Promotional Comics

I had a nice visit from my good friend and Captain Canuck creator Richard Comely last week, it was great to see him and he’s doing just fine. We were rummaging through some old Captain Canuck stuff and I happened upon a small pile of the Captain Canuck Crime Stoppers giveaway comic.

A few years ago the Hamilton Police asked me to help out with their Crime Stoppers “Be a Hero” Initiative. It was a fun project and I floated the idea to them to partner their newly designed Crime Stopper hero with Canada’s favourite hero Captain Canuck. They really liked the idea, next I asked Richard if he’d like to be involved and he really liked the idea too and he jumped on board. At the end of the day, I think about 150,000 copies of the comic were printed and given away at Mac’s Milk stores across Canada.

Finding that pile of Canuck comics I wondered if they were worth anything today, I checked on eBay and found no recent sales though there is one lonely listing for a copy at $11.95. My thoughts then went to promotional comics in general, are promotional comics collected as a collecting strain?

I remember when I was starting out in the 1980s, I was a big Spidey fan and one of the comics I really wanted badly was that Esquire Magazine issue from Feb/69 that had a mini Spider-Man comic inserted inside the magazine. I never ended up getting a copy and as the years passed I somehow totally forgot about that issue, really until just now.

Have you had a look in the Promotional Comics section of the Overstreet Price Guide? It’s huge and it’s full of amazing stuff.

Funnies on Parade, Carnival of Comics and Century of Comics are recognized as the first comic books ever of what is now seen as the traditional America Comic Book. Pictured to the right are the copies out of my PC, I don’t have a Funnies on Parade but I do have the variant Toy World Funnies.

Speaking of Spider-Man there are those Aim Toothpaste giveaways in there, the All Detergent one as well. Wolverine #145 from 1999 was a Nabisco mail-in and seems to have some guide value.

The largest and most famous run has to be the March of Comics runs, 488 issues running from 1946 to 1982, there are a few Carl Barks Donald Ducks in that run that have Guide values in the thousands of dollars. I think the most expensive Promotional comic out there has to be Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly from April 1939 featuring the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner, only 9 known copies exist.

Promotional Comics definitely skew to the Golden Age but there are plenty from all the eras. My question is what are these things not more actively collected. I honestly have not heard a peep in regards to promotional comics in over a decade, maybe two. I had those Spidey giveaways in my Spidey bin for years and nothing, even the one with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders just sat in the bin.

How does one even go about collecting Promotional Comics? By hero? By era? By big key issues? There should be some kind of list noting all the “must-have” promotional comics from all eras. I’m off to a good start with my pile of Captain Canuck Mac’s Milk Crime-Stoppers comic.

Anyone know of any hidden gems?

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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  1. I have some more common promotional comics… then some less common. The common include Orphan Annie and Terry and the Pirates Popped Wheat Giveaways, sets B, C, D if the Walt Disney Wheaties series. The less common are 4 of the Comic Books from the Metropolitan Printing Co. that include My Pal Dizzy, Talullah, New World, and the Green Jet! The latter seems to be a knockoff of the Green Lama and Overstreet attributes the art to Mac Raboy. I have no clue where this last series was given out but like the other promotional’s have newsprint covers.
    I also have those unfolded Captain Marvel and his family paper toys… not sure if they were sold or promotional!

  2. I remember that Esquire magazine with the mini-comic. Don’t ask me to find it, but I have my original one somewhere.

    I’m increasing interested in giveways. There are tons of them still unrecorded in Overstreet. Bedrock City in Houston picked up a collection what I believe was more than 2000-300p different titles. They loaned a bunch to Yoe for his book projects. He’s doing on now on “Get put the Vote” ones. MyComicShop makes a point of listing lots of these, they’ve been a good source of titles for me.

    I collect them first by artist (Al McWilliams, such as Cliff Merritt, George Evans, Jack Kirby, 48 Famous Americans, Schaffenberger’ ones on skating, Hubley models and modelmaking, Neal Adams’ Case of the Wasted Water, etc.).

    But I also collects by subjects that I find of interest. The General Electric series on electricity and the atom and planes and jets are excellent and often there are two versions, entirely different.

    Eisner did one on the Baltimore Colts, he did only the cover himself, circa 1948, but its lovely. I only discovered that a year or two ago, then quickly found an upgrade, but both with giant promo paper glued on the lower third of the cover…

    There’s 1941 piece called The Cigarette Racket, points out risk to pregnancy! Its probably not stricly a comic, though. Dagwood Splits the Atom is a classic and not expensive.

    I’ll see if I can make up a favorites list. This may take more than one column, I think you could easily do a whole bunch of columns of them….

    Best of all, most beginning in 1950 or so are CHEAP! We’re talking $10-$15 in Fine or better for many of them. A rare one might be $100-$125 tops.

