Growing up, I read a lot of comics. Comics in my era had classified ads in the back, and they were visually stunning, and full of lies. It took a few tries to steel myself from inevitable disillusionment. For example.. the “Box of 100 Soldiers” ad, which promised something really cool:
… only to discover, after scraping together the fee and postage and sending (cash! through the mail!) to this company that the foot locker was cardboard, and the figures rather pathetic poorly made flats, not in scale with anything, including the planes and ships that came with:
Gradually, even the dimmest, dewey eyed enthusiast looking for creative ways to blow his paper route money gets a little jaded. One figures out that Sea Monkeys are actually brine shrimp, and that X-Ray specs (women will never trust you with these) aren’t even a particularly clever gimmick.
So when I started to see the greatest promise made by comic book ads — the King Ghidorah of coolness in comic book ad form.. yes, THE POLARIS NUCLEAR SUBMARINE FOR 6.98, I had grown worldly wise far beyond my years, sufficient to know this ad was a scam. Uncle Sam wasn’t going to part with advanced weaponry for a mere 7 dollars.. er.. or was he? That was a whole week of scavenging construction sites to find bottles to turn in for deposit! I wasn’t about to risk it! And yet.. I wanted to believe…
I can’t tell you how much the 9 or 10 year old me wanted it to be true, yet at the same time, I KNEW it was going to be a toy, and made cheaply at that. Hope perversely endures. In the back my mind I thought that, hey, maybe, just maybe it was a big plastic thing, with spring loaded torpedoes, large enough to house me and all my buddies.. maybe it will float, at least.. and hey, maybe we could take it to the pool an submerge it! This actually might be almost worth it!!! YEAH!!! (suddenly, my still-forming adult BS detector would ring alarmingly, and I would real in my fantasies).
I am amused to look back on my childhood and remember what I was picturing in my mind’s eye:
Even in my my most optimistic moments, the smart part of me knew that these adults were taking advantage of me, of course.
Gradually, I got older, put comics away as childish things and didn’t really think of it, until I discovered a nostalgia webpage that was dedicated to the toy soldier sets of my comic book-reading past. Sure enough, there was the 100 Toy Soldier set I was stupid enough to save up for. And other sets I jonesed for in pre-adolescent envy.. the American revolutionary set. The Romans (who turned out to be flats again, those sneaky thieves!). Nowhere did I see a representation of my childhood obsession, the Polaris Submarine. I have looked high and low on the internet since, and it seemed as if there as no visual record of what the actual sub looked like and what it was made of. Did all the submarines that got sold self destruct? There were (are) no artifacts of the Polaris sub’s existence, anywhere! Just mentions of the ad here and there on the web where the writer was feeling nostalgic for a more innocent time. Why, why was there NO evidence that this thing ever existed in reality? Was no one ever taken in? I just found that hard to believe.
I was resigned to living a Polaris-free existence for the rest of my days. That is, until a Boing Boing reader recently sent in the following picture in response to an article that ran on the subject of comic book ads:
Yes, that’s it. At long last, we see what it looked like. My guess (even at age 9) was that it would be made of pasteboard or cardboard, and the rockets and torpedoes were just cardboard as well. Upon actually seeing what they sent you for your seven dollars, now I feel two things.. A) that I pretty much got it dead on. and B) I’m glad I didn’t get taken in when I was a kid. As an adult, I kind of like the lines of the thing, it looks sort of like a wingless space shuttle. As a kid, I would have felt horrifically ripped off to get this for my seven hard-earned dollars. I could just hear the hoots of derision if I had uncrated THIS thing in my front yard.
And in conclusion, It’s nice to finally solve this mystery!
- The Get a Life episode featuring a mail order submarine (fictional) that arrived 20 years after being ordered.
- GeekDad (Wired)’s Tribute to Comic Book Ads
- Secret Fun Blog post about the sub (pretty much same material as this post)
- Mail Order Mysteries, a book about stuff sold to kids via comic book ads in the 60s and 70s. My review on Goodreads