WELCOME TO THE WORLD
COMIC BOOK TOY SOLDIERS !
WHERE SIZE NEVER MATTERS AND NEITHER DOES YOUR AGE!
WHERE IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FUN OF PLASTIC COMBAT!
WHERE EVERY SOLDIER STANDS TALL AND PROUD!
NO MATTER HOW SMALL THEIR UNIT MAY BE!
(See Bottom of Page for Photo/Image Links)
From the very early 1950's, through the mid-1980's, comic book companies printed the beloved, now-classic advertisements for Toy Soldier Sets in the infamous "Back Page Mail-Order Ads" of most typical comic books.
The Sets always looked HUGE in the Ads and were always sold CHEAP enough for the average kid to actually hope to buy! Often consisting of "Flats" ("2D" Toy Soldiers made of thin, hard plastic) and later of tiny "3D" soft plastic miniatures, these Toy Soldier Sets had many themes including WWII, Cowboys & Indians, American Civil War, Revolutionary War, Roman Wars, Medieval Wars with Knights, Vikings, Pirates, Circus, Space Wars and more! Some Sets were even complete War Games with official Directions, 3D Soldiers/Game Pieces, Fold-out Playmats and Accessories.
In addition to the main Sets featured in the War Game Ads for the lowest price, some Ads also featured Special Offers like a "Free Chess Set" or an extra "64 Cowboys & Indians" or "Deluxe" Game Editions available for only another buck or two. There could be plenty of enticing options to check off on the order forms that might encourage young warriors to spend more than the initial $1.25 offer that first caught their eye!
The Toy Soldier Sets were sold by several small companies, all of which seemed suspiciously related to each other somehow, despite their different names, lack of phone numbers, and/or mysterious "Dept. Whatever"/"Box Whatever" often-anonymous P.O. addresses. It seems that from the start they were all based in the same basic southern NY State area.
Here's an incomplete list of typical companies with their locations as printed in vintage comic book Ads. Notice the similarity in general location. It makes one wonder if they were not simply all the same people operating under different names. It seems the prices of the Toy Soldier Sets would vary from Ad to Ad (likely depending on the year of the Ad, the earlier Sets being less expensive than identical later Sets.)
"JOSELY CO." Carle Place, Long Island, NY. Offering 150 Civil War Soldiers $1.49, 100 Toy Soldiers with Footlocker $1.25, and perhaps others.
"COMPIX, INC." Murray St, New York, NY. Offering 100 Toy Soldiers with Footlocker for $1.25, and perhaps others.
"E. JOSEPH COSSMAN & COMPANY." Hollywood, CA. Offering 100 Toy Soldiers with Footlocker for $1.00, Cowboys & Indians, Circus Figures and perhaps others.
"ARROW COMPANY" Madison Ave, New York, NY. Offering 30pc Indian Village Kit for $1.00 (3D figures with accessories and paint set - figures painted by the buyer.)
"HONOR HOUSE PRODUCTS" Lynbrook, NY. Offering hand-cranked Automatic BB Firing Machine Gun with Complete 21pc Task Force & Space Ships for $1.00. (Except for the Space Ships, the "Task Force" was the same Toy Soldier flats used in the Footlocker Sets.)
"HELEN OF TOY, CO." in Rego Park, NY and later Commack/Long Island, NY. Offering War Game Sets like Woods Edge $1.00, Tank Trap $1.69, Task Force $1.69, Fighting Ships $2.69, Cannon Ball $1.50, Gold Crown $1.50, Blast Off, and perhaps others.
"LUCKY PRODUCTS, INC." Carle Place/Long Island, NY, Westbury/Long Island, NY and later in Atlanta, Georgia. Offering 132 Roman Soldiers $2.98, 200 WWII Soldiers (German and US) $1.98, 100 Toy Soldiers with Footlocker $1.25 (later to be $1.98), 204 Revolutionary Soldiers $2.50 (later to be $2.98), and perhaps others.
"FIVE STAR TOYS". Rego Park, NY and later Commack/Long Island, NY. Offering the 196pc Blast Off Space Game $1.98, Convoy Terror, and perhaps others.
"BI-A-TOY-CORP." Bronx NY. Offering 146pc Daniel Boone's Trek To Ol' Kentucky $1.50; 162pc Viking Attack $2.00 (with ships and figures), and perhaps others.
"MODEL EXPO, INC." Fairfield, NJ. Offering higher quality HO-scale 3D Sets by names like Atlantic: Two Sherman Tanks and 30 Combat Marines $2.00. Later in the 1980's they offered various 3D War Games like Stalingrad, El Alamein, Okinawa, Ardenne, etc. $7.49 each or two for $6.99.
"NAMELESS" MAIL-DROP COMPANIES (OFFERING FIGURE SETS AND A PAYMENT ADDRESS WITHOUT ANY COMPANY NAME.):
"104 Kings Knights $1.49." Carle Place/Long Island, NY.
"132 Roman Soldiers $1.98." Carle Place/Long Island, NY.
"132 Roman War Soldiers $1.98" Westbury/Long Island, NY.
"116 Planes of All Nations $1.25" Rockville Centre, NY.
"126 WWII Soldiers .99 Cents". Rockville Centre, NY.
"204 Revolutionary War Soldiers $1.98" Carle Place/Long Island, NY.
So it would seem that either all of these companies were actually related to each other somehow, or there were simply MANY different Comic Book Advertisers from the same general neighborhoods all using the same toy suppliers and therefore selling the same products? It remains a mystery indeed.
THOSE AMAZING ADS!
Names or non-names aside, these companies all shared the same basic MO: their Comic Book Toy Soldier Ads always featured a large, brightly colored illustration, sometimes rather beautifully drawn, of an exciting "Imaginary War Scene" of raging Battle! This big Battle Scene was always extremely action-packed and enticing to look at (at least for all those youngsters of prime comic book age.)
With the help of Jeff Wyman and Alan Barnard, we were able to reach renowned comic book artist, Russ Heath (of DC fame among much other work.) We spoke to Russ directly on 1/8/04 to talk about his classic Comic Book Ads. Turns out Russ created the two most
famous Comic Book Toy Soldier Ads - and they are probably among the most widely remembered and most reprinted Ads ever seen in comic books of the era.
Russ said “Yeah, the one with the Revolutionary Soldiers and the one with the Roman Soldiers.
The Ads came in through the comic company - they’d say [his bosses] ‘I got an ad here
for these things - you wanna do it?’ I got fifty bucks each for those. Wish I had a nickle
for every time they used them. I’m wondering is there anything that was printed more than that!?”
Russ never actually met anybody associated with the companies that sold the Toy Soldier Sets. Evidently, the sellers contacted the comic company about having the Ads done and Russ’s bosses then doled out the Ad jobs to Russ.
Surprisingly, Russ never actually saw any of the Toy Soldiers themselves! However, he knew they were Flats and he certainly heard about them. He says “No, I never saw them [the Toy Soldiers.] You know it’s funny, I got letters too that they forwarded to me from the company and everybody was bitching, they said ‘they’re not three dimensional, they’re only in relief [2D Flats] and it was really a rotten thing to do to the kids’. (laughs) Perhaps in his own
humorous defense, Russ says “I tried to make, especially with the Revolutionary Soldiers
Ad, I tried to make them look somewhat stiff and like the soldiers [Flats] would look.”
Russ doesn’t recall the exact year he made the ads but estimates it was somewhere between the late 1950's and early 1960's [so far, we have found various Charlton and Dell comics from as early as 1961 with full page back cover Revolutionary War Ads - there may be earlier ones we haven't seen yet.) Russ says this lack of recollection about precise dates of various comic artwork is typical of all the work they
were doing at the time. “With half the stuff, when we did these things [comic art jobs] we didn’t even know, and neither did they, what book they were going to put it in with. A lot of the stories that I did - I had no idea what book they were going to go into and I never kept track of the numbers.”
