This piece was originally published January 3rd, 2012.
If you were a kid that grew up in the late ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s or even well into the ’80s, and you’re reading this, I would say that there is a pretty good chance that you also sat for many hours in front of the television set watching cartoons, sitcoms and action/adventure series, listened to music, and spent considerable hours reading comic books (and MAD Magazine! ).
All this pop culture most assuredly helped to formulate a generation or two that really saw their creative imaginations run wild, and their youthful desires and wishes expand beyond even that of their older siblings who were brought up in the first crazy period of teenage rebellion known as the earlier Rock and Roll generation.
Kids of these decades, who were not yet going out to parties or driving to concerts, instead often had loads of insulated alone time with the superheroes and characters that brought life beyond the days attending school, or doing chores. Yet still there was many times something missing.
So while sure, it was fun reading and wanting to be a superhero like Batman or Spider-Man, it was the comic book ads that slammed us in the forehead as a possible reality, a gateway into a life that a kid really thought he needed and hoped he could obtain.
There lie the toys, objects or secrets that we could save up our allowance for, and receive directly at our home. Parents need only be marginally involved. The wait for the mail and the cost was a small price to pay for the slightly illicit information on how to woo the opposite sex, gain the strength to beat back the bullies at school, or have in hand a special skill or the right super prank that could possibly make even a nefarious criminal such as The Joker count you into his circle of gang members that he could count on in a pinch.
Trouble is, you never were able to buy everything you saw in a comic book ad…
Turns out that for the many of us that did send in our money to buy something out of a comic book, more often than not, this was probably a good thing. Unless of course you have been able to sit on something until its collectible value skyrockets into the stratosphere.
Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais is a new book that finally opens the box to reveal the many many actual items from these comic book advertisements.
Not only does the book give a breakdown of many of the most memorable novelties, by general category i.e. Superpowers And Special Abilities, House Of Horrors, Top Secret etc. it shows the actual ad, explains the pitch for what you, the potential punter thinks they will be getting, then an explanation and final summation of what really comes in the mail and how effectively said item compares to the ad.
There are some interesting back stories told regarding some of the novelties, some are inspiring and some head shakingly terrible rip-offs that make me ponder just how incredibly horrible the creators and company owners had to be at heart to so easily screw over a world of innocent kids as they chased the all mighty dollar. While it’s pretty funny, it surely must have put some of these folks into one of the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno—perhaps not exactly child murderers, but fairly ruthless to say the least.
For myself and it seems the author, with so many of these items available, there still was some sort of radar going on that prevented just ordering everything. Not sure why, because when I look at these ads now, I feel like I could easily be suckered into almost each and every one of them.
Back then though, I never did order that huge collection of 100 Plastic Army Men in the footlocker for fear they would merely be small pieces of cardboard. I was wrong, but the actual novelty is still a misleading gem to say the least.
Nor did I go for the 7 Foot Polaris Nuclear Submarine, a classic I really wanted badly and now thanks to this book, finally get to see in action (by the way, there was an homage to this mail-order Polaris Sub in an hilarious episode of Chris Elliot’s Get A Life called Neptune 2000).
Now trust me, I did order plenty from these ads, as I worshiped comic books as well as that great bible of novelties which I held so dear, The Johnson Smith Catalog of Unusual Novelties. So yeah, I bought my share of pranks, sold seeds and holiday cards and had my very own Hardy Boys styled Detective Kit. I didn’t sell Grit though, or think to get one of the early 7 Foot Monsters.
Luckily the author has had help for this book from a collector that did order just about everything, and thankfully these often rare, and elusive items are now beautifully photographed and included here, making this one of of the most enjoyable books I own on novelties and their history.
Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! is a true treat to read and a highly recommended delight for anyone that has seen the type of the ads depicted.
It is also a highly enjoyable time capsule of an era that sure, has a certain amount of mixed emotions surrounding it, for instance disappointing returns on some outstandingly cheap wastes of money, but like the complexities of our childhood, there is a wonderful and fertile imaginative slant to most of it, bringing forth more wistful remembrances and fun thoughts, and really just so much more fun than the sneaker/video game/hawking new comics style ads that are present today.
I mean really, when you think about it, just how bad is sending away for a real boxed piece of green Kryptonite so that you too can do your part in helping out Superman??