Feb 15 2011 4:29pm

The Nostalgic Universe of SFF Trading Cards

Mars Attacks trading card

In the short story, “Mars Attacks” by Jim Shepard, a man recollects his relationship with his estranged brother through their shared passion of collecting a series of trading cards in which Martians destroy humanity. The story not only points to the extremely tender emotions many have associated with trading cards, but also the notable absence of them today. A long time ago in an era known as many of our childhoods, attempting to amass entire sets of specific thin pieces of cardboard was the greatest pastime on Earth! So, whether they came with bubble gum or not, trading cards were a big part of a nerd, geek, and dork life for many, many years.

As is our tradition at Tor.com, we turned to many of our Facebook and Twitter followers to help us recollect some of the more interesting non-sports trading cards. Interestingly, it seems nostalgia for cards which were part of a gaming system (like Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon) was considerably lower than affection held for more traditional cards which had no function outside of their “collectability.”

Not surprisingly, Star Wars dominated a lot of the responses with the focus seemingly on the classic trilogy. In particular the titles of some of Star Wars cards seemed to be quite silly. When Vader is preventing Boba Fett from shooting C-3PO in from the Decipher Inc. card game set, the title of the card is simply “PUT THAT DOWN.”

Star Wars used interrupt Put That Down card

Comic books seemed also to be extremely popular among our little survey, specifically various versions of Marvel trading cards. The attraction to these cards may have had to do with the great art (some of these featured paintings by the Hildebrandts) but it also may have been tied to the fact that the cards frequently featured “power-stats” of the various heroes and villains. One can only speculate that this feature influenced the various comic book inspired trading card games, which came later. Notable entries from our survey in this group were the Hildebrandt Marvel Masterpiece Cards and the Fleer ’94 Ultra X-Men.

Marvel Masterpieces series 3

Specific films also seemed to dominate in our nostalgia-fest for trading cards. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a big winner in this category, with our very own Irene Gallo bragging that she was “the first on the block to get the Ark chase-card.” And it’s not hard to imagine a neighborhood block like that either, with several children constantly talking about who has what card and which they’ll trade for it.

Rairders of the Lost Ark trading card

When we looked at the other films mentioned there were some even stranger childhood blocks we started to imagine. John Taber on Facebook told us he had a complete set of Planet of the Apes card, (prompting another exclamation from Irene here in the office) while Brenda Kezar on Twitter told us she had all the Close Encounters of the Third Kind cards!

Space 1999 trading cards

Then of course, there were TV shows. Here we got some weird ones that we didn’t expect. Rusty87d on Twitter claimed that he had managed to amass one million Dukes of Hazzard cards. Space: 1999 also came out big here with numerous mentions on both Facebook and Twitter. Who would have ever thought those beige 70s space suits would seem so cool?

Star Trek: The Next Generation trading cards

For some of us though, it all came down to Star Trek, specifically the 25th anniversary set issued in 1991. One of our staff specifically remembers crying when he received the very difficult to obtain “Amok Time” card. Another recalled collecting the Next Generation cards from that same line, with their distinctive blocky reddish brown borders, feeling really proud about obtaining the Enterprise-D card, and really confused by the “Big Goodbye” card....

Garbage Pail Kids trading cards

The big winner of our little jaunt down memory lane was hands down, no question, The Garbage Pail kids. What were these guys anyway? Mutants? Evil versions of the Cabbage Patch Kids? In any case, there’s no question they were weirder, cooler, and had way more longevity than pogs could have ever dreamed of.

Oh geez, remember pogs?

Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and tends to be the handle for many of the staff.

Kristoff Bergenholm
1. Magentawolf
Ohgods, POGs... I remember that the local crafts store (Michaels) had these giant washing tubs full of them that you could root around in. Skulls were in pretty high demand back then.

How about the stat cards from the back of the Transformers toys? The ones where you needed that piece of red plastic to read them? ;)
Chris Lough
2. TorChris
Magentawolf, you just made my day. Mentioning the Transformers box gimmick made so many old (happy) memories come rushing back.
Stefan Jones
3. Stefan Jones
These weren't a big deal in my childhood . . . but they were definitely "a" deal. There seemed to be card sets for everything . . . and therefore no one set seemed that important. I would buy a pack or two of anything that struck my interest. Sometimes more, if I was interested in completing the picture that was printed, in pieces, on the back of the cards.

I vaguely recall the Planet of the Apes set. I learned about the basic plot of the movie from them, before actually seeing the film. (If there was a card that gave away the ending, I didn't see it.)

One "card" - like fad I participated eagerly in were Wacky Packs. I have very sketchy memories of the first release of these (with lick-and-stick stickers), but the real deal came when I was in elementary school in the early 70s. My collection wasn't anywhere near as complete as some school mates, but I recall trading around for stickers which seemed particularly interesting. No preservationist I: I decorated my bunk bed, school binder and bedroom door with them. Then my destructive, hyperactive brother and a reluctant cousin tore them down. Little prick.
j p
4. sps49
Wacky Packages were the best! GPK, bah!
And you can view them online. Somewhere.
Michael Burke
5. Ludon
I think I've got full sets for Jumanji and The Dark Crystal but those were not from my childhood. I don't think any cards survived from my childhood because they were useful for turning your bike into a motorcycle. (Attaching a card to the fork with a clothespin so that part of the card extended into the wheel spokes to create that cool put-put sound as the wheel turned.) I've looked at the prices some old sports cards have fetched over the years and I have to wonder how many small fortunes did I ruin doing that.
steve davidson
6. crotchetyoldfan
Pshaw! New card sets all of 'em. Bet you'd all love to play with my original Outer Limits, or Mars Attacks or Mr. Softee Captain Chapel sets!

Don't touch - just look! Let me know when I should turn the page

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