Friday, April 22, 2011


While the actual Handful O’Landfill era was as ridiculous in its time-capsule way as a royal-wedding nail job or Cyndi Lauper, the post-Landfill era was a hoot and a half itsownself.

The Landfill-era hilarity ensued because in those days you could literally put macaroni and cheese on a trading card and it would sell. The post-Landfill hilarity was equal parts ignorance and desperation.

Did these people not see that Dinotopia cards died in one-one-millionth of the time it took to kill off the actual dinosaurs, or that the market for the Jim Thome Baseball Game extended from its epicenter in Cleveland at least as far as Euclid, or that Pagemaster movie cards were the worst marketing idea since they took the alcohol out of Geritol? And even if they did not see, could they not have used their own intuition to figure out that if a comic book sells at a rate of null, a set of trading cards based on the comic book will sell at a rate of null minus seven?

But the people who persisted in making trading cards in ignorance of this specific gravity really needed trading cards to work.

Well, of course they did. But eight-year-old boys around the world weren’t going to do a 180 with their purchasing habits just because the CEO of PeopleCards (an amazing product concept – think Facebook on cardboard) had based his plans for global domination around a phenomenon which hadn’t occurred in more than a decade.

It was fascinating to walk the aisles of Toy Fair in those transitional days and see who was relying on an archaic adult-to-child communication medium pushed through an outdated distribution model as their golden ticket to the big gated community on the hill.

Some of these products have been covered before, most notably America’s Most Wanted cards, which nobody wanted. PeopleCards we'll cover later. And then there were Stak-Its, which were one of the more fascinating efforts, especially if you happen to be a quadrilateral.

Stak-Its took one of the nice things about trading cards and attempted to build an entire product around that one characteristic. It was like reducing an AC/DC album to the lyrics, recited by James Earl Jones. Talk about your highways to hell.

Stak-Its did not take the best attribute of trading cards, which could arguably be the pictures on the front, the words on the back, the cartoons, the graphics, the gold foil, or the chase cards. Nope. Stak-Its focused on the fact that trading cards are great for building card forts.

It is true that trading cards make awesome forts. Among its many other charms, a 1965 Topps AFL Jim Perkins provides the foundation for the Buckingham Palace of card forts. I have a picture taken when I was quite wee and living in Alaska showing a massive fort comprised of 1966 Topps baseball cards. A whole lotta Hank Bauers went into that, let me tell you, and the only thing that brought it down was the existence of dust bunnies the size of wolverines inside its walls.

However, it needs to be pointed out that trading cards are not alone in possessing this attribute. Playing cards make great forts, and they go for less than a buck for 52. Index cards make great forts, and they’re even cheaper. Cut-up cereal boxes do the job for free. And undoubtedly there’s a free iPod app that lets you build virtual card houses without the muss, the fuss, the false starts, or the dust bunnies. (However, all your Hank Bauers get cheaper in the process.)

Still, none of these alternatives have what Stak-Its have, namely: plastic.

Card-house-building capability was not the prime focus of the brilliant card engineers at Topps, but Stak-Its employed a veritable Manhattan Project of card brains to create the most house-building-friendly cards possible without resorting to making them out of OSB and Tyvek. Where traditional cards were essentially two-dimensional, Stak-Its added a row of pegs along card edges. Where traditional cards were comprised out of a relatively primitive material – cardboard – Stak-Its were made out of space-age plastic.

The difference is staggering. Stak-Its make a fort that may not be as immovable as the pyramids but will give any Oklahoma double-wide a run for its money on the stability front.

The problem is that at three to the pack, it takes an awful lot of Stak-Its packs to make anything more assuming than a honeymoon A-frame for a couple of Polly Pockets.

Then there’s what actually is shown on the cards – not pictured on the cards but gouged into the plastic with a dull nail file -- which appears to be the result of Jim Davis being asked to draw “Garfield” with his feet.

The end result is collectible, I suppose, if you equate “collectible” with “scarce” and “scarce” with “nobody bought them in the first place because they’re so bloody daft.”

We will give Stak-Its credit for realizing that man does not live by pegged plastic trading cards alone. Packs contain stickers reproducing the card artwork – enabling us to see that Jim Davis drew these pictures with his left foot – as well as internet activities (don’t bother) and rules for games you can play with Stak-Its.

Here’s a for-instance: Throw Stak-Its towards a wall and try to get your Stak-It closest to the wall without it actually leaning against the wall. And remember, kids, “do not throw cards at or towards any otherperson.” Especially these cards. You actually can put an eye out with Stak-Its – which, considering the way they look, is not the worst outcome. In fact, Stak-Its may make you may want to double-up on the eye-out thing.

Stak-Its are not the worst trading-card idea ever. In Topps’ capable hands they could have been … mediocre, but only because making card forts out of trading cards is a grassroots, organic thing. You can’t market it into existence; the best you can do is throw a product out there with uses A, B, and C, and be ready to take advantage if someone discovers you can also do D with it.

That was Stak-Its’ fatal flaw. They skipped A, B, and C and went directly to D. And as every member of the target audience can tell you, D is for dog.

No comments:

Post a Comment