I've been clipping some more old comic book ads over the past few months, waiting until enough stock was there to do another article on my favorite subject since RECESS! Then I gave up, as ripping up my old comic books stopped feeling like a good idea after the third tear.
Here's what was salvaged from the wreckage -- a little over a dozen ads that aren't entirely stellar in their content or the products they promoted, but nonetheless pieces of paper that helped to shape my life far more than parental guidance or Tony Robbins ever could. I've ordered from many of these ads; others I've just seen enough times to permanently burn their images into my brain is on fire. Though the comic books I have left these days are of no value to anyone (we're talking the full run of Sectaurs here, with little else), I know the ads were printed in just about every title out at the time, for months and years. You'll probably remember some of these. If you don't, it's pretty obvious to me and everyone else that you've never owned a comic book in your life. Sporty.
There wasn't a small boy in the country unfamiliar with Olympic's "Prizes or Cash" ad, satiating our inner businessmen for generations. The deal was simple: sign on with Olympic, and sell their overpriced junky crap to your family and neighbors in trade for either a dollar per item or points earned towards one of Olympic's awesome prizes.
I'm actually a former member of this brazen cult, and lemme tell you, it never worked out quite like I'd envisioned. Check out that prize sheet -- they had everything a kid could want. Aside from the well-known widely released toys and action figures based on the cartoons we loved, there was all sorts of stuff kids never knew they wanted until the opportunity stared 'em in the face. Tents, giant trampolines, rafts -- there's even an electric organ, something I portrayed no interest in prior to seeing the ad, but fuck me if I didn't base my entire existence around owning one from that point forth. Video games were frequently listed, with children falsely believing that they were a mere modicum of effort away from nailing a free Atari or Nintendo game. While some of the items only "cost" a modest amount of points (you received one point for each item sold), others were a seeming fantasy: a bicycle, for example, required 75 items sold. Nearly impossible.
When I received my kit, I often wondered why anyone would pay such inflated rates (obvious to me even as a child, that's how jacked up the numbers were) for such low grade crap. It was all of these greeting cards and stationary kinda stuff. As a door-to-door salesman, peddling god damned greeting cards didn't make me a success. In fact, my experience with Olympic kicked off a lifelong hatred of certain neighbors, who rudely slammed door in my third grade face or were less than friendly in their refusals to buy buy buy. Of the three dozen or so houses I approached, no more than three or four folks bought anything. And only six of them didn't teach me dirty words.
Even with the aid of family purchases, I totaled in with a lousy thirteen points. The prizes for that amount were laughable -- a calligraphy marker set, a cheap watch, things of that sort. I ended up getting a "Bike Generator" light set (see in the ad above), which for about a week made my bike look girly before falling off and smashing into too many pieces for my elementary level math skills to count. On a second attempt months later, I scored a mere nine points and simply opted for the cash. Nine bucks. Not even enough for me to pay one of my classmates to throw shit at the teacher.
Actually, the best part of my Olympic experience happened before the sales kit even arrived. Looking at this ad and wondering which prizes I'd pick was a lot more fun than knocking on strange doors to sell bar mitzvah invitations.
And, as shitty of a superhero as "Captain O" was, I always got a kick out of the machine on his back. They never told us what it was for. I pictured great things.
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Mile High Comics ads were a guaranteed good time. The prices changed a bit over the years, but the flat-rate fifty-cents per book ad is the one I remember most. As a young, rookie collector, my only goal was having more comic books than all those around me. Didn't matter if I actually planned to read the comics, explaining the insidious amount of Dazzler books lifted from Jim Hanley's seventy-five cent bin. I just wanted an excuse to buy more of those big white cardboard storage boxes -- that's what I was really aiming to collect.
In that, Mile High's offer was amazing. They were the cheapest comics a kid could get, and the titles were generally known by all. This wasn't a case of hitting a comic show's four-for-a-buck bin and ending up with three dozen drawn-by-a-local ashcans starring political figures and a horned cat who knew too much.
I never got around to ordering from Mile High, not even once. My enjoyment stemmed from writing up three-page order forms in the back of my marble notebook for English class, invariably causing lower grades when the teacher instituted a surprise notebook check. I remember his caption vividly: "nice study work." If Heaven owes me a favor, he's dead by now.
Since some of the titles were obscure, my order forms were filled mostly with every Fantastic Four, Captain America and Spider-Man comic available. Sometimes in doubles. If I'd heard of any specific book, this was clear reason to order six of them.
Incredibly, earlier versions of this ad sold book for as low as 35 cents a piece. In a special deal: you could've gotten 100 for 27.50. Insane. Gloriously cheap. A reason to believe.
Doug Sulipa went down a similar avenue with his ad, falling a bit short because it's impossible to read any of the titles. It almost looks like a Magic Eye puzzle, but why would Doug pay to show us that? Only upon seeing this enlarged version was I able to make sense of even a portion of it, and yet, now the situation is even worse. Doug's writing persona perfectly matches his organizational skills, throwing out lines like "50 CENTS EA. = (A)MARVEL(B)DC(C) MISC COMICS(D) 6000 SILVERAGE DC'S(E)XYB-416-BADDX4POSTBFF4LCYA" and expecting people to understand what he's talking about.
When I think of Doug Sulipa, I picture one of those stray bullets ricocheting off of everything in an entirely closed off metal room filled with screaming, dancing clowns who drink black coffee from comically oversized tumblers. On the bright side, I don't think of Doug that much.
"The Marvel Super Mart" was easily my favorite section of the comic book, including the actual story. Simply put, the Super Mart contained the grittier classifieds, bought by companies who couldn't afford full or even half page spreads. The offers ranged from curious to outright scams, but this was truly the only method of attaining such no-store-would-ever-sell-these stupid items.
Some of the ads only peddled catalogs; others had specific items up for grabs, usually for a low price. Sort of like a flea market in print, sans the opportunity to buy the world's tallest glass of lemonade from a bug-infested kiosk. Here's a sampling of the offers...
Ah, good ol' Texas Rattlesnake Eggs. For those who don't recall, the "eggs" were some kind of plastic device with rubber bands attached that made vague "rattle" noises as you opened the small envelope they were hidden inside. For the sake of the trick, the envelope was clearly marked "DANGER: RATTLESNAKE EGGS INSIDE," as if anyone would believe a nearly flat envelope would be an even remotely adequate way to transport such things. Plus, the rattle noises it caused sounded nothing like snakes. There was barely any noise at all, actually. Three seconds of plastic mayhem and nothing else. I still bought the junk, because two dollar deals receive blanket acceptance, and because the crude drawing of snakes in the ad were sssimply irresssistable.
Grobots were a wee bit cooler. Like the many grow-tremendous-in-water toys, Grobots achieved growth spurts of over 600% when left inside a cup of liquid for a few days. Thing was, most of these kinds of toys struck a lame likeness -- smiling dolphins, hearts, cats and such. A robot was much more interesting, especially one with a neat official name like "Grobot."
Though only mentioned briefly, the company also sold Grobeasts and Grobugs, each figure costing for a buck ninety-nine. Kinda pricey for such bullshit Dollar General toys, but who can resist a name like "Grobot?"
Oh man, I was absolutely infatuated with Abracadabra Magic Shop. More or less a "pranks n' gags" distributor, Abracadabra was sort of like Johnson Smith's gritty, dirty cousin. The wares were of lower quality, but ol' Abra compensated both by selling fireworks and other arguably legal items, and by matching the legendary Johnson Smith punch for punch with the inane little product drawings seen in their ads. I can't begin to imagine the amount of time my eyes have spent fixated on advertisements like the one shown above; I must've ordered from this place at least fifty times. Never got anything too worthwhile, but damn, I loved those product doodles.
As I recall, Abracadabra's fake vomit was way better than Johnson Smith's. That's not a lead into a joke or anything, I'm serious. J-S's version was a completely solid sheet of hard plastic -- almost like a discolored slice of cardboard. Abracadabra's was more realistic, made of a soft rubber with all sorts of pleasantly colored food chunks sprinkled throughout.
Previously known as "Brad's Fun Shop," most of Abracadabra's business seemed to stem from the sale of explosives. Ads like this were typical, hocking off everything from smoke bombs to smoke clouds, and even the almighty "smoke grenades." The itching powder actually worked (I tried it on myself, go me), while the windshield wiper glasses were the true dregs of their warehouse. Really pathetic. More fortunate children could even buy a "Deluxe Smoke Bargain Pack," containing enough ammunition to give everyone you knew lung cancer. Best of all, every order was shipped with the full-length edition of Abracadabra's catalog, containing enough fake shit and "SMOKE FROM FINGERTIPS" tubes to turn any occasion into a bona fide Fake Shit & Smoking Fingers party.
While Johnson Smith lives on through the "Things You Never Knew Existed" catalogs, I haven't seen anything from Abracadabra in years. I bet the owner quit after realizing that "abracadabra" was in fact not a palindrome, but only a word that looked like one upon a quick glance. I mean how else can a company that lives on the revenue generated from selling phony vomit go out of business?
I don't have much to say about these two. On the muscle thing, I just wanted to point out that similar ads were printed throughout every magazine and comic book a geek could buy, thoroughly saturating an audience of too skinny/too fat people, bringing on a million complexes and drains of self-worth. Alarmingly, virtually all of these ads played up the "revenge factor," where we'd use our newfound muscle and might to kick the shit out of everyone who'd ever made fun of us. A great campaign; I just wish some of them could've picked models that didn't look like my thousand-year-old grandfather shirtlessly gardening tomatoes. Always threw me off.
On the right, a mutant hybrid. It's a whistle no it's a watch no it's a compass NO IT'S ALL THOSE THINGS! For just 9.99, you could get three of the world's handiest tools all built into one. It's just what you've always wanted. You've always wanted a whistle/watch/compass.
Ah yes, The Fun House. Just a few steps below Johnson Smith and Abracadabra, this was the wildcard entry of novelty dealers. Spending a buck on postage for their catalog and 101 funny stickers was a bargain, and you'll be surprised to learn that the stickers were actually of great quality. I can't say the same for the junk in their catalogs, but those working at The Fun House were true masters of marketing. They made everything sound interesting. The place used to run this deal where you'd get a "three-color ink pen" for free just by spending 7.50, and the wording made this stupid pen seem like the key to a brighter future. I bought a bunch of completely worthless shit I wasn't even a tiny bit interested in...just to get that damn pen. As I recall, the ink colors included red, green and blue. It worked, because I'm Italian and blue always reminded me of pretty fish.
That's all for the Marvel Mart, here's some larger ads...
Click on either of those pics for the full-sized versions. Bonkers was the most chic candy around for a time, blending doubly fruity flavors with strange commercials featuring people getting smacked around by huge prop watermelons. Taking things even further, the company also offered several mail-in exclusives available to anyone willing to eat 65 packs of candy, saving the wrappers as they went along. With four dollars and three labels, kids could get their hands on that robot watch seen in the left ad. Sort of a lesser-quality Kronoform Robot Warrior, Bonkers' watch was certainly adequate as an almost-freebie.
The second giveaway item was a bit less desirable -- the official Bonkers bike bag. Whoopee. Of all the freebies tied in with this candy, I'm still gonna say that the Ugly Ball rules all.
Nabisco's ads were always top notch, usually incorporating some kind of maze, puzzle or other game to promote their various cookies. Up above are three different Oreo ads, from in around the same period of time. Click your poison to see it big.
The first has some weird word puzzle; the kind that takes genuine concentration and attention, thus the kind kids rarely bothered playing. Especially with the oh so inconspicuous answers hanging upside down right next to the puzzle.
The second is a more simplistic maze, where we're to guide an Oreo cookie to a perfectly complimenting glass of milk. What do we win? Bragging rights. Tell the world.
The third ad also has a maze, but it's a more subdued side attraction for the real treat: an offer for a free Oreo tumbler, complete with cookie creature caricatures and an insanely clever slogan. It's the "Oreo Dunk," and it's just fifty cents with two proofs of purchase. Nabisco put in a more concerted effort with their Chips Ahoy! ads -- click here for an example. King Nabisco played favorites.
I had that Quik Bunny mug. The rabbit was right, I couldn't resist it.
Had to include the ad on the right for obvious Spidey reasons. Thanks to Marvel's greatest champ and DORMAN'S CHEESE, kids could get a free Spider-Man backpack complete with a well-seen Dorman's Cheese logo on the flap. Definitely a quick way up your school's social ladder. Freebie fashion from cheese companies never get insulted by anyone, ever. The ad is more importantly a reminder of Dorman's Cheese itself, which for a time utilized Spider-Man in the packaging. Deciding between a Kraft logo and Spider-Man's head was an easy decision for most kids.
Please tell me that I'm not the only one who's read Bantam's best Choose Your Own Adventure title, "Gorga The Space Monster." Remembering how readers dictated the action based on which pages they picked, you could fuck up the whole planet with one wrong turn, causing Gorga to eat a train and sit on people until they suffocated. That last part was more implied by the illustrations, but he definitely ate a train. The appeal of these books often lied in how macabre they were, with ambiguously worded endings that put the blame squarely on YOU for killing off hero characters.
This ad is from Bantam's humble beginnings with the CYOA franchise, which would soon grow immensely popular and collect dozens upon dozens of titles. They were literally the only books my friends and I would read of our own volition. While the three-eyed Gorga was always my personal fave, none of the titles I owned lacked intrigue. Sometimes I'd be leading the characters through haunted Halloween parties, other times I'd make sure Sally morphed back to normal after sour milk turned her into a talking frog.
Lastly, here's another Nabisco ad, this time promoting the many new Fig Newton flavors. Any child incapable of unscrambling those letters deserved to die. I think I'll end the article with that well wish. Goodnight.