Admittedly, I know very little about Superman’s lore. I’ve seen the movies a handful of times, read any comics where he was advertised to DIE, and I might’ve owned a few diecast metal car toys with his logo branded across the passenger-side door. I wouldn’t dare care myself an aficionado, partly because it’d be a lie and partly because the word makes me think of all those cigar lounges I’ve yet to learn the secret entrance passwords for. Still, there’s one thing I’ve always been fascinated with when it comes to Superman: those luminescent green Kryptonite rocks.
No, it had nothing to do with the rocks’ ability to make Superman a useless slug. That’s just a small bonus. They just looked cool. Big, green, glowing green rocks that everyone’s always fighting for seems like the kind of thing we should be interested in, and fortunately, a small-scale novelty company called ‘Pro Arts’ sought to make all of our dreams come true. In 1977, kids across the world were given the chance to buy their very own Kryptonite! Simple rocks brushed with green paint were sold by the thousands, and while some of the credit has to go to Pro Arts, a much bigger part was played by the then-popular ‘pet rock’ craze. Before we tackle the Kryptonite, let’s learn about how they arrived.
Pet rocks were everywhere in the 70s, but believe it or not, the entire fad started with a single man’s vision. As the story goes, an ad exec named Gary Dahl hatched the idea after a conversation with friends noting the various downsides of owning a pet — they needed to be fed, taken for walks, cleaned up after, and just when you think you’ve established some kind of loyalty bond with ‘em, they go and shit all over the floor. The chat quickly turned to rocks. How much grief could a simple rock cause? They might not be able to fetch sticks or eat any squirrels that entered the backyard, but truly, they had all the making of a perfect pet. Obedient, clean, long-living, the works.
Making a longer story short, Dahl’s version of the pet rock was both the first and the most popular. After spending a few weeks writing a lighthearted manual on how to care for ‘em, Dahl packaged the rocks in a comically over-extravagant nest within a cardboard carrier. Through the magic of marketing, he was able to get the things into stores and the hearts of America seemingly overnight – the ‘Pet Rocks,’ then sold for around four bucks a pop, sold by the millions in just a few months. Dahl’s story is legendary, proving to all would-be entrepreneurs that even the silliest idea could grant a lifetime of riches and success. Most importantly, people really loved these things.
So popular were Pet Rocks that the general idea is still replicated today, decades later. In terms of brainless fun, this one’s right up there with all the greats. We’ve seen how things like Wacky Wall Walkers were able to amass fortunes despite their lack of intracity, but Pet Rocks were an even bigger entity. In the 70s especially, other companies tried to capitalize on Dahl’s success. It’s tough to copyright a rock, so there was a large amount of copycat sellers and heat-seekers ready to ply their trade. By the end of the decade, I’d wager that the Pet Rock was as numerous in households as any ol’ dog or cat. Superman’s “Kryptonite Rocks,” while not a direct takeoff on the Pet Rock craze, certainly wouldn’t have existed if not for it. Now that we’ve got a better understanding as to why a firm would seek to invest boatloads of cash in small, green rocks vaguely associated with comic book superheroes, let’s find out just why they’re worth talking about.
Some of you may have seen the print ad shown above, as it was included in countless comics and sci-fi magazines well into the 80s. Now come on, that’s a pretty tough thing to avoid noticing. You’ve got Superman in the most proud superpose he’s ever struck, topped off with a large-font grab-line with two simple words: KRYPTONITE ROCKS!! Even if you weren’t into Superman, or Superman’s rocks, you had to read further. Besides, the ad clearly mentions that the rocks are “terrific,” “fantastic,” and even “Kryptonastic.” I can think of no other impulse item to ever be called “Kryptonastic.” If you had any interest at all in owning the one Kryptonastic novelty on the planet, you needed to listen to Pro Arts’ spiel.
The oddly formulated paragraphs off to the right offered oodles of information on the rocks. They worked in a pretty brilliant gimmick — according to the ad, you’d be one of “Superman’s friends” by purchasing the Kryptonite. See, apparently, it falls into enemy hands all too often. The poor guy needs some good boys and girls to BUY and PROTECT the rocks from evil, since any villainous ownership could equate to a serious drain on Superman’s powers. Am I coming in loud in clear? SUPERMAN WILL DIE IF YOU DON’T SPEND MONEY ON ROCKS PAINTED GREEN.
A few bucks never went so far in helping kids feel important.
Pro Arts mentions that they captured a giant Kryptonite rock as it crashed down to Earth, proceeding to break it up into a million pieces. For just 2.50, you could be part of Superman’s mental thank-you list by owning and protecting some of those pieces. If keeping Superman alive wasn’t piquing your interest, they’re also sure to mention that the rocks glow in the dark. Now we’re talkin!
We’ll see the actual rocks in a minute, but their quality really had no impact on the amount of sales raked in. It was all up to this simple, black and white print ad. Why did it work? Well, if you’ve seen any of these older comic books and related magazines, you’d notice the unhealthy amount of odd products being sold across the pages. It was mail-order mania, with the wares including everything from Sea Monkeys to real monkeys, rings that supposedly made you more muscular, and even a few Frankenstein dolls that were advertised as being alive. Most of the stuff was incredibly off-topic, so seeing a familiar face like Superman was probably enough to gain your wallet’s trust. These ads always promised big things, but make no mistake, it was usually a scam. Not Superman, though — he’ll tell you the truth with no added sugar: YOU’RE BUYING ROCKS.
