Flying Saucer Sets Circle The Planet!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 1997 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine from issue #149
I remember in High School, my Biology teacher laughed at someone who asked him if he believed in UFOs. He said he did not, because despite the thousands of sightings, no one had managed to take any decent photographs of a single flying saucer.
But he was wrong.
I've seen many such photos and have collected them for years. They come as card sets and make fun additions to the hobby. Many are based on popular TV shows like The X-files (but that's another article for another time). There are also quite a number of sets featuring UFO art. Here are a smattering of both art and photos sets. Some are as tough to locate as, well, UFOs! Yet even these rare sets tend to be relatively inexpensive once you locate them.
It seems that sets involving UFOs and aliens fall into two distinct categories. Group one focuses on the "first contact" between man and Extraterrestrial. These sets talk about UFO sightings and aliens in a general way. They might name places and dates, but not specific aliens. The tone is detached and cautious toward the strangers. The aliens are not always considered hostile, but since so little is really known about them, the potential for danger is inferred. I consider these conventional UFO sets.
The second group focuses on specific alien visitors. These sets involve familiar aliens that we know from TV or the movies. They are usually friendly visitors, like ET, Alf, or Superman. But sometimes they are evil, like the creature(s) from Species or V. I call these "visiting alien" sets. Due to the limitations of space (no pun intended), we'll have to save those for another time.
There's something fun about the underlying paranoia of a conventional UFO set. Rest assured that more than a few kiddies had trouble sleeping after reading them. The best example is probably the grand daddy of all UFO sets: Mars Attacks. That set probably scared more youngsters than any other card set in history (Horrors of War included). The fear that Martians might appear out of the clear blue sky and start killing everyone certainly played upon the active imaginations of children. If you're still unfamiliar with the Mars Attacks series after all this time (original, reprint, or movie set), read back issues of The Wrapper.
A modern version of a similar story became a big hit last year. Independence Day was a motion picture block-buster. Aliens attack Earth in well rehearsed fashion, destroying entire cities until... well, see the movie and find out. Or buy the card set from Topps. There's 72 widevision cards and six widevision foils. Unfortunately, many collectors were disappointed with this set. Some of the pictures are grainy and uninspired. Several look almost identical to other cards in the set (The Mars Attacks movie cards had the same problem). You get the distinct feeling that the series should have been a 55 card set, but Topps wanted to sell more packs so they stretched it out to 72. (I don't mean to sound cynical, but it's a complaint I hear many times.) On a positive note, the packs were just .99 cents each.
Another block-buster UFO movie was made into cards in 1978, only this story didn't involve destruction or bloodshed. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was about a man who's life is turned upside down after he comes in contact with an UFO. His search for answers brings him in conflict with a government conspiracy to hide the truth from the public (a popular suspicion in UFO circles). The Topps set has 66 cards and 11 stickers. It's a well executed set, but lacks any clear pictures of the main actor. There is also a 48 card set from Prime Press and a 24 card set from Wonder Bread, both put out the same year.
Saucer People is an oversized card set by Kitchen Sink. It was released in 1992 as a boxed set and features 36 cards from different artists. Some of artists are quite famous, like Al Williamson (of EC comics), Mark Shultz (Cadillac & Dinosaurs) and John Pound (Wacky Packs). For this reason, the artwork isn't consistent, but some collectors like it that way. The backs feature stories of famous alien incidents.
Aliens and Earthlings is a fun set put out by Non-Sports Illustrated in 1993. The black and white illustrations by Wes Crum are striking. The backs have three different graphics, reminiscent of the Lost In Space card set. The text highlights various UFO stories. It was limited to just 1,000 numbered sets.
Famous UFO Sightings was released in 1992 by Contact Press. There are 20 cards in this set, most of them grainy photos of supposedly real UFOs. Many of these ships bear an uncanny resemblance to hubcaps! (Then again, if you wanted to disguise a UFO, what better way to do it than to mimic a common car part? Since objects in the air lack any reference to size, Earth bound photos would likely be viewed as fakes. But I digress...) The card backs recount the circumstances surrounding each photograph.
A more "high-tech" set of cards came from the Fantasma Company in 1992. Aliens Among Us has eight silver holograms depicting the aliens from conventional UFO lore. The backs have full color paintings and detailed stories about (you guessed it!) real alien encounters. They're rather dramatic holograms as far as holograms go.
But if it's 3-D aliens you're after, there's no substitute for the Shadowbox Alien action figures. There are eight in the series including a "men in black" figure. Each toy comes with a card featuring a photograph of the same figure in full color, plus vital stats. You can still find these little fellows at Kay-Bee toys and similar outlets. Previous issues of The Wrapper (#146) offered this set of eight cards without any action figures.
One of my favorite UFO sets is from England. Space Mysteries was printed by Barratt & Co in 1965. There are 25 small cards in the set, each measuring 1 3/8" x 2 1/2" in size. They have mediocre color drawings on the front and the obligatory UFO story on the reverse. The unusual aspect about this series is that many of the stories are from the distant past, like ancient Egypt or the Middle ages.
For the hard-core flying saucer fan, there's five foreign sets based on the UFO TV series from Britain. This 1970s program became instantly dated by its "mod" fashion influence. Everyone in the series dressed like Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery! The hair styles were equally amusing (especially the side burns). You can still enjoy reruns of the program on the Sci-fi channel (or Comedy Channel). Or you can relive the memories with the cards.
Three of the sets were from English card companies. Geo Bassett (1974) did a set of 70 small cards featuring photos from the show and profiles on the back. It gives a good overview of the program. Barratt & Company did a set of 70 small cards in 1971, but I haven't seen it yet. Anglo Company did a set of 64 normal sized cards in 1970. It was a mixture of photos and drawings on 2 3/16" x 3" cards. The photos were good but the drawings were somewhat bland. The backs formed a big puzzle.
Italy weighed in with the Panini issue of 400 stickers plus album. They featured color photos 2" x 2 3/4" in size. The date of issue is uncertain, but somewhere in the 70s is a safe bet. With 400 stickers in the set, collectors are going to have a fun time trying to piece this one together.
Monty gum of Holland also contributed a set. Though I haven't seen it yet, it was probably like the other Monty sets: 100 color photo cards about the size of the Jets-Rockets-Spacemen series. The backs probably form one giant puzzle. I wish I could say more for certain, but when it comes to UFO sets, it's a lot like UFO encounters: Eyewitness accounts conflict with one another. If you know for certain, please contact me at KyrtK@aol.com. (Submission to a polygraph test will not be required.)
These are just a sample of what's out there in the great unknown. Let me know if you discover other UFO sets of interest. We'll cover some of the "visiting alien" sets another time (including Men In Black). Until then, beware of low flying hubcaps!
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