Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guest Writer - Remember Those Ads in Comics?

Doug: And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when the call went out for more good stuff from our guest writers. And lo, a cry to assist rose up from the Balkans, as Edo Bosnar did send his thoughts westward. Hearken ye then, back to the Bronze Age and those pages in between your story pages... which were often just as much fun!

Edo Bosnar: First off, I have to say that I always love looking at ads in older periodicals, and not just in comics. Back in college, part of some research I was doing for a thesis paper involved looking for articles in issues of news magazines, etc. from the 1930s. I remember spending many more hours than I needed to in the university library’s periodical archives paging through the bound volumes of Time, Newsweek and National Geographic, mainly just looking at the ads (my favorites: the ones that talked up the health benefits of, say, Lucky Strike cigarettes (one of said benefits was aiding digestion) or Coca-Cola – I kid you not, there was an ad showing a nurse carrying a tray of Coke bottles to be served to hospital patients to aid in their recovery).

But I digress; the point I’m trying to make is that an additionally fun part of reading comics is looking at the ads, at least is it for those comics from roughly the mid-1980s and all earlier periods (the ads in most comics after that time are generally much less interesting to me).

For the longest time the mainstays of comic book ad pages were like the one above, just packed with all kinds of novelties, with which I’m sure we’re all familiar (and perhaps some of you have even ordered some of these items – feel free to share your stories). And, of course, there were the wonderful Sea Monkeys:

By the way, I recently learned that the guy who came up with the idea of marketing brine shrimp in this way, Harold von Braunhut, had a bit of an unsavory dark side. Earlier this year, the Stuff You Missed in History Class site had a podcast dedicated to just this subject.

The ads for selling Grit seemed ubiquitous in comic books during the 1970s, and they always mystified me. Who actually read Grit? I remember joking around about this in college with a few friends; we eventually came to the conclusion that “Grit” was some kind of pyramid scheme in which the poor kids trying to sell it ended up with stacks of unsold copies in their bedrooms because they couldn’t convince anyone to buy them (kind of like those poor folks with garages full of Amway products).

However, much later (like about 10 years ago), I learned that Grit was not only a real thing, but is still published to this day, and that it’s been around since the late 1800s. Interestingly enough, it was/is apparently sold and read mostly in small rural communities – it must have been more of a Midwest thing, because I grew up in a small, unincorporated rural community (it used to be an actual village) about 15 miles north of Salem, OR, I never recall seeing it at any of the homes of neighbors or friends.

One thing I noticed about the ads from the ‘70s in particular is that they mainly seemed geared to three general age-groups: pre-teen children, hence the ads for candy, toys, novelties, etc., boys in their early teens (to whom the BB gun and “get muscled up” ads were probably geared), and, apparently, men in their 20s who were either high school or college drop-outs, either unemployed or working dead-end jobs. Hence stuff like this:

Or this:

I wonder if the publishers had some kind of hard demographic data on their readers, or it was just an assumption being made on the part of advertisers – because we all know the long-standing prejudice from non-comic fans that comics were only read by little children, socially maladjusted teens and semi-literate adults. Anyway, probably my all-time favorite of the many “career-change”/vocational school ads is this Fumetti, from my copy of Brave & the Bold #109 (1973):

There’s just something so amusing about the way the guys in the photos really seemed to be getting into their roles, what with the exaggerated facial expressions and gesticulation.

I think the ads that are best remembered – at least judging by how often they get mentioned at various comic book-related blogs and other sites (I know they’ve come up in the comments here at the BAB), are comics-within-comics, the most common being, of course, the Hostess ads in which our favorite Marvel or DC heroes overcome their foes with the help of processed sugary confections. I won’t really go into these here, as they’ve been covered at length in the comics blogosphere over the years (for starters, you can find all of them, it seems, at either Seanbaby’s Hostess Page or a similar Hostess page at Tomorrow’s Heroes, while the Comic Vine has a page of text summaries.

But another popular sub-set of these comic ads were those selling footwear, from athletic shoes to cowboy boots, and of these my favorite were for AAU tennis shoes (never had a pair), starring the AAU Shuperstar, who saved the world from foul (smelling?) footwear-based villains, mainly with the power of superior puns:

Although he used an explosive kick to launch Dirty Sneaker into outer space, for what seems a particularly grisly end:


There was at least one other one, because I remember another of the Shuperstar’s adversaries was named Missile-Toe, but alas, it’s in none of the comics I now own.

I could go on and on about these ads, but I’ll just cut it off here, and leave this last image without comment, because even when I saw it as a pre-teen, my first reaction was something like “Wha-huh…?” And it still makes me scratch my head to this day:


JJ said...

