Coloring books for adults are all the rage. One retired acquaintance admitted she’d recently bought a book, attracted by the elaborate patterns. She insisted a high degree of concentration was necessary to stay within the lines, a comment which made me think of the earnestness of someone walking a labyrinth.
Laura Marsh has written an article on the history of adult coloring books, starting with their heyday in the 1960s. (“Color Me Subversive,” by Laura Marsh, New Republic, March 2016, pgs. 14-16.) These early works shared a rebellious attitude toward conformity. (Ibid pg. 14.) The first of its kind was the Executive Coloring Book, created by 3 ad men. Seeing their lives as grey, they depicted themselves and their counterparts as grey suited men whose lives revolved around commuter trains, lunch counters and water coolers. The printed instructions were to color the men grey. When a second book in the same vein hit the best seller list, the market was flooded with copycats like, Khrushchev’s Society Top Secret Coloring Book (color him red) and The John Birch Society Coloring Book. The latter contained nothing but blank pages with instructions to count the number of communists per page.
These publications weren’t serious coloring books but more like cartoons. The crayon industry benefited little. The New York Times did run a story about one man who insisted he colored all of his books, however. Later he was exposed as a worker in a crayon factory. (ibid pg. 15.)
The new breed of coloring books are different from those in the past. Today, a person colors to relax, to express a creative impulse, or to spend a little time returning to the innocence of childhood. Few of them provide social or political commentary, though two have recently surfaced: Hillary – The Coloring Book and Trump 2016. I haven’t seen either, but I suspect the Trump book invites lots of creativity.