When we say "trading cards" what springs immediately to your mind? Bubble gum? Childhood? Collectible? All of the above?
Well, if you grew up in the United States in the last 40 years, you probably answered all of the above. Trading cards have been, some say, around for 150 years, ever since some enterprising tobacco producers thought of printing collectible images on the inserts in their pouches. Since that time, trading cards have seen their popularity wax and wane quite often. They have also seen their content vary all over the map, including some rather... bizarre entries, which we would like to share with you.
If you didn't grow up more than 15 or so years ago, uummm, you might ask your Dad if he still has his old cards, but frankly, if he had any on this list he probably won't have kept them, or at least won't show them. Unless of course he really wants to have to calm you back to sleep after horrific nightmares, in which case keep reading!
If we're gonna start anywhere on this list, this is the one that is gonna give you the best idea of why this list exists. In 1988, trading cards were still riding a periodic wave of popularity, and as such, companies such as Topps (longtime leader in the card market) were looking around for just about anything they could print and package. Taking at least some measure of inspiration from the classic card series Mars Attacks! (which we will get to a bit later) they trotted this rather bizarre series on an unsuspecting world.
It's not that the cards themselves are all that offensive. Well, they are explicit, but in an almost cartoony way. Certainly they are not inherently worse than many of the films that by that time were quite commonplace, such as “Friday the 13”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, or other slasher favorites. HOWEVER, those movies were pretty strictly policed as to who got to see them. These cards were primarily marketed to kids, either at newsstands and candy stores, or in the then fairly new comic book specialty shops. Parents who might have casually glanced at the pictures on the covers of the packs likely as not took them for educational cards, or at least nothing worse than reruns of “Land of the Lost”. Few, if any, parents would have ventured so far as to examine the cards themselves. One wonders what the reactions would have been. But judge for yourself:
The problem is that the innocuous illustrations on the packs themselves gave no real indication of the kind of carnage that awaited within. The "story", such as it is, has something to do with a time machine gone wrong, or an attempt to see back in time gone awry, or maybe someone's bad clam-induced nightmare turned real, frankly we're not sure. At one point in the series we see this:
Apparently he was behind the swarm of 'saurs, or maybe he just took advantage of the time thing, i.e. it really doesn't matter because the whole thing was just an excuse to publish some really gory cards that kids would get a thrill out of not showing Mom and Dad. Eventually, somehow, a kind of time-reversal takes place, and this happens:
So the world is safe, or something. The end. In a sad postscript, Eclipse comics attempted to publish a 3 issue mini series that would (you should pardon the pun) flesh out the story. Only one issue ever saw print. Over 20 years having passed it seems unlikely that we will ever see it finished. Of course, considering the ultimate fate of our next entry, perhaps we should assume…
It seems Topps had no shame about what they published. As odd as it seemed to have put out the Dinosaur cards described above, at least that came out during the '80s when, well, darned near anything went, as long as it was colorful and made a profit. In 1962, the memory of the old EC comic books (the ones that inspired the creation of both Dr. Wertham's infamous book "Seduction of the Innocent" and the comics code of authority) were still fresh in the minds of people working in the industry. Len Brown and woody Gelman created the series, roughing out the sketches, which were then finished by Wally Wood and Bob Powell. Norman Saunders painted them. There is no doubting the artistry that went into making these:
One might, however, question the level of explicitness:
and overt sexuality:
Mars needs women, indeed.
As with the Dinosaurs, the good guys eventually "win":
But again, the story was really just an excuse to try to see how far they could go. In fact, Topps got called down on this one, and shut down production on them after a D.A. in Connecticut made some noise. As bizarre as these appear now, try to imagine how extreme they were50 years ago! Shock fades with age however, and Mars Attacks certainly adheres to this principle. In 1996 Warner Bros released Tim Burton's vision of Mars Attacks! as a big budget monstrosity… er... feature film. It performed moderately well at the box office, and even earned a reward or two.
Our next entry took the opposite route.
Just about everything produced by Mother Productions
Ever seen the movie Addams Family Values? Remember the scene where Wednesday's boyfriend brags about his collection of famous murderer trading cards? Well that wasn't entirely a joke. Mother Productions specializes in bizarre, some would say offensive, trading card sets. Focusing, in turn, on just about every bad taste subject that will produce a set. Such as:
Yep, a card set based on the nigh-legendary video series Faces of Death. For those who had the good taste not to ever rent this at your local video store, here it is in a nutshell; People crash, people get wounded, people die, and it's all real. News camera footage, home movies and archival film of actual accidents, executions, and other such fun party entertainment just dumped on video cassette and presented for our amusement. And Mother printed cards of highlights. To be fair, at least they are printed in black and white, but no, we are not going to show you them. Neither are we going to show you:
Suffice it to say that Mother is a real innovator in the adult section of trading cards featuring a wide selection of sets featuring the words "Nasty", "Hot", "Housewife", and "Horny". But nothing sums up the oeuvre of Mother Productions better than the Hollywood Dead set:
Famous Celebrity tombstones. As a trading card set. There really is nothing we could add to that sentence to make it more impactful, so we'll just move on and tell you about…
Topps strikes (out) again with this series. Do you recall the great Cabbage patch kid riots of the 80s? When these wretched things:
were everywhere? In response to which these bizarre creations:
went through more series than anything short of a Dick Wolf TV series? Well, if you find Garbage Pail Kids just too sweet and bland, then you are the target audience for this:
We're not above the occasional toilet joke, butt come on! Better to just flush these from your memory. Really, just wipe your mind clear and we'll leave skid marks on our way back to the world of clean thoughts.