Kirk Demarais takes a novel idea and turns it in to an original book about—well—novelties! I grew up an avid comic book reader, and in almost every comic book from the eighties I read, there was a humongous page of novelties, gadgets, and tricks that the company in the ads offered to buyers. These seemingly magical prizes ranged in prices of anywhere between five cents, to five dollars, tops. Often times, these massive ads could also be found in hobby magazines, youth oriented magazines, and their promises were huge.
And just like everyone else, I spent a lot of my time thinking about what would happen if I ever piled up a dollar and a quarter for a giant dinosaur, or plans to build my very own robot. Even well in to my twenties, I would often discuss the ads with friends that collected comics, too. Author Demarais explores every single object from these too good to be true ads, and reveals whether they lived up to their hype, or were nothing but a waste of money best used for candy or more comic books. What’s surprising about the book is that about fifty percent of the ads gave exactly what they promised, and the other half of the time, they were just taking your money. Of course, a lot of the results also depended on the height of your expectations, and how misleading the ads were.
For example, the machine that promised to turn paper in to actual money was really just a cheap magic trick that was purposely advertised as a machine that could magically print money for its buyer. I’m also saddened to see that the Kryptonite Rock offered for Superman fans is really just nothing but a normal rock painted bright green and tucked in to a cool box. But there are also some ads that offer something much different than advertised that are really cool nonetheless, such as the seven foot monster. It’s really just a seven foot poster of Frankenstein or Dracula, but so brilliantly drawn and painted. I could picture myself hanging it on my room door if I’d bought it as a child. There’s also looks at the loud cannon that is a medium sized heavy metal cannon that shoots loud blasts, and the iconic Sea Monkeys.
Demarais gets big bonus points for his sly “Creepshow 2” reference. Some of the more entertaining sections include the exploration of the “100 Soldiers” toys that were not as promised, but became popular nonetheless. As well, there’s a big section devoted to the rewards programs for kids that wanted to sell greeting cards for big prizes. I’m glad I paid for “Mail Order Mysteries,” since Demarais’s work of love gives readers exactly as promised. It’s a valuable tome that covers every basic doohickey and mind control gizmo you read about in the comics when you were a child or teenager. If you want to know if stuff like a vial of actual soil from Dracula’s castle, a life like severed finger, or “the Archie Club” really gave consumers their money’s worth, Kirk Demarais’s “Mail Order Mysteries” is not just a lot of fun to read, but a wonderful trip through nostalgia.