I recently came across copies of a 1960s promotional comic, Gibbs Ivory Castle Arrow, which had a roster of creators that’s as impressive as regular comics of the period such as Eagle – including Captain Pugwash creator John Ryan and John Michael Burns.
Gibbs Ivory Castle Arrow – called simply Arrow in its editorial – ran for just 11 issues from 1963 to 1966) and was commissioned by Unliver, the proprietors of Gibbs toothpaste (today known as Mentadent SR), through their advertising agency, Lintas.
The free comic – given away on purchase of the toothpaste – was packaged by Odhams Press under the direction of managing editor George Beal, who also had a hand in producing stories and scripts.
Gibbs SR was the first product to be promoted on UK television back in 1955 and Lintas clearly had an impressive budget to promote the brand. It seems no expense was spared producing the eight-page comic, published using photogravure, just like Eagle, Girl and TV Century 21 and as well as being offered on purchase of the toothpaste, was also distributed to dentists surgeries.
Scouring copies of the trade magazine The Chemist and Druggist for the time, held on the Internet Archive, reveals the comic was on display in participating chemists, in special promotional stands.
Denis Gifford’s Complete Catalogue of British Comics 11 issues of Arrow were published, between 1963 to 1966.
This wasn’t the only comics-related promotion for the toothpaste – Frank Bellamy was hired to draw “Commander Gibbs” Gibbs Dentrifice advertisements for Eagle back in 1952 – and the brand already had a long history of promotions aimed at children, including an Ivory Castle Game, first released in the 1930s.
The Ivory Castle Arrow comic was just one product of what was originally the Gibb’s Ivory Castle League, established in 1923 and which continued after the Second World War as the Ivory Castle Childrens’ Club. The British Dental Association notes the League was the first large scale dental health campaign, with teachers joining it and encouraging their pupils to become Crusaders to defend their teeth, ‘the ivory castles’.
Members received journals, leaflets and posters. Other promotional activities included a Gibbs Ivory Castle Rhyme & Painting Book, published in 1928 and the League its own medal and also offered fancy dress costumes, games and competitions. By 1932, the League claimed to have over 100,000 Crusaders, both in the UK and abroad.
The post war Club also had a club badge and other items to offer – and again, an issue of The Chemist and Druggist suggests that like the League before it, the Club was very popular, with some 7000 sign ups at the 1963 Boys and Girls Exhibition held in Birmingham.
Most of the strips in the 1960s Arrow comic had some kind of encouragement to readers to look after their teeth. However, he cover strip on later issues, “Steve and Susan“, is more of a straightforward adventure tale. It was written by Keith Chapman (better known today as western novelist Chap O’Keefe) and initially drawn by “Dan Dare” artist Don Harley, then John Michael Burns (who was also then drawing “Kelpie the Boy Wizard” in Wham! and various strips for DC Thomson’s Diana).
Strips inside the short run of comics included “Look After Your Teeth”, a humour strip titled “Lord Stoney de Broke” drawn by either Stan McMurtry (better known as the recently retired Daily Mail cartoonist Mac, then drawing strips for comics such as Buster and Wham!), or, possibly “Mighty Moth” artist, the late Dick Millington ‘ghosting’ Stan; “The Siege of the Ivory Castle” drawn by Gordon “Pop” Hogg (the artist whose credits include Wham!‘s “The Wacks”), an allegory about protecting your teeth from decay; “Hamlet the Happy Hamster”, drawn by one of Treasure‘s artists, Philip Mendoza, and “Toothy” drawn by the brilliant Reg Parlett (whose credits include “Billy Bunter” and “Mowser”).
Like other comics of the time there were text features and stories in each issue, too.
Gibbs wasn’t of course the only company to use the comics medium in this way to promote their brand in the 1960s. Lew Stringer documents Wonder comic here on his Blimey! blog – published and sold only in Esso garages – and a one-shot comic, Princess of Asgaard, was published to promote Danish bacon in 1970.
In the 1980s, Marvel UK packaged a series of Doctor Who comics, edited by Sheila Cranna for Golden Wonder – and we’re sure there are many other examples of this advertising method readers may know of, and not just in the UK.
The Graphic Medicine team, for example, continue the work using comics as means to promote healthcare in many ways, and the British Medical Journal has published articles supporting their use, including this one.
• Do you remember this comic or the Ivory Castle Childrens’ Club? Why not comment below or drop us a line?
Report compiled by Richard Sheaf and John Freeman
UPDATE: Since this article was first published, Richard has unearthed the first issue of Signal, a custom comic with a similar format that preceded Ivory Castle Arrow. We have detailed what we know about that short-lived title here on downthetubes
Do you know more about Signal, Ivory Castle Arrow comic and The Signal Club? Do you have copies? Did you work on the comic, or Ivory Castle Arrow? Do you recall similar comics promoting leading brands? Let us know!
• Blimey: Comic Oddities – Arrow
Lew Stringer’s article includes examples of other strips featured
• Gibbs Dentrifice advertisments for Eagle, illustrated by Frank Bellamy (with thanks to Norman Boyd)
Richard Sheaf is a longtime contributor to downthetubes and has written for numerous magazines about British comics.