The Wildest Comic Book Rip-Off Ads - Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Specs, and So Many More
By Sarah Norman | October 12, 2023
Attacking The Young Imagination With Advertising Copy
The "giant monster" advertisement was a classic -- and the product was a wall hanging of some sort. Basically a poster. But to youngsters who were prone to believe what they read, the advertising copy was enticing:
Imagine your friends' shock when they walk into your room and see the "MONSTER" reaching out -- bigger than life — Frankenstein, the original man-made monster, that creation of evil genius that terrorized the world. A giant 7 feet tall, his eyes glow eerily as his hand reaches out -- as awful and sinister as the wildest nightmare. Yes -- Frankenstein is 7 feet tall, in authentic colors, on durable polyethylene, and so lifelike you'll probably find yourself talking to him. Won't you be surprised if he answers?
Indeed, that would be surprising.
The First Ads Were Just For Kids
Initial comic book ads weren’t as bizarre as the ones that everyone remembers. They sold things like candy and toys based on the superheroes that were on the front of the comic that readers were holding. You could get a “Superman Ray Gun” or an ant farm for as little as a dollar. This may not seem like a big deal, but in the 1940s these ads were one of the few ways for advertisers to reach out to their base - children.
Without the ability to utilize the medium of television, advertisers had to fill the pages of comics and magazines with ads for toys. Once they bailed on comic books for TV, the ads in the pages of comic books got weird.
Charles Atlas Wanted Comic Readers To Get Shredded
Clearly, advertisers believed that comic book readers were total girlymen. One of the most persistent ads was that of the Charles Atlas work out routine. The ads ran from the 1930s through the ‘80s and even though the look of the ads changed over time they never changed their copy. The ads all told the same story, that of a nerdy wimp getting bullied by a tough guy on a beach.
In the ad, the skinny victim would go home, angry about his shrimpy physique, and pick up the Charles Atlas book. By using the system he would get buff before returning to the beach (or sometimes a park) and whomping the bully who gave him grief.
Ads for X-Ray Glasses Encouraged Junior Peeping Toms
The ad that stoked every young comic book reader’s imagination was the one for X-Ray Specs. These ads offered kids the opportunity to see through everything from fingers, an eggshell, and possibly even clothing all for the cost of a dollar. The fine print in these ads is that they only give the illusion of X-Ray vision and don’t actually allow the wearer to see through anything.
Anyone who sent out for the contraption found that they were actually plastic glasses filled with cardboard that had a depiction of the things you could see if you had x-Ray vision. Sorry kids, this is one product that doesn’t work.
Sea Monkeys Were Just Shrimp Sold By A Nazi Sympathizer
One of the ubiquitous and most intriguing ads that could be found in the pages of a comic book were those for “Sea Monkeys,” an underwater family of weird little mammalian fish that you could keep all to your own. There are a few upsetting truths about Sea Monkeys. First, they were just miniature shrimp with an incredibly short lifespan. Secondly, they were created by Nazi sympathizer Harold Von Braunhut.
Von Braunhut was actually Jewish, but he added “Von” to his last name as a way to make himself seem more Aryan. He didn’t just sell Sea Monkeys, he also marketed X-Ray Specs and a weapon known as the Kiyoga Agent M5, a metal whip that unfurled with spring-action and sold for $59.95. Von Braunhut’s backstory just adds one more strange wrinkle to this inescapable comic book ad.
Readers Could Win A Free Monkey
Anything was possible in the pages of a comic book. Superheroes could leap tall buildings, you were given the power to see through objects with a pair of glasses, and readers could even win a teacup-sized monkey. The ads claimed that if readers sent in their name and address they could win a free monkey. Some readers who claimed that they won said the creature was traumatized by its International travel, while others said that they’d received a corpse through the post. Thankfully, there was actually never a winner.
The Federal Trade Commission actually went after the company behind the free monkey ads and discovered that no prizes had ever been awarded and that they didn’t even have a monkey supplier.
The Polaris Submarine Couldn’t Travel Far. Or Underwater
What kid doesn’t want a submarine? The allure of escaping from home in a legit spy sub that only cost seven dollars was impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, the submarine was hardly the metal submersible that readers expected, and when it arrived it was simply made of cardboard.
