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).