The Art of VD Protection

Ryan Mungia is the proprietor of the BOYO Press in Los Angeles and an archivist par excellence. The first venture into print publishing, Protect Yourself: Veneral Disease Posters of World War II, sheds light in the shadows of wartime behavior. VD left unchecked could decimate an army. During World War I “an amazing 18,000 American military were incapacitated by sexually transmitted disease each day,” writes Jim Heimann in his introductory essay. But owing to better medicines and sulfa drugs, and an intense anti-VD propaganda campaign, by the height of World War II that number decreased to around 600 per day.

Whether or not graphic design can cure many ills, the posters in Protect Yourself are hard to ignore. Mungia uncovered some well known, but many unknown examples of this anti-scourge material. Although aimed at men who hire prostitutes, there are some that target “girl friends.” Interestingly, none of the posters warn against same sex liaisons. Here Mungia talks briefly about the project.

 
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How did you amass this collection?
I was in Washington D.C. last spring doing research at the National Archives and happened upon a folder containing 35mm slides of these posters. What immediately drew me to the posters was not only the bold artistic statements they made, but the subject matter informing newly minted military personnel about the dangers of wanton sex. Both elements reflect a very interesting and stimulating aspect of American history.

Sensing that this subject matter had never been given a proper showcase, I thought I would give it a shot by bringing these posters to a wider audience. Though the National Archives represent the bulk of the posters in this book, I supplemented by pulling images from a variety of sources including the Jim Heimann Collection, Yale University, and the National Library of Medicine.

What did you learn from these posters?
For me, the fact that Madison Avenue had such a large involvement in WW2 VD propaganda was a surprise. As one war raged overseas, another battle was being fought in the Office of War Information between government officials who favored the bold, graphic posters of the WPA and those who believed a more realistic ad-based approach would be more effective in combating venereal disease within the ranks. The realism camp won out and VD posters began to look more and more like commercial advertisements of the day.

 

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Tell me about BOYO?
BOYO is dedicated to the printing and distribution of arcane ideas that are often bypassed by the traditional publishing world. The intent is to produced limited edition press runs and offer such product to a select audience.

Do you have other books of design ephemera in the pipeline?
I recently met Earl Newman, a 78-year-old silkscreen artist who has amassed quite a body of work since he moved to Venice, CA in 1960 and as a young beatnik, started making posters for neighborhood staples such as the Venice West Cafe and Insomniac Coffee House. He was also responsible for 50 years of Monterey Jazz Festival posters and is still an active artist. We’ve been talking about creating a retrospective of his work.

 

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Lessons Learned
For even more of Steven Heller’s design insight, get your copy of Lessons Learned, the August issue of Print that includes the “Evolution” of the word “cute” and more. Never miss another issue by subscribing today.

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