Russ Heath's "RH" initials do indeed appear in the lower left corner of all the early Revolutionary War Ads. However, by the late 1970's, Lucky Products, Inc. had copyrighted the Revolutionary War Soldiers Ad (and some other Ads too.) Somewhere in the process, the Ad became slightly altered and was clearly recolored/copied over with noticeably less artistic quality. In these later Ads, Heath's initials were, intentionally or not, completely covered over by the little disclaimer box that states "Imaginary War Scene Shown." (As for the Romans Ad, Russ's initials seem to have been covered over by text boxes from the very beginning.)
Russ is aware that his original artwork in the Toy Soldier Ads was often poorly recolored by others over the many years that the Ads were utilized by various Toy Soldier sellers. He suspects it was done to brighten them up visually [perhaps in a misguided effort to attract kids’ eyes quicker like when olive drab army men started getting made in the universally hated pinks and reds and unrealistic neon colors!] He says “That’s true [the recoloring]. I don’t know why. All the new stuff is colored so brilliantly, I mean the colors are so intense - like dark blue was probably more intense than black is - which really screws things up. The original coloring [in the Ads] were like the Sunday papers and that’s where it was supposed to be. I’ve seen some terrible examples of somebody splashing color onto it afterwards. That far back, nobody thought anything [in the comic biz] was that important. They’d say ‘splash that in there, that’ll work - you know it’s only comics for god’s sake.' We used to have an expression ‘Oh well, it’s good enough for comics.’”
We offered to send Russ his very first samples of the classic Toy Soldiers which his Ads helped make so popular for so many years. He gladly accepted, saying “Well that’s great, sure. It might be something I could put in my autobiography.” Russ was not even aware that the later Revolutionary War Sets were offered in “3D.” His introduction to classic Comic Book Toy Soldiers was long overdue.
Despite being of an age where most folks stop working altogether, Russ’ amazing work ethic seems as strong as ever. He is currently working on four books of 48 pages which he was recently hired to do, he’s doing some of his own stories that he’s been meaning to
finish when he finally got the time, several publishers are waiting for him to finish his
autobiography, he still attends many conventions where he is always a popular guest, and that’s just some of what he’s up to lately. He looks forward to continuing with his craft indefinitely. He says “Somebody asked me a few weeks ago ‘Haven’t you gotten tired in a half century of drawing’ and I said ‘Beats working for a living!’”
Many thanks to the very talented and gracious Russ Heath for his time and help with filling in some blanks about those classic Comic Book Toy Soldier Ads!
Another enticing aspect of most Comic Book Toy Soldier Ads was the fact that the Sets they offered virtually always had at least "100 PIECES", boldly stated in large print - often even more than that - some claiming as many as "204 SOLDIERS" in one Set. At the time this seemed unbelievably affordable at "Only $1.98!" or anywhere up to $2.98 by the 80's - although if you checked off the optional "Complete Game" or various "Special/Deluxe" versions of War Games, your price could rise to as high as $2.50 - $4.00. Still, this seemed a great deal to most comic-reading youngsters and was in fact rather affordable compared to typical store-bought toys.
In place of the usual Battle Scenes, the Ads sometimes featured real photos of happy, smiling kids looking over their vast tables of tiny soldier regiments which were always all lined up in perfect battle formations.
Sometimes the Ads even featured both the kids photo AND the Big Battle Scene in a split page type of double Ad.
I GOTTA HAVE 'EM!
However they were presented, one look at those Ads was all it took for thousands upon thousands of kids across the USA to gladly part with their hard-earned paper route money, their snow shoveling money, their
meager allowances, (or their brother's stolen piggy bank loot), etc. - all in a wildly exciting
effort to get those gorgeously presented Toy Soldier Sets!
So many pieces! So darn cheap! So positively COOL looking in those great Battle Scenes!
