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Hello reader! We're Sugar and Spike, two characters created by the late, great Sheldon Mayer in 1956. We're famous for out non-stop hi-jinx! Our words may Xsound like nonsense baby-talk jibber-jabber to adults, but WE can understand each other perfectly!

We're here today to tell you about the super psychology behind DC's X"Coming Super Attractions" advertising campaign, which ran from 1959-1965 in the DC comics edited by Mort Weisinger.

This seminal comic book ad campaign was the first of its kind. Hand lettered by Ira Schnapp, the CSA ads have been the subject of the last 20 issues of Dial B for BLOG. This issue is the grand finale to that series! If you missed the series and want to start at the beginning, click here.

There's a surprisingly complex strategy behind "Coming Super Attractions," way over the heads of toddlers such as ourselves! We're Xjust babies -- but our super-brilliant friend, Bernie the Brain, explained the psychology of the campaign to us, so we could explain it to YOU! Thanks Bernie! Let's start by revealing the secret behind the entire campaign...

COMING SUPER ATTRACTIONS: CHILDHOOD FEARS

It's a scary world! It's scary for adults, but it's especially scary for us kids, because we don't have the experience to understand WHY we're afraid of what we're afraid of. And what, exactly ARE we afraid of? And WHY are we afraid of it? Believe it or not, the psychology of childhood fears is what lies behind the entire CSA ad campaign! Let's break it down into categories...

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XFEAR OF LOSING A FAMILY MEMBER

Children, especially younger children, are completely dependent upon their parents, and to a lesser degree upon their siblings. What if mommy or daddy simply vanished one day? The consequences would be fatal.

This fear plays out in the CSA campaign with the super heroes constantly losing "family" members to fake accidents and hoax deaths, getting "new parents" or becoming "Orphans of Space."

The reactions of the other characters to "losing" a friend or family member allows young Xreaders to learn lessons in living... and dying. This helps them deal with their fear of abandonment.


FEAR OF GAINING A FAMILY MEMBER

Surprisingly, another aspect of this fear is the problem of GAINING a family member. The introduction of a new brother or sister always shakes up the family dynamic, sometimes displacing siblings from previously-held roles. It's hard to be "the cute one" with a new baby in the house!

Sibling rivalries of all kinds are a constant theme in CSA ads, where Superboy gets a new fake brother or super-rival every other week (see panel at left, "The Kent's Second Super Son!"), and Lois Lane and Lana Lang fight over Superman like sisters warring over the same man on The Jerry Springer Show. Long-lost super relatives turn up almost weekly.

FEAR OF LOSING/MAKING FRIENDS

The fear of losing a family member is a terrifying prospect -- but to a child, the idea of losing a FRIEND is almost as bad. Family members are regarded as a given, but a friends are peers we kids have established a relationship with all on our own. To us kids, and to adults as well, good friends are unique and special, while "best friends," BFF's, are irreplaceable.

What causes people to lose friends? When Lois Lane's excessive jealousy angers Superman, when Jimmy Olsen's mapcap antics enrage Perry White, when Superboy's youthful Xmistakes irritate Ma and Pa Kent, children see the consequences of this behavior played out in story form, allowing them to learn how they ought to behave if they want to KEEP their friends.

DC editor Mort Weisinger (pictured right), was the writer of the COMING SUPER ATTRACTIONS ad campaign. Weisinger, who was notorious for almost torturing the writers and artists who worked under him, had a nervous breakdown in 1970. Many people have since looked at the stories he favored, distilled in the COMING SUPER ATTRACTIONS ad campaign, and declared them to be the product of an angry, neurotic man.

What utter nonsense! The ravings of a hopeless neurotic do not sell a million copies an issue every month for decades. The truth is that the Weisinger stories were successful because they spoke directly to neurosis that were SHARED by tens of millions of young readers.

Weisinger used to give away free comics to the kids in his neighborhood. They took the comics they wanted based on the covers. "Uncle Morty" would ask why they liked the books they picked, and use that "market research" to increase sales. Based on the CSA campaign's content, kids often chose books with covers that depicted kids losing friends.

Another aspect of the fear of losing friends is the fear of MAKING friends. The proper way to make a new friend is especially important for us kids to learn. How do we turn a person we've just met into a real friend?

For Superboy, it usually involves contests of strength that represent various sporting events. For Lois Lane, it involves girl-talking about her life-long obsession with marrying Superman. For Jimmy Olsen, it involves almost nothing. The affable red-headed reporter is so friendly he can strike up a relationship with anyone. Watch and learn, kids!

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FEAR OF THE DARK and FEAR OF MONSTERS

One of the strongest childhood phobias is fear of the dark, and fear of monsters. Starting with the dreaded "monster under the bed," a child's blackened bedroom can be a horror house full of half-seen spooky terrors lurking in the Xshadows.

Adults never seem to understand. All they do is tell us, "There's nothing there, now go to sleep!" So we lie in our beds, cowering in fear of the monsters in the dark, until we fall asleep.

The CSA ads are rife with monsters of all kinds -- gorillas, dragons, giant ants, giant spiders, etc. Why would the sight of these creatures appeal to comic-buying children? Because they know that Superman is invincible!