After sending in the 2.50, plus another buck for shipping and the almighty “handling’” charge, kids waited six to eight weeks for their Kryptonite Rocks to arrive. In that limbo period, times were tense. Everyday, like clockwork, kids would run to the mailbox after school let out wondering if that was the day. Had the rocks finally arrived? Were they shipped in special metal cases meant to discourage their inherent radiation for seeping onto the hands of innocent postal workers? WOULD SUPERMAN HIMSELF COME TO THE HOUSE TO THANK US PERSONALLY AND GRANT US A BACK-FLIGHT OVER METROPOLIS? Ohhh, how the mind wanders when it’s swamped with anticipation. And we’re talking about a full two months of anticipation here, folks. By the time those rocks were finally left on a kid’s front stoop, he’d probably built the beasts up to the point where he half-expected them to have little mouths that spit out gold coins at will.
They didn’t do that, but they were actually pretty decent as far as painted-green rocks go. Take a look…
Not bad, and at the very least, just as advertised. “Green rocks.” They came packaged in a colorful, stylish box featuring the same art as the print ad, along with a short manual detailing how you should handle such obviously dangerous supernatural elements. The rocks themselves were…well, rocks. Painted in a bluish/green hue, leaning a little more towards green, the paint used also enabled the rock to ‘charge up’ in light and glow in the dark.
The rocks were a little over an inch in length each, so even if they were real Kryptonite, I doubt Superman would be all that affected by ‘em even if he accidentally swallowed one. This is only a downside if you were hoping for a means to destroy the son of Krypton. For the rest of us, the size was adequate. Anything bigger would’ve prevented pocket-carrying, and what’s the point of owning Kryptonite Rocks if you can’t take them everywhere you go?
Looks stupid? Yeah, maybe, but I’m a big proponent of the ‘small pleasures’ theory. Since we expect small pleasures far more often than “big pleasures,” I’d say that they’re even more important. I know I would’ve been delighted with something like this, and my only regret is that I was a bit too young to take advantage of the offer. No Kryptonite Rocks for me. Fortunately, there’s always a solution if you’re willing to spend ten minutes of your day being stupid. You want Kryptonite Rocks, but don’t want to spend the 50 bucks necessary to pick these up on today’s collector’s market? No problem!
Hey, it’s not much of a process, we can handle this shit ourselves. Actually, the formula is so easy that a tutorial even seems a tad redundant. Since I’ve already snapped the pictures, I’m willing to take that risk. Can’t go another day without your own Kryptonite Rocks? Here’s how you can make ‘em yourself…
Step 1 – Choose Your Rocks. Popular theory amongst Kryptonite artists is that any old rock will do, but I couldn’t disagree more. Some rocks just don’t have the same intangible, innate Kryptonian qualities as other rocks. Furthermore, some rocks are covered with dirt, worm guts and bird shit. Are these the rocks we should be forging Kryptonite out of? Definitely not. When making your decision, look for full-bodied, unchipped rocks. They needn’t be green – that’s why God invented paint. I suggest starting off with three. I know you’re usually aiming to only make a duo, but in the case of an error, at least you’re allowed one “throwaway rock.” Besides, if you manage to complete the process correctly on all three, then that’s all the more Kryptonite at your disposal. What the fuck am I talking about?
Step 2 – Collect The Ingredients. To make your Kryptonite Rocks, you’re going to need the aforementioned ROCKS, paint, and a paintbrush. I only had regular acrylic paint, but if you’ve got a serious attention to realism, they also sell shiny glow-in-the-dark paint. The brush should be small and not too fine, because this process is more of a “get it done as quickly as possible before anyone sees me painting rocks” sort of thing than an experiment in perfection. If you want to save your work area from any unnecessary damage, lay out some newspapers. Not only will this stop any spilled paint from ruining an oak finish, but there’s a good chance you’ll land on the horoscopes section and learn if it’s going to be one of those days.
Step 3 – Paint Your Head Off. With the intensity of a green tiger and the convictions of a green something-with-convictions, use the brush to coat each rock with a layer of paint. Be prepared to get some of the gooey crap on your hands – that’s just something that comes with the territory. If the rocks have any deep crevices, it’s important that you don’t just drop huge wads of paint in ‘em. Shit’ll never dry that way. Use swift, accurate strokes. Don’t go overboard, you’re just looking to make the rocks green. Shouldn’t take more than a minute unless you became really involved in that horoscope section.
Step 4 – Drying & Reflection. When you’re finished painting, that’s what the rocks should look like. “Green.” Before you start fondling your new friends, you’ve gotta let ‘em dry. This gives you the chance to reflect on what you’ve done. Considering that you just spent part of the day painting assorted dirty rocks in an attempt to make them look like “Kryptonite,” that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s still an integral part of the process, though. You’re about to sign on as a Kryptonite caretaker – it’s not a job you can just “give up” when you become bored. Once you accept the responsibility, you’re in for a lifetime of fending off evil and carrying around rocks that leave green stains on everything they touch. This is your last chance to turn back. Are you really man enough? Decide now. NOW.
If you’re good to go, great. If not, bury the rocks and pretend you did something more socially acceptable that afternoon. Kryptonite Rocks are a private thing; nobody needs to know the truth.
Step 5 – Housing The Finished Product. Let’s face it, there’s going to be times when you simply cannot carry around green rocks. It’s just the law of the jungle and the way of the world. This is perfectly all right, but you need to give your Kryptonite a good home for those off-periods when you’re out doing other, non-green things. That’s the way Superman would’ve wanted it. I think.
And that’s it, you’re done! You’ve got Kryptonite Rocks! Obviously, a much cheaper alternative than picking up some of the Pro Arts originals. Nobody will be the wiser, either – you can go around announcing yourself as a Kryptonian protector and no one will be able to prove you wrong. Officially, you’re now a “friend of Superman.” For the price of three rocks and a dribble of paint, I’d say that’s a pretty sweet deal.
1. This article was first published on 5/20/2003.
2. The original blog entry associated with this article can be found here.