BEFORE VIDEOGAMES, COMIC BOOKS RULED

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When my brother and I were kids, we decided to give up comic books for Lent one year. What made this sacrifice especially difficult was that our dad knew a guy at D.C. Comics who agreed to send us every comic book they published-more than 30 a month.

Our family went down to Howie-in-the-Hills in Florida for Easter vacation that year, and as the final minutes of Lent counted down we loaded our fishing boat with 50 or so comic books. The second Lent was officially over we'd drop our fishing poles and start devouring the stack of comic books we had brought with us. What a feast!

My friend Mark Vittert has an equally vivid recollection of comic book experiences. As he wrote in a St. Louis Business Journal column: "At Camp Wah-Kon-Dah, snuggled deep in the Ozarks, there was a 11/2 hour period each day, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., where we had to rest. You had to lay on your bunk and rest or read. No talking either. Well, the decisions were really tough-was it `Moby Dick' or Batman, was it `Wuthering Heights' or Superman, was it Archie or, heaven help us, `Silas Marner'? These comic books were like treasures."

One of the most comical things about comic books was the ads, although that seemed perfectly appropriate to this discerning reader.

When Merrilee and I paid our annual visit to Mark and Carol's sumptuous summer retreat in Leland, Mich., Mark showed me a fascinating book on old comic book ads, written and compiled by Miles Beller and Jerry Leibowitz, with a preface by adman Jay Chiat.

As the authors noted, six to seven billion comic books were produced from 1940 to 1960, and more comic books have been printed and published than all the top 10-selling books of the last half-century. "And tucked inside each comic book were numerous ads," the authors of "Hey, Skinny," stated.

The most famous and long-running ad was the Charles Atlas "dynamic tension" body-building system. You remember the ad. A bully on the beach yells over to a skinny guy with his girl, saying, "Hey, skinny .*.*. yer ribs are showing," and then the bully pops the skinny guy, saying, "Shut up, you bag of bones." Then our hero builds himself up using the Charles Atlas method. Cut to the beach and the former skinny guy belts the bully. "Here's a love tap .... from that bag of bones. Remember?" And his girl says, "Oh, Joe! You are a real he-man, after all."

There were ads for a "Sensational! Startling!" Invisible Helmet ("Put it on. Now you can see people, they can't see you!"), Kelpidine chewing gum that enables the chewer to lose 5 lbs. a week, war surplus gas masks, how to land a movie contract, and the glow-in-the-dark necktie ("Girls can't resist this Kiss Me necktie as it glows in the dark").

As they used to say on "Lone Ranger," "Return with us to those thrilling days of yesteryear," and you can take your choice of being "lovely to love" or being able to detect secret inks, "just like the FBI." But, only available in comic books.

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