Mail-Order Mysteries by Kirk Demarais (book review).

I’ve been planning on pulling a copy of Kirk Demarais’ book, ‘Mail-Order Mysteries’, for some time. If you read American comicbooks back in the 1960s-70s, you couldn’t miss the pages of adverts full of toys and such for kids at low prices. As kids in the 1960s, we could only look at the cheap prices and wonder if American kids were spoilt with the low prices or being sold a lot of gullible rubbish. Back then, if memory serves, a dollar was less than the pound but the Americans could buy more with it.

Although Demarais says he didn’t buy anything from them at time, he set himself a project of getting them in recent years to see how they matched to the adverts. It’s hardly surprising that they turned out to mostly ripped-off junk. That’s not to say he didn’t come up with the odd jewel but you would have better luck panning for gold.

I did find a couple of them in the joke shops over here in the UK. The x-ray specs are, as he says has some fine threads in them that distort anything you look at into a double image. Although you won’t see bones or raw flesh, it might be a good way to spot David Vincent’s Invaders. Mind you, have big words on the frame telling everyone else what you’re doing might be a giveaway. The ventriloquist disk to have in the inner palate didn’t actually work and I was afraid of swallowing it. I did get a ‘Magic-Brain Calculator’ and I think I still have it stowed away in a box somewhere. Sometimes, these gadgets proved I could calculate faster in my head than fiddle with an abacus like this. Then again, my parents bought me a Sketch-A-Graph’/pantograph one yuletide in my pre-teens and I found I could draw maps even faster without it. Talent versus gadgets, then the latter tends to lose.

Oddly, the ‘Secret Book Safe’ looks like a copy of a British design. My Dad gave me a couple GPO book boxes that looked very much like this from the 1950s except ours was made of metal not plastic and a lot more sturdier.

The jewel is the 6-Foot Monster-Size Monster posters of Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula drawn by Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis. There’s also ‘How To Draw Monsters’ by commercial artist Harry Borgman.

Oh, something I found out when I went into a darkened room, the book cover is luminous. Probably quite not the same stuff you could buy in the early 1970s but a nice touch.

After reading, I had to have a think about anything significant or interesting that Demarais had forgotten. There was a miniature naked lady in a walnut and the chap selling shark’s teeth or rather one to a chain as a lucky talisman in the early 1970s with the crudest artwork ever. Then again, if he covered all the food and promotional adverts by the bigger companies, there would be enough for another book.

On reflection, if you were American and resisted buying these things in the 1960s-1970s then I think you will regard yourself as being lucky and saved your money to buy comicbooks as being the right decision. At least, in the UK, we could mostly see what we avoided in the joke shops.

This is an informative book about an odd part of American comicbook history that should stir some memories in all comicbook fans.

GF Willmetts

April 2020

(pub: Insight Editions, 2011. 155 page illustrated medium hardback. Price: I pulled my copy for £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-60887-026-4)

check out website: www.insighteditions.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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