The Art of H.G. Wells
The End of the Epic?
By Mike Fitzpatrick ©2006 The Wrapper Magazine
Lone Ranger, Bowman 1940. It had both original art and original stories.
Vintage card collectors often opine that no one is making cards like they did decades ago with Lone Ranger and Mars Attacks. Those series featured original art and told an original story. Modern sets have replaced original art with photos promoting various TV shows, movies, and super heroes. Those are fun sets too, but they just aren't the same. Of course, there have also been some recent satire sets with wonderful art, including Hot Rod Super Freaks, Galaxy Goons, Silly CDs, and the recent revival by Topps of Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packs. But the last of the true "story art cards" seems to have died with the old undertaker in Midnight Madness (Rosem, 1990).
A decade and a half later, the classic story art form has returned from the dead with the completion of The Art of H.G.Wells by Monsterwax. This sensational sci-fi saga is painted by artist Ricardo Garijo, and adapts not one, but three science fiction classics. One of the series was already released last summer to coincide with the Spielberg alien invasion flick, The War of the Worlds. The other two stories are The Time Machine and Island of Dr. Moreau, and both are scheduled for release this month.
Continuing story cards-- the kind that use the same character or characters to relate an ongoing adventure-- are commonly used in photo sets that retell movie plots. They are very rarely used in art sets because they require writing a long and involved plot, not to mention all the original art needed. Serial art series like Horrors of War (1938) and Wild Man (1950) aren't really continuous story cards, because they don't have a regular cast or character. They are cards telling about different stories related to one another by a common theme and nothing else. Bowman's beautiful Lone Ranger (1940), as well as Topps' Batman and Philadelphia Gum'sTarzan series (both 1966) are much closer to the mark, but even they lack a continuous narrative. They are episodic in nature and jump around from story to story. Mars Attacks and Dinosaurs Attack are true continuous story cards, because they have central characters (the Martians in Mars Attacks, and Dr. Thorne in Dinosaurs Attack) who are part of an ongoing story that has a beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, Mars Attacks and Dinosaurs Attack were only meant to last one series. They were not really continuous in a serial sense.
Mars Attacks, Topps 1962. One of the very few continuing story sets (but only for one series).
Art card collectors have to go back 55 years to find story cards with a central cast that lasted more than one series. The winner would be the 1951 epic, Jets-Rockets-Spacemen by Bowman gum. That series lasted three installments of 36 cards, totaling 108 cards in all. 99 of the cards told a story about the crew of an Earth spaceship as it traveled the galaxy. The other 9 cards profiled various jets and rockets. It was slated to be an even larger series, lasting 180 cards-- 16 of which would profile jets and rockets. Unfortunately, the artwork to cards 109-144 (series 4) was somehow lost or stolen, and there wasn't enough time or money to go back and redo them. Luckily, the unfinished 5th series was eventually published in 1980 by James Trever & Paul Koch, but series 4 has never resurfaced.
The Art of H.G.Wells has completed an equally ambitious task. Fully assembled, the set is 123 cards in length, 99 cards of which are devoted to the narrative. The first series tells the story of a scientist who creates a time machine that allows him to visit the future. He discovers two different races have evolved. One is beautiful but stupid, and the other is hideous and conceals a ghastly secret. Series 2 follows the exploits of a traveler who is marooned on a lost island. A doctor lives there who is viewed as a god by a race of horrible looking beast-men. The traveler begins to suspect these creatures were once normal humans, and he may be next! But the truth is even more gruesome. The last series (already released) tells how Earth was invaded by Mars. All three stories tie together and are faithfully told in the original 19th century context. The other 24 non-narrative cards feature artwork not found in the base set. Here's a breakdown of those subsets
Series 2 (Dr. Moreau) Checklist
There are three different checklists (one for each series). There are six promos for the overall series. There are also three different "background cards" (one per series). These discuss some historical aspect of the series in relation to modern times. The background card for War of the Worlds tells how Wells' alien invasion idea influenced popular culture. It spawned countless imitation stories, comics, movies, and of course, the infamous Mars Attacks trading cards series. In fact, the card's image is an homage to Mars Attacks by Hal Robins, the only card in the entire series not painted by Garijo. The Time Machine background card has a similar discussion about Wells' impact on the concept of time travel. The Dr. Moreau background card provides a short biography of Wells.
