Doug: One of the books I received for Christmas was Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! I'd actually just seen the book on Amazon while messing around a few weeks prior. Well my wonderful wife, looking for one more thing to get me, was able to land this. So let's check it out.
Doug: I'll cut right to the chase -- if you want a high-quality piece of nostalgia that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, then this book needs to be on your shelf. Seriously -- I read it in small increments over a two-week span and never failed to have a wry smile or even a big dumb grin across my countenance while my nose was buried in these pages. This tome is a steal at the list price of $19.95; I'm sure my wife got it at a price reduction by buying from amazon.com. The cover is very sturdy (no dust jacket, but that doesn't detract from the package), and there's a very cool surprise found only when you carry the book into a darkened room -- who would have thought?? The pages are heavy stock with a matte finish. This is really nice, as it allows the ads to reproduce much like they would have appeared in old four-color newsprint magazines. The photos of the products don't lose anything without the glossy finish; if anything, I really think I like this better. We've lamented around here that sometimes comic book reprints look somewhat garish with today's shiny paper stock and bright colors -- this book's designers did us a favor and gave us a very natural-looking presentation.
Doug: Speaking of the book's designer, Kirk Demarais' (who doubled as the text author) work here is somewhat reminiscent of that of Chip Kidd (Mythology, featuring the art of Alex Ross, and the collaboration with Art Spiegelman on the Jack Cole biography). The mail-order toys and such are photographed with detail, and at times there are period photos that show Bronze Age kids actually playing with/using this stuff! Demarais' text is humorous, sometimes bittersweet, and he has a real ability to transport us back to our bedrooms when we were 6 or 7 years old, wondering just how cool the things in all of those comic book advertisements really were. Since I own several of the Marvel DVD-ROMs, I have entire histories of the advertisements featured in this book. I now consider this an invaluable reference when reading old comics, as Demarais has gotten to the bottom of all of those unknown wonders. Be sure to stick around for the Afterword by Jesse Thorn. It's really neat.
Doug: I'm obviously gushing positive about this book. Is there anything bad? If I have a complaint, it would be that there is no index. It's a relatively short book at around 160 pages, so I'm not going to waste a lot of time searching for things, but that would have been handy. The way around that, however, is the easily-navigated breakdown of these goodies into the following chapters/categories:
- Superpowers and Special Abilities
- War Zone
- House of Horrors
- High Finance
- Better Living Through Mail Order
- Top Secret