The Unfunnies: I Believed in You, Little Pete

Though the comics that I've designated Unfunnies usually existed solely to fill space (or possibly they were part of some attempt to circumvent mailing regulations, I've never been too clear on the nitty-gritty), every once in a while DC took a stab at sneaking a little extra advertising into one, and I'm sure that they never found a more willing shill than the odious Little Pete:

Not only does Dr. Means reinforce Pete's lying ways, but he jumps on the cash-fuelled Trik-Trak bandwagon without hesitation. 

Here's the regular ad that ran in DC books about the same time:

Note that Trik-Trak was made by Transogram, makers of Ka-bala, the incredible home occultism game, and that Ka-bala is the other product that was stealth-advertised in an Unfunny. What does this all mean? I have no idea.

- Little Pete's shame was found in Challengers of the Unknown No. 44, while the Trik-Trak ad is from Aquaman No. 19.

Adscape: You Are Under the Spell of Ka-Bala

As I mentioned in my review of The Bulletproof Coffin yesterday, Shaky Kane and David HIne have referenced one of my very faourite pieces of occult claptrap, Ka-Bala, which possibly hasn't seen the light of day since Grant Morrison stuck a working one under the Pentagon in some of the weirdest issues of his run on the Doom Patrol


I originally fell in love with Ka-Bala thanks to this ad, which is not only a study in hyperbole but an interesting look at what 1967 advertisers thought children might be interested enough in to dabble in the black arts. After some examination, however, I became extremely impressed with the inclusiveness of the mystic experience presented by Ka-Bala. Firstly, as can be seen here, the glowy effects seen above are no lie: that sucker is made out of luminous plastic, and the Eye of Zohar has its own little clip-on halo. And speaking of the Eye:

Both the Eye and the game itself almost certainly derive their names from Cabbala/Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, in which Zohar is the most important text, and probably not a glowing, ever-revolving eye. As well, and I'm not sure that this is intentional, the Eye is constantly staring at the "crystal marble", an obvious nod to the classic Old Cinematic Gypsy trick of crystallomancy, or divination by gazing into an orb, jewel, or possibly champaign. But wait, there's more:

The game also came with "Taro" cards, which I am now considering a misspelling of Tarot rather than a deliberate distancing since I'm told that they had images of the Major Arcana on the back. And, though not shown in this ad, the figures of the Zodiac are set around the rim of the game, so you can use it to do a little ad hoc astrology if necessary. Yes, in one wee mass-produced device, the Transogram company managed to encapsulate all of the forms of divination that the average North American is likely to ever encounter. But they could - and should - have gone so much farther! As long as we're trying to tell the future, why don't we haul out some of the interesting ways to do so?

First off: as cool as the Eye of Zohar is, I have to admit that I'm extremely fond of the concept of alectryomancy, in which you employ a rooster in much the same capacity. Originally, you'd place the rooster in a circle with letters around the rim and take note of how it walked or pecked. And here's where it really beats the Eye: since you couldn't very well put a live rooster in every box, the thing would have to be made out of plastic, yes? So why not fill it with plastic guts and introduce children to the joys of extispicy, also known as haruspex, divination by reading the entrails of birds. Heck, this one could be a twofer, as you could also give them some knowledge of the grand old and even more specific art of heptascopy, or reading the future in an animal's liver. I mean, I assume that you could only do one at a time, but maybe a failed bit of extispicy could be salvaged at the heptascopic level.


Of course, the Eye doesn't necessarily have to go: with a minor change it could become a representative of that most modern of divinatory techniques, the Magic 8 Ball, which I'm going to call billiardomancy. It may not be etymologically correct, but dammit, I like it. Plus I don't know how to say pool ball in Greek.

Of course, if the Eye were actually on fire rather than merely being surrounded by an eerie plastic glow, you could get up to both pyromancy, which involves looking for signs in the shape of flames, and empyromancy, or burning things and then... somehow telling the future from the way that they burn. I really wish that I'd known about empyromancy when I was a teenager - I could have been the most future-aware kid in school.

Oh, and I guess that you could get up to a bit of scapulimancy, but really: who has enough shoulder blades laying around for that any more?

Of course, if you're already doing some divination by a fire, you might as well get up to a bit of axinomancy, or - you guessed it - divination by means of making an axe red hot and observing the motions of a piece of jet placed upon its surface. Always a hit at camp-outs.

All of these are certainly opportunities that Transogram missed, but none of them sadden me more than the exclusion of my newly-discovered favourite method of divination: gyromancy.

Gyromancy is the noble art of spinning around until you get dizzy and fall over, the direction of your fall being the significant factor. Transogram, if you still exist as a company, take note: above is my concept sketch for the Ka-Bala Gyroscopy Plus, with ride-in Eye of Zohar. Just climb inside and the mystic orb will do the rest, whirling around and around until you're so dizzy that you can't help but accurately predict the future! Call me!

One last thing: I'd only ever encountered the one Ka-Bala ad, so imagine my surprise when I found a second. Here it is, for posterity:

Poor Billy. This is the Sixties equivalent of your parents figuring out how to use the email.

Review of advertising, By Johnathan

So, as you might have been able to tell by even a casual glance at the rest of my entries in this blog of love and magic, I like the old comics - I find them delicious. One of the things that I love the most about these funnybooks of yore is the advertising - partially because the way that things are advertised has changed so much and partially because no matter how gandiose the claims made or exciting the typeface used, I know in advance how successful the product was, and can snicker to myself on a level totally different from that on which I usually snicker at advertising.

But enough generalities - how about some specific examples, eh Johnathan? (this is what I'm imagining you saying - good job on spelling my name right, by the way.) Very well: here are some advertisements that I have oh-so-tenderly liberated from their original contexts.
(I recommend clicking on the images to get the full impact of their majesty)

First up:
So, putting aside the fact that the cartoon spokescat looks like he's hooked on a mild euphoric (Which is not actually uncommon - I believe that if such characters were real, the stigma of possible drug abuse would hover over their misshapen heads like a life of petty crime haunts the future of every child sitcom star), and putting aside the notion that anyone could have fun playing with those crappy-looking models - let alone acquire a million laughs from each, or from both in tandem - the real eye-catchers for me in this ad were the three young chaps that were oh-so impressed by el Gato's drug-addled ramblings. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
The first of these youngsters, although noseless, might be the only honest one of the bunch - he took AMT's money but he just couldn't bring himself to praise such stupid models, so just went with an expression of polite disbelief. I'll bet that he grew up to be a mildly corrupt cop. The second child, who I'm guessing - due to the same congenital lack of nose - is the first tyke's brother, chooses to focus on the model-building process - with his talents of obfuscation and misdirection, he's probably gone into politics. The third kid... well, putting aside the fact that he's flat-out lying and he knows it: look at that face! You could insert basically any evil thing that you want into that speech balloon and it will look totally natural. "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." "In exactly thirty minutes the Statue of Liberty will be no more.""Kill all of the kittens." Kid gives me the creeps. Probably lurking in somebody's closet right now.
I include this ad only so that I can point out that a)"It's magically delicious!" is a much better catch phrase than "Tis a charmin' cereal... simply charmin.'" and b) Either this is Lucky the Leprechaun's dad, or ol' Lucky's had a facelift some time in the last thirty-odd years.
It's a bitchin' bike, and not a bad idea, but the four-panel format always left a lot of questions unanswered in the various adventures of the i patrol that've cropped up in my reading over the years. For instance: everyone leaps into action / onto their bicycles in order to find this kid, but the bikes don't really come into the resolution of the adventure, like they would if the kid were trapped in, say, a half-pipe or been kidnapped by someone in a motorized wheelchair. Also: character development. This kid in the sombrero intrigues me - I didn't think that sombreros were big as accessories in the late Sixties, and if I'm right I want to know why this kid's got one on. Is he half Mexican? Was the iversion Corporation so in the know that they were trying to woo the Hispanic segments of the purchasing public decades before anyone else? Sadly, I doubt that we'll ever know.
Hoo boy - this one's a doozy. Setting aside the fact that those kids look kind of like store mannequins brought to hideous life, and setting aside the fact that the text starts rhyming halfway through, we come to the really important question: What the hell?

What the hell was this thing? It looks like somebody read - no, skimmed - a book on mysticism and fortune-telling, and then crammed as much of it as possible into a single creepy package. You got the name, Ka-bala, which is surely not meant to invoke the spirit of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism, as popularized by Madonna), surely. You got Taro(t) cards, you got some faux ouija board stuff with the old Eye of Zohar (which looks a bit like a Magic Eightball, come to think of it) - you've even got several references to the marble being made of crystal, which is probably no mistake. Cripes - I'm surprised that there wasn't a little fold-out table where you could read the entrails of a plastic bird.

Little backgound on the last entry: the Phantom Stranger is this mysterious guy who gets into all of the magical business in the DC Universe. He might be all powerful, and he might be a semi-fallen angel, and he might be a lot of things. Every time that somebody tries to really nail down what the Stranger's really all about, somebody else muddies the water again. He's mysterious. Only three things about him are known for sure: he has a cool name, he has a cool hat, and in this one Hellblazer comic he shows up at John Constantine's birthday party and gets vomited on, which was cool. Anyway, apparently at one point he had a comic book all to himself, and here's the ad: Children! Are you prepared to follow strangers? Phantom strangers? Awesome.

Everything's JOHN APPROVED