You’ve heard of Mars Attacks, but do you know the origin of Mars Attacks? A 1950s serial? A pulp magazine series? Strangely enough, Mars Attacks was an idea created by Len Brown and Woody Gelman for a 1962 set of 54 Topps trading cards. Those oversized-brain Martians first conquered Earth with a piece of pink bubble gum, and bridged sci-fi and horror like never before. One of my favorite areas of collecting as a kid were trading cards, what collectors today categorize as “non-sports trading cards.” I collected any card that came in a loaf of bread, cards that came on the backs of boxes of cereal, and cards given away at Burger King.
It’s not likely that many people actually got their hands on the 1962 of Topps trading cards, as explained in Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection, the latest in Abrams Comicarts’ series of bubble gum-inspired books including Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, and Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary Collection, both reviewed previously here at borg.com. The original Topps card set was not well-received by parents and teachers because of its graphic depictions of burning bodies, exploding, mutilated, and sliced-up people and animals by the vile Martian invaders. So the card set had a limited run. The result is a collectible that would cost you $25,000 in order to acquire a complete card set. Which makes this new book a great way to see what we missed.
Creators Brown and Gelman were surprised by the backlash against the cards. According to Brown, “Our Civil War set was just as gory as Mars Attacks. I suspect because it was historical, people just felt that kids were learning, so the violence was okay.” Brown, Gelman, and artist Norm Saunders were told to go back to the drawing board several times even before the series was released, to correct women who were too scantily dressed, and update skeletal remains with some flesh.
Now the stuff of collecting legend, the trading card series is reproduced from the original transparencies used for the original card release and the backs of a perfectly preserved set of cards. Other images include the front and back of the only known sealed pack of the cards, as well as boxes, ad art and other design references, a 1994 set of Mars Attacks cards, promotional cards, and comic book cover art, released after a resurgence of interest in the series following the release of the big-screen Mars Attacks film starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Tim Burton. You also get four new cards with the book, which is wrapped in the classic, nostalgic wax pack dust jacket that Abrams’ book series is becoming famous for.