And so it went. Kids dutifully clipped out the little outlined square-box order form that always seemed to say "Rush Coupon Today!" Then the kids carefully printed their names and addresses on the tiny forms and mailed them off with their money - all done with great excitement.
THE BIG WAIT
Next was the hardest part of it all - the inevitably extended wait for your order to arrive! For most young warriors, that universally dreaded, agonizingly long, several week waiting period, was simply torture. Most of the Ads never seemed to let on how long an order might actually take either, so one was left at the mercy of that cold, uncaring, EMPTY mail box for what seemed like forever. Oh, the misery of that wait! (It was the rare and lucky soul who finally, mercifully forgot all about their order until the day it arrived.)
Eventually, one great day, after maniacally checking the empty mail box twice a day every day for weeks, the package would FINALLY arrive - usually. Some poor little souls sadly waited for their MIA Soldiers for the rest of their lives - or until an understanding parent intervened with a terse letter to the supplier. But for the lucky majority - the big day had indeed come - and it was time to rip into that package with glee and get down to some serious plastic combat!
REALITY SETS IN
At this pivotal moment of bliss, a bleak reality suddenly struck hard and deep into many a young soul.
The teeny, brittle, sometimes broken-in-the-box, ever-strange-looking little Soldiers that actually came out of those pitifully wimpy cardboard "Footlockers", "Gun Boxes" and "Treasure Chests" JUST COULD NOT BE WHAT I ORDERED! I mean, just LOOK at 'em! They're...TINY! They're...they're...SKINNY! They're FLAT even! Most of all, they look NOTHING LIKE THE PICTURES IN THE AD! Most expected to see typical "3D" full-sized troops that looked like real "Army Men!" Many felt they'd been HAD for the first time by mail order!
Oh, the deep disappointment. The horrible pain of getting burned after all that waiting AND having willingly PAID for the honor!
Though far from being "fully satisfied" with their orders, the thought of actually returning these odd little miniature soldiers for a "full refund" (usually a fine-print option stated on the order forms), just did not seem right either. Besides, the refund address was always on the order form itself and that form was mailed away weeks ago!
And it was at this difficult stage that a strange thing often occurred. Rather than simply HATING these weird little mail-order soldiers outright and forever, rather than holding onto the pain and disappointment of that negative first impression, rather than focusing on the faults of these sickly lookin' tiny anti-army men - somehow it seemed a better idea just to give them half a chance to perform where it counted - on the Battlefield. Thus a bond began to form.
After all, they WERE paid for already by now-lost but hard earned cash. So why not set 'em all up at least and see what happens...
Lo and behold...after a battle or two...they were sort of...dare it be said...FUN!? Somehow all that anger slowly but surely turned into a sort of protective bond with these tiny but ultimately LOYAL Plastic Friends. Despite their bleak arrival, maybe they were good Soldiers after all...brave soldiers in need of a caring General to lead them into epic imaginary Battles - battles that surely also took many young Generals, time and time again, far beyond the pain, loneliness and confines of this cruel ol' world.
Maybe these little Comic Book Toy Soldiers aren't so bad after all. Maybe...just maybe...they're even sort'a cool to have around sometimes.
So maybe for years, decades, a lifetime later...you will still remember the hours and hours of great playtime spent with those long lost Plastic Pals...and maybe in your heart of hearts...just maybe you'll even miss 'em a little sometimes.
SO COME ON! LET'S BREAK OUT THE COMIC BOOK TOY SOLDIERS AND HAVE OURSELVES A GRAND OLD BATTLE OR TWO!
Just choose your Army below and let the fun begin, let the memories flow and let the honest-to-God ART of these fine little Troopers take you away for a while! They're always glad to see old friends or find a brand new General to lead them into future Battles untold!
****PS - We are currently seeking any evidence that such toy soldier ads appeared in vintage comic books earlier than 1950's (perhaps as early as 1940's) but we have not found any examples yet. If you can help by sending images or info about any comic books with toy soldier mail-order ads from pre-1950 "Golden Age" of comics, please get in touch!