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In the 1960s, Adult Coloring Books Were Radical Texts

Did you think adult coloring books were a new thing? No, they’ve been around forever. The difference is that today’s coloring books aimed at adults are for humor, de-stressing, or as a keepsake of your favorite fandom. Fifty years ago, they were a medium of subversive sarcasm and political propaganda.

The first adult coloring book, published in late 1961, mocked the conformism that dominated the post-war corporate workplace. Created by three admen in Chicago, the Executive Coloring Book show pictures of a businessman going through each stage in his day, as though teaching a child what daddy does at work. But the captions, which give instructions on how to color the image, are uniformly desolate. “This is my suit. Color it gray or I will lose my job,” reads a caption next to a picture of a man getting dressed for work. Another page shows men in bowler hats boarding their commuter train. “This is my train,” it reads. “It takes me to my office every day. You meet lots of interesting people on the train. Color them all gray.” The rare appearance of a non-gray color is even more disturbing: “This is my pill. It is round. It is pink. It makes me not care.”

From there, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Coloring books made fun of political opponents on all sides, as well as occupations, lifestyles, and famous people. Read about the adult coloring books of the 1960s at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: The New York Times archive)

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