Subversive Coloring Books



Jan 1 1961


United States

While adult coloring books are hitting a high note right now in 2016, this isn't the first time this has happened. Back in the 1960s, coloring books were so popular that one of them even made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

However, while modern adult coloring books are very geometric and abstract, intended to help adults destress and relax, adult coloring books from the 1960s were much more political.

The first known adult coloring books is titled the Executive Coloring Book, which showed a step-by-step process of an everyday businessman's workday. However, the captions showed a more critical and humorous lens that criticized the corporate culture. For instance, an image of a man picking out his suit is captioned:

THIS IS MY SUIT. Color it gray or I will lose my job.

The use of humorous, cartoonish drawings created a space in which many people could discuss difficult topics of the time, such as the civil rights movement, Communism and the red scare, and generation divides. By framing the topics through a coloring book, the artists and authors made the highly "adult" topics appear more childish, making it more acceptable to talk about these things.

Over time, the medium became flooded by capitalism, with the issues and satire becoming more formulaic, less revolutionary, and less critical, as though attempting to satiate the public's desire for adult coloring books while keeping them complacent with the status quo.

As the modern day becomes increasingly more similar to the 1960-70s - heightened political awareness and polarization; heightened racial, gender, and class tensions; increased violence across the world - it is not surprising that adult coloring books have gotten a resurgence.

More recent attempts at political color books have targeted the upcoming presidential election, with books dedicated to Hilary Clinton ( and Donald Trump ( However, it seems unlikely that politically- or issue-focused coloring books will have the same impact as in the past, given the way in which people now interact (or don't) with print media. The prevalence of meditative adult coloring books right now is a testament to that.

Posted by artandactivism on

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