Why Adult Coloring Books Are Overdue for Some Shade

Any minute now, I just know it, we’ll start hearing about adult hop-scotch competitions. It won’t be long before middle-aged people will begin gathering over Kool-Aid shooters for rousing Chutes and Ladders marathons. And who will be surprised to learn that jacks are making a comeback among 40-somethings?

Not I. According to an article published in Fortune magazine just before Christmas, sales of paper books (as opposed to e-books) were up 12 million units from 2014, mostly because adult coloring books are outselling literature of all kinds, four-to-one. A Google search of “adult coloring books” delivers 6,680,000 results, and five of Amazon’s top bestsellers this week are adult coloring books. According to the fellow who answered the phone at Arizona Art Supply, sales of colored pencils and magic markers are soaring, presumably because mandalas and drawings of cute puppies are demanding to be filled in. Craig’s List and the Internet are chockablock with ads for adult coloring groups. Seriously: coloring groups.

Those of us who thought nothing could trump murder mystery dinner theater as the nadir of adult entertainment were apparently mistaken. Coloring books are one of the trendiest adult hobbies today, a puerile excuse for grown men and women to regress, alone and in small crowds.

I’m reminded of those websites that “publish” short stories by anyone who knows how to type, so long as their “story” is 101 words long. Do the people who are neatly staying in the lines, who are carefully choosing just the right shade of pink for Hello Kitty’s front paw, actually think they’re being creative? The drawing itself, done by an actual artist, is already on the page. You didn’t draw that. You just added some mauve to it.

I’m sure there’s some pop psych hoo-ha about coloring as a means of getting in touch with one’s inner child; some clever argument for decompressing after a long day with something that requires very little of us. People with no talent should be allowed to pretend to be creative, certainly. But what does a 37-year-old do with that freshly colored drawing of Strawberry Shortcake — tape it to her fridge?

I’m a snob. But I’m also an adult, one who remembers when adults relaxed with bourbon, not Crayolas and an outline of My Little Pony. Rather than spending another moment venting about the senselessness of adult coloring books, I’m instead going to pour myself a Maker’s Mark and get busy practicing my threesies.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela