Let’s Read Boys’ Life, December 1986!

Boys’ Life is the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, and has been going for over a century. There’s not much actual Boy Scout-exclusive content in it, so even if you were never a Boy Scout there’s still a lot of articles and comics and stories that are still fun to read (I imagine that the summer issues are a bit more focused on the Jamboree and Pine Box Derby). There’s also not much that wouldn’t appeal to girls in the same age range, and thankfully a lot of the writing avoids pitting boys against girls (which would be an easy, if juvenile, trope to mine for humor). If I was a girl in the target readership age, I would probably enjoy Boys’ Life as much as any other youth magazine on the market at the time.

There is a vast archive of digitized back issues of Boys’ Life hosted on the Wayback Machine, including the full copy of this issue, so if you have the time to leisurely browse some good vintage kids magazines (and much better scans than my shaky-hand pictures), I highly recommend it.

So let’s put away our model kits, throw some English muffin pizzas in the microwave and get to it!

Nice that instead of featuring a collection of varied covers from 75 years of issues, they kept it to just December covers from over the decades. It makes more sense that way from a news stand perspective as well, since it probably wouldn’t sell to show summer covers on any December issue. Which one is your favorite? I like the center one from 1943 with the airman receiving the Christmas present. The short-lived logo redesign was very striking.

Model kits are a big thing in this magazine. I guess nowadays we’ve traded model kits for detailed miniature painting, but the principle remains the same. Was this ever a hobby for cool guys, or has it always been a dweeb pastime?

This is the 75th anniversary issue, so there are a few things here and there that were taken from past issues. You guys know that I just hate back issues of things, so obviously none of that made it into this post. No, the only thing I consciously didn’t include was the Bill Cosby article because I’m not a fan of promoting his legacy.

The reader mail is answered by a sassy cartoon donkey named Pedro the Mailburro. He is very cute and I would be absolutely delighted if I got a response from Pedro, even if it was just him using up precious copy space to point out that NO, YOU WERE WRONG and this thing WAS spelled correctly. God, just let it go, Pedro!

Baking a peach cobbler in an oven at home – girly. Baking a peach cobbler outside using a hot plate and a ball of aluminum foil and an extraordinarily convoluted setup – so cool. Anyway, who cares? Look at those board games! Yes, board games! Rune Quest was voted #1 game in England eh? Well this is America and in America we play man-to-man combat games like FIREPOWER and SQUAD LEADER!

Where do you score on the Ho scale? Are you a door-handle to door-handle ho?

An excellent implement for causing bodily harm to the sibling stuck sitting next to you in the backseat on long car rides.

Check out that American Library Association ad! This was right when the iconic READ posters were starting to take off, so I’m guessing that whoever was running ALA at the time was undertaking a massive publicity project to try and make public libraries cool. I would love to have that design on a bag or Kindle cover or something. (sorry, these are things I get excited about)

It’s depressing that we had to get to a Boy Scouts magazine from 1986 before we had an article about the importance of loving yourself, but at least it’s here. It certainly would have been nice to see something like this in those 70s women’s magazines, instead of “eat your carrot sticks and suppress your misery”.

Everything about this ad is incomprehensible and beautiful.

The minuscule fine print on the right is a bit of boilerplate copy that begs you to not ride your bike without adult supervision, a helmet, gloves, and padded clothes. Which of course you’ll never do, because you’re not a total dweeboid.

If you need some context to help with understanding why Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition was such a big deal, it helps to remember that Bruce Jenner was THE man to generations of kids looking for a role model. And oh yes, I would love to watch a VHS tape sponsored by Coleman grills in which Bruce Jenner explains why the forest is called the Indian supermarket. Do you think if I mail $25 to this address I can still get one?

Microwaves have been available since the 40s, but they didn’t become a household must-have until the mid-80s. During this period, people were fascinated by the idea that you could cook things like whole roasted chickens and casseroles and desserts entirely from scratch in your microwave. If you peruse the book sections of your local Salvation Army store or similar, you can always find a few copies of something like BETTY CROCKER’S MICROWAVE MASTERPIECES. I quite enjoy that one of the above recipes is just called “chili concoction”.

You may think you’re the coolest bitch on the block, but you’ll never be Official Chuck Norris Karate Uniform cool. And for just a dollar more it comes with a signed photo! Get your Cobra Kai starter kit now!

The kids who asked for the Dallas Cowboys merchandise probably beat the shit out of the kids who asked for the Chuck Norris karate gis.

Didn’t see the ad the first time three pages ago? See it again in our special gift guide!

Motherfuckin SPACE CAMP!! The dream summer vacation of all 80s children! It cost a bajillion dollars and didn’t teach you a damn thing actually worth knowing unless you were going to grow up to be an astrophysicist, but damn was it cool!

Space camp; Pilot school. Cool kids in flight suits; paunchy old man in a tie. Sky blue and blinking lights; the color brown and a panel of gauges that may as well be for driving a steamship.


I definitely remember a time where it was the thing to make gigantic versions of food that were normally not gigantic, just because you could. My first grade class made a thirty foot long burrito. Why? Why did we do that? Why were we (e.g., the parent volunteers who actually did the work) so impressed with our own ability to put tortillas together in such a way that they made one long continuous burrito? Why are these teenagers so impressed by their ability to arrange a bathtub’s worth of ice cream? Someone invent Snapchat already!

Throwback to 1954! And damn, is this the most tense story about a Christmas tree ever! Can Pee-Wee decorate a Christmas tree in under an hour? Can he be a bossy control freak prima donna the whole time? Does he suffer from pine tree-induced narcolepsy? Read along to find out!

…you know what, I liked Pedro the Mailburro a lot more before I found out that he wore pants and hung out with a bunch of Eagle scouts. You made it weird, Pedro.

“Green Bar Bill” aka William Hillcourt, was a very influential Scout Master and beloved figure in the scouts for ages. There’s a lot of Scout-specific jargon here, but I think he’s giving out ideas for how to get everyone in shape to earn their next merit badges in the coming year.

Some secular comics about Christmas and then a Bible story not about Christmas. Interesting editorial choice? Maybe the magazine was doing bible comics in order and they hadn’t gone past Genesis yet.


I hope Tim’s having a good life today, wherever he may be.

Good on you Ggreggg Carrrollll dude save some consonants for the rest of us.

Scouts being all outdoorsy and civic and whatnot.

I didn’t find a lot of background on Dink and Duff comics, but from what I can surmise here, Dink is the Hobbes to Duff’s Calvin and they’re Cub Scouts…in space? In some kind of Seussian Hellscape?

Something about being able to check the wind chill and HOLY STAR TREK TABLETOP RPG!

It took a children’s magazine from 1986, but I think we’ve finally come across a reader-submitted jokes feature where all of the jokes make sense and a few are even funny. I will be saving the flower shop joke for my own stupid kid joke files.

What do I have to do to get my hands on a Ghostbusters tabletop game called HOT RODS OF THE GODS? All of these sound amazing.

All of these military schools read as surreal and cartoony, like the “military school…in Alaska!” that Ted from Bill and Ted was almost sent to. The impending threat of being sent to an obscure, prison camp-esque Military Academy was the looming spectre over all the good times in every 80s teen comedy. Aside from it living on a little longer in Malcolm in the Middle, the military academy as a plot device seems to have died down a lot from our social consciousness.

Sign me up for the TMI boy’s school please!


Coachella appropriation kit for just $49.95, weapons, muscles, all this can be yours!

Lead reproduction Civil War belt buckles, more weapons, DEATH LASERS

Admittedly this is a step forward from the previous decade of Boys’ Life magazines, where every page featured an advertisement for a different kind of rifle, but how many switchblades does an eight year old need?

Finally, what can I say here. All I can say is that I imagine this ad was looked at very carefully, and for a very long time, by a legion of young boys with a very confusing maelstrom of emotions that would eventually become clear with time. Yowza.

Thanks for reading another week of old magazines with me! I am working on building up a collection of my own vintage magazines, which means greater freedom to check out things like Nintendo Power and others not limited to the admittedly vast William Saroyan periodical bibliography. For next week, we’ll be checking out this March 1976 TV Guide, featuring these grumpy old men from The Rockford Files.


(not my picture)