Theory: Big Boy and the Power of Licensing- A Cautionary Tale

Bobs Big Boy

In 1936, entrepeneur Bob Wian opened a small lunch stand. He had a brilliant, yet slightly devious idea for a hamburger. If he took a standard hamburger bun and sliced it down the middle twice, instead of once… and if he took a standard hamburger patty and divided it into two small patties… he could create a double-decker hamburger that appeared to be larger than the average without costing him any more to make. He named it the "Big Boy".

Bobs Big Boy

Wian hired pretty high school girls as car-hops and dressed them in short skirts and cowboy hats. But something was still missing…

Bobs Big Boy

One day, animator Benny Washam was lunching at Wian’s stand, doodling on placemats. Wian saw that he was a cartoonist and asked him to draw a caricature of Richard Woodruff, a chubby, apple cheeked boy who helped out at the stand sweeping up after school. Washam obliged, depicting the lad in oversized checkered overalls munching on a burger.

Bobs Big Boy

Ben Washam’s Original Design

Wian loved the doodle and gave Washam his lunch for free. Bennie gave the sketch to Wian to use as a mascot for the stand.

Bobs Big Boy

Bennie didn’t think any more of it for many years…

Bobs Big Boy
Bobs Big Boy

Bobs Big Boy

Wian turned the caricature into an empire, branding not only his hamburger stand, but a line of sauces and spices and a franchised chain of family restaurants that eventually covered the entire country. A cutened version of Washam’s doodle was plastered all over the menus, signage and television advertising.

Bobs Big Boy

Bobs Big Boy

Wian knew who in the family made the decisions about where to eat… It wasn’t mom and dad, it was the kids. Outside each restaurant in the chain, he placed a huge fiberglass statue of Big Boy as a beacon to attract children…

Bobs Big Boy

And cartoonists, like assistant archivists, Alex Vassilev and JoJo Baptista!

At the restaurants, Wian gave away free comic books featuring the character. Here is an extremely rare example… Big Boy comics number one from 1956. These comics were produced by Timely Comics, which later became Marvel. They were written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett. Later issues featured the work of Archie comics artist, Dan DeCarlo. Adventures of the Big Boy is one of the longest continuously running comic book lines. It’s still being produced fifty years later.

Bobs Big Boy

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Bobs Big Boy Comic BookBobs Big Boy Comic Book
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Bobs Big Boy

Years later, when Big Boy had become a familiar figure to the entire country, Washam admitted to his fellow artists at Warner Bros that he was the cartoonist who had created the character. They laughed and teased him, saying, "Benny, you should have been heir to a hamburger fortune, but no! Your lot in life is to toil day and night making animated cartoons!" They were joking, but there’s an element of truth in it. Never underestimate the power of a doodle. The Big Boy sketch that Washam traded away for a free meal in 1936 ended up selling millions and millions of dollars worth of hamburgers.

If you would like to see more Big Boy comics, let me know in the comments.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

11 Responses to “Theory: Big Boy and the Power of Licensing- A Cautionary Tale”

  1. Mike Rosado says:

    Stephen, GREAT story!! I had no idea. I’ve always loved Ben’s work with Chuck Jones all those years. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mike Rosado says:

    Great comic too, btw. Are those actual watercolor brush marks at the top of the What’s Wrong With This Picture page?

  3. Chuck Fiala says:

    I would love to see more of the early Big Boy Comics. This first issue with Everett art is great!

  4. Roberto Severino says:

    This is an amazing story of how entrepreneurship and cartooning can go hand in hand. The comics look really well done and Benny Washam deserved more credit for what he did in my opinion.

  5. Michael Polvani says:

    Yes, please!!!

  6. Chad MacDonald says:

    Mr. Stephen Worth -

    I had come across this article a few months back, and loved it. I was reading another article on WW1 and WW2 cartoons and cartoonists, specifically Louis Raemaekers, and realized it was the same website. I couldn’t believe it, but then again I could, because both articles were so beautifully written and portrayed. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate your work. Thank You

  7. Stephen -

    I just won a No 5 Adventures of Big Boy comic on ebay. Needless to say I am very excited. Where did you find a No 1 ? Do you know what issues were done by stan and sol brodsky, and dan decarlo ?

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