Tackling Topps Monster Tatoos!
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2010Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
Of all the 350+ monster sets I've hunted for through the years, the hardest one to collect was also one of the most unusual. It wasn't even a conventional cardboard series, but instead, tattoos. Or should I say "tatoos", since that's what Topps labeled them.
Yes, the 1960s series of Monster Tatoos has something to fascinate and frustrate everyone. In the fascination department, collectors like the fact that the artwork was drawn by the famed horror artist, Jack Davis. Davis also drew Topps' very first monster card series, the 1959 You'll Die Laughing (aka Funny Monster ) set. Davis also drew a lot of horror comics in the 1950s for EC, including various stories for Tales of the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear . The tatoo [sic] images feature very few backgrounds, but they all bare the distinctive Davis style. Clean illustrations and bright colors grace the backs of each 1 9/16" x 3 1/2" wrapper.
In the frustration department, the gripe list is much longer. Since they are tattoos, the condition is easy to damage. Any dampness can make the colors run, or the tattoos stick together. They came with a small piece of gum inside, and sometimes that would cling to part of the image and pull it off when opened. The wrapper usually tore part of the bottom paper when it was opened as well, although the white background where this occurred usually hides the damage.
One of the biggest complaints is that there are no numbers or captions on any of the tattoos, so after nearly half a century, collectors are still not certain how many different images are in the set. (Did I forget to mention that I still haven't finished my set yet, either? I wish I could say that I was almost done, but when no one can say where the end is, it's kind of hard to know when you're close.) The Benjamin guide doesn't know, and neither do the other price guides. They aren't even sure about the date, but often guess that it was "possibly 1962".
Solid information on the set isn't the only thing scarce about them. So are the tattoos themselves. They don't often surface, and when they do, it's usually just a few at a time. The reason why they are uncommon is obvious enough. Kids used them up by applying them! What were they thinking?! (Oh yeah, now I remember: we weren't thinking, because we were young and we already knew it all.)
So now, as adults, we're stuck trying to piece together sets by trading in The Wrapper, surfing the internet, and going to card shows. One upside to trading tatoos is that no image appears to be any more scarce than the rest. The big downside is that there is no checklist, and creating one without names or numbers isn't easy, since many of the creatures don't fall into any specific category and are difficult to describe (except to say they are monsters). There are also several duplicate creatures that look rather similar, for example, three variations of ape faces. How does someone differentiate between those on a printed checklist? They all look hairy, and they all look like ape faces. Ay caramba !
The final frustration is the sheer size of the set. Although I can't say for sure how many make a complete set, I can say for certain how many make up an in complete set. That number is 95 or less, because I've obtained tattoos or scans of missing ones for 96 different designs. If I had to guess, I would assume there are 99 or 100 different images (but I don't know of any way to confirm the complete set size for absolute certain).
Since there are so many images, but no checklist, trading is a nightmare. Someone may send you a scan, and you search to see if you already have it, but there are so many, it's easy to overlook one out of 96. I've traded for tattoos I already have (by accident) on several occasions, and I bet I'm not the only one.
So having a checklist would really make collecting and trading easier. I suppose that means if one is ever going to get made, we better do it now, because it has already been nearly half a century and no one else has bothered to start!
The best method I could devise to organize a checklist is by color. There are six basic colors used in this set: Flesh tone, yellow, green, red, purple, and white. (All the illustrations are actually drawn in black, with the other colors added.) So I organize all my plastic pages according to color. But if most the images use several colors, how does one decide which color to use to sort each image? I use the color of the FACE from each creature, and if there's more than one color in the face, I use the dominate color. What if there are two faces on the tattoo? Then I use the bigger of the two. What if they are the same size? Then I use the face on the left (since we read from left to right).
This may sound a little convoluted, but heck, it's a convoluted series. Desperate problems require desperate solutions! I will boast that finding and sorting tattoos became a LOT easier after I separated them by color. Now, instead of having to compare any new images to 96 other images, the most I have to sort through are 24 different images-- because that's the most common face color (flesh tone). The other colors only require a dozen or so comparisons to find and locate them. So it definitely saves time!
One final point, there was also a 1975 Topps reissue of this series using the same artwork but different colors. That series was only 60 tattoos in length (spelled correctly this time). They were numbered in two categories, 1-30A, and 1-30B. Since the numbers appear just below the tattoos, it's easy to distinguish the two series. The wrapper design (on the other side of each tattoo) is also different. The original 1960s version had a hooded skull drawn by Davis in the top right corner, while the 1975 version replaced the skull with a grinning face of Frankenstein's monster drawn by an unknown artist.
If you haven't collected these before, you're probably wondering how much they cost. Usually between $15 and $25 each. That means a complete set would cost at least $2,400, and that's assuming you didn't pay any premium for the fact it was complete, or any extra postage to piece the set together one by one. That's also assuming you paid the lower $15 range for each tattoo. In other words, it would probably cost you many hundreds of dollars more. So if you don't have the time, patience, and paychecks to spend on a very tough series, this is not a set to try to finish. However, getting a sample or type tattoo for your collection is not that difficult or cost prohibitive. For those of you already under way with this series (or insane enough to start), this checklist should be a big help.
So without further ado, here then is the first published, near-complete checklist of Monster Tatoos. Remember, it's organized by face color to speed up finding and sorting images. (Please note: to conserve space, Frankenstein's monster is referred to as Frankenstein.)
GREEN face tatoos
Walking Fish monster w/ purple arm.
Walking mummy with purple wrapping.
Stooping Frankenstein w/ purple outfit.