The ads I loved the most were the Spalding basketball and baseball ones, illustrated by Jack Davis. The basketball one was called "Street Ball" and it featured Rick Barry and Dr. J. Such great art by Davis. -JJ

Anonymous said...

When I first discovered imported Marvel comics (as opposed to Marvel UK's b/w ones) the three things that really struck me were 1) the whole comic was dedicated to a single character/team 2) they were in colour (!!!) and 3) the ads - wow, so many ads. In Marvel UK's comics there were only a handful of ads including ones for Charles Atlas bodybuilding courses, Kellogg's Frosties and 'Airfix' models of World War II fighter planes. After nearly 40 years I'm still waiting to taste my first Twinkie - the international aisle of my local supermarket sells plenty of Indian and Polish food but very little American food and no Twinkies.

ColinBray said...

Great post Edo! I have mentioned before how this Londoner found US comics unbearably exotic and the ads, particularly the Spalding ads exemplified that.

An honourable (or is it dishonourable?) mention to the many OJ Simpson comic ads - unlike the Spalding ads I remember them being badly drawn. Just think, you spend all that money to get the OJ endorsement and then hire a third-rate artist to illustrate it. How times have changed.

Then there is the famous Zappa/Mothers ad published across the Marvel line cover dated March 1968 - bringing the underground to your local mom and pop store.

Finally and this may have been mentioned on this blog before, the book Mail Order Mysteries by Kirk DeMairis (sp?) is worth picking up. He includes real photos of the items advertised and his commentary is a treat.

Redartz said...

Wow, where to start? Fun topic, Edo; with lots to cover!

Some of my favorite ads were the previews late each summer promoting the upcoming Saturday morning cartoon schedules. In that era before internet information overload, these were the only hints of what you could look forward to watching while eating your Lucky Charms each weekend. They often showcased characters from other companies, so you would see Superman and Batman in an issue of Avengers, or Archie in Detective!

Then there were all the ads for comic back issues. I recall one (Mile High Comics, perhaps?) in the early 80's. It listed several columns of back issues for sale, along with prices for each. But if you read the fine print, it stated that condition ranged from Good to Mint. So, you basically had no idea what you were getting...

I ordered several things from comics, mostly from house ads: such as the Spiderman, Hulk and Conan coins (which still grace my collection, btw). One time as a naive 8 year old, I ordered a 'coin grab bag" from one of the small ads in a comic. Hoping for a trove of silver or ancient coins, I got several cheapie modern foreign coins and a well-worn 1943 steel cent. My disappointment knew no bounds...

William said...

First of all I want to say that I think poor Bill is for a rude awakening when finds out that reading "Two Books" on electronics isn't going to qualify him for a whole lot of jobs. I think Bill may be as stupid as his boss seems to think he is.

My favorite comicbook ads were always the various Hostess ads. I loved those things. Almost nothing says Bronze-Age Comic to me more than seeing Spider-Man beat up some lame villain for stealing his Twinkies.

Doug said...

Colin B --

I reviewed that very book on the blog three years ago, and like you would highly recommend it to our readers. As you said, the commentary of what the author expected based on the ads and what he was actually mailed is sometimes hilarious.


Anonymous said...

It may not be particularly noticeable to American readers; but like Colin I was always amazed at the sheer amount of ads. It was a window to another more exotic world... who was this OJ Simpson person? What are these Hostess Twinkie things?
Things are all a bit more global now, but I remember the days when US cultural imperialism had its own distinct flavour. Or perhaps that should be flavor....?

I realize its probably a different subject, but I was always intrigued by the house ads - particularly as so many of the comics were hard to find.


ps Ha! - the captcha just came up with images of candy! What is this "candy"?

Doug said...

Sean, in addition to the house ads, I'd also state how much Bronze Age love I have for the little text teasers at the bottom of the pages of Marvel Comics.


Garett said...

Nice writeup, Edo! I forgot about the Shuperstar! I also liked the Spalding Dr. J ad by Davis-- "A 30-footer!"

I just pulled out an old Warlord comic to check the ads. Yes I suppose they don't have ads for guns in comics anymore? Another ad has Richie Rich promoting Grit magazine! Richie's dad makes an appearance and says he got rich selling Grit! Now we know the origin story.

There's also an ad for Bubble Yum with unpleasant cutesy art. When I think of good gum ads, Hubba Bubba's "There's gonna be a gumfight!" commercial is right up there:
Hubba Bubba ad

Anonymous said...

Yes Doug - I too have an inexplicable fondness for those little blurbs. On the one hand, its just a case of filling every available space with yet more advertising, but still - theres a kind of minimal poetry to them. Little bronze age pop haikus....