One form of "monster" is especially scary to kids -- because they're REAL! These are the "monsters" known as INSECTS. Insects terrify kids. One reason is their bizarre body structure. They're so totally unlike humans, they might as well be from another planet. They're totally foreign, and anything totally foreign is scary to kids, who much prefer the familiar. Although Xbugs are just a tiny fraction of the weight of a human being, kids run from them like an elephant runs from a mouse.

There are a surprising number of bizarre insect stories in the CSA ad campaign. In one famous insect story, Superman gets an ant-head and leads a pack of giant red ants to invade Metropolis. Disturbing as the sight of an ant-headed Superman may seem to be, the image also carries with it a reassuring message.

We kids always recognize Superman's famous red and blue costume -- no matter what his HEAD might look like, and we know that costume means it's Superman underneath. And Superman is invulnerable! And invincible! (Sorry, Iron Man).

Whatever monster or creature of the dark the Man of Steel might be facing this month, we know he'll defeat it! And when he does, we kids will feel a sense of relief, and we'll be encouraged to defeat our OWN fear of "monsters" (bugs).

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FEAR OF UNATTRACTIVE APPEARANCE

XChildren, and adults as well, are drawn to people who are good looking. Everyone would love to look like a movie star! But not everyone does. In fact, most people don't. The CSA ads place a tremendous emphasis on appearance in general, and WEIGHT in particular.It seems like every other five minutes, Superman becomes FAT Superman, or FAT Superboy, or shuns FAT Lois Lane or FAT Jimmy Olsen.

Of course, the CSA ads were created in the early 1960s, but still -- their treatment of overweight or otherwise unattractive people is ridiculously over the top. The CSA ads basically place fat people on a level with the town drunk or something! As Lois thinks in the panel below, X"Nobody loves a fat girl... SOB!" Wow. Someone tell People's Choice and Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy there's been a mistake. She's fat, so people don't like her. But they do! So...

Why do the CSA ads constantly focus on fat versions of characters? Because -- what's the secret dread of every prom queen? What's the real reason football players don't gorge themselves on milkshakes and french fries? They don't want to get FAT!

In the CSA ads, fatness is equated with unattractiveness, which results in the worst possible fate any kid can face: unpopularity. Being labeled an outcast. Somebody no one wants to be friends with, or sit at lunch with. A "weirdo" who doesn't fit in. A bizarro.

In the CSA ads, even though just about every main character is prone to sudden, extreme weight gain or worse (cat-heads), but there's always a solution -- a gimmicky solution, but still a solution -- by the end of the story. Listen, it's tough having to walk around town with a cat head covered by a steel box. It's impossible to see, and the ventilation is awful!

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(Panels above from "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #13, Nov. 1959.)
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FEAR OF LOSS OF POPULARITY TO A RIVAL

Everyone wants to be popular. No one wants to be unpopular. Kids spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to make friends and keep them, and the activities of the Xcharacters in the CSA ads reflect this passion for popularity.

What causes unpopularity? In the fantasy world of today's mass media, the main reason for being shunned by society is doing anything considered "politically incorrect" at the time. In this world, the eco-conscious ethnic kid is the hero of every playground.

But in the brutally real world of the schoolyard, kids are far more likely to be popular if they're attractive, well-built, and/or have wealthy parents.

The COMING SUPER ATTRACTIONS ads reflected this harsh reality in a ways today's politically correct comic books wouldn't dream of.

Superman turned into a monster or madman with alarming regularity. Jimmy Olsen had the hots for sexy blonde stewardess Lucy Lane. Lois Lane had a habit of tripping into alien rays, accidentally taking pills, and activating ancient curses which would turn her into a "fatty," a cat head, or worse. All of which resulted in ... unpopularity!

The flip side of unpopularity is popularity -- the Holy Grail of the schoolyard set! Popularity is seen as the ultimate achievement, and that's the real psychological mess gage behind the CSA ads: Superman is popular, Batman is popular, the DC heroes are all popular -- implied message: if the reader follows their example, they will be popular TOO! And if you have a problem, we have the solution...

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FANTASY SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS

The CSA ad campaign didn't just project childhood fears -- it also offered what every kid really wanted more than anything -- XSOLUTIONS! How does a kid keep friends, conquer monsters, look attractive, and become "popular"? But in the real world, if you're an attractive person, you're more likely to be popular. If you Xhappen to be wealthy, talented, powerful, and well-connected -- that doesn't hurt either. If you have that certain quality known as "charisma," you're likely to be one of the most popular kids in school.

But in the fantasy world of the CSA ads, you can get popular literally overnight! Super powers (often representing the onset of puberty) are likely to manifest themselves at any time, in any one -- providing they read DC comics, of course.

In the CSA stories, former 98-lb. weaklings can transform into invincible strongmen at the drop of a hat, cub reporters can become stretchable sleuths with a single gulp of a secret fluid, and nosy female reporters can turn into super-women as easily as they powered their noses (using the silver compact that every woman was issued at birth in the Fifties and early Sixties).

And, clothed in the fantasy that WE could get super-powers, we kids -- the prime readers of DC comics at the time the CSA campaign ran -- attain the ultimate state of being as conceived of by the mind of a child.

We become... POPULAR.

This was the secret message behind the entire CSA ad campaign: "Read DC comics and learn how to become... SUPER-POPULAR!"

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ORIGINAL ART FOR VINTAGE IRA SCHNAPP LOGOS!
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