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THE MODERN term “graphic novel,” especially Japanese manga, conjures up vibrant images of mayhem, graphic in both the pictorial sense and also in explicitness. I offer here a historical counterexample, published in 1930 by the California Fruit Growers Exchange. Some might think The Land of Oranges is merely a coloring book for kids, but closer examination reveals the essence of the graphic novel—including several explicit contrasts to the present day.
True, The Land of Oranges has a coloring book format. There are 12 straightforward and charming outline illustrations, the front and rear inside covers containing small renditions suggesting coloration for each one.
The book’s size, 4 3/8 x 5 3/4 in., could reflect the frugality of the times. The depth of the Great Depression was still two years off, but the chaos of Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, was likely fresh in people’s minds. Were I to use The Land of Oranges today as a child’s coloring book, I’d photocopy it to 200 percent.
The story tells of Betty and Billy visiting their Uncle Jim, who lives on a ranch in California. “Betty and Billy saw many trees on Uncle Jim’s ranch. ‘Those are orange and lemon trees,’ said Uncle Jim.”
Not exactly “Wow! Zonks! Bam!” But a damnsight more compelling than “See Dick. See Jane. Run, Dick, run. Run, Jane, run,” the sort of thing I was exposed to in pre-phonics reading instruction. And, in fact, the Land of Oranges kids learn about planting orange trees, the importance of sunshine and water in the trees’ nurturing, and even the distribution network that brings the fruit into homes.
Not that crass materialism doesn’t make an appearance: “Uncle Jim said, ‘These oranges are the best oranges. A machine puts the name Sunkist on the best oranges.’ ”
“ ‘We buy Sunkist oranges at home,’ said Betty.”
Clearly this calls for a bit of research. In 1893, P.J. Dreher and his son Edward established the Southern California Fruit Exchange in Claremont, today the home of the Claremont Colleges. By 1905, the cooperative had 5000 members, 45 percent of the California citrus industry and a new name, the California Fruit Growers Exchange. In 1952, this changed to its current name, Sunkist Growers, Inc.
The name Sunkist, proposed “sun-kissed,” originated in 1907. The cooperative identified its brand by wrapping the oranges in paper stamped with the Sunkist name. When the Exchange got word that merchants were foisting off non-Sunkist products, it set up a promotion giving consumers a free spoon in exchange for twelve Sunkist wrappers. One million spoons went out in 1909. By 1910, the Exchange became the world’s largest purchaser of cutlery. The queenofsienna website gives details, including the fact that spoons were manufactured by the likes of Wm. Rogers & Son.
Back to The Land of Oranges. The book’s rear cover has a “Height and Weight Record” that is a telling commentary on the times. Its Health Pledge read, “I wish to join the ‘Up to Weights’ and I promise to follow the Good Health Rules and keep this record.” The rules provide few surprises to today’s readers, though there are some quirks of the era: Sleep “with windows open.” “Have a full bath more than once a week.”
In contrast to obesity being the focus of today’s nutritional messages, especially governmental, the book’s Height and Weight chart gives Av. Wt. for Height, together with the apparently problematical 7% Underweight.
How times have changed. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015