In 1962, Topps introduced a limited run of science fiction trading cards, packed with a thin slice of powdery bubble gum, to a limited public entitled, Mars Attacks. Violent, gory and filling the need for a trading card representation in the growing sci-fi community, Mars Attacks sold well. The public backlash towards the gruesome images, however, spooked the Topps corporation, inducing them to pull the product off the shelves after only 5-6 months of production. A public school teacher even went to the lengths of having each of her young students write letters to,Topps, informing the company of their distaste in the projects unsuitability for children. Obviously, pulling the plug on the card set did nothing to circumvent its popularity. Mars Attacks has since become a worldwide phenomena, a catalyst to fame and popularity of the sci-fi genre and one of the most sought after and expensive collector’s items. Abrams Comic Arts has now just released a 50th anniversary collection of the original 55 cards, front and back, including unseen sketch art, insight and a continuation of the Mars Attack theme for the enjoyment of enthusiasts, collectors and comic historians alike.
Shortly after graduating high school, Len Brown, began his career as a creative editor at Topps Chewing Gum under department head Woody Gelman. Following a successful series of trading cards depicting the horrifying battles of the Civil War, Len suggested that the next series be based in the sci-fi genre, something suggestive of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of, War of the Worlds, twenty years prior. Inspired by the Wally Wood cover of EC Comics’ Weird Science #16, and the brain exposed aliens in the film, This Island Earth, Brown and Gelman enlisted the talents of Bob Powell and Norman Saunders to produce a series of cards, that followed the artistic standard of pulp magazine covers of the 1950’s, depicting an alien invasion of Earth.
Part of the beauty of this collection, that Abrams Books put together, is the commentary on each individual card displayed. For instance, Len Brown explains concerning the photo on the left, “The ‘beauty’ in this card was originally painted by Saunders wearing a small, revealing nightie… Feeling the art was too sexual for the kids they’d be selling to, the management at Topps insisted the women be covered…Norm painted great flesh…There was a lot of skin and cleavage showing…I was sorry we had to change this one”. The controversy extended with some of the violence portrayed as well. Even though the Civil War card set’s depictions were extremely violent, the conservative public response was that the scenes shown were placed in a historical regard, whereas a fictitious being laser blasting a young boy’s dog down to its skeletal form was too much for an innocent mind to handle. This completely unsightly, too much to handle, dog attack is shown in Abrams promotional trailer for the books release.
In addition to exhibiting the original 55 card set, Mars Attacks: 50th Anniversary Collection assembles the second series of cards produced in 1994, commissioned and based upon the unused concepts from Bob Powell and Wally Wood. These cards and bonus paintings are beautiful, and there is no holding back on the intended gore and sexuality of the original series.
With so much fantastic artwork and history in this wax papered hardcover of science fiction nostalgia amassed for the very first time, after placing Mars Attacks in your hands you will immediately want to bring it to your nose for the possible trace of bubblegum. This book is low on fluff and high on the essentials. With a great introduction by Len Brown, and insightful afterword by artist Zina Saunders, the pages in between are full of behind the scenes footage and new wave productions that truly administer the effect of such a cornerstone piece in the genre. From camp to horror and back again, it is an affordable must have for fans young and old.
In continuance of the saga, IDW has released a new series of Mars Attacks comics, with the first issue released in June 2012. Writer John Layman and artist John McCrea head the project. Chris Arrant, from Newsarama, caught up with Layman to detail the focus of the new comic, “I’m approaching Mars Attacks a little like my all-time favorite comic book, Stray Bullets. Or perhaps Pulp Fiction, for those who don’t get that reference. I don’t want to get tied down in one story, and I want a vehicle to best produce a multitude of entertaining stories. The idea will be to tell different smaller but interconnected stories that familiar characters weave in and out of,” says the writer. The first issue will be sold with 55 variant covers, displaying the original 55 card set from 1962.
If you are ready to get fully engulfed in the Mars Attacks phenomena, or perhaps you are already there since you are still reading, you may be pleased to know that, Mezco, is now taking pre-orders for their upcoming 6″ Mars Attacks Martian action figure. It is complete with space helmet and ray gun, and available in both collectors and standard grade editions. Pick it up through BigBadToyStore.com
Finally, a little ‘did you know’ moment. Topps was formed in 1938 by four brothers after World War 1. They originally owned a chain of gas stations, which were then bought out by the Esso corporation. Turned on by the idea of chewing gum becoming the next big thing, they then formed what is now known as the Topps Corporation.