Paul F. Tompkins dictated this letter his latest “Pod F Tompkast,” and I assumed it was my duty to record his ramblings. I’m not sure if there are any newspapers that still carry the comic strip “Henry” (or if there are any newspapers still in physical existence), but if you feel the same outrage as the imaginary character that voiced this letter, feel free to mail it to the editor (or editrix).
Or mine at least. My friend Justin sent me a text this morning:
"Rastan ringtone-just an idea."
So let it be written, so let it be done.
If you ever played this gem in the arcade, the epic electronic barbarian anthem is forever lodged in your brain. If not, there’s probably nothing to see here, although the screen below is pretty great.
This week I read the book, Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads by Kirk Demarais. It’s a quick-reading look at the incredible advertising from back pages of comic books and Boys’ Life magazines, with photographs of the lackluster items you’d actually receive after 6 to 8 agonizing weeks. Seeing the hovercrafts, Kryptonite rocks, Sea Monkeys, and gag items from Johnson Smith Company scratched an itch I’ve had for more than 25 years.
I got the expected nostalgic buzz, but I didn’t expect to love the book from a professional ad writer’s perspective. The copywriting that sold this junk is pure magic.
It’s true that there is some deception in the classic comic book ads, but I don’t think anyone got too bent out of shape when they lost a few bucks in the mail. Kids are great at imagining potential. The ad writers (and the artists) did an admirable job of doing the same. How else can you explain a balloon, a trash bag and a length of string that became a 8-foot skeleton that floats, dances and obeys your every command… or how a crappy pair of plastic glasses with slightly offset optics turned into “a hilarious, laughingly funny illusion!”
For chrissakes, the submarine ad below has you diving, maneuvering—even firing nuclear missiles and torpedoes for a mere $6.98. Of course, it’s all part of the “hours of imaginative play” mentioned in the fine print. These things are so tightly crafted. They’re beautifully enticing and so frustratingly, technically true.
In the afterward, Jesse Thorn wrote about childhood as a wide range of possibilities that slowly shrink as you age. Kids are susceptible to the exaggeration in these comic book ads because they have great, big, elastic imaginations. They see possibilities. And they can have a great deal of fun with garbage.
The copywriters from the past filled kids’ minds to the bursting point with hot air and impossible expectations. They, in turn, rose, jumped and darted to the mailbox, sending their allowance in exchange for envelopes full of crap.
Long story short, Mail-Order Mysteries reminds me of why I like my job—even though my clients actually make stuff that works. While I don’t get to write about polyethelene dinosaurs or memberships to Count Dante’s Black Dragon Fighting Society, I do try to imagine more than what’s in front my face, see the possibilities and make it dance to music too.
LES DIRTY FRENCHMEN COMIC BONUS! One of the best parts about thumbing through old comic books, in my opinion, is looking at old advertising to children. I must have been reading Seanbaby or something at the time because I decided to do our own version of the 70s/80s era Hostess fruit pie comic-book ads. In fact, I think that was the main reason I did the comic book. I wanted to make a Les Dirty Frenchmen hostess fruit pie ad. And here it is, colorized!