Friday, August 3, 2012

A Card Blog Only For Adults And Absolutely Nobody Else

Today only it's the Same-Sex-Kiss edition of "Handful O'Landfill"! Just keep it to yourselves, if you don't mind.

A while back I mentioned that creating a card set for girls and calling it “A Card Set For Girls” is the kiss of death. That also applies to card sets made just for kids. Donruss Triple Play was such a set. It was low-cost, low-quality, and bright and colorful and obvious as an episode of Sesame Street but less educational, unless your career goal is writing the straight dialogue for A.N.T. Farm. It ignores everything that consumer research has learned about kids over the years, which is if you want to make Metamucil For Kids call it Metamucil Only For Adults And Absolutely Nobody Else. The kids will get there.

The back of this card reads, “Baseball players like to have fun at the ballpark. This photo shows three New York Mets who think they are playing for the New York Giants. David Cone is trying to block Jeff Innis’ kick. John Franco is the holder. Even though work is serious, this shows you can have fun at your job.” Yes, and family is the most important thing, and even though you’re young you can make a difference ‘cause everyone is special, and being different is okay, and it’s what’s inside that counts, and when you send a kid off sniffling in the third reel he comes back to save the day in the fifth, with a proton-beam accelerator crafted out of popsicle sticks and Play-Doh.[1]

Life lessons are important, but they’re better taught by someone who’s lived a portion of a life, and not a sunburst-bordered baseball card showing a bunch of pitchers screwing off.

Just in case the Scott Chimparino promo card of a couple of weeks ago didn’t get your blood racing for 1990 Donruss Baseball, here’s a Kevin Morton promo. Restrain yourself.

One of the big areas of the Handful O’Landfill I really don’t have covered is fantasy art. There were dozens of fantasy-art sets released from about 1990-95, and some of them sold extremely well. Companies like Krome Productions and Comic Images made demi-scads of money on sets featuring characters like Lady Death and artists like Frank Frazetta, Boris, Roger Dean, and the Hildebrandts.

There were a lot of these sets. As former Cards Illustrated editor Don Butler put it, “Basically any artist who ever did a prog-rock album cover got a card set.”

I always found fantasy-art cards to be sort of limiting, but I realize now I had it totally upside down. If Comic Images ran out of pictures for its Ujena Swimwear set, it could call up Ujena and have him/her paint some more hydraulic babes in thongs. If Topps ran out of baseball players three-quarters of the way through Stadium Club 2 Baseball it couldn’t exactly call up the Oakland A’s and have them make more players [2].

That’s the long way around to this Brockum RockCard showing a Megadeth album cover, done up in a style that would loosely qualify as fantasy art. The back of this card is black. I like the back better.

Score had no way of knowing the future when it made this card, but in retrospect we say: Not the best choice, guys.

Just as a reminder that at or about the time of Bo Jackson there were three players excelling at major-league baseball and NFL football – Brian Jordan, Deion Sanders and Jackson.[3]

Maybe today’s pro athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger. But they ain't Bo.

Quick – guess the set!

That’s right – Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, from Pro Set.

This card has a place of honor right next to my Pagemaster promo cards.

I know you’re dying to know what’s on the back of this card, so here goes: “Indy is totally lost in the bush. A large Askari rescues him and takes him back to camp. Indy’s parents are very angry with him but are glad he is alive.”[4]

Alive until the Nielsen numbers come in, that is.

And here’s another card from the same set. No, Topps did not print this card. This was an (intentional) 3-D card, meant to be viewed with the glasses that came in every pack.

