told to Spiegelman by his father (a survivor). Maus crossed the line between comic books and mainstream books, inventing the genre of graphic novels. Today, Spiegelman is generally confined to that category, but it's impossible to deny the impact he's had on the world of comics.

Akira #1 (September 1988)

24.jpgReferred to as Manga, Japanese comics account for over a third of the nation's published books. And though Akira wasn't the first Japanese comic export, it's probably been the most influential, telling the striking and poignant tale of a child psychic in post-World War III (yes, three) Tokyo. Creator Katsuhiro Otomo's influence on comics helped open the gates for the Western popularity of "Pokemon" and "Sailor Moon," but Akira remains his claim to fame.

Spider-Man #1 (1990)

25.jpgIn 1990, Marvel granted "favored son" status to its artist Todd McFarlane, giving him his own Spider-Man title to write. McFarlane proved worthy. Using nine different covers, Spider-Man #1 became the best-selling comic to date. Not willing to part with his own creations, McFarlane ended up leaving Marvel with a number of well-known artists (and a few ideas up his sleeve) to form Image Comics, which allowed artists to retain the licensing rights to their ideas. The company thrived from the get-go with McFarlane's other famous superhero comic, Spawn.

Superman #75 (January 1993)

26.jpgSuperman dies?! Yup. The unthinkable happens in 1993 with the release of Superman #75. Millions snatched up the comic to read about the death of America's first superhero. Conveniently, some copies even came packaged with black armbands to mourn the loss. Of course, long-time comic fans were already anticipating his soap-operatic reprise, but the general public thought it was surely the real thing. When the story finally resumed, four new characters emerged, each claiming to be the true incarnation of the dead superhero.

Just like any list, we were forced to leave plenty of favorites off. Watchmen? Persepolis? If you've got comics we need to write up for part 2, be sure to include them in the comments below.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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