Continuing on with another look at old comic book ads, this time I’m focusing on the classifieds. These were smaller ads, often no taller than an inch, tossed by the dozens onto individual pages. For me, that was where the real magic happened.
These ads had to make an impression with few words and tiny photos, and they most often did so with wild exaggerations and impossible promises. If it sounded too good to be true, it was, but man did it sound good!
The classified ads in old comics were also where you’d find the trashiest stuff, or at least things that would never sail in 2015. A single page from 1980 may have given kids the chance to order everything from serious knives to live chickens, at prices they could afford.
By contrast, most of the ads I’m about to feature are pretty tame, but for one reason or another, they all excite me to pieces.
The Thing #20, February 1985
During the Transformers’ golden era, “lesser” transforming robot figure were sold by a variety of makers. Even aside from Gobots, I think everyone had a few Transformers that weren’t really Transformers.
This “Moto-Bot” fellow is more famous than a dingy comic book ad might suggest, having been sold by many companies, with his own special packaging and everything. $2.50 for a robot dump truck with motorized pull-back action seems like a sweet deal, even by 1985 standards.
Disappearing Monster Blood!
Marvel Tales #144, October 1982
I adore everything about this ad, which I’ll remind you is only about 1/5th that size in real life. The use of color and extreme clutter really made it stand out on the page. Then again, I suppose I would’ve noticed an advertisement for “Disappearing Monster Blood” no matter how plain it was.
Most of you should be familiar with the “disappearing ink” gag, where “ink” slowly outs itself as mere non-staining water. Well, this was the much cooler version. It’s neat that the stuff had mysterious vanishing powers, but the feature was unnecessary: I’d have bought bottles of “Monster Blood” no matter what it was or what it did.
(Also note that customers received free pairs of monster fangs with their orders. These were obviously the same cheap plastic vampire fangs that you can still win for five cents at every casino arcade on the planet, but paired with Disappearing Monster Blood, they meant so much more!)
Avengers West Coast #57, April 1990
I know they’re boring, but that’s the point. These “Skull Dice” represent everything I loved about old comic book ads, back when I was still finding them “fresh” and could actually partake in the offerings.
Nobody in history has ever needed Skull Dice. I don’t know if it’s possible to even be excited about Skull Dice. Ordering them wasn’t about that. No, ordering them was about giving yourself some stupid thing to look forward to. The time spent waiting for Skull Dice to hit your mailbox was worth so much more than the item. You pretended to hate the wait, but the anticipation was all you were really paying for.
If Christmas was the atomic bomb, ordering dumb shit from comic books was like scattering happy landmines throughout the year.
Tales to Astonish #8, July 1980
No joke, you absolutely could order live seahorses from the back pages of comic books. This went on for a loooong time, too. I’m not sure if the death of these “live animal” ads came by way of new laws or increased common sense, but we should be thankful either way.
Delicate seahorses haven’t been treated with much kindness over the years, but there was just no defense for mailing them to small children who swore they could “eyeball salinity.”
Of course, that’s what I know now. Had these ads still been around when I was 7 or 8, I’m sure I’d have terrible memories of my own disastrous attempts to raise seahorses. After all, waiting for a package of live seahorses sure sounds more exciting than waiting for Skull Dice.
The Micronauts #34, October 1981
Okay, is “Tyrannasaurus” an acceptable alternative spelling, or did they really misspell Tyrannosaurus? I don’t want to make jokes until I know.
There’s a lot to love about this ad. I think specifying that the T-shirt was “durable” may be my favorite bit, but the challenge to make 1981 the year of that T-shirt is a very close second.
Of course, since the dinosaur’s tail already looked so much like a cobra, Creative Mass Media missed the obvious opportunity to market mutant-hybrid dinosaur/snake t-shirts, which undoubtedly would’ve sold in much stronger numbers. “Tyrannasnake.” It was right there!
The Thing #20, February 1985
Last but by no means least, this thing! HOLY COW, THIS THING!
What I’m sure amounted to a balloon (bring your own helium) attached to extendable paper “limbs” seemed like a gift from God. The “Alien-Eye Creature” looked like something straight out of Johnny Sokko. No matter how flimsy the reality may have been, two dollars was a bargain.
All of that nonsense about the Alien-Eye Creature “obeying your commands” was just code for “there’s a string attached; use it to make the thing wiggle.”
Many other “monsters” using the same elements were sold through comic book ads, and while it’s easy to make fun of them for overpromising, I’m not sure that they really did. We all got plenty of use from couch cushions and empty cardboard boxes, right? Surely we didn’t need our Alien-Eye Monsters to look like Toho costumes to accept them as such.
Thank you for reading about Alien-Eye Monsters, Moto-Bots and live seahorses. If you’d like to see other ads like these, I’ll point you to this old Dino Drac article. And also this one.
PS: Even factoring in shipping costs, you could’ve purchased everything featured here for just over twenty bucks. These days, I’d expect to pay more than that for a single Alien-Eye Creature. (And gladly, too. Can somebody make those again? I kinda need one.)