The following is by Hal Elliott Wert, author of George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents (Nebraska, 2015). Wert is a professor emeritus of history at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Step In Time, Step In Time, It’s Sticker Time, It’s Sticker Time!
Yes, I did promise you an “avalanche” of Bernie posters and I’ll come through but you’ll have to wait for my next blog as I couldn’t stick with it. I was digging through my poster collection when I stumbled upon several of those large round marvelous Obama stickers that were in piles in every campaign office. I thought, you know, posters are undervalued but the campaign sticker, not bumper stickers, has gotten even less attention. So, to paraphrase Bert, the chimney sweep in the Mary Poppins movie, hang on, IT’S STICKER TIME, IT’S STICKER TIME!
Exactly when the sticker was invented is an open question but internet sources claim that Andrea Grossman’s “big red heart sticker” was the first—the beginning of the stickermania that became the kudzu of the 1980s.
Frantic mothers peeled them off television screens, toilet seats, the inside of the clothes dryer and even off chandeliers, as well as the baby and family pets. 😲 Stickers and sticker books were everywhere. The “Flower Children of 1968” would be stunned 😳 to learn of this claim to the origin of the sticker for they, like kids in the 80s, were plastering stickers across college campuses in support of Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 run for the Democrat nomination. 😃 True, the McCarthy sticker flurry was not the beginning of sticker mania but it foreshadowed what was to come fifteen years into the future. In 1969, however, it was hard to image a future. Bumper stickers and buttons heralded, “Living Kids for McCarthy.”
“Clean Gene” did not win the Democrat nomination and did not support the Humphrey/Muskie ticket, so his diehard supporters urged a write-in effort on November 5.
But hold on, trotting back in time, stickers were preceded by car window decals that made a grand entrance in the 1920 presidential campaign with these two beauties:
The campaigns that followed all used decals as a part of their political messaging. Like these:
As the decal faded as a much used item after the 1960 Kennedy campaign, the sticker, a version of the ubiquitous bumper sticker, moved front and center. Candidates found the sticker cheaper than buttons and they did not make holes in your clothing. Meet, greet, and slap a sticker on the prospective voter usually worked as did a campaign aide who would sign you into an event at the door and give you a name tag sticker that purported you favored the candidate. Whether you did or not didn’t matter, you had to have a name tag, didn’t you?
So, when stickermania blitzed America in the 80s it was only natural that gig poster makers jumped on-board and began cranking out stickers to accompany their creations. You ordered a poster and when the tube arrived in the mail it often contained half a dozen stickers—zany, humorous, sometimes outrageous, and often in support of innumerable causes. 🤪
In 1989, Shepard Fairey, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design along with a number of his friends, undertook a street art campaign when they reduced the wrestler, Andre the Giant, to a 2 ½” x 3” stenciled sticker. Andre, now a prisoner on paper, traveled round the world and equaled the tens of thousands of times you stumbled into graffiti on everything in the post-World War II world of the 1940s and 50s that read “Kilroy Was Here.” No one escaped Andre, he was carried by anywheres everywhere—the deepest forest, the thickest jungle, the vast desert, the remotest island. Andre ended up on boats, planes and trains, after all he had a posse.
Stickermania tamped down somewhat in the 90s but lived a respectable life among rockers and activists on the left. But then came Barack Hussein Obama. The young anti-establishment, hip-hop, skateboarder street artists were in love. Andre’s posse had a candidate. The result: a flood of posters, stickers, and street art. In the beginning, the Obama campaign was slow to embrace Shepard Fairey’s now iconic Hope poster and the dazzling posters of other outsider poster makers. At last woke, the campaign invited the outsiders inside. Tens of thousands of screen print posters, many created by first-timers, popped up across the country, accompanied by tens of thousands of stickers in various sizes and often signed by the artist. The Obama campaign, in its efforts to corral young voters, went over the top for stickers and it became a veritable bombardment. Game on! IT’S STICKER TIME! No previous campaign had seen anything like the sticker sheets with images by artists Shephard Fairey and Antar Dayal. Like the old radio and T.V. show that asked, “CAN YOU TOP THIS?,” those sunglass wearing, hip Chicago campaign designers, dressed in tight jeans and t-shirts pulled it off when they released the oval images as 12 ½ by 12 ½ stickers. These babies were a big as a Frisbee. OMG. 🤩
Billi Kid topped off the craze by creating large sticker montages on walls, windows, and bus kiosks around New York City. Soon street artists everywhere went into action but especially in L.A. “Post no bills” immediately became an inducement for guerilla action. 🤠
The insider outsiders, maxing what was perhaps a onetime chance, got busy. I mean really busy. Here’s a limited look at a fraction of their innovative exciting handiwork.
Here’s the crown jewel, Russian constructivist, red and all.
History celebrated Obama’s election victory.
