Day: October 23, 2023

Vintage Comic Book Ads – X-Ray Glasses, Sea Monkeys and More

Vintage comic book ads are a source of endless inspiration for anyone in any creative field. From itching powder to seven-foot submarines that you and a friend could pilot, these ad promises of the unbelievable held true for decades.

X-Ray Specs first appeared in Monster Fun on 14 June 1975 and moved to Buster in 1976 where it stayed until the strip ended in 2000 (though it reprinted in the 1990s with other Buster strips). It stars Ray who is lent a pair of glasses by optician I. Squint that can see through anything.

Sea Monkeys

The story behind Sea Monkeys is as bizarre and flamboyant as the products themselves. The psychedelic saltwater creatures were invented by Harold von Braunhut, a motorcycle racer/TV producer/magician/agent for carnival acts/inventor. His original idea was based on a bucket of brine shrimp he saw at a pet store. He realized these tiny organisms could undergo a process called cryptobiosis, where they become dormant and can be brought back to life after rehydration.

He trademarked the name Sea Monkeys and teamed up with illustrator Joe Orlando to create colorful packaging and artwork that resembled an underwater world. He began advertising the product in comic books, which were a great way to reach a younger audience.

Unfortunately, kids who received the kits found that their Sea Monkeys bore no resemblance to those in the advertisements. In fact, the creatures were nothing more than brine shrimp that had a very short lifespan. Even worse, it was later discovered that von Braunhut’s profits were being funneled into the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist hate group.

Army Men

In 1975 the first issue of IPC’s boys’ comic Monster Fun featured a strip called X-Ray Specs. It told the tale of Ray who had been lent glasses by optician I. Squint that allowed him to see through clothing or people’s flesh.

The problem with a lot of the mail-order items that appeared in comic books was that they didn’t quite deliver on their promises. Sea Monkeys, for example, promised a tiny living sea creature but were actually brine shrimp that existed in a perpetual state of hibernation. And the Army Men were cheap and paper-thin – not up to the standard of the little green ones you could get in any pharmacy.

But a few of them did work as promised. The pranksters among us would blow a breath or two into them and slip them between the cushions of the couch. Then hilarity ensued. Kirk Demarais, who runs the Gen X nostalgia site Secret Fun Blog, has written a book that uncovers the truth behind 150 of these supposed marvels.

Spy Pen

A spy pen looks like an ordinary writing implement, but actually contains a crystal radio that can be tuned to your chosen station. It doesn’t require batteries, and works by touching a wire to something metal, such as a telephone cord or radiator.

The strip was written by Mike Lacey and first appeared in the 14 June 1975 issue of Monster Fun. It revolved around Ray, a boy who was lent glasses by optician I. Squint that could see through anything. Whether that meant seeing through women’s clothes or his own hand bones, it was up to the imagination of the reader.

The strip stayed with the comic for a long time, and starred on the cover of Buster in 1976. It eventually ended in 2000, but only on the last page, where I. Squint snatched the specs back from Ray, reminding him that they had only ever been a loan.

X-Ray Specs

X-ray vision is one of those things that fires the imaginations of people, especially kids. It’s a feature of the popular DC Comic superhero Superman, who can see through walls to locate bad guys. It’s also a common element in science fiction movies and TV shows.

In the real world, there are no x-ray glasses that actually work. However, the paper x-ray glasses sold in kids’ comics and magazines are pretty close. They are called x-ray specs or x-ray goggles, and they contain cardboard lenses that snap into plastic frames. They create an optical illusion that supposedly lets people see the bones of their hands and through clothing.

Kirk Demarais, who runs the Gen X nostalgia site Secret Fun Blog, has spent the past six years researching these mail-order toys. He recently published the book Mail-Order Mysteries, which exposes the truth behind 150 supposed marvels sold in the ’50s to ’80s. The x-ray glasses were among his discoveries.

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