Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BAB Book Review: Mail Order Mysteries

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 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:
  1. Superpowers and Special Abilities
  2. War Zone
  3. House of Horrors
  4. High Finance
  5. Better Living Through Mail Order
  6. Top Secret
  7. Trickery
  8. Oddities
Doug: I've included a few images from the book. The Internet is rife with more full-page scans if you choose to research further. You should also visit Kirk Demarais' website at Secret Fun Spot. I was sure to show you details on the toy soldiers I myself was disappointed by, as well as Sea Monkeys (who never looked like they did in the ad, sadly...). And below -- who could forget Count Dante, Deadliest Man Alive! I smiled. But then I already told you that...


Inkstained Wretch said...

I never ordered anything from those ads. I was kind of a cynical kid and just assumed they were either scams or the merchandise was really shoddy.

So, Doug, what's the lowdown? Was I basically right or where there treasures that I missed?

On a related note, I do remember sending in a bunch of cereal box tops in somewhere to get a Boba Fett action figure and sure enough he arrived in the mail a month later. Now that was a cool thing for a kid, especially since the figure wasn't available in atores at the time

Doug said...

It's hit-and-miss as to how customer satisfaction ran on the products profiled in the book. Some of the stuff seemed pretty cool; others were just junk. The toy soldiers that I bought (pictured) were in the junk category.

What's neat about the book, though, is some history on the mail-order companies and their wares. Some products failed, but then became successful when re-branded.


Anonymous said...

i had the american rebolution soldiers in red and blue. my brother and i had lots of fun with them even though they were just cheap, poorly molded plastic lumps.

--matt alias anonymous

david_b said...

Never ventured into these products, the few dimes I did manage to get went to comics or perhaps Megos or records in the 70s.

The only mail-away items I did send for were a Captain America beach towel (still have it in pristine condition, never used, gently washed by my mom only once..) and some iron-ons of the Beatles and yes, Captain America.

Edo Bosnar said...

I never bought any of this stuff either; I passed rather quickly from wondering if those specs really gave you X-ray vision to the "yeah, right" phase. However, then as now, I find those ads endlessly amusing - with the possible exception of the Count Dante ads. Many of those were actually disturbing - what with the explicit promises of teaching potential buyers how to maim or kill a man - and it surprises me that they made it into Code-approved books.
The book, by the way, has really piqued my interest - it may just be added to my ever-growing want list.

Inkstained Wretch said...

"atores"? Dang, I need to make it a priority to spell check my posts first.

david_b said...

I typically spell-check each post(knowing Doug's a teacher, of course..), but I STILL miss some silly mistakes every so often.

starfoxxx said...

The one that always amazed me was an ad from the 70s for LIVE BABY RACCOONS!

Redartz said...

Looks like a fun book; think I'll have to check it out. I ordered merchandise from the comics twice: the first time, when I was 10, I ordered the "Coin Grab Bag", certain I'd recieve showers of silver and gold. Actually got a couple cheap foriegn coins and a well worn buffalo nickel...

A few years later I sent for the Marvel coins (Spideman, Hulk and Conan). They were great; and still reside on my shelf today.

david_b said...

Redartz, I drooled over those coins, but having my mom invest in the Cap beach towel, my chances on those OR later those marvel belt buckles were thus a bridge too far.

Luckily I scored a vintage Spiderman coin last fall and it's still sits proudly by my workdesk here. I know the others are more valuable, but I'm fine with just Spidey.

Rip Jagger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johnlindwall said...

I bought a few things from the ads. One I remember was the "Life Size Frankenstein" which I had imagined was a 7 foot tall mannequin, but was really a pinup made of four printed plastic sheets that you had to tape together to form the image. Basically a big poster. It came with 2 small circular glow-in-the-dark stickers that you pasted on the eyes.

I was disappointed and my Dad suspected as much and told me that if I did not like it we could try to get my money back. But I was embarrassed and told him it was cool. We ended up sticking it on the door for Halloween for a few years so I did feel better about my purchase, though still learned the old caveat emptor lesson at age 10 or so.

I always wanted to get the hovercraft --- did anyone ever buy that? I'm sure it was a crock but it sure sounded cool!

Eddie said...

Yes this were the days when life was much more fun when you would order stuff and could not wait until you got them. Yes I know that you would get less than what you expected...but I still loved those items. You see I am Eddie the guy in the back of Mail order mysteries. All those goodies in that book are mine and I would not change that chapter of my life for anything....
P.s. The guy who wanted the hovercraft plans but never got them. Send me your e-mail and I will send you a

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