The sub required assembly and only came with rubber bands as torpedo and rocket launchers. It required heavy doses of imagination as it actually couldn’t go into the water without disintegrating. Even if you weren't disappointed by the submarine's lack of underwater abilities the next question was where the Polaris was supposed to be stored.
Hundreds Of Plastic Army Men Were Yours For Cheap
Who wouldn’t want to have hundreds of Army men working for the low low price of two dollars? While some readers may have imagined that these plastic figurines would be real deal fighters, most kids knew that these guys were just a good way to build their collections on a small budget. These soldiers were advertised to be made of “unbreakable plastic” and scaled in “full three-dimension.” Often they were shipped in a "footlocker."
These soldiers were in the 1940s created by Milton Levine, a former military man who was aimless following World War II until he found himself in the “exciting world of plastics.” By 1950 the mail-order soldiers were advertised in every comic, and it didn’t take long before they were an unparalleled success. To Lucky Products' credit, the toy that was shipped was actually army men in the quantity advertised. But they were very slender -- flat, actually -- and didn't really look like the army men most kids were expecting. The "footlocker" was about half the size of a kid's lunch box. Lucky Products also sold enticingly large assortments of Roman soldiers, civil war soldiers, and battleships.
Olympic Prizes Made Underage Labor Cool
In the 1980s, many comic books featured an ad called "Olympic Prizes and Cash" that caught the attention of kids everywhere. The ad showcased a superhero named Captain O, who had a big "O" on his chest. It offered a range of exciting prizes that kids could earn by selling different items. However, to the best of our knowledge, no one ever actually won any of the cool items advertised in this promotion. Despite the appealing promises, it seems that the prizes remained elusive, leaving kids with a bit of disappointment. Nonetheless, the ad became a familiar part of the comic book experience during that time, showcasing the allure of superhero-themed rewards and the joy of youthful imagination.
Glow in the Dark Kryptonite Was Just A Box Of Rocks
In the 1970s, comic books featured ads for "Kryptonite Rocks," which were glow-in-the-dark rocks available for purchase. Each rock cost $2.50, and an additional dollar was charged for shipping. The allure of these rocks was their association with the famous superhero Superman, whose weakness was Kryptonite. While the ads may have sparked excitement among young readers, the product itself was a simple novelty item, glowing in the dark for amusement. The ads served as a fun and inexpensive way for kids to feel connected to their favorite superhero, even if the actual rocks did not possess any extraordinary powers like those in the comic books.
The Junior Sales Club of America Put Ambitious Comic Book Readers To Work
Throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, comic books were adorned with enticing ads from the Junior Sales Club of America, enticing young readers to take on work in exchange for exciting prizes. Captivating the imaginations of youngsters, these ads offered a diverse array of rewards, from bicycles to toy tanks, and even trumpets. With promises of earning coveted items through sales efforts, kids eagerly joined the club, eager to embark on the journey to obtain their dream prizes. While the path to success required hard work and determination, these ads instilled in children the value of effort and the thrill of achieving goals. The Junior Sales Club of America ads remain a nostalgic reminder of the era, reminding us of the enthusiasm and ambition that once flourished in comic book pages and the hearts of young readers.
Shrunken Heads Were The Perfect Toy For The Weird Kid On Your Block
One of the most memorable comic book ads from the golden era of comics was for the Shrunken Head. These "heads" were dried apples that were aged by adding brown paint, thus making them look like the shriveled decapitated head of some poor soul. Beads were used for the eyes and teeth, and a piece of fake of hair brought the whole thing together. If you managed to actually put time and effort into this little piece of ephemera it turned out to be pretty cool (not to mention incredibly spooky).
The Black Dragon Fighting Society Turned Kids Into Fighting Machines
In comic books, ads for the Black Dragon Fighting Society were prominent, centering around the formidable figure of Count Dante, hailed as "the deadliest man alive." These ads lured young comic book readers with promises of gaining access to knowledge about "The Death Touch," a mysterious and dangerous martial arts technique. The allure of learning such a lethal skill was undoubtedly captivating, especially for young minds seeking adventure and excitement. However, it's worth noting that the idea of children accessing information about a potentially harmful technique like "The Death Touch" raises concerns about appropriateness and safety. As such, parents and guardians were encouraged to exercise caution and guide pre-teen comic book readers in making responsible choices when encountering such advertisements.
