Saturday, April 27, 2013

Enter A World Of Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Spex, And Count Dante

If only this book had existed in 1979, it would have saved a lot of kids a lot of grief and their parents a lot of checks for 97 cents.

Remember all those tantalizing ads you saw in the comic books you read as a kid? Sell GRIT. See the bones in your hand with these X-ray glasses. Amaze your friends with this flying disc. 100-piece toy soldier set. Count Dante, the deadliest man alive! I never once sent away for any of these items, no matter how amazing they appeared in the ads. But I did always wonder about the kids who did and what they received. Thanks to author Kirk Demarais, we now know.

Through the magic of eBay and the examination of other people's collections, Demarais managed to get his hands on many of these items and published them in his book MAIL-ORDER MYSTERIES: REAL STUFF FROM OLD COMIC BOOK ADS! It's pretty much a must-read if you remember any of those ads, and it's laid out in a colorful, entertaining way that breezes by in a couple of hours at the most.

Who would have guessed that the famed Kryptonite Rock was not a green chunk of the planet Krypton that fell to Earth and contained the power to kill Superman, but was actually a regular old rock painted green? Okay, we all did (and I still wonder who was dumb enough to shell out $2.50 for that one), but I wasn't exactly sure what sending away for the X-Ray Spex, the life-size Moon Monster, the Spud Gun, the Trick Baseball, or the ever-present Sea Monkeys would actually bring you. Demarais' book is the best way I know, other than tracking down these objects yourself, to finding out.

Unsurprisingly, most of it is shit. The Flashing Eyes (cost: 50 cents) is merely a sloppily Xeroxed paper telling you how to place tin foil on your eyelids. The Life-Like Lady's Legs wouldn't fool a dog, much less the victim of the hilarious practical joke you wanted to play. The 7-11 Magic Dice might fool a dog, but not the pal you hoped to dupe into gambling away his lunch money. And the "working laser pistol?" Ha!

Still, some of Demarais' discoveries turned out to be not so bad after all, and it's fun turning the pages of MAIL-ORDER MYSTERIES to find out what was a ripoff and what wasn't. At the very least, it's a joy to relive these wonderful ads again, their purple copy and tantalizing illustrations designed to part little children with their allowance bringing back good memories. Or maybe I think they're good because I didn't blow a buck on the 7-foot Monster Ghost (a trash bag, a balloon, and fishing line).


Joe Kenney said...

I picked this book up via Interlibrary Loan this past summer and had a great time reading it. It was surreal to finally see all of those mail-order mysteries I had spent hours pondering over as a kid. I remember staring at those little ads in comics and being filled with daydreams of having my own personal mini-submarine and human-like fish monkeys.

I also love how this book is put together, but the cap-off statements for each item come off a little as trying too hard to be funny.

English Teacher X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
English Teacher X said...

I haven't read that book, so I don't know in what detail he covers it, but Count Dante, "The Deadliest Man Alive" and his mail-order Black Dragon Society card is definitely something you can spend an enjoyable few hours online reading about --

Zwolf said...

Love this book. (Psst! Have you turned the lights out and watched the cover glow in the dark yet? I had it a couple days before I noticed that trick!) I had a few of these things as a kid, because I ordered a Johnson Smith catalog and picked out a bunch of the cheaper stuff. Still have the switchblade comb somewhere. And I had Sea Monkeys, which are actually kind of neat even though they are only brine shrimp. I had one grow to almost two inches long, but then he started looking creepy and horrible...

Thomas T. Sueyres said...

Oh damn, what a cool idea for a book! I'm definitely going to have to check that out. Sometimes those ads were far more fascinating to me as a kid than the actual content of the comicbook.