February 22, 2007


1961 Johnson Smith & Co. catalog cover

Johnson Smith & Co. have been distributing novelties through the mail since 1914, but it wasn't until sometime during the 1970s that I caught on. Anybody familiar with my creative life can attest to the tremendous impact their novelty ads have made on my psyche. It seems ridiculous to even admit that, but it makes sense when you consider that so many of my boyhood wishes and interests all converged in their overcrowded comic book advertisements... jokes, skeletons, magic, the answers to life's mysteries.. all affordable and represented with charming little illustrations. Month after month they created a snowballing desire that went unfulfilled throughout my formative years. I suspect it was the decade's worth of unsatisfied curiosity that finally burned these images and concepts into the very fabric of my brain. So by the time I began to wield the super powers of adulthood, all I could think about was chasing these childhood wishes.

Naturally, the obsession seeped into my artistic life. In college I used Johnson Smith art on T-Shirts, and promotional band fliers. When I migrated online I explored the matter with web pages, and a cartoon. And when the opportunity finally arose I put these ideas on film. Then one thing lead to another and I found myself designing for the very products that Johnson Smith distributed, which transitioned into a book about stuff that Johnson Smith distributed. I figured the madness had to stop there, right?

But this month something else happened. Something that never once occurred to me throughout my many years of devotion. I never expected to open their pages and see... MYSELF! But that's (sort of) what happened when I received this month's edition in the mail.

2007 Johnson Smith & Co. catalog cover

Beyond the World's Largest Bra, and past the Ultrasonic Dog Chaser.. there on page 53.. lo and behold...

It's my book! I am now among the elite syndicate of uncredited authors who have stocked the pages of Johnson Smith with titles such as Barroom Fight Tactics, Secrets of the Vatican, and the Declassified CIA "Psychic Spy" Program! But how could this be? The Johnson Smith library has an age old reputation to uphold. Put simply, the books they carry are all capable of unlocking life's secrets. So what revelations can my book possibly contribute? Wait, I've got it! I reveal what you really got when you ordered pranks from Johnson and Smith!

If you wish to finally get the most out of this thing called life then I suggest you go here and request a catalog.


Todd Franklin said...

Congrats! You now have hit the big time!!

Jon B. Knutson said...

Congratulations! That's a lot cooler than my own tribute to the Johnson Smith Co, which I did back in June 2005 on my own blog... you can check it out here: http://waffyjon.blogspot.com/2005/06/what-if-johnson-smith-company-were.html

Kirk D. said...

Thanks Todd, now I'm the one ripping off kids! ha ha!

Jon- I think your mock-up ad is incredibly cool!
You really stayed true to form and I enjoyed seeing so many modern day equivalents of the old classics. Well done.

Jon B. Knutson said...

Thanks, Kirk!

gentle_dissident said...

i knew you'd made it when i saw your book on abbott's front page

Anonymous said...

This is really too good. I remember this company all to well. They taught me a valuable life lesson about not believing everything you read. When I was a young kid in the 50s, I found a copy of the catalog that changed my life in my older cousin's bedroom. I devoured it from cover to cover. It was so stimulating. Things I never dreamed existed, literally. Promises of grandeur for 15 cents. The listings were so enticing. Cool cartoon-like line art. Very imaginative ad copy promising the world. This was my first encounter with the concept of mail order. I had never known about it before. It took me months before I got up the courage to order anything. I finally made a small 'test' order after days of serious contemplation of what to buy. A 'magic mouse' that climbed up your arm in life-like manner for 15 cents, a 'magic fish' that wriggled in your hand for 10 cents, some joke items, and I don't remember what else. When I got the items, they were just an ordinary cheap hollow plastic vinyl mouse, a flat cellophane fish that wriggled from the heat of your hand, and who knows what else. Oh, they did just what the catalog said--if you manipulated them yourself. LOL! That was a rude awakening to the not-always-honest world of mail order and commerce in general. I did manage to get some really cool stuff later on when I was willing to spend the money. An awesome aluminum sling-shot, a carbide cannon, some neat magic tricks, and many more. Ah, life was good… :)

Kirk D. said...

anonymous- The mouse and a lot of the stuff you mentioned is in my other book! www.amazon.com/Mail-Order-Mysteries-Real-Stuff-Comic/dp/160887026X

Thanks for sharing your war stories.