Gallery: Famous, Frightening and Strange Ads from Classic Comics
Page through a major publisher's comics today and you'll find ads for a lot of the nerd-culture stuff we've all become accustomed to: tabletop and video games, TV shows and movies, comics retailers, conventions, and other entertainments. There are relatively few surprises.
Go back a few decades, however, and you'll find that the ads that used to run in comics are absolutely crazy. And it's not just in ways you'd expect, either. Sure, there are the ads for muscle-building programs and sea monkey kits that have been parodied ad nauseam, but that's just a taste of what's actually in those classic pages if you start digging.
What people often forget about the comics of the early-to-mid 20th Century is that they had huge audiences. Millions of people --- kids and adults --- read them. And they were available on newsstands just about everywhere. They weren't confined to specialty stores for people who chose to be members of the comics-reading subculture. They covered a ton of genres, too. The days that comic books were so strictly tied to superheroes wouldn't come until the 1960s.
As a result, the ads were targeted to people beyond the key demo. Sure, there were lots of ads targeted to preteen boys, many of them exceedingly dangerous (check out the ad in the gallery above for a fire-starting lighter, as well as one for fireworks). But there were just as many aimed at adult men (the etiquette guide), young women (the hilarious ad for the Frank Sinatra bracelet) and adult women (the just-plain insulting ad for an all-gum diet).
Then there's just the general weirdness of it all. For so many of these products, from a pile of fake money to a light-up bowtie, the key selling point is nothing beyond them being good for some laughs. People had to get their novelties somewhere before the advent of Spencer's Gifts and the What on Earth catalog, I suppose.
Also: 60 years ago, a lot of people just ordered live animals through the mail all the time, and it was completely okay. That was just how people got their lizards and turtles. There was no other way.
For even more examples of weird old comics ads (along with lots of examples of classic Hostess ads and publishers' house ads), head over to the Tomorrow's Heroes website.