SteveDoesComics said...

My intelligence levels are so high that I got through the whole of my childhood and adolescence without realising that Grit was a magazine. I thought they were recruiting children to sell grits, the food. Not that I actually knew what grits were until I saw My Cousin Vinnie.

david_b said...

Doug and Sean, I too missed those great 'text teasers' as you called 'em.

Sadly, it was what was to become the Bullpen's last touch of 'Old School Marvel Mayhem' in my childhood.

The J-Man said...

You forgot "The Insult That Made a Man Out of 'Mac'"

ColinBray said...

Thanks Doug, a great review of the book!

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Sorry I didn't respond sooner, but it's been, well ... a day.
Anyway, it made me laugh when I saw how many of you mentioned the Street Ball ad. Yes, I remember that one quite fondly, and was thinking of including it (I even scanned it from one of my comic books), but I thought my post was getting a bit long and image-heavy anyway. Also, I've seen that one discussed before on other sites, most notably in the post JJ linked above (where I in fact left a comment ... still can't believe those guys never heard of Rick Barry...).

Redartz, I liked the Saturday morning cartoon promos, too. Karen posted a pretty good one last year (as I said in the comments to that post, I love the totally ornate outfit Isis is wearing, which looks nothing like what she wore in the actual show).

And Garett, thanks for the link to the Hubba Bubba ad - I totally remember that one; "big bubbles, no troubles" indeed.

Anonymous said...

I remember those Spalding ads too, but for some reason I remember Dr. J and Larry Bird; maybe that was later (in the 80s)? or maybe it was just up here in Canada? I dunno, but I'm sure I remember Larry Bird as the guy who sank the 30-footer.

You mentioned the Charles Atlas ads, but I remember other ads for some kind of "weight gain powder" or something like that, with a picture of a rather curvaceous girl. Back then, being skinny was apparently a bad times change.

You mentioned smoking ads (we're probably lucky there were none of those in comics), but some of those old smoking ads were pretty Old Gold's "not a cough in a carload" or Lucky Strike's campaign aimed at women: "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet"...because, you know, sweets are fattening but cigarettes aren't.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike, there were a lot of those weight-gain ads aimed at women, which mainly appeared in romance comics, mainly in the '50s and '60s. Here's an example from the early 1960s, posted at a very interesting blog about romance comics called Sequential Crush.
But you're right, the weight-gain for women ads also appeared in super-hero comics even in the 1970s, well after slim/skinny had become all the rage in popular culture. I remember seeing a few, but not the full- or half-page ads; instead, they were small ones on the top or bottom corners of those crowded ad pages.

Dr. Oyola said...

So about a week ago, I wrote to Karen and Doug and proposed a great idea for a guest post! A post about Bronze Age ads! Surely no one had thought of this Think of all the cool stuff I could hunt and scan and use as fodder for a conversation with my fellow BABers (BABlers?): Sea Monkeys, Street Ball, ads for Pit Fall and the Star Wars arcade game! Don't forget Hostess Fruit Pie comic strips and Grit and Hero of the Beach! All the ads for toys and tees we'd never get!

I was brimming with excitement over the possibilities.

Less than an hour later a get a reply from Doug: "Edo beat you to it."


Great minds, I guess. ;)

Anyway, my favorite ad was the Mile High checklist of back issues. What? Not a checklist you say? WRONG!I have several comics from my original collection that have my pen marks checks and circles around back issues I desperately wanted, but playing two or three or more dollars per issue plus shipping! Forever impossible! :/

Still it made owning some of those gems (and clunkers) seem like it could one day be in my grasp.

I have a reading of an ad from a 1984 comic going live on my site next week. I'll come back and post a link to it when it is live.

Karen said...

Great post Edo. Brings back a lot of memories, that's for sure. I think the only stuff I ordered from comics was Marvel posters or related items, so I wasn't gravely disappointed by what I got in the mail. I'm sure if I had ordered that submarine that looked so cool, I would have been in for a shock.

I did have sea monkeys several times, but they were available at the local drug store. The last time I got some was about 15 years ago. I picked them up on a whim one day and mixed them up in the lab at work. They became our little pets (and between experiment entertainment). Being a bunch of science nerds, everyone enjoyed having them around. Unfortunately, they did eventually die out, even though we were vigilant in feeding them and cleaning their tank. We tried to revive them (as described in the "official" booklet) but our efforts at being Dr. Frankenstein failed.

Humanbelly said...

Oh what a great post, Edo-- truly first-rate! Completely captured a small, yet deeeeply entrenched, little facet of the Bronze (and Silver) Age total-comic-experience. An awful lot of the ads are almost embarrassingly lodged in multiple little niches in me overloaded noggin.

In the "Does anyone remember?" category. . .

---When Marvel's back cover "learn to draw" ad switched from some guy that looked a bit like Sal B to Norman Rockwell?
---That for many, many years after that long-held contract expired, Marvel's back cover ad space went to a two-month contract for about a zillion years?
---A true jolt of "Wow, how they've fallen": I don't remember the product, but both OJ Simpson AND Pete Rose were once featured in the very same advertisement as co-endorsers. Geeze. It's like the BLADE RUNNER curse. . .
---How delicious those "build muscles FAST" protein shakes looked in those ads??
---The greeting card/Christmas card scam that was often a back page ad? With the almost unfathomable treasure trove of sales prizes?
---Leathery, inflated ol' Joe Weider standing in front of his baby-faced star pupil, Arnold Schwarzenegger at the very breaking-dawn of Arnie's career?
---Was it Lee Jeans that hold those full-page comic-strip "adventure" ads with the 12-year-old kid who a) fills in as a driver for a malfunctioning remote-control race-car. . . and wins the race, and b) saves a star quarterback's little sister by running her THROUGH an ongoing play after she's wandered onto the field.
---Yeah, those Daisy Air Rifle ads. . . just something about them. . .

Edo, my reaction to that banana-talkie/compass thing was exactly like yours--- it came across to me as borderline creepy, in fact. And how on earth did ANYONE convince a marketing executive that a hopelessly inane product like that was going to be some version of the Next Big Thing??

Colin J-- I believe shipping Twinkies anywhere beyond the contiguous North and South American continents is prohibited by international law as part of ongoing nuclear research/weapons treaties. It's the whole WMD concern-thingy. . .


Humanbelly said...

The submarine. . . the submarine. . .
I vaguely remember a friend-of-a-friend situation where they ordered it. . . and it was basically a folded up cardboard box with a "submarine" printed on the sides.

The 6' "Life Size" Frankenstein that we saw a lot? My buddy Bryan had it. Just paper-- a tall poster, basically.


Martinex1 said...

I liked the text teasers also. I often read those first. Not much to add other than as a kid I must have read every word on the subscription page and calculated options about a thousand ways. And I was intrigued by the Orca movie advertisement that ran for a few months.

Here's hoping the Hostess universe gets included in Secret Wars!

Fun post Edo. And Doug, your review of the Mail Order Mysterieees was great; I need to track that down.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted those X-ray glasses! The gifts and gimmicks section always interested me too. Yeah for me part of the appeal of comics from this era were those kooky ads. Nothing says Bronze Age quite like a Charles Atlas comicbook ad! The Hostess twinkies ads were great too; they actually worked because every time I saw them I felt the need to eat a twinkie!

- Mike 'banana walkie talkie or hamburger phone?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

Osvaldo, sorry about stealing your thunder; I wouldn't have minded two posts on the same topic, especially since - as I read everyone's comments - I get the feeling I should have prepared a sequel. Like the Street Ball ad, I also scanned two of those X-mas/greeting card sale (scam) ads HB mentioned, but they didn't make the cut for my final post. (By the way, HB, there were also similar flower/fruit/vegetable seed selling scams as well; they weren't as common as the card scam ads, but one of them does appear in one of the comics I now own, forget which, and it even includes a row of testimonials from kids who apparently made a killing and/or got great prizes - complete with grainy little photographs of them.)

By the way, I never ordered anything from comics besides two DC treasury editions, but I did send away for a few of the free back-issue catalogs, and ended up ordering quite a pile of cheap comics from Lone Star, which had much better prices and shipping rates than Mile High, then and now - it operates online as

Mike from T&T, since you brought up the X-ray specs, it reminded me of a fantastic post about one boy's quest to get a pair in 1970 (that's also a pretty good blog by the way).

Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, and HB, it's good to see that someone else shares my complete and utter bafflement over those Chiquita banana-talkies.

The Prowler said...

I tried to post yesterday but things just didn't work out. Everything has been "very wonkie" since I've upgraded to Windows 10. I'm just going to blame yesterday on that as well.

First thing I want to point out. C.I.E., the Cleveland Institute of Electronics, is still going strong and giving out certifications in electronics and computers!!! So, cheers, I guess.

B, how can we talk about those old ads and not bring up SLIM JIM!!!! Love the product!!! The ads were a bit weird but that's life.

I thing it's interesting how some of the things being advertised are still with us. Getting a better education (WGU, Pheonix, living in a doctor's world), a better body, and I just went blank. ABSOLUTELY BLANK!!!! DAMN U WINDOWS 10. From Hell's heart, I stab at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee........

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