Friday, December 18, 2009

I Was Totally Taken In

There are many ads which ran in comic books over the years. Some memorable ones- the countless offers for huge sets of army men for next to nothing (they were 1:72 scale- a fact which was not disclosed in the ad), offers to sell Grit newspapers and Olympic greeting cards, the ubiquitous X-ray specs and Giant Monster ads. But the one that will always be the most iconic ad campaign to run in comics has to be the Sea Monkeys.

Oh the wonders those ads promised! Look at that happy family of fantastic, aquatic creatures. And they do tricks! Sadly, the advertisers have colored the truth a little.

The example above is a latter-day ad which includes a close-up view of an actual "sea monkey", the lowly brine shrimp. The brine shrimp (commonly sold as fish food) is a life form so simple it can survive being dehydrated and then resume life upon contact with water (which makes them convenient to mail). They look nothing like the cute, pink, sea people depicted in the ad. As to tricks... well they do respond to certain stimuli by doing a sort of flip.

Although I never could bring myself to cut up a comic book, even as a kid, I really pity the poor kids who cut up their comic book and mailed in their hard-earned money just to get some plankton by mail.


  1. I recall all those ads. I recall examining them and daydreaming how cool it would be to have playhouse-submarine! I showed these ads to my parents, testing the waters to see if I could get an early birthday gift or something. Their response was cool at best.

    I was a keen Lego builder as a child. One ad offered a hundred magnets for 79 cents. The illustration showed them to be at least the size of a Lego brick and also offered many examples of the wonderful Lego-like things one could build with these bricks. My knowledge of magnetic physics was zero, so I was not alerted to any chicanery.

    I convinced my sisters to pool our allowances and our parents helped us address the envelope properly and mail it.

    The 100 Magnets arrived in a normal business envelope, not a box. They were roughly the size of a pinky fingernail. Even with tiny things like this, I soon learned that magnet poles do not allow fanciful Lego style construction.

    My parents now revealed that this was a Lesson to be Learned. It was a good one. I looked at comic ads with a very jaundiced eye after that.

    As an adult, I have seen that magnet ad. In the text of the ad, they do actually state the truthful size of the magnets, totally at odds with the large illustrations. Nothing like counting on the literacy levels and early education of the readership to make one's cash.

  2. Blaze- I know that ad! They clearly show a hand building a little dog with magnets. I never even thought about how the shift in polarity would make building a corner nigh impossible.

    Thanks for responding!

  3. I remember these ads myself, and somehow they always made me sad - I think it was the depiction of the sea monkey as actual people - families - with faces and personalities. What? Where they all dead before they were shipped? Were these families born when water was added? What about the packets of sea monkeys that never got purchased. Were they just dead forever? Horrible to contemplate. -- Mykal

  4. Mykal- Wow! Deep. Now I will always think of Sea Monkeys in some surreal, Hellish limbo.

  5. My little brother bought the sea-monkeys, and the notion that they got over 1/2 inch in length was laughable. I don't think I ever bought anything advertised in the comics other than (of course) other comics. There were a lot of ripped-off kids out there, however; Google Grog Grows Own Tail for example.

  6. OMG Me too! Sea Monkeys were such a major disappointment. Even more so were the X-Ray specs--with the little cartoon of the dude seeing through that woman's dress with steam blowing out of his ears and his tongue lolling out in a perverted fashion. Took those to school and leered all day, but never did get to see the goods. Curses! Foiled again!

    Yeah, I was probably one of those dumbass kids who cut out the ads. Right after I stuck a firecracker up Stretch Armstrong's ass or something.

    What I want to know is did anyone ever get the "7 Foot Tall Monster" that was supposed to walk, or maybe it was a ghost? I always wanted it but my dad said it was just a cardboard cutout. Was it?

  7. The 7-foot monster was a paper cutout. We used it for a Halloween decoration on the front door. Ours never walked.