Waldo's Topless Beach Scandal
For Eileen Godfrey of Nashua, New Hampshire, there could be no doubt: There was definitely nipple.
It was October of 1992, and Godfrey had just returned from shopping at a local BJ’s Wholesale Club with a puzzle for her five-year-old daughter, Jessica, to assemble. It was a sprawling beach scene populated by hundreds of characters, including one dressed slightly inappropriately for the climate: Waldo, the sweater-sporting explorer who “hides” in every crowd scene illustrated by Martin Handford for his Where’s Waldo? line of books. (The series, which debuted in 1987, is referred to as Where’s Wally? in Handford’s native England.)
Jessica did not get a chance to locate him. While looking at the pieces, Godfrey spotted a woman reacting in surprise to a little boy poking her in the back with an ice cream cone. Though the tiny figure was no bigger than a dime, it was clear that Handford had drawn a breast and accompanying nipple on the sunbather. Her bikini top was laid out in front of her.
Angry, Godfrey put the puzzle out of reach of both Jessica and her 10-year-old son. She phoned BJ’s, which pulled the remaining boxes from the shelves. The story made the Associated Press wires, with the Great American Puzzle Company blithely telling a reporter that they had received a couple of other complaints about the illustration the year prior.
Great American was probably indifferent because they had merely reproduced the artwork: It originated with Walker Books, the UK publishing house that issued all of Handford’s Wally/Waldo works. Since it’s unlikely anyone had tampered with the drawing, Godfrey’s discovery meant that the book likely featured the exact same scene.
That was proven just a few months later, when another mother—this one in East Hampton, New York—discovered the book her 10-year-old son had borrowed from his school library contained the covert anatomy lesson.
“I think it’s, like, disgusting,” the boy, Ken Coleman, told the Times-Post News Service in March 1993. Disgusting or not, he felt compelled to show the book to his younger brother before alerting his parents; his stepmother, Shirley Coleman, successfully rallied to have her school district pull the book from circulation.
From that point on, the original Where’s Waldo? collection spent much of the 1990s occupying the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Challenged Books, just behind Howard Stern's Private Parts. In the UK, nudity is not quite the taboo it is in the United States—nude sunbathing is legal on any beach, though someone might ask you politely to cover up—making it unlikely the illustrator or his UK publisher would be overly concerned with a minor puritanical controversy. (Some Waldo fans have reported the sunbather recovered her top for later editions; Walker Books did not respond to mental_floss's request for confirmation.)
Handford, who rarely grants interviews, never addressed the controversy directly. Speaking briefly to the Los Angeles Times and other media for the character’s tenth anniversary in 1997, however, Handford said that he considered Wally a “cool guy” and “very open-minded.”