Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flee From My Death Touch

Almost as entertaining as comic book stories were the ads you'd find inbetween the story pages. Muscle ads ("Be someone special!")... the Johnson Smith Company, a novelty store with those "x-ray glasses"... and all sorts of foot-in-the-door promotional blurbs where, if you sent in "25¢ to cover postage and handling," you'd get all sorts of cool stuff in return. (With, of course, information on how to order the stuff that piqued your interest in the first place.)

In the '70s, you couldn't flip through a comic book without running into one of this guy's ads:

You're probably thinking of the same caption I am: "Grrrrrr."

I was pretty dismissive of "Count Dante" because to me he looked a lot like a character actor who played on a lot of television shows of the time (his name escapes me), so I concluded the actor just put on a wig and promoted himself as a martial arts master to make a few bucks. It turns out that Dante, formerly John Keehan, was legit--at least as legit as someone could be who claims to have beaten everyone in officially sanctioned competition. Up until he started promoting his "death touch" in comic book ads, he'd actually earned a black belt in karate and went on to become a sensei.

In the late '60s, Keehan changed his name to "Count Dante," claiming his parents were of noble heritage who had to change their names when they fled to America from Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Now proficient in martial arts, Dante began promoting himself as the "Deadliest Man Alive" and offered to share his "fighting secrets." (Which wouldn't be secret any longer, of course. Maybe he was through with competitions by that point. I don't suppose it would be any fun going up against someone who knew all your secrets.) If you mailed in your coupon, you'd get in return a brochure detailing how to order books, supplies and equipment of the "Black Dragon Fighting Society"--and of course you got a free "Black Dragon Fighting Society" I.D. card without throwing a single punch in competition. (Though the BDFS was Dante's organization and not affiliated with anything else--so if you were hoping to find a BDFS meeting in your neighborhood, or flash your I.D. card at more nationally known martial arts events in your city in order to prove your martial arts cred, you were going to be disappointed.)

Dante ceased being a figurehead for the BDFS--and those distinctive comic book ads--when he died of a bleeding ulcer in 1975. The Society itself went on under the direction of Dante's protege, and in 2005 by the successor's son. It even has a website. I have to admit to being curious now about investigating some of those other comic book ads that I blew off. Did you know that you could order your own nuclear sub for seven bucks?

1 comment:

Murray said...

I've always thought we might do away with "Silver Age", "Bronze Age" etc to differentiate comic time periods. Instead, a more accurate "X-Ray Spec Period", "Hey Boys, sell 'Grit' Period", and yes, the "Count Dante Period".

Not that I'm claiming a cause and effect correlation. Just symptomatic. As the nuclear subs and Saturday Morning Cartoon line-up promotions disappeared, so did the Fun Factor of comics fade.