Move on.org released three versions of this Obama Inauguration commemorative poster as well as an avalanche of accompanying stickers.
Gig poster king, Emek, put Hillary Clinton, Jo Biden, and Sarah Palin in the front row seats of a fight poster based on Mohammed Ali’s knockout at the rumble in the jungle. In the French dialect in Zaire, Obama Bomaye means “kill him.” Stickers, of course, followed and a signed frig magnet to boot. 🙃 On my frig, the haymaker is right above the icemaker which is pretty cool.
“Mag,” Margaret Coble, ensconced in the Big Easy, stenciled hundreds of posters and as many stickers for the candidate in which she Believed. 🤗
The limited edition screen print series of posters from San Francisco’s Upper Playground were all produced as stickers in assorted sizes. This one is by Morning Breath and the following four are from the Upper Playground series.
This beautifully detailed print of Abraham Obama by Ron English offered by Upper Playground is in the long tradition of making candidates resemble past American political giants. Here’s 1908 Democrat candidate, William Jennings Bryan, demonstrating his amazing likeness to George Washington.
English, an early innovator in the culture jamming movement, printed dozens of colored versions in sizes ranging from 18” x 24” up to wall installations a dozen posters ten feet in height. These displays were dazzling and generated the intended buzz. Stickers: an endless variety including full spectrum color.
Ray Noland in Chicago initiated the first late night guerilla poster action by riding a skateboard and slapping up posters around the city. Anonymity was prized by these political crusaders and it was some time before Noland was outed. On his website he offered a variety of Obama screen prints. Sure, stickers too.
Zoltron became the king of stickers when he realized that many Obama enthusiasts could not afford to keep up with the deluge of pricey screen prints. The answer, he created Sticker Robot, which turned out hundreds of thousands of stickers that pictured the posters and prints. Sadly, I don’t have the orange version of this sticker. 🤑
Holy Moly, while the sticker book was in freefall, this one shouldered on.
This provocative window cling portraying Obama as “The Joker,” created by Firas Alkhateeb, a twenty-year-old student, went viral on the internet. Someone, still not outed, downloaded the image and added the word “Socialism” underneath and then printed fly-bills that appeared guerilla style around Los Angeles. Let’s put politics aside. Alkhateeb’s original image, with no words, is a brilliant powerful piece of political propaganda. It hits you, no pun intended, right in the face. The aim of effective propaganda is to bypass the rational and produce a visual response. Are you still there? Proof: the left, the right, the pundits, academics, have commented on the image unendingly. Step aside Shep, phoom! 😵
In 2016 it was the Berniacs that continued to practice the art of the sticker.
Deadheads had been pushing Dem candidates ever since there were deadheads. Holy Cow Jerry, 1965 was a long time ago. Jerry, unfortunately checked out in 1995 but dedicated deadheads are alive among us today.
In your quest for Bernie stickers, the yearn for the Bern, google LOOKHUMAN.COM and glory in the choices available to you—sheet after sheet of stickers should satisfy devoted Bernienistas. I was bern to be wild, what about you?
Oops, this is a poster but it clearly demonstrates, despite the efforts of super delegates, Bernie is not on the gurney. The revolution lives. Expect more stickers in 2020 as the primaries heat up—like red hot.
Hillary, too, had stickers though the campaign never really went in for posters and stickers. The outsider art crowd did not cotton to her candidacy.
Like Hillary’s campaign, the Trump organization never went in for posters and stickers in a big way. For Trump supporters, it’s the MAGA hat.
Clearly 2020 is nearly upon us and here are some of the early offerings for “the Donald.” Are the Minions massing for Trump?
Trump versus “Rocket Man.” Fun stickers but Trump’s rocket needs the old red, white, and blue.
Art appropriation is such a great thing! Robert Crumb’s Do-Dah man will never die.
As you see here, Trump supporters and the campaign are pulled toward more formal design.
This series of stickers portraying Trump as The Punisher from Marvel comics and now from film and T.V. can be ordered with the flags of any of fifty states and territories and many other options as well.
Hard to tell if this set of stickers from LOOKHUMAN implies support for Bernie or for Warren but it is certainly a put down on these cool blues brothers—BFFS—Best Friends for Show.
Honestly, Warren is no English twit she’s from Oklahoma and would never ride a unicorn side saddle.
Of course, dear reader, I’ll keep you posted on new stickers as they appear and next time, as promised, I’ll make it Bernie posters. I’ll also include some fine Ron Paul 2012 posters that I’d missed and lamented that they are not in George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents: The Best Campaign and Political Posters of the Last Fifty Years. We will also Cruz on down to Texas and drop in on the 2018 senatorial race for a few hot images. Again, thanks for buying the book and sticking with my blogs. Hope you enjoyed Step In Time to Sticker Time!