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The Radical History of 1960s Adult Coloring Books

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Great piece from Laura Marsh in The New Republic on the Adult Coloring Book’s history of bucking the system.

In 1962, Barbra Streisand channeled all the emotional turmoil and lyric despair of an abandoned lover into what must be the strangest four minutes of pop music ever written. “Crayons ready?” she croons, “Begin to color me.”

The opening lines of the song, “My Coloring Book,” refer to that year’s fevered interest in coloring books for adults, much like the trend that has taken off recently. “For those who fancy coloring books / As certain people do,” Streisand sings, before asking listeners to fill her sorrowful life with equally sorrowful hues. When the song came out, coloring books for adults permeated pop culture, as Mort Drucker’s JFK Coloring Book spent 14 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 1962, and sales of adult coloring books reached $1 million. Today, coloring books are perhaps even more profitable: Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest were the two best-selling books on Amazon in April, responsible for some of the year’s recovery in print sales. (Basford has sold nearly 10 million coloring books since Secret Garden was published in 2013.) But their powerful appeal—enthusiasts say they are a “great way to de-stress”—has very little in common with adult coloring books from the 1960s. Where today’s titles offer consumers a neat package of therapy, escape and nostalgia, 1960s coloring books were both genuinely novel and subversive.

Read more.


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