Okay, so viewed through the 3-D lens of history it was all a failure – the 3-D cards, the base cards, the glasses, the marketing, the TV show, the marketing of the TV show, the works – but there are other measures of failure besides sales. And by those measures Young Indiana Jones Chronicles trading cards were a hit. They looked good, read well enough for the audience, were colorful and interactive, encouraged play, and didn’t take themselves too seriously. In every way but one they were superior to similar TV-show sets of the ‘60s and beyond: Gomer Pyle USMC, Charlie’s Angels, Valley of the Giants, The Monkees, and so on. The difference was that people cared then – cared about the cards and the shows. There were only three-and-a-half networks, so the number of shows airing across the nation at any one time was maybe a dozen, with tens of millions of people watching the top three. There was no VCR, no DVR, no Hopper, no PS3, no Xbox Live, no Netflix, no Hulu, and no YouTube. It’s not hard to get wrapped up in Captain Parmenter when your other options are Gunsmoke, Adam-12, or doing the dishes. Similarly, the card-and-toy aisle wasn’t awash in Pokemon and Bakugan and Digimon and Gundam Wing and Pagemaster and Marvel vs. Wildstorm and Webkinz and Neopets and avatars of a thousand flavors. It had jacks and paddleballs and a couple of 100-piece puzzles, some cars, some Barbies, and lots of guns.

There was less of everything except guns, and because there was less of everything there was more time to pay attention to the things that were there [5]. It’s great to be able to choose; it’s better to revel in the choices you have.

I think I show so many Traks cards because I’m fascinated by the thought process that places such an emphasis on crew members and car haulers and all the assorted camp followers and monkey wrenches of auto racing. I understand the numbers perfectly. It’s hard to make a 250-card set for a sport where there are fewer than 40 cars, 40 drivers, 40 owners, and 20 racetracks. On the other hand, baseball-card sets at their most desperate (and disparate) did not show cards of trainers, clubhouse boys, tarpaulins, or chartered aircraft. Umpires, yes. Trophies, yes. Stadia, yes. But there the line is drawn, and stays drawn.

I also appreciate card backs that note as a career highlight, “Started 20 years with United Parcel Service, oversaw 10,000 vehicles as Northeast Region Automotive Manager.” It foreshadows PeopleCards, and I do love me some PeopleCards.

All was not equal in the Handfull O’Landfill world. Some cards existed merely to fill the spaces between cards of stars (or, in this case, cards of cars). But do you think any of that matters to Clyde Booth? I’m guessing not.

Anyway, if there’s a card that’s more evocative of the daredevil, thrill-a-minute world of big-time stock-car racing … it’s one of many. This tells me what hand-fishermen do on their off hours.

Remember: Every stupid fashion look throughout history was considered attractive and stylish at the time, and there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when you say, “Hey, a bumblebee-striped stovepipe baseball cap looks really cool when you pair it with a black doubleknit top.[6]”

I personally am hoping I am not alive at that time.

[1] This is one of the reasons I really appreciate Phineas and Ferb. At its best it takes a lot of the hoariest kid-programming clich├ęs and turns them on their heads. In that regard, it’s reminiscent of – but more subversive than – the best episodes of Animaniacs. In the absence of anything as artistically satisfying as Looney Tunes, it’s the best kid-colored social satire we can get.
[2] Hey, but it could break out another Rob Mallicoat card!
[3] Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson, Josh Booty, and D.J. Dozier were close on both counts – they were bad major-leaguers in both sports. Booty and Henson missed breaking balls and open receivers. Hutchinson couldn’t miss bats or opposing D-backs. Dozier was a so-so fielder who couldn’t hang onto the ball. And don’t get me started on Michael Jordan.
[4] As a disassociated statement, this is remarkable. As an allegory, it’s enlightening. “Indy” must refer to the Colts, and Andrew Luck specifically. I’m thinking the large Askari is either Askari Jones or a normal-sized example of a breed closely related to the Labradoodle. And Indy’s parents are Roger Goodell and Jim Irsay.
[5] I think about this in terms of music. If musical evolution had been pushed back 50 years, Mick Jagger would never have been able to spot Keith Richards with a copy of a Muddy Waters record under his arm because it wouldn’t have been Muddy Waters but one of several hundred Muddy-Waters-type artists (categorized even more diffusely as rural Delta blues artists with urban overtones), and they would both have been plugged into iPods and not making eye contact anyway.
[6] I wonder: At what point did single knitting not be good enough?

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