Over on iO9 there is an item about Marvel’s forthcoming Nick Fury comic which follows the adventures of the super-spy’s number two son, Marcus (now called Nick, just like his brother). It put me in mind of a UK comics tradition that has never fully been embraced by US counterparts (there are some exceptions) - namely the Free Gift! There are levels to such things and how they have evolved, but the six-year-old in me feels the new Nick could be amply served by a bit of cardboard and some string, giving readers their very own SHIELD-style eye-patch. Quite why Pow! never did that I don’t know? After you have finished pretending to be Samuel L Jackson you could play around as Captain Jack Sparrow. Arrh!
Comic free gifts - covermounts, though many would be slipped inside the pages of a comic - embrace a multitude of sins, the good, the bad and the ugly, the grand and the down right naff, over elaborate and the delightfully simple. Some are traditional in their own right. There is nothing more satisfying than the crack of a Whizz Bang, also known as a Thunder-Thumper, Gnasher Gnipper and any number of other names. Sticking with the Odhams weekly Pow! for a second, the first issue gave us a cardboard pellet gun, the Spider-Matic, which used an elastic band to propel cardboard discs at the target of your choice. The second issue gave us a groovy iron-on t-shirt transfer with Spidey himself, the third a game featuring humour characters that appeared alongside the webslinger and Nick Fury.
Originally these gifts went hand-in-hand with launch issues, a little bribe to catch readers’ attention. As a promotional tool it was used sparingly, say after a merger or on occasions where it was felt that circulation could stand a little kick up the behind. Collectors take note, that first issue of 2000AD isn’t mint unless it still has the sub-Frisbee space spinner taped to the cover. Of course you will never find a mint copy of 2000AD No 1 because it had a space spinner taped to the cover.
We used to get badges, transfers, stickers, spud guns, cardboard pellet guns, paper darts, whoopee cushions, balloons, kazoos, sea monkeys, false teeth, decoder rings, wallets, identity cards, league tables, plastic jewelry, boomerangs, masks, glove puppets, plasticine, model planes, posters, sweets, chocolate, drinks, booklets. Dare I say the simple things were more fun?
One of my favourites was a sachet of powdered orange drink that came with a copy of Fleetway’s Buster. It’s a taste that haunts me. Up in Scotland, DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy used to periodically indulge readers in a variety of chewy sweets. They eventually dropped the practice after complaints from parents with diabetic children.
Some of these promotional items can be collectible. Last year, a cardboard Thunderbirds cap, given away with TV Century 21 issue 90, sold on eBay for just short of £200. If you can match it to the comic then you have a valuable combination.
I hate to think what happened to mine.
And then there is the much sought after Spider-Man mask given away in Spider-Man Comics Weekly No 1. It’s a paper bag! But what a paper bag! You too can look like the wall-crawler - at least until the thing rips up the back and becomes thoroughly useless. That’s right Stan Lee had a few hundred thousand British kids running round with a paper bag on their head. Willingly! Grief, I wish I still had it. Today’s Spider-reading kids get upgraded to a luxury plastic foam job with elasticated string to hold it on. They don’t know they are alive. Without a doubt, Panini spoil their readers.
Going forward, Marvel UK could be quite dull when it came to incentives of this nature. They went through a poster-phase and a period where they seemed to have bought out Kellogs surplus supply of plastic model aircraft.
That said, don’t you just wish Marvel would repeat the build-it-yourself X-Wing and TIE Wing Fighters that went in the first two issues of Star Wars Weekly. I’d be quite happy with the Fantasti-Car model from The Complete Fantastic Four (it never lived up to that title by the way).
Now these things used to be an occasional treat, the hope being that you would carry on reading a comic in the following months. One weird exception was Yogi and His Toy which promised a covermount every week. It didn’t see the year out, obviously not smarter than the average comic.
But in someways, it shone a light on the future. In recent decades the simple things have faded, as the CTN (Confectioner Tobacconist Newsagent) newstrade has lost ground to supermarkets, covermounts have become a necessity for many titles.
A title like Doctor Who Adventures has given readers Dalek models, wind-up TARDISes, miniature FM radios, Cyberman themed cameras, hats, badges, puzzles, games, glowing slime, dalek brains, inflatable monsters, painting kits, satchels and the inevitable stickers. A recent Avengers comic had a very elaborate plastic-molded bow and arrow game with it. Frozen beauty kits, the entire Octonauts crew, it’s all out there, You could be forgiven for thinking that you are buying a toy with a free comic bagged in with it (Though whether you recognise it as being a comic might be another debate).
Anyone have their own favourite comic gift?
Still, with those old days in mind, this is how to make your own paper banger ...