One of my favorite aspects of being a collector is reclaiming relics from childhood that somehow got away, especially the obscure ones. One of my latest recoveries is Games You Can't Lose! (1977), a 48-page made-to-be-a-gift booklet, thus the authors were uncredited. (For the record they are Herbert Kavet, Paul Deboer, and illustrator, Martin Riskin.) It's one of many transitory titles produced by the American Publishing Company which may be the same outfit that put out a series of jigsaw puzzles-in-a-can, Presto Magix sets, and a vintage Party Survival Kit that I got last year.
My dad bought the book as a gift for a colleague, but upon closer inspection he decided it was a bit too risqué to pass along; a wise move considering his very conservative social circle. So it found a home under a pile of unpaid bills on my father's bureau, but such an eye-catching cover could not go unnoticed by a seven-year-old such as myself, so I took a gander.
Actually, I was completely unaware of the few objectionable bits which include a KKK gag (that the internet has already found) as well as a word my dad had scribbled out beyond recognition in an early attempt to salvage the gift. He had replaced it with "Director of Student Life," presumably the job title of the would-be receiver.
But for me the book didn't need vulgarities to have shock value. The concept alone seemed impossible, defying every children's activity book on my bedroom floor. The parody factor went beyond Mad Magazine because this was a fully developed product, like a Wacky Packages come to life, forever mocking the stack of Highlights for Kids in my doctors office. The fact that it was designed for sophisticated adults only added to the appeal.
I felt empowered as I breezed through the puzzles, several of which can be seen here...
Years later I was tagging along with my mom on an afternoon of errands that took us to a drug store called Collier's in a neighboring city. Unlike most of mom's stops, this place had an ample selection of interesting products like party favors, gifts, and even better, gag gifts. In a cruel twist of fate it wasn't until I was exiting the shop when I noticed this at the top of a spinner rack...
I gasped. The mysterious, mind-expanding publication had a sequel! I pleaded with mom to go back, but she announced that our next lame destination would be closing soon. I never even got to open the book— until recently when I finally bought it online.
While the revelation could never match my initial childhood discovery, I took great pleasure in finally quenching my curiosity. I especially like that a number of the pages have an opposite counterpart in the other book.
Truth is, I didn't have to wait decades to see more from the APC collection. A few years after Games entered my life, A Get Well Book For _____ (1979) showed up in my household. This time my dad was on the receiving end.
It was certainly worthy of its place next to the copy of Games You Can't Lose in the top of my dad's closet. Though it lacks the "high concept" of the other books, it still has the endearing artwork of Martin "Marty" Riskin.
A recent googling lifted away the shroud of mystery on this prolific artist. Marty Riskin's web site showcases many of the 250 books he's illustrated, most of which include the words sex, beer, or fart in the title. Marty is obviously a fixture of the American gag culture, and there's no telling what sort of influence he's had on my own mind and output. I've made it a point to further explore his work, most recently by way of this second hand copy of Riskin's Believe It Or Don't (1979).
When I was in junior high I asked my dad if I could adopt his two APC titles into my own book collection. He handed me the get well book, but informed me that at some point he'd gotten rid of the other one. I was obviously disappointed, but with hopes of some consolation I asked, "Do you remember the word that you crossed out of Games You Can't Lose?"
"Yeah," he replied. "I think it was 'necrophiliac.'"
And that's how I first learned the meaning of the term 'necrophiliac.' Thanks Marty.