  3. About that February 1969 Esquire magazine, with the Spider-Man mini-comic attached, it seems probable that it doesn’t exist. There definitely IS an Eye magazine dated February 1969 which definitely does have the Spider-Man mini-comic attached. I bought a copy of that issue at the local newsstand when it was released, and have it still. The comic was attached with adhesive at the lower left cover of the magazine, under a cover blurb and arrow that invites you to read the magazine’s inside contents “if you can tear yourself away from reading our outasight comic book.” The mini-comic cover was reformatted from Amazing Spider-Man #42. There is also an article about Marvel Comics inside this issue of Eye. Eye ran only a couple years, 1968 to 1969. It was over-sized, like Life magazine, but jazzed up to appeal to a younger, hipper audience (who apparently weren’t too interested). In terms of collecting, this Eye magazine has all the disadvantages of odd-sized, odd-formatted books. The magazine itself is too big and floppy to store conveniently, and it has an under-sized attached mini-comic, so anything you would stack on top of it would sit on a somewhat uneven pile, and the comic itself is odd-sized, too, with a horizontal format.

    I have found a couple of the detached mini-comics in collections I acquired over the years, with no accompanying Eye or Esquire magazines in the bunch. Could those mini-comics have been affixed to the covers of Esquire magazines as opposed to Eye magazines? I suppose so. But here’s an interesting note lifted from an Ebay seller (moremagazines, feedback today of 48,567) who offers that particular February 1969 issue of Esquire (and lots of other magazines) for sale, with a handy list of all its contents. At the bottom of the listing moremagazines notes: “There is NO “Spiderman” comic included or attached to this issue. I’ve received many questions about this. I’ve bought and sold multiple copies of this issue, none of which have had this comic. If anyone can give me more information about this, confirm that there was ever one really attached when published, or a photo of it, this would be extremely helpful!” So, when it comes to the question of whether there is an issue of Esquire with the Spider-Man mini-comic attached to it, count me a doubter. For what it’s worth, Esquire and Eye were both Hearst publications.

    As to other promotional comics, I recall reading at some point that the Overstreet Price Guide was not really trying to list them all, but rather only those that had particular interest for collectors. The easy calls would be the familiar characters (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, as well as comic strip favorites), those with sought-after artists, and some esoteric titles (for example the anti-communist themes). I am confident that thousands of comic-format promotional books are not listed in the Guide. For me, that adds to the fun when I find them. I recently acquired “The Adventures of Manuel Pacifico, Tuna Fisherman” #’s 1 and 2 (1951). I mean, how can you not be blown away by the fact that a comic book with that wacky title exists in the first place. And brought to you by Breast-O’-Chicken Tuna, too. My best guess is that #2 is the tougher of the two. Another recent delightful addition is “On the Air” – a 1947 NBC promotional comic, apparently given away during tours at NBC’s New York Studios in the RCA Building. When a family listens to a radio adventure story, little Jimmy dismisses the effort it takes to “put on a show like that,” saying “Aw, it’s a cinch.” A really animated and very peeved anthropomorphic radio microphone appears, shrinks Jimmy, and drags him back through the radio to the NBC Studios where he schools that ignorant lad on the effort and cost involved in putting together all that programming. The living microphone is a real scene-stealer.

    One other comment about promotional comics would be to note that some of them are premiums, available for having purchased products (boxtop redemptions, boxes of Wheaties with comics taped on, etc), or for having shopped at a particular store (Buster Brown Shoes, Robin Hood Shoes (seek out the Robin Hood Shoe Store giveaways, if you can – the “Adventures of Robin Hood” issues [7 of them, I think] with amazing Wilner/Crandall art), March of Comics and others. Usually for these comics the promotional aspect is basically incidental. You got that promotional comic because you came into the store, bought the right product, or sent in the right redemption materials. And you have been rewarded. Other promotional comics, though, are actually selling a product or pushing a point (anti-smoking, anti-drugs, anti-communist, political candidates, etc), where the comic is actually about the promoted topic. And some of the promotional books were probably some of both. Kool-Aid Man, maybe? Anyway, while promotional comics have never been my primary comic book interest, they can be a lot of fun, and are often worth the hunt.

  4. First off; that Captain Canuck cover. Man, George Freemsn is a great artist.

    Secondly; I don’t know if these were considered promotional, but a Catholic friend of mine used to pick up giveaways at his church every so often. They were called Treasure Chest, and had stories with religious leanings, sort of a promotional religious effort. I know they are listed in Overstreet at pretty high prices.

  5. Gerald that Raboy Green Jet sounds like a book I want!

    Bud and Mike you are both right, there seems to be more to discover with promotional comics than there is known via the Overstreet Guide.

    Back in 2018 Heritage ran an auction with 4 promotional comics in it including Mike’s Manuel Pacifico and Bud’s Baltimore Colts, there was a Schwinn Bicycles and a Swimming comic as well, the lot got $132. The Schwinn bike one has a great cover.

    And Bud, yes I do need to do more posts on promo comics, this is too big a genre to just glance over.

    Back to you Mike, some great insights you’ve shared thanks so much – I’m intrigued now about this Esquire, can anyone prove or disprove the Spidey comic inside?

