Retro Comic Books and Their Amazing Ads
When comic books were really coming into their own — the late ’50s and through much of the ’60s — not every one of them had a Superhero as its primary protagonist. In fact, for every heroic tale, there were half a dozen that revolved around little kids, anthropomorphic animals, and ridiculously ribald gaffs where scantily clad women made men turn to jelly. They were goofy, silly, and, sometimes, sweet and innocent. These titles came and went as quickly as the next, and each fell into obscurity… again, though, only for the most part. As it happens, a few were revamped and turned out in recent installments.
Now, the sweet little stories aside, there were also really, really cool ads. These ads were most often found in the back of the comics and even managed to find themselves still used well into the ’70s and ’80s. Most of these ads featured absolutely hysterical promises for incredibly cheap, plastic toys that could no way have been kept. Some showed ways to enhance your own personal activities such as acquiring X-Ray vision or huge, all-but impossible muscles. And then there were those that offered living creatures for personal ownership such as wild monkeys and tiny, barely alive brine shrimp affectionately referred to as Sea Monkeys.
Well, there’s the long and short of it. Now enjoy pictures and snarky, snide remarks! Yay humor!
- Cicero’s Cat
Cicero's Cat is a spin-off of sorts from the classic, original comic strip Mutt and Jeff. M and J started its run in the early 1900s, and the character Mutt had a cat named Cicero, who starred with his girlfriend, Desdemona, in the comic strip and comic book.
The Ads: Get Busty, or Get a Cabin!
Boy, even back in the '50s, ladies were prompted to increase their breast size. It seemed a bit pointless since back then they tended to be... uh... subservient. They stayed home, they tended to their ass-hat husbands who often didn't give three shits about them one way or another. Maybe the breast enhacements were to attract other men who might sweep them out of their monotony. Or you could inexplicably, buy a cabin. Judging by the ad, it's a small cabin. Or the kid is just huge as hell.
- The Fox and the Crow
From 1952 through 1968, the Aesop Fable characters, The Fox and the Crow, starred in their own DC Comics books. The duo included the flitty yet severely naive Fauntleroy Fox and the streetwise Crawford Crow, who would get into scrapes and typical tomfoolery. That's right, tomfoolery.
The Ads: It's a g-g-g-g-GHOST! And a g-g-g-GUN!
Now this one I remember very fondly because, hey, who didn't want a pet ghost? According to the notes, this thing pretty much bends to your every whim! And it's over SEVEN-friggin feet tall! That's pretty sweet! Well, except for the dancing to music. That's kinda lame. Anyway, with each paid order you get PEEPING SKELETON HANDS! Oh HELL, no! Oh HELL, yes. And, if you want to protect yourself and/or potentially shoot your eyes out, you can get a sweet BB gun from Daisy! Not exactly a Red Rider, but it'll do.
- Hollywood Funny Folks
In the '30s and '40s, DC's Comic Cavalcade separated into a few different books including Hollywood Funny Folks, which basically showed the goofy exploits of famous Hollywood faces doing goofy things. Ya see, back in the early days of Hollywood even the serious actors were lampooned and they actually appreciated it. Not like today where the majority of the stars are douchebags. Oh, and this was where you went to see the outright insanity of one Nutsy Squirrel.
The Ads: Of grenades and growing monsters.
What could possibly go wrong with an actual live, military-grade grenade? Probably nothin'. And what about growing and harvesting monsters? How much of a great idea is that? Wait... plant creatures? Glow in the dark? Monster Hair? Every bit of this sounds epic! Turns out it was a kind of fast-growing lichen. Oh, fun.
- Katy Keene
Known affectionately as 'America's Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashion' from the '40s, Katy Keene was an Archie Publication and had the distinction of letting her readers turn in ideas for future outfits for her to wear! Oh what fun for girls! Or, I guess... boys. Anyway, often there were paper dolls that came printed right in the comic! Does this get any better? Yep: Katy has been voted one of the Top 100 Sexiest Women in Comics. Amazing.
The Ads: Save your hair while hypnotizing your friends! Wait, what?
This particular ad proclaims, rather hysterically, that it's the fault of bugs, germs, and other wacky-ass infiltrators, for your premature baldness. Wow, who knew? Guess we better invest in some voodoo then! As for hypnotizing your friends, well, this ad has been around in one form or another since the dawn of forever and as far as I know no one has been able to successfully make their friends eat poop or walk around a public library naked. But I could be wrong.
- Li’l Jinx
Li'l Jinx was a precocious little tyke who got herself into cute and harmless misadventures back in the '50s when she starred in her own comic. Basically she was a mix of Little Orphan Annie and Shirley Temple and often spent her days garnering responses like, "Golly-gee", and "Get the fuck off my lawn!" Ah, old comics...
The Ads: Marvel Halloween costumes and a... (shudder) Pet Monkey.
Granted this Marvel ad wasn't in an actual Li'l Jinx book, but it was prominent in other actual Marvel comics. What they promoted were those exceptionally cheap, Chinese-made costumes that you could find at any Five-and-Dime store back in the day: suffocating plastic mask, PVC-plastic tunic, and possibly ill-fitting pants. Everyone wanted them and everyone had them. Classy. As for the Pet Monkey... yeah, it was real. And yes, nine times out of ten it was rabid and sought revenge against everyone you knew and loved. Fun!
- Milt Gross Funnies
Artist, writer, and illustrator, Milt Gross was quite famous from the late '20s through the '50s with his oddly-titled collections with names like "Jack witt de Binn Stuck" (Jack and the Beanstalk) and these strips from the 30's: Dave's Delicatessen, Banana Oil, Pete the Pooch, Count Screwloose from Tooloose, Babbling Brooks, Otto and Blotto, The Meanest Man, Draw Your Own Conclusion, I Did It and I'm Glad! and That's My Pop!. Eventually, in the '50s he began his own comic book titled Milt Gross Funnies that often collected past strips and ran some new material. I'm sad to say I had no idea who this guy was. Very sad.
The Ads: Come git yer mus-kles, ya wimp! Oh, and git yer Sea Monkeys too, pally!
The following two ads were definitely some of the most famous ever ran: a muscle-building program/weight set and the ever-popular Sea Monkeys. And ya know, of all the things that might have actually worked, to a point, there's no reason to believe building muscles wouldn't have some positive effect. Maybe not by turning you into Charles Atlas, but giving you an esteem boost at any rate. Or, more likely, make you feel like a total turd as bullies still plunged your head in the school toilet. As for the brine shrimp... I mean Sea Monkeys... they did kinda sorta move around... a little. But let's face it, it was much more fun to watch your gold fish gobble them up. Or set them out in the scorching sun for an hour. That was fun and cruel!
- Walter Lantz New Funnies
In 1936, Dell Comics began running a publication called The Funnies which basically looked and felt an awful lot like a Sunday Paper comics page. It starred many famous funnies of the day including Alley Oop, Mutt and Jeff, and Tailspin Tommy. It eventually began running more original 'toons and eventually, once Walter Lantz (famous for Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy) took over, changed its name to Walter Lantz New Funnies. Now, just in case you missed him, down on the bottom left of this publication was a character called Li'l Eight Ball. And he was, obviously, jet fucking black. To no one's surprise, this was the '50s and '60s version of pre-equal rights humor. Good LORD, could that have been any more derogatory? And now you know, nosy.
The Ads: Real Shark Teeth! Also Real Space Shoes! I'll bet one of these ain't real...
There's really nothing inherently cool or bizarre about shark teeth, other than the fact that unless you live near an ocean or a touristy aquarium, they are kind of rare. See, back in the '50s, they sent you an entire shark and you had to extract the teeth yourself. People were far braver and much stupider back then. Also I'm kidding. But those Space Shoes? You just know some astronauts were sporting those all over the Moon! Oh baby! There appears to be some kind of Dick Tracy geegaw in this add, too.
- PEP Comics
Before Archie Comics had that name, it was known as MLJ Magazines, Inc. and it produced an anthology series in the '30s and '40s called PEP Comics. Under the PEP Comics title, readers were introduced to the very first superhero to both sport patriotic Red-White-and Blue Spandex, and carry a shield! Guess who wasn't Captain America? Yeah, this guy known, almost obviously, as The Shield. He predated Cap by nearly a year, so it seems comic book companies aren't very un-stealy after all! Just kidding. We all knew they were and are a bunch of snidely thieves. Also PEP portrayed the first death of a superhero called The Comet. I'd say he went down in flames, but that would be tasteless and false.
The Ads: Own some of Texas while not looking like a damn stick!
Apparently, since Texas was so damn huge, no one sounded an alarm when comic ads started chipping off inch-square chunks of it and selling to really dumb kids. I suppose, theoretically, some kind of oil reserve could be located under your inch-sized slice, but it's not gonna turn your life into an episode of Dallas, that's for sure. Also they weren't actual chunks. You just bought the piece and they sent you a map that showed your 'plot'. Look at you, all land-owning and shit. But if you were at all skinny, gawky, and waifish... you were terrible and no one loved you. Even Texas. Especially Texas.
- Stanley and His Monster
Beginning its run as a back-up feature to the Fox and the Crow comic, Stanley and His Monster was a story about, you guessed it, three squids and a box of ham. Seriously, stupid, it was all about a kid named Stanley and his pet Monster. Go figure. Stanley originally finds his huge companion in a sewer and, in pre-Monsters Inc. fashion, the creature is more afraid of the real world than it (it being Stanley) is of him. Twisty! Anyway, after it ceased running in 1968, the story was brought back in the '90s with a newer, more updated look. Awesome.
The Ads: Ant Farms and Leaping Cars
Ant Farms are age-old and pretty idiot-proof when it comes to comic book ad crap. Typical clear plastic with a removable lid through which you could either add in the supplied ants, or, like me, catch your own rival red ants and watch the annihilation ensue. It was fun and brutal! Also there are some jumping cars. Whoopee. I can't imagine anything more... snoooore...
- Sugar and Spike
Sugar and Spike was a nearly 50-year running comic produced by DC. It featured the titular characters, Sugar Plumm and Spike Wilson, getting into pint-sized adventures where the duo communicated via baby-talk that only the two of them could understand. Most amazingly was that the stories and art were done by one guy, Sheldon Mayer, who nearly ended the strip in the '70s due to failing eyesight. Fortunately, after cataract surgery, he was able to continue till his death in 1991. Don't you just love feel-good stories like that where I don't have something smarmy to say, ya jag-off?
The Ads: Use your new fake vomit while letting your new weights turn you into a bizarre, uber-muscled freak!
Ah, fake vomit. The coolest pseudo upchuck I ever owned was a particularly chunky and disgusting pile that was kept at my grandparents' house. I know for a fact it was ordered via comic book, but I can't remember why I left it at granny's. Oh well. All I know is even though they knew full well it existed, they fell for it every single time! Hmm... I wonder if they were just feigning their 'created riot'... Anyway, there is yet another in the series of ads promising massive, hulking physiques and towering, Popeye-esque muscles. This one I loved because of the guy in the picture whose feet turn out perfectly straight. Now that would be something!