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When the ads were better than the comics

I don’t know how many of you readers have old comic books stashed away in your attic but if you do you should check them out – you may have a gold mine.

It’s hard to believe what some of those little books are worth today. The same ones that used to cause some much concern for professionals who had nothing better to worry about.

Back when I was a kid learned people spent entire lifetimes trying to prove how comics were turning us into criminals.

There were special groups formed to get comic books off the news stands and store shelves. Sure seems facetious when you compare them to the problems of today.

I grew up as a faithful reader of such fine literature as Mutt and Jeff, LIttle Lulu, Roy Rogers, Batman and Superman.

I can’t speak for the rest of that generation, but as far as I am concerned I remember more about the ads in those books than I do the comics themselves.

One could buy all sorts of wonders in those little masterpieces. Just 59-cents would buy you a camera that fit in the palm of your hand for taking secret spy pictures. For 39-cents a pair of metal handcuffs for securing bad guys could be yours.

A dollar would get you an entire platoon of metal soldiers including cannons; or, if you so desired, you could obtain cowboys and Indians, enough to start a war of your very own.

If a little salesmanship was what you wanted then it was possible to win such prizes as a bike or portable radio just for allowing your relatives and friends the opporunity to purchase a few boxes of greeting cards.

The greatest of all ads had to be the ones that Charles Atlas ran in every comic book available. The ad featured a drawing of some muscle-bound guy kicking sand in the face of a skinny runt. There would be a big headline shouting: “Are you tired of being a 98-pound weakling?” Then it would explain how this runt had taken his good-looking girlfriend to the beach where a big bully had kicked sand in his face and took his girl away.

The ad would then tell how this bag of bones went home and picked up a comic book. In it he saw a Charles Atlas advertisement and decided to send in the attached coupon along with 10 cents to Charles for a little help.

Charlie came through in a big way. Within a few weeks our skinny hero was transferred into a powerful hulk. Just a few minutes a day was all it took to turn him into a handsome brute of a guy.

So our hero returns to that infamous beach and performs like any clean red-blooded ex-skinny American would perform. He punches the bully in the beak and walks away with his good-looking girlfriend in hand.

I guess I was about average for a preteen at the time. Few were the times I would walk by the mirror without flexing my muscles and checking out the old physique. I’m not saying I was skinny, but 98-pounds sounded pretty big to me.

Naturally I figured Old Charlie might be my answer, too. I made the small investment of just 10 cents and returned the coupon. I could already imagine my body being altered into a walking power plant.

Within a few weeks a letter arrived! I ripped it open as I ran to the privacy of my room. I couldn’t wait to start transforming myself into a deadly weapon.

Alas, It seemed Mr. Atlas wasn’t about to share his secrets for one thin dime. Not even close. The only way I could get in on Charlie’s secret was to scrape up the unbelievable amount of $75 and get it back to him within 30 days. Either that or the price would go up to $100.

In today’s money that might not seem overly expensive to transform an 80 pound body into a future Mr. America, but it might as well been $1,000 back in 1953.

I’ve long since passed the 80-pound bracket, the 98-pound figure and even the 130-pound mark. Instead of sending for a program to gain weight I’ve probably be better off investing in something to help me shed some pounds.

I wonder if old Charlie ever had that problem.

(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)

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