Frankenstein (chest up) w/ purple fur vest.
Frankenstein (waist up) bending bar.
Green skull w/ red eye sockets.
Large green head w/ buzz haircut, small arms & legs, and big yellow eyes.
Rattlesnake w/ yellow belly, red eyes.
Octopus w/ red eyes and white teeth.
Witch doctor w/ yellow bone in nose, rings in ears, horns on head, & teeth.
Gravedigger w/ lantern, red shovel, & purple outfit.
Witch face w/ white hair & purple hat.
Standing green monkey creature facing right w/ fuzzy head hair, no tail.
Ape face facing right, open mouth & yellow sideburns.
Ghoul w/ red eyes & bangs, waist up view with hands dangling. Yellow shirt.
Green skull wearing Indian headdress and hatchet piercing left forehead.
Wolfman looking over his shoulder w/ long green tail and purple clothes*.
Purple and green octopus grabbing red sea diver.
Big head creature w/ under-bite, green nose & mouth, and red arms & legs*.
RED face tatoos:
Devil face above flames.
Full devil holding pitchfork w/ flames.
Short standing creature with red antennas, large nose, pot belly.
Ape face left, open mouth, yellow lips & eyes.
Pigmy type creature, green hair, eyes, arms, & green ring in ear.
Crumbling / melting red skull on red background.
Zombie pushing through green weeds in yellow outfit.
Waist up witch sticking pins in yellow voodoo doll.
Giant winged insect chasing woman.
Bald Cyclops man with long fangs*.
Goofy pitted face w/ green hair & green wall-eyed pupils. Mouth agape*.
Wolfman face with yellow eyes*.
YELLOW face tatoos:
Pinhead w/ green hair, eyes, red ears.
Shrunken head on yellow background.
Alien face with green outline, giant pointed ears, and 3 whiskers per side.
Large head on chicken legs. Has big ears and red toilet plunger like tongue.
Red ape on all fours, w/ yellow face.
Ape face looking straight forward, w/ purple background & around eyes.
Frankenstein face looking left, mouth open.
FLESH colored face, monster tatoos:
Frankenstein waist up, breaking chains from wall, purple background.
Frankenstein waist up, behind flames.
Frankenstein waist up, facing left, green jacket & red background.
Frankenstein face looking forward.
Frankenstein (chest up) facing forward w/ purple jacket, green shirt, & electric bolts on either side of head*.
Big head creature with nose on forehead, red plungers jutting from ears, red tummy, & purple bird legs.
Stooped hunchback w/ red hair & green shirt.
Stooped hunchback w/ white hair & yellow noose on neck*.
Large bald oaf w/ yellow shirt, green pants, & 2 nails in each arm.
Stocky man with long nose, red shirt and rope-like tail.
Girl tied to burning stake.
Waist-up witch in red jacket holding shrunken head by its purple hair.
Executioner in green outfit, red shoes, w/ purple whip.
Face of man with five yellow eyes.
Bald hunchback with 3 eyes & a long tail tied in a knot.
Witch on broom flying left, red clothes.
Witch stirring cauldron. Green cloak, purple background.
Wolfman on rocks, about to pounce on lady walking by.
Waist-up man with ax chopping something bloody. Wears yellow shirt.
Face of man w/ bone in forehead, gold rings in ears and all around neck.
Girl running from bat, purple background.
Guard in foreground w/ lantern, mummy in background leaving coffin.
Purple cloaked figure w/ white cane.
Old man face with arrow in forehead*.
Face looking right w/ giant red ear and red forked tongue*.
Baseball batter w/ skull thrown at him*.
Scared man on left foreground looking back at green ghoul (red background)*.
Naked 3-eyed man with 2 mouths, 2 ears and a red forked tail*.
WHITE face tatoos:
Man it tux raising his green bat wings against red and yellow background*.
Skull facing right w/ long red hair against green background.
Skull and crossbones on red background.
Skeleton ghoul w/ blond hair reaching at all purple man in right foreground.
Melting man climbing out of acid barrel w/ purple background.
3-eyed alien in green and purple space suit with yellow bird arms and legs.
Giant ant looks down on man on left w/ purple background.
Skeleton w/ red shirt climbs out of grave (purple background).
Haunted house w/ red lightening bolt.
Large mouthed monster face with green eyes on purple background.
PURPLE face tatoos:
Young man kisses purple woman with green hair.
Two headed man, 1 purple, 2 green.
Giant rat lunges at fleeing cat.
Mummy face w/ green wrapping.
Rattlesnake w/ purple skull head.
Stooping Frankenstein w/ stick against purple background.
Mr. Hyde chest up, w/ yellow test tube.
Mr. Hyde face with green top hat and red scarf*.
Bulbous mutant head with yellow eyes against purple background.
Bat diving down right against yellow background.
Hairy creature in green paints, facing back at viewer w/ yellow antennas.
Old man face w/ yellow foaming open mouth and noose around neck.
Walking alien in red space suit w/ yellow helmet.
Frankenstein removes mask and scares woman in red.
Pinhead alien face with yellow nose and eyes on stalks.
White haired purple face with one yellow eye open.
Bald native face looking left w/ mouth sewn shut, gold earrings & neck rings*.
Mermaid fish monster w/ yellow duck arms, purple tail and white antennas*.
UNKNOWN colors (from b/w photocopies):
Face w/ long hair looks left, forked tongue sticks out of closed mouth*.
Black Widow spider*.
[* = Scans or damaged tatoos that I would like to upgrade. I have many dupes to trade, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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