The Amazing Wrist Radio! Required Multiple Radios To Work
In the 1960s, comic books featured ads for the exciting "Wrist Radio!" This two-way radio claimed to have an impressive 50-mile broadcast range and boasted the incredible feature of running for a whole year without needing battery replacements. Priced at just $3, this wristwatch-style gadget was marketed to make young comic book readers feel like detectives, allowing them to communicate secretly and embark on thrilling adventures. However, despite the intriguing promises, we are unaware of anyone who actually owned one of these Wrist Radios. While the idea of having a spy-like communication device on your wrist was undoubtedly appealing, it remains one of those curious and elusive novelties that captured the imagination of young readers during that era.
Okay So We Would Actually Own The Coffin Bank
This spooky mechanical bank is actually one of the few items from vintage comic book ad that were actually something that kids could use. Whenever someone would place a coin in the bank a big skeleton hand would come out and pull the coin into the bank. Honestly super cool.
The Hypno-Coin, For Creeps Everywhere!
Comic book ads from the 1970s were filled with hypnosis themed ads, specifically noting how the hypno-whatever could be used to put the opposite sex under your control. The Hypno-Coin was a small disk with swirly lines that promised the power to make anyone obey your commands. This was a pretty low cost comic book toy, only $1.00 in postage all-in. However, it's essential to remember that hypnosis claims like these are just fictional and not based in reality.
The Atomic Joy Buzzer... Or How To Annoy Your Friends With This One Trick
The Atomic Joy Buzzer is a beloved and sought after prank item. It's basically a small metal buzzer that you wind up and hide in the palm of your hand. To pull off the trick, you find someone unsuspecting (in the 21st century, that's everyone) and shake their hand. When you press the button, the tightened innerspring inside the buzzer creates a vibrating effect, "shocking" the heck out of the mark who shook your hand. Classic.
Air Car Hovercraft, A Cardboard Dream
In the colorful pages of comic books, there once appeared an intriguing ad for the Air Car Hovercraft, a vehicle that promised to carry an impressive weight of 200 pounds. The ad touted the use of a vacuum cleaner motor, claiming that riding this innovative creation would be akin to floating on air. Although we have yet to come across anyone who actually owned this thrilling ride, the idea of cruising effortlessly above the ground remains captivating. In light of environmental concerns, perhaps it's time to revisit such innovative concepts, as they could offer eco-friendly alternatives for transportation in the future. The Air Car Hovercraft ad, with its futuristic charm, reminds us of the possibilities that lie ahead in creating sustainable and exciting means of travel.
Build Your Own Electric Engine... Today!
In the 1960s, comic book readers were introduced to the intriguing "Build Your Own Real Electric Engine" advertisement. For a mere 89 cents plus shipping and handling, young enthusiasts could acquire the materials to construct a magnetically charged motor. While the actual power output of these engines remains uncertain, the idea of building one was undeniably cool. The ad sparked curiosity and excitement among young minds, encouraging them to embark on the DIY journey of creating their very own electric engine. Though the level of power may have been modest, the experience of assembling such a device undoubtedly left a lasting impression on budding inventors and tinkerers alike.
Space Shoes Were Straight Up Ankle Breakers
Comic books of yesteryears featured fascinating ads for "Space Shoes," offering an exciting promise of lunar-like bouncing for just $1.98. The ads depicted adventurous young souls effortlessly soaring through the air in these peculiar shoes, seemingly defying gravity like astronauts on the moon. However, the reality of the "Space Shoes" may have been quite different. With their bulky appearance and lack of proper ankle support, they appeared more like potential ankle breakers than lunar wonders. While the concept was undoubtedly captivating, the practicality and safety of these toys raised some concerns. Nonetheless, the ad's charm and allure captured the imaginations of many young readers, leaving them to ponder the possibilities of lunar-like adventures in their own backyards.
How To Become A Ventriloquist, Throw Your Voice And Be Super Annoying
Have you ever wanted to learn how to throw your voice into a trunk that someone is carrying? Well look no further than this classic comic book ad from the 1950s and '60s (and probably the '70s and '80s) that claimed to be able to teach youngsters how to prank their people in their life for only a quarter.
Snapping Gum, For Anyone Looking To Lose Friends
The ol' Snapping Gum gag was simply irresistible for young comic book reading prank-heads because it offered so much potential for mischief and fun. It cleverly resembled a pack of real gum, and if your target didn't look too closely, they might not suspect a thing. However, there was a surprise in store for anyone who tried to take a piece out of the gum pack. A hidden spring-loaded wire would snap and sting their finger, adding an extra element of surprise to the prank.
