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When a surprising trend takes hold, it’s easy to think of it as something unprecedented. But sometimes it seems that way due to our own limited perspective. Much of fashion in any field is the re-introduction of things that were popular once upon a time—and such is the case with the adult coloring book trend, which has so affected the publishing business in recent years.
Not long ago, a fellow editor shared with me an article in the New Republic about adult coloring books. Putting the fascination with meditative examples of the category in context, the article described a moment in the 1960s when grown-ups were crazed for coloring books, many of which were powered by provocative—even subversive—humor. I hadn’t been around to witness the first big boom of adult coloring, so I was intrigued by the article. Then it identified the genre’s genesis: an incendiary little thing called The Executive Coloring Book.
The Executive Coloring Book by Marcie Hans, Dennis Altman, and Martin A. Cohen was published in 1961. It begins this way: “THIS IS ME. I am an executive. Executives are important. They go to important offices and do important things.” The work of three young advertising copywriters, it became a surprise bestseller and debuted on the New York Times list just a few slots down from Franny and Zooey and To Kill a Mockingbird.
On every page, the authors struck innocent-looking line drawings against deadpan captions. The spark that results is a fierce humor that skewers an era but also comments on the more general phenomenon of corporate culture that is alive and well today, 55 years later. The genius of the thing is that that humor feels perfectly current. So many of today’s biggest companies could stand in as targets for these darts, and so many executives (from the commander-in-chief on down) could benefit from such needling.
So we saw it as our joyful duty to bring The Executive Coloring Book back. After all, while this book might not be a vehicle for meditation, in worrisome times what better therapy is there than humor?
The Executive Coloring Book is on sale March 28, 2017. Stay tuned for more on how to participate in the re-release of this classic coloring book!
It’s been an amazing year for reading, and the The New York Times Book Review editors have selected some of their favorites.
Check out some of the most loved books of the year: