Classic Card Backs!
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2006 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
I'm always delighted when I find a set that has both great artwork AND great backs. Usually, it's only one or the other, not both. Great looking sets rarely have equally great backs. And unfortunately, poor looking sets often DO have poor text! Fortunately, there are exceptions, like the classic DON'T LET IT HAPPEN OVER HERE series from 1938. The artwork was really crude--some of the worst ever. But the writing and the topics selected, WOW! There's not a card in that 24 card set that doesn't have an exciting and engrossing tale on the reverse. War, torture, man's inhumanity to man! It made you feel damn lucky you were living a boring life in the peaceful USA! The writing was so good, it made up for the poor art, but you still wished they had a better artist.
When both art and writing were excellent, the result was usually a hit. A good example would be the ever popular HORRORS OF WAR. That set is twice as nice because you see something that grabs your eye and when you flip it over to read about it, you're appetite to learn more is richly rewarded. The fact that what you're reading is historically accurate only adds another dimension of pleasure to the experience. But that doesn't take anything away from pure fantasy. JETS ROCKETS SPACEMEN was a 1950s example of Bowman's brilliance (not to mention the George Moll Advertising Agency). The 108 card space saga was every bit as good as anything Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers could conjure up!
In the 1960s, Topps and others began filling backs with stupid puzzles. What a waste of space! Fortunately, they still made some wonderful exceptions. Mars Attacks, Civil War News, and Outer Limits were all delightful examples of original writing that make collecting the addictive art a pleasure beyond first appearances. It's like taking a gorgeous gal home from the bar drunk, then waking up in the morning and discovering she also has a great personality! (Not that I would have any real experience in such matters.)
Another wonderful example of often overlooked classic writing is the back of TERRROR TALES. Someone at Topps wrote not 55, not 66, but 88 original tales of strange and mysterious happenings! That's an expensive and difficult set to buy today, but you can still read the great stories for cheap when you buy a set of FRIGHT FLICKS, since the stories were recycled for that series as well. The stories read like synopsis of episodes from Twilight Zone or One Step Beyond. Check this one out:
"Tenants at Whipton Apartments had gotten used to the sound of trains passing in the back at night. One boy, to be brave, decided to cross the tracks. But when he got to where the tracks should have been, there weren't any." (Insert Twilight Zone music here.)
Today, few cards offer original writing. Most are summaries of TV shows and movie plots, or artists explaining why they used this or that color to paint this or that card. BORING! The pursuit of licensed products with a pre-sold audiences has taken away the inspiration that encouraged card companies to be creative in the first place. But I expect that will change over time. Like everything else, the pendulum will eventually swing back the other direction. And when it does, I'll be there, waiting to snatch them up and read 'em like I did when I was a kid... albeit, with much thicker glasses!
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