The PopCulteer
December 9, 2011

This week’s PopCulteer sees the beginning of our annual PopCult gift guide. For the next two weeks you can hit up this blog for a daily gift recommendation. We’ll point you to books, CDs, toys, and all sorts of bizarre novelty items, all designed to thrill and delight the Pop Culture devotee on your Christmas list. We’ve also got several local fundraising efforts to tell you about, so let’s get on with it…

The PopCult Gift Guide Day One:
Mail-Order Mysteries
by Kirk DeMarais

There are some people who believe that, when you die, every question that you’ve ever had in your life will be answered. Thanks to Kirk DeMarais you won’t have to wait that long for answers to some of the most pressing questions.

This book answers all of life's most important questions

Mail-Order Mysteries is a pretty comprehensive look at all the stuff they used to sell in cheesy ads in comic books. DeMarais has spent years scouring eBay to track down all the cheap, crappy toys, bodybuilding and karate books, rubber masks and other dubious wonders that were so tempting to kids who didn’t know any better way back then.

Of course, when you were a kid, you didn’t have enough money to send seven bucks in so that you could buy a Nuclear Submarine. Hell, it was tough to scrape up a dollar for a “Monster Size Monster.” If you asked your folks they’d tell you it was a rip-off and say “no.”

Admit it, since then you’ve been wondering. How different would your life have been if only you had a six-foot tall Frankenstein? Would ordering from the Johnson Smith catalog make you the coolest kid in school? Would you be wealthy now if you’d been able to get “1,001 Things Free?” Could you have taken a Sea Monkey to the prom?

The Raqel Welchpillow was just a tiny plastic thing, like most of today's actresses

With Mail-Order Myteries you will discover that the answer to all your questions is “no.” For the most part, your parents were right. These were rip-offs. DeMarais presents this parade of cheesy crap in such an entertaining manner that you will love every minute of finding out that you didn’t waste your money after all.

Even if you were permanently scarred by actually having to cope with the disappointment of blowing your hard-earned cash on any of these items, the crisp photos and hilarious (and well-researched) text will cheer you up even while ripping the scabs off of your long-healed psychic wounds.

All the biggies are here. Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Spex, Charles Atlas, and there;s an entire section on those oh-so-tempting toy soldier sets. If you ever wondered how they managed to sell so many little army men for so cheap, the secret is that they weren’t really three-dimensional. They were tiny and flat. A French waiter offering one to Mr. Creosote would say that they are “wafer thin.”

Apparently these toy soldiers were unleavened, so at least they're kosher

If you’re looking for a gift for a person who’s just the right age (maybe 35 to 60) who has a love of inexpensive trinketry, then this book will give them just the right mix of nostalgia and the satisfaction of knowing that they didn’t waste their money.

The book is a real treat. Vintage ads are reproduced alongside photos of what actually came in the package after your excrutiating four-to-six week wait. DeMarais adds brief, hysterical descriptions of what a kid might expect as opposed to what they received, and the book is jam-packed with great information about the items and the people who created them.

Okay, tell me the Vampire Girl rubber mask does not look exactly like Marilyn Manson

The only trivial note I found that DeMarais missed was that the book, “1001 Valuable Things You Can Get Free” was written by famed Superman editor, Mort Weisinger, and that he made enough money off of it to retire from comics in 1970. Since he mentioned Russ Heath, who drew the Roman Solders ad, and Joe Orlando, who drew the Sea Monkey’s ad, this lapse is easily forgiven. I only mention it because it’s the only criticism I can offer of this book.

Mail-Order Mysteries can be ordered from Amazon, or you can have Taylor Books order it for you. It’s written by Kirk DeMarais and the ISBN number is 978-1-60887-026-4


Three local filmmakers are using Indie-GoGo to raise funds for their next projects. Two of them are even movies. These are all worthwhile projects and if you want to support our local artists, here’s your chance. A disclaimer: your PopCulteer is sort of involved with all of these projects, but I will not gain any financially from these fundraising efforts. Just click on the widgets below to learn more about each project.

First up First up we have “Carbon” a graphic novel by legendary local film guru Daniel Boyd. My involvement with this has mainly been cheerleading and offering behind-the-scenes advice. Since I’ve known Danny for nearly thirty years, I gotta admit to being excited to see this book come to life. You will see a trailer for “Carbon” in RFC 149 next week.

Next we have “Ladybeard,” a film that will be filmed in Huntington and Charleston next year. David and Alexis Smith and Apartment 2B Productions are the mastermind behind this movie, and it looks like I will have a part in the film. You will get to see a music video produced by the Apartment 2B crew, also in next week’s RFC 149.

Finally we have “PORKCHOPP3D,” the third film in director Eamon Hardiman’s Porkchop trilogy. This Razor Sharp Studios production is gearing up for preproducton hot on the heels of the release of “Porkchops,” the second film in the trilogy, in which your PopCulteer has a cameo role.

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. We have thirteen more daily doses of our gift guide coming your way, along with RFC 149 and all our regular features. So keep hitting the refresh button, okay?