Spy "Pen" Radio, Less Spycraft And More Radio
In the golden age of spy fiction, comic books from the 1950s to the 1980s featured an abundance of ads for the Spy "Pen" Radio. These captivating toys claimed to offer a unique combination of a radio and pen, allowing users to listen to music discreetly through a built-in speaker. While the practicality of such a gadget might have been questionable, for young comic book readers, it provided a thrilling sense of getting away with something secret and covert. The allure of feeling like a spy, equipped with a gadget that seemed straight out of a thrilling espionage story, was enough to entice young minds into considering the purchase. The Spy "Pen" Radio ads remain a nostalgic reminder of a time when imagination and curiosity were sparked by the promise of ingenious spy gear hidden within the pages of comic books.
The 7 Foot Life Size Ghost Was Genuinely Perfect For Halloween But Maybe Not Year Round
In the 1960s and 1970s, comic book readers across America were treated to intriguing ads for the 7-Foot Life-Size Ghost from U-Control. This spooky novelty item boasted a remote control, allowing users to set the ghost free at a moment's notice. The ad suggested pairing it with "Horror Record 3140" for an immersive and chilling experience. The concept of having a life-size ghost you could control captured the imagination of young minds, offering a thrilling blend of excitement and scare. While the actual size of the ghost may not have been 7 feet tall, the idea of owning a spectral companion you could unleash with the push of a button was undeniably captivating.
The Frontier Cabin Was An Outdoor Kid's Dream And A Parent's Nightmare
In the 1970s, comic books featured ads for the "Frontier Cabin," faux log cabins that were sold for just $1 each. These cabins could accommodate four or five kids, but given their low price, there were doubts about their quality and durability. While they appeared to be spacious enough for playtime fun, the affordability of these cabins raised suspicions about their overall effectiveness and longevity. Despite the uncertainty, the Frontier Cabin ads captured the attention of young readers, tempting them with the idea of having their own little log cabin adventure, even if it might not have been as sturdy as the real deal.
The Electric Laughing Bag Is Easily The Strangest Comic Book Knick Knack Ever Sold
In comic books, a quirky and entertaining ad featured the "Electric Laughing Bag." For just $3.95 plus shipping, users could acquire this peculiar bag that promised to trick their friends with... laughter? The exact mechanics of how the prank worked were not entirely clear, but that was part of the charm of these toys found in comic book ads—they were simply meant to exist and ignite the imagination. The Electric Laughing Bag epitomized the fun and whimsy of such novelties, encouraging young readers to embrace the joy of harmless pranks and imaginative play. Whether or not the laughter was convincingly contagious, the mere idea of owning a bag that could emit laughter made it a sought-after item in the realm of comic book curiosities.
The Silent Dog Whistle, For Kids Who Love Annoying Their Pets
In comic books from the 1960s and 1970s, there were ads for the "silent dog whistle." This intriguing item, for just one dollar, claimed to emit a sound only dogs could hear, which was meant to be useful for training or calling dogs from a distance. While the effectiveness of the whistle was not entirely clear, the idea of having a special whistle that could potentially interact with dogs was intriguing enough for many young readers to give it a try. Despite the uncertain reasoning behind wanting to annoy dogs with a silent whistle, the allure of trying out this peculiar gadget made it a popular and curious purchase for adventurous comic book fans.
Spalding Basketball Wanted Every Boy And Girl To Dunk
The Spalding Street Ball ad was featured in comic books from the 1970s and continued to appear until the mid-1980s. The ads claimed that using Spalding brand basketballs could transform an ordinary kid into a pro who could perform amazing feats, like dunking from half court. This was a significant promise to make, regardless of the basketball brand, and it surely caught the attention of aspiring basketball players and dreamers alike.
The Dribble Glass... The Perfect Prank To Upset Your Parents
The "Dribble Glass" was a prank glass advertised in comic books, designed to look just like a regular glass. However, it had a clever trick up its sleeve—well, actually, a collection of small holes at the bottom. When someone unsuspectingly took a sip from the glass, the liquid would dribble out through these holes, causing it to spill onto their shirt. It was a playful and mischievous gag that could bring laughter and surprises to gatherings or practical jokes among friends.