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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rad Ads - Play By Mail, the ROCK T-shirt that is 'sweeping the country', and Mindreading

Welcome back to Rad Ads — the article series in which we look back at comic book ads that ran in DC comics during the eighties (and sometimes the early nineties — depending on how inspired we're feeling). Today's segment is brought to you by Rad Ads alumni Chris Sheehan (of the Chris Is On Infinite Earths blog) and returning contributor Jason Brown (you may remember him for his review of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad from last year.)

Seen sometime in 1981:

Jason: This ad seems to hold promise; play your favorite game ... make new friends ... join a "Society". Chess, Checkers, something called "Pool Checkers" (which sounds like someone who pulls needles and condoms out of the kiddie pool at the local public park), and Othello. That all sounds fine until you get to the "through the mail" part. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean a couple weeks minimum between moves? Wouldn't I rather debate world economics with the DMV sloths from Zootopia? I mean, aren't we talking a game time roughly equivalent to time it would take to raise a toddler? Or backpack around the world? Or finish university? "Why yes, I earned my bachelor's degree in theme park engineering, and won that game of checkers."

Hey look, if you can't find one other person to play Chess or Checkers with you might want to invest a little time away from the comic book collection out in the world of people. Start out with "Hi", then if you do OK with that part, try following up with "How are you?" Send your money to 'South Bend, Indiana 46660'? Kind of a red flag.

Chris: The American Postal Game Society... could you even begin to wrap your head around such a thing? I see an insane man standing at a podium making proclamations to an audience of stuffed animals and action figures... maybe his disappointed parents are there too.

Either that, or this is a dude who visits the post office every day to try and "sell them" on his idea. He's got this elevator pitch where he explains that they’ll strike it rich by selling "man sections". The postal employees just smile and nod and tell him that his idea is "pretty good".

Could you imagine sending $10 in the mail to some post office box with an index cards that reads "I want two man sections"... what does that even mean? What do you expect to receive in return? Another index card that says "Okay"? Things like this make me so happy crowdfunding wasn't a thing back in the 1980s.

...and then in 1986:

Jason: "Conquer all of Europe, or even an entire galaxy. Colonize a planet or destroy it ... YOU decide." Raise a civilization, then raze it to the ground. Kill 'em all on my random whim. My people will learn to love their Lord; and fear him! There very fates will be my playthings! The entire galaxy will tremble as I bring down my terrible hammer of judgement! Um ... yes ... every three weeks. But you know, they have been "industry leader" for 16 years, so ... well you know, they must know how to give me the play by mail adventure payoffs I'm looking for. Flying Buffalo sounds about right.

I dabbled in Play by Mail games back in the late 80s. The first one that I played was Duelmasters. You design your gladiators, then fill out these battle sheets, your strategic actions for the whole game. Then you send it off, obsess about it, pine for it, get depressed waiting for it, and about 3 weeks later a computer generated report of your battles comes back and it's the most exciting thing in your life for about ten minutes. The computer generated battle — I guess they fed all the data into a computer (at least that's what they said ... for all I know, they just made it up) - reads like a play by play: "this character did this", "that character did that", "this happened", "that happened". You either win or lose and then can post stuff about it on the newsletter. I remember feeling like a real celebrity reading my own contributions to the newsletter.

I was pretty new and some people were exchanging info on how to crack the code of the game and stuff like that. I made a team of six characters that I named after an Anthrax album called Among the Living, and all my characters named after heavy metal songs. The one character I had that never got defeated — he won 6 times — was called Subjugator. I think it was probably legitimate - I think Subjugator was a well-balanced design, so he kept winning. Now I'm thinking they secretly let you have one character who wins a lot to keep you sending in your money. (I wasn't capable of that level of cynicism back then.) I had this other character, called Nuclear Assault (named after the band), and he was a really speedy character. He had very fast repetitive attacks and won 2 or 3 matches. Then I got cocky and went up against this undefeated opponent, called Rook Lamachine who deflected all of my attacks until I ran out of steam, then finished me easily. I'll never forget Rook Lamachine for giving me the gift of humility.

That same company made another game called Hyborian War which is set in the world of Conan the Barbarian.You rule of a country in Hyborea dealing with politics, finances and all this other boring crap I couldn't get a handle on in high school. So you put in your orders for your country for that turn, and then they send you back the report of what's happening. I ruled Asgard, north of Cimmeria, Conan's homeland, and I basically drove it into the ground. Asgard was half-decent when I started and just a smoldering crater when I finished. I couldn't seem to figure out the politics or finances or any of that stuff. I discovered that ruling a country isn't as easy as one might think.

Before I kicked the Play By Mail habit for good, I played another one where I ran a street gang. The goal was to pull off crimes and take over city blocks. What a great vehicle for the imagination.

The last one was called Alamaze — which was a fantasy world — but I never got around to playing that one (because I think I discovered girls or music or something else legitimate).

I just checked online and these games still exist. What's hilarious is that anyone would want to participate in Play By Mail games now that the internet exists. What's even more hardcore is the fact that I just ordered the starter package for all of them.

[Editor's note: As of this writing, Flying Buffalo is still an existing gaming company, holds a prestigious list of awards for the games they've created and offers Play By Mail/E-Mail games, Smartphone Apps, custom dice, German miniatures, and a Nuclear War card game. Got to hand it to this company to keeping true to the dream.]

Circa 1984:

Jason: This ad looks similar to when they are trying to emulate something North American, but it's actually coming from Kazakhstan or someplace like that. It kinda looks like they reproduced (and by reproduce, I mean they had a ten-year-old draw it), some vague images of ... AC/DC's Angus Young, I think ... wearing his school boy uniform ... yeah, that's definitely Angus Young on the bottom left. I'm pretty sure that's Brian Johnson (the singer of AC/DC) on the top right with some sort of bass guitar that looks like a really big deformed piece of black licorice. And then there's the guy beside him, who has a devil head (that maybe looks like someone put a cigarette out on it), and finally it says "MASTERS OF METAL" by the collar.

Sweeping the country? I'm not totally convinced. Don't get me wrong, I mean it is a pretty rockin' shirt. Personally, I might have first hired a real artist, or maybe at least used some photos. Also, the composition is a little ... oh, I don't know, ridiculous? Hey, let's put these shitty child drawings in a nice display, but leave the bottom right blank. Then we'll cram "MASTERS OF METAL" up by the neck like it's an afterthought. It's like some cement worker had a bright idea to make a killing tricking comic book fans into buying this garbage shirt he threw together with his buddy who owns a printing shop and his artistically talented son (who sketched some pics from a magazine with AC/DC in it he found in a ditch). None of them speak English, so they couldn't read any of the names and by the time their cousin who does know English transcribed the ad, they had already used the magazine for toilet paper. "Ah!", exclaimed the cement worker as he tapped his forehead, "Just say that it features the world's HOTTEST guitarist eh? The Americans will know who it is! We will be rich!" The one part of the ad that I truly respect for being truthful and accurate is the claim that wearing this shirt, you will definitely be the talk of your friends. (Seriously though, can I still buy this?)

Chris: The first time I came across this ad I would have bet money the “Masters of Metal” were carrying rifles and not guitars! It’s as though a third-world insurgency decided that a horrendous t-shirt would sweep whole country and make many many USD’s.

I’d like to think that in the years that followed this shirt morphed into the more iconic (though equally rockin’) "three wolf moon" shirt.

Sometime in 1987:

Jason: 'Mindreading: learn the secrets and amaze your friends!' Wow, what an incredible deal. Keep in mind, they're not just baiting you with a preview - you're getting the complete course for 5 dollars (plus a dollar postage.) Yep. Mindreading for $6. Now I'm thinking this has got to be along the lines of "If she bites her lip and fidgets with her hair it means she likes you," or "If he becomes intensely quiet and you notice his fists are clenched he might be angry, unless he just drank a lot of water, in which case he may just have to go to the bathroom." Where you finally get the thing just hoping and praying or some kind of low level super powers but then it just falls flat. Just like x-ray glasses and Sea Monkeys.You can almost hear old JoJo Deutch laughing at you as you look in the mirror and see nothing but a big sucker. Unless it was a real thing and there is actually a whole alumni of JoJo Deutch mindreaders out there. But if that's true, I hope none of them also bought the MASTERS OF METAL shirt.

Chris: I always wonder why mindreaders and psychics advertised at all… it kinda goes against their whole schtick, right? I mean, if they can read minds and tell the future, advertising is a pretty poor and foolhardy expense to incur. I gotta wonder if the esteemed JoJo Deutch foresaw nobody buying her amazing course? Hell, at the very least… wouldn’t you figure she would just send the course out to the people she knows will be interested?


If you enjoy reading about the comic book ads of yesteryear, then you're going to enjoy Chris Sheehan and Reggie Hancock's 18th Weird Comics History podcast for the Weird Science DC Comics blog. Chris and Reggie cover the life and times of novelty purveyor S.S. Adams and bodybuilder Charles Atlas and relook at a few of the comic book ads that appeared in the 50s, 60s and 70s. [Chris and Reggie also combo'd last year to bring us one of our first Rad Ad articles.] 

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