It’s been nearly three years since the last edition of Vintage Comic Book Ads. Odd, considering how much I love the subject. I’d say I’ve been busy, but I haven’t left the house since Underwater was in theaters.
I’ve always been obsessed with comic ads, to the point where my main motivation in buying old books from a store’s quarter bin was a shot of seeing that blue-skinned Reese’s Pieces alien.
Some things never change: Below are five comic book ads from the ‘80s and ‘90s, rescued from books that I would not have purchased had they been ad-free.
Alf Spring Special #1 (1989)
Candilicious fruit chews were a short-lived Bubblicious spinoff. Picture Bonkers technology applied to Bubblicious flavors, and you’re in the zone. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to Google without getting a thousand unrelated matches, so I’m not surprised that I’ve been asked to ID it more than once.
Though Candilicious had a few catchy TV commercials, I think it was more famous for its comic book ads. In the late ‘80s, every comic on the spinning rack had a full-pager for Candilicious, usually starring this psychedelic snake with a wad of candy lodged in its liver.
The ads’ simplicity was deceptively clever. Full-page comic book ads didn’t come cheap, so companies generally made the most of every square inch. That there was so much empty space in Candlicious’s ads really made ‘em pop!
Mario Bros. for the Atari!
Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner (Dec. 1984)
I barely remember the Atari game, but me and my childhood pals got massive mileage out of the NES version of Mario Bros. — a title that you should never end a sentence with, because trying to figure out what to do with the period can fry brains forever.
The kids across the street had the Nintendo game, and we kept playing it even into periods where there were much fancier games at our disposal. I think it was because it was one of the still-few titles that let two people play on one team at the same time. It was camaraderie through killer crabs, though I do remember a few fights over unapproved uses of the “pow” block.
Also: While Luigi eventually stepped out of Mario’s shadow, he certainly hadn’t by this point — and so this print ad was one of the first examples of Luigi getting the lead role. Course, the cynic in me believes Mario made him do it, because the gig just involved getting chased by monsters and probably dying.
Fire in the Sky!
Silver Surfer / Warlock Resurrection #1 (April 1993)
Fire in the Sky came out when my interest in UFOs was at its peak, and though I didn’t see it in theaters, I was all over that movie once it hit Blockbuster. (It’d later become such a cable TV staple that you could scarcely go one day without hearing someone scream “Travis” in a southern drawl.)
The movie takes a long time to get there, but when it finally shows us what happens when someone is abducted by aliens, the results are fantastic. By “fantastic” I of course mean, “the scene is terrifying and will fucking ruin you for years, please never watch this movie.”
Fire in the Sky’s climax is scary through any lens, but back when I saw it, I had absolutely no doubt that what was onscreen 100% happened in real life. Most depictions of abductions presented the aliens as gentle enough, but here it was like — how can I put this? Think of the worst scenes from The Dentist, but turn Corbin Bernsen into Darth Plagueis.
Aliens / Predator: Deadliest of Species #1 (July 1993)
I suppose Hero Illustrated could be summarized as a “Wizard copycat,” but it’s one I might’ve preferred. I loved Wizard Magazine to death, don’t get me wrong, but something about Hero felt so raw, and sometimes even zine-like. Or maybe it just had scarier cover art, I don’t know.
The magazine lasted 26 issues, and I’m sure I bought all of them. See, this was back when every comic book had some physical gimmick that lent itself to speculative value. Comics with holographic covers, bagged comics, comics with free trading cards, all sorts of shit. They were fun to collect, but it very easily got to the point where you were buying books you never intended to read.
So magazines like Hero Illustrated were often my favorite comic shop grabs, because I always read them, and in fact read each of them several times. (Not that they weren’t just as reliant on gimmickry. One bagged issue of Hero Illustrated came packed with enough promo swag to make you feel like you’d just hit Comic-Con.)
In pre-internet times, it was one of those magazines that helped young geeks feel less alone in the universe.
Johnson Smith Company!
Conan the Barbarian #118 (July 1981)
I couldn’t possibly overstate how much Johnson Smith meant to me as a kid. (Remember those Things You Never Knew Existed catalogs? That was them.)
I ordered from that place dozens of times — occasionally from their big catalogs, but more often from comic ads like this. This one was published a bit before my time, but Johnson Smith ran nearly-identical ads even into the early ‘90s. Of the items shown in just this one ad, I ordered *21*.
Seriously, I counted. Had everything from the portable electric fan (sucked) to the thousand tiny magnets (might’ve sucked had they not arrived in an adorably small manilla envelope).
Though I got great mileage from some purchases, I see now that it was more about the anticipation than the actual having. When Johnson Smith said “6 to 8 weeks,” they weren’t kidding. Every order meant I’d spend almost two months treating the mailman like an A-list movie star. Sometimes I sat on the stairs and just stared blankly out the window near our door, waiting for a blue blur to whiz by.
If you’re not familiar with Johnson Smith, the only brick-and-mortar analogue I can think of is Spencer Gifts. Meaning Spencer Gifts in the ‘80s, when its top sellers included snap gum and fake dog shit.
Thanks for reading! If you like old comic books ads, I’ve written about them many times before: