My son grew up in a world with 24/7 cartoons and video games. My daughter was able to add the Internet to her childhood toolkit. When I was a kid we only had cartoons on Saturday morning and perhaps an hour or so early on other mornings and an hour or so with Mister Cartoon after school. Video games, home systems that is, wouldn’t come along until High School. As for the Internet, we were years away from even bulletin boards, much less full-blown websites. We basically had two things as kids: books and our imaginations.
Now don’t get me wrong, we had toys. We had G.I. Joe, Mego, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, Aurora model kits, and all sorts of other playthings. The difference is that our toys didn’t do anything unless you used your imagination. We could make Biotron fly and Mazinga battle Godzilla, but only through the art of pretending. For those of you too young to understand what this means, we would hold our little Micronaut up in the air and make flying noises with our mouths as we did loops or went running out in a playground with the toy held out and held high. We would take our figures, one in each hand, and have them do battle with one another by beating the two pieces of plastic against each other. One hand would hold the attacking toy while the other hand-held the toy that about to get hit. After a thunderous blow, the other toy would be lifted up and retaliate. Sometimes both hands would move the two toys at each other simultaneously causing both of them to go flying backwards. All sound effects were created by us, and the outcome of the battle was whatever storyline we wanted to tell. Unless one of the toys broke. Then we improvised. “Oh no, Johnny West hit G.I. Joe so hard that his arms both flew off.”
Model kits also required us to use our imaginations, but they did have instruction sheets. I loved figure kits. One of my friends loved car models. Another friend had tons of dinosaur models. You would get a cardboard box with a gorgeous painting of what the kit should look like on the front. Sometimes the sides had actual pictures of professionally assembled and painted kits. When you opened the box there were plastic trees with little numbered parts on them. Usually they were all molded in a single color, normally the dominant color of the figure. The Wolfman would be in brown. Godzilla would be in dark green. Some kits had additional glow in the dark parts or they had clear or chromed parts, especially for cars.
I kept my Aurora kits on my dresser or on a shelf in my closet. In the closet, the glow in the dark parts would light up when I shut the closet door. My friend with all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits had a special wooden platform in his basement. His dad had made it for him so he could connect their bases and set them up on display like a prehistoric train set. He used to pretend that at bedtime he could talk to them on a toy walkie-talkie that he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and swore that one day, I would fix up something like that for myself.
The other thing we had, as I stated, was books. We had comic books, paperbacks, and magazines. Back then everybody seemed to sell comic books. You could buy them at the drug store, the newsstand, bus stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, and other places as well. I had lots of comics, but it wasn’t until I picked up Kamandi #9 while on vacation at King’s Island that I became a true collector. The front cover showed these people in a hot air balloon fighting giant bats. It looked so amazing that I had to buy it. I bought it, read it, and decided that I would have to find the next issue when it came out. Since I had never seen this book before, I assumed that I was holding the first issue. When I got home, I was shocked to find issue #8 at my local 7-11 (which was literally open from 7 AM until 11 PM at the time). When I realized that I had actually missed the first seven issues, I was shocked and devastated, but I kept looking for them. Eventually I ordered the missing issues from an ad I found for back issues comics by mail. I still have every issue of Kamandi to this day.
We also had paperback books and magazines to entertain us. I’ve mentioned all the monster magazines that I used to buy, but there were other mags as well. Car Toons and Surf Toons featured cartoons about cars and surfing. Marvel and Warren publishing both had black and white comic magazines and there were numerous humor magazines as well. Mad is still around, but there was also Sick, Cracked, Crazy, and the National Lampoon. The Lampoon was a bit more adult, but I still managed to get almost every issue from around #96 up and a local newsagent even sold me a huge collection of back issues which included the very first issue.
Paperbacks also entertained us as kids, and at a fairly bargain rate. I picked up all of the Planet of the Apes books for between 50 and 95 cents each. I also had a bunch of superhero books, Star Trek fotonovels, and other titles. Two of my prized possessions at the time were a pair of oversized hardcovers dedicated to talking solely about horror movies. I always wanted a copy of the Ray Harryhausen Scrapbook, but it was too expensive at the time. I finally picked up a copy years later at a used bookstore and I replaced my copies of the two horror movie books (as well as a third one I picked up later) off eBay. I don’t know why I had gotten rid of my copies in the first place, but I was glad to have them back.