Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ads in Old Comics

Scott D. Parker

So far this summer, I have been reading more than writing. Hate to admit that, but it's true. Part of the problem of non-writing is that words just aren't flowing. The other part, however, is that I'm really enjoying just reading. Here's a list of some of past few titles: The Chase (Clive Cussler), Master Mind of Mars, Captain Blood, On Stranger Tides, The Presidents Club, and Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain.

When I'm not reading books, I'm reading comics. A LOT of comics. And not only the new ones from DC and "Atomic Robo" from Red5, but old ones, too. I've pulled out many of my long comics boxes and have flipped through them, gazing at all those covers. Inspired by the new "Batman in the 1970s" feature series over at bare bones e-zine, I've started re-reading many of the same titles. It's really neat to rediscover how Batman was portrayed before Frank Miller got a hold of him.

Now, back in the day, the Batman team-up book, the Brave and the Bold, was my favorite, and I recently pulled out #122, the first team-up of Batman with Swamp Thing. I'm not here, today, to discuss the story itself, but everything in the book except the story. The advertisements. In all of my historical research when I had to read and take notes from an old newspaper or magazine, I always loved looking at the ads because they often gave a more clarifying picture into the time of the magazine than the content.

The same is true for comics. Issue #122 had 32 pages, of which 18 told the story. Removing the two-page letter column, that leaves 14 pages of ads. Throwing in the insides of both covers and the back of the book, you actually have 17 pages of ads. Four of those pages are house ads for other DC comics and publications, leaving 10 pages of non-DC ads. (And I'm not including the glorious ad that Shazam starred in for Twinkies. Remember when your favorite hero hawked dessert products?)

The number of ads isn't really what I'm focusing on. It's what the ads are selling. Sure you had the standard ones: Slim Jims, "X-Ray glasses", binders in which to store your comics, magic stuff, and the near omnipresent ads for "100 Green Army Men" (although this one is a naval task force). What struck me were the ads offering up ways for kids to earn money by *working*. Both inside covers display a full-page spread of prizes kids could earn by selling personalize Christmas cards. This was not a page of things they could buy, mind you, but prizes to earn by working. Sell 9 boxes of cards and you could select a pair of walkie talkies, 16 gets your a pocket electronic calculator, and 25 gets you a portable 8-track player. Or, if the young salesman didn't want any of those things, he could pocket $1/box sold. Not a bad deal for 1975.

Another ad was for LaSalle Extension University. Here, readers of this comic book could send off a postcard and receive information on any number of carer opportunities: accounting, dental assistant, automotive mechanics, drafting, interior decorating, executive development, or even the high school diploma program.

What do these ads say about the comic buyer in 1975 ? He (or she) had the opportunity to order more comics (naturally), buy any number of cheap toys ("X-ray" glasses), or buy Twinkies. But it also provided an opportunity (key word there) for self improvement.

I buy comics digitally almost exclusively nowadays and the ads are few and far between. Mostly house ads for other DC merchandise and video games, but that's all that is there, Gone are the ads for trade schools. Candy is still there, too. Gone are the ads encouraging young people to sell stuff to earn extra money.

Might this say something about our culture? What do you think?


Jay Stringer said...

The ads are gone mainly because comics are not a readily available mainstream purchase for children. There was a large shift I noticed in the ads in the 90's, and it's at a point now where they are far more focused on a few select niche groups. There will be some video game stuff, some action movies, and a few other items that will be on sale in the same comic book store that the book itself was bought in.

Thomas Pluck said...

We're a snake oil culture. It's still profitable to sell bullshit that doesn't work (see: Skecher's exercise shoes) and then pay out a settlement to the suckers.
Akin to "How to Stretch a Dollar!" ads back in the day. Send us 50 cents, and we send you a rubber dollar bill we got for a nickel.

Anonymous said...

I still believe that Shazam wants me to eat Twinkies: