Adscape: Cube Lube

I've read a lot of comic books and seen a lot of strange advertisements, but this... I don't even know what to say. 

I can't even pull myself together enough to make a proper joke connecting the Rubik's Cube craze and some sort of deviant sexual practice. Cube Lube. CUBE LUBE!

I would, however, be willing to place a bet that the name preceded the actual product in whatever brainstorming session this was come up with in.

- From DC Comics Presents No. 46

BONUS, from the same issue:

Whether this is the greatest or worst ad I have ever seen shall remain a mystery for the ages.

Adscape: Wildroot Cream Oil

Here are several facts about Wildroot Cream Oil:

1) Roughly zero people use Wildroot Cream Oil today.

2) If one goes by the ads alone, approximately one hundred percent of people used to use Wildroot Cream Oil.

3) This is possibly because Wildroot Cream Oil had one of the greatest jingles of all time. If I had the opportunity and/or the hair, I would be sporting a cream-oiled coiffure this very moment. I sometimes find myself singing it while going about my day, and I cannot help that I am doing so.

4) Not content to rest on their musical laurels, the folks down at Wildroot had their fingers in a multitude of advertising pies, and evidently comic books were a fertile source of cream oil customers, because they sport such ads up until at least the mid-Sixties.

4a)The most basic of these ads took the form of one- or three-panel gag strips, wherein users of Wildroot Cream Oil might get the girl:

Or non-users might be set up as an unflattering mirror to the un-cream oiled reader. How will you every get the girl if you look like this, after all?

Or - and perhaps more disturbingly than intended - Wildroot Cream Oil could be portrayed as more important than the girl, as a necessity of life to be considered before all other things.

4b) About the time that Wildroot was sponsoring the Sam Spade radio program, the company's print advertising started featuring the detective as well. The number of crimes solved due to the absence, application or in one case aerial bombardment of hair tonic reached levels unheard-of before or since.

Notably, however, since this was the radio Sam Spade and not the novel or movie version, there was never an instance of Sam ruthlessly manipulating a collection of colourful underworld characters into betraying and murdering one another over a bottle of Wildroot. Which is a shame, because advertising needs more melancholy tales of moral ambiguity and bittersweet revenge.

4c) And then, presumably, Wildroot's Sam Spade contract ran out, because there was a new perfectly groomed detective in town: Charlie Wild.

Charlie Wild's adventures tended to be a bit more abbreviated than Sam Spade's, but they conveyed the same basic message: if your hair is messy then you have two basic career paths, criminal...

... or loser. Conversely, of course, an application of a certain popular name-brand hair tonic both signified virtue and raised esteem.


Even Charlie Wild, however, was not immune to the eerily addictive effects of Wildroot.

4d) And finally, there's Fearless Fosdick.

Fosdick, of course, was Al Capp's parody of Dick Tracy that existed as a comic-within-a-comic in the strip Lil' Abner - which is possibly the most convoluted explanation of a licensed property that I have ever had to give - and as such was probably the source of some of the most absurdly entertaining of the Wildroot ads.


His most endearing feature as a corporate shill, though, is that he's just as dang fond of the jingle as I am.

(Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie...)

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.

Adspace: This is Amazing.

I encountered this the other day in an old issue of Creepy, and I honestly don't know if I should feel bad for immediately thinking "sex mask": 


I mean, it clearly bears some resemblance to your standard issue gimp headgear, but the ad copy is so, so earnest.

Is this a case of  "Any kid who sees this ad is clearly going to want to star as a generic "Masked Avenger"! We're going to make a mint!" or some guy with a warehouse full of unsold sex toys and a gift for hyperbole?

I feel that this conundrum is echoed in the picture, in the form of that kid's exquisitely-styled hairdo vs. the bottomless depths of despair in his or her eyes. This is going to haunt me for days.

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.

Adscape: The Smith Brothers Play No Favourites

This Christmas past, I was teaming up with my father to get the last few bits of our shopping done and I happened to espy the above package (well, not the exact same one - I don't have my scanner here and anyway it has been in my coat pocket for three months - it looks like it was in a car accident). I'd already spent the last of my cash on quail, so I forced my poor progenitor to buy them for me in exchange for my advice on what sort of candy to get for my brother's girlfriend.

But what could possibly have filled my normally-altruistic heart with such mercenary impulses, and in the very season that Pappy Solstice, Santa Claus, Grampy Tanglebeard and their ilk are examining the actions of humanity with such care?

The answer, as is so often the case when my motivations are opaque to those around me, lay with my obsession for antique media, in this case Silver Age Comics. Smith Brothers ads have been creeping into my brain for years but I'd honestly never thought to see the things in real life and so hadn't bothered to build a wall of cynicism and determination around the affected portion of my brain, like I do for, say, Swffers. As soon as I saw that little white box sitting on the shelf all of the Smith Brothers' virtues, beamed into my mind from the back pages of Batman and Mystery in Space, came crashing down on my consciousness. It was all I could do not to trample small children just to get my hands on them faster.

Compounding the problem is the fact that I love most of their ads. they tend to be adorable:

Oddly, though, they don't really feature any recurring characters other than Trade and Mark, the bearded bros. One ad might feature the ultra-cute singing children pictured above, while the next showcases the Brothers' ability to enter the dreams of sick children:

Actually, that one was a recurring theme:

Thing is, it's always a different kid, even if they kind of look like they were issued the same button nose and tousled hair at birth. Either the Smith Brothers were careful to spread their wisdom around - which makes sense, given that the average child should be capable of retaining the "take cough drops when you have a cough" wisdom - or I just haven't yet encountered the continuing adventures of Mickey Marvel, Boy Box Kite Enthusiast. I kind of suspect that I'm missing out on some further adventures of these next guys especially:

I'm actually kind of tormented by the thought that there might be more to this story. Do Nip and Tuck go on to have further adventures? Was there a prequel to this one or did it really start in media res? Will I ever learn of the origin of their ludicrous nicknames? Certainly there was at least some further mileage in the "buy our cough drops or people might kill you" plot, as evidenced by this ad by competing drop manufacturer Ludens:

I honestly though that Hatchet Hattie was just misunderstood and that this would turn out to be a comic about tolerance, but no, it's about cough drops preventing axe murder.

But I digress. The subject was the non-recurrence of characters in Smith Brothers ads. As I said, there may be many more of the pesky things than I have encountered over the years, but the only character who I have seen in the them more than once - aside from the Brothers themselves, of course - is the beanie kid from the first ad, above, and I'm pretty sure that he is the ultimate factor that led to my Christmastime fall-from-grace.

How could I resist his tuba-playing charms? HOW?