I’m just about young enough to have missed the dubious mail-order opportunities presented in the back pages of comic books of old. Age, geography and plain old common sense has protected me from the ultimate disappointment resulting from the ads bold claims. “Have amazing X-ray vision instantly! Learn the world’s deadliest fighting secrets! Own genuine soil from Dracula’s castle!” Yeah right, did anybody really buy this stuff.
It turns out they did, and Kirk Demarais has collected 150 examples in this hugely entertaining hardback book, Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! A labor of love for the author who, thanks to eBay combined with a mixture of childhood wish fulfilment and morbid curiosity, presents us with the cold hard truth of what you were sent for your week’s allowance and a 4-6 week wait.
Cheap, trashy, hilarious and oddly charming best describes the products on show and Kirk analyses each one through a series of categories including We Imagined, They Sent, Behind The Mystery and Customer Satisfaction, with a reproduction of the original ads set against photographs of the real thing. The tricks behind classic examples such as the X-ray Specs are revealed, which although being ingeniously simple, don’t quite live up to their 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Featuring brilliantly naive, colourful and madcap illustrations, it’s no surprise that so many of these products have become part of pop-culture. While the Beagle Puss Glasses, Whoopee Cushion and Spud Gun might induce a cynical roll of the eyes from your grown-up self, your inner child will be rolling around laughing and hungry for more.
Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! By Kirk Demarais
Hardback 156 pages
26.5 x 17.4 x 2 cm