    Thanks Klaus, George has this natural layed back style , I’ve compared looking at his art to listening to a man from the southern U.S. talk.

  6. Have you ever seen Chick Tracts? I know they used to be small horizontal comics That were b&w except for the devil… he was always red. They were either biblical stories or stories telling you if you didn’t change your ways the red guy was going to torment you for eternity! They were usually handed out by some person warning of damnation on street corners back in the 70’s and 80’s. Chick died in 2016, so not sure if anyone carried in for him afterwards. They were pretty well drawn but unless your a fundamentalist, they were humorous then thought provoking!

  7. Klaus, I have to disagree on your “high prices” comment for Treasure Chest. Issues from 1961-1971 Guide for $9 in Fine, unless they have special content. And I bet most dealers would be thrilled to give you a deal!

    The special ones: Reed Crandall doing “This Godless Communism,” which ran every other issues for some time, circa 1960. Deals with Krushev and Stalin’s reign, pretty straight-talking material. But still, $24 to $39 in Fine for the best of these is not too much in comparison to other stuff. And other Reed Crandall issues, with stories of the Mounties, The Wright Brothers, Mountain Men, and Explorers, are still in that $9 range, real bargains and great work. He did quite a few covers.

    That said, Treasure Chest is actually not a promotional comic. Overstreet lists it in their regular section, I would assume because it was available by subscription and technically not free. It just wasn’t sold on the newstands. Early issues feature work by Bernard Baily (Doctor Styx in Volume 1, in 1946), and Frank Borth. Joe Sinnot did a ton of very good work for them, including covers, all the time he was working at Atlas on sci fi and fantasy stuff for Stan Lee.

    This Godless Communism is very well done and worth the read. I’m surprised it hasn’t yet been collected. Roger Hill (author of Art of Mac Raboy, EC Fan Addict magazine and Art of Reed Crandall) is a big fan, maybe he’ll collect it someday.

    Some issues, maybe even the majority, of Treasure Chest are pretty admittedly milquetoast, but others make up for it with interesting treats. The earliest issues, say 1946-52, offer series like “Dragon Mountain,” inspired by Milton Caniff’s Terry work; Alice in Wonderland; pirate adventures, even Jules Verne’s sci-fi. I like ’em. They usually don’t push the religion too hard, and offer a fair amount of general adventure and historical/biographical pieces.

    Maybe one of these days I’ll write an article on them, yes, in my dreams! I don’t know if anyone has ever really looked into the entire run but I’m well on my way to one.

    Mike, I stand corrected on the Esquire/Spider-Man issue. I could be thinking of Eye Magazine, indeed, same format.

    Dell (well, actually K.K. Publications) did a very sharp Stories of Christmas giveaway in 1942 with Fairy Tale Parade artists.

    Dennis the Menace Takes a Poke at Poison and particularly Dennis the Menace Coping with Family Stress (!!) are fun.

    Fort Ticonderoga (1950) by DC Golden Age artist Fred Ray (Tomahawk) is really nice; mycomicshop has a VG copy for $80 I’d buy if I didn’t already have one.

    Jack Kirby did Romance of Money (!) in 1937, which I have not seen, but it was reprinted in 1946. It’s our boy Jack, all right!

    Warren Tufts (Lance, Casey Ruggles) did Life and Hard Times of the Superheroes (about the NFL). How about It’s Fun to Stay Alive, about proper driving?! Hooked, 1966, has a very grim story of drug addiction (the narrator never gets straight), ending on a down note.

    Schaffenberger did at least a couple issues of You’ve Got to Have GRIT, a mini-comic promoting kids to sel subscriptions for Grit the paper, so they could earn toys for themselves.

    Dan Barry does his usual outstanding artwork on Your Fight’s on the Home Front.

    Among my very favorites, the Superman 1955 Kellog’s Miniatures were not reprints but original material: 1/3 the size of a comic – Superman Time Capsule; Duel in Space; and The Super Show of Metropolis. Art by Swan/Kaye!

  8. Never heard of Chick Tracts! I do get those Awake! pamphlets delivered to my door now and again. Maybe we could trade Gerald. When the borders open I suggest a nice road trip to Hamilton Ontario for you.

  9. I’ve seen some of those Chick Tracts..they were really lame. And when you hear that from someone who collects Treasure Chest, you would rightly think reeaally bad. But I admit I know little of their long history. I think someone wrote a piece about them for either Alter Ego or Comic Book Marketplace some time back. They went on for years, one person’s crusade to convert us heathens.

  10. So nice to see people discussing these comics. I’m fascinated by promo comics of all stripes, having managed to keep fairly good collection of my toy inserts from childhood. And I was actually fortunate enough to find a Chick Tract that someone had left to be discovered on the train!
    I also love the old educational ones – I found an excellent Radio Shack giveaway called “Tandy Computers Whiz Kids” not long ago with awesome Dick Ayers art.

    I wonder if it would be worth beginning to compile a list…

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