There are also six different prize cards. What makes these especially interesting is that every box has one of every card made for that series inside it. War of the Worlds had one that entitled the finder to a free recording of the original 1938 Orson Welles broadcast of The War of the Worlds. It's the same radio broadcast that caused a nationwide panic when millions of Americans actually thought the country was being invaded by Martians.
The Time Machine has two different prize cards. One gives away a recording of the radio version of The Time Machine, as well as another drama with a time theme. The other gives away an uncut sheet of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Just 166 extra sheets were made to allow one for each box.
Prize card for the rare radio drama version of the George Pal War of the Worlds film (1953)
The Island of Dr. Moreau goes even further. Each box contains three different prize cards. One offers a rare recording of the 1953 George Pal film of War of the Worlds adapted to radio, complete with the actual movie sound effects and film score. The tape also includes a rare interview of H.G.Wells speaking with Orson Welles about War of the Worlds and a new film Orson was about to release... the classic Citizen Kane (considered by many the finest movie ever made). The second prize card gives the winner a DVD of The Island of Lost Souls, the 1933 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Charles Laughton. It also stars Bela Lugosi. Wells didn't approve of this adaptation, but horror buffs consider it a true classic.
Prize card for the Dr. Moreau DVD
The last prize card is the one that is most unique. It's the "Original art" prize card. Other companies have done similar things in the past, but usually at ratios of 1 per 10,000 or more packs. No one has has ever offered original paintings and production art in every box. Monsterwax President (and regular Wrapper contributor) Kurt Kuersteiner explains: "We wanted this series to be really special, so we made it as good as possible, as limited as possible, and stuffed with surprizes!" The art prize card has four options on it. One is checked and entitles the winner to one of the following prizes:
* One of 12 original paintings from the series by artist Ricardo Garijo. Ten of the images appear in the set, while two were replaced with different images (see photo). The most amusing of these replaced paintings is the Dr. Moreau checklist. It was completely redone because the original version looked like Gilligan's Island! (The replacement is much more ominous.)
* One of 22 different concept drawings of Martians and tripods from The War of the Worlds. 18 of these are detailed designs Garijo drew to determine what the Martians and their craft should actually look like. They provide a wide array of different creatures and ships, and show how both designs evolved during the planning process.
The other four are concept drawings by Kuersteiner. He's not a professional artist, but his sketches clearly convey his vision. (See sample.) They reveal how Kuersteiner initially designed alien tripods that contained classic flying saucer imagery but also incorporated organic insect-like legs. He moved the cage for humans that Wells had placed on the top of the craft to the bottom of the device, so that the victims would be stuffed into the under-belly, the same way a jellyfish eats. "We modified as little as possible from the story," Kuersteiner recalls, "because remarkably, it's still modern even after 100 years. That being said, we weren't dogmatic about it. If we saw something that needed more visual impact, we improved it." Garijo's finished version followed Kuersteiner's overall design but added a touch of Jules Verne style and flavor.
Another such example is the design of the Martians themselves. Kuersteiner felt the ones described in the book sounded ugly enough, but when actually drawn, didn't look very dangerous. He asked Garijo for other suggestions and the two emailed different designs back and forth trying to find something that had a more menacing look. "Wells basically invented the space alien," Kuersteiner points out, "and the more we changed it, the more we realized his basic design was best. After trying all sorts of different modifications, we ended up only changing the mouth. But the effect that one detail made is pretty powerful."
The series is very true to the book. Only the Martian mouths were slightly changed.
There's an unexpected "cameo" appearance of an alien design by Hal Robins, the artist who did many of the stickers for Dinosaurs Attack! It was drawn on the same piece of paper as Kuersteiner's drawings when he visited the artist in 1995. (Robins ended up contributing the Mars Attacks homage card, as stated earlier.) Back to the other art prize options:
* One of 123 original story-board sketches drawn by Kuersteiner. These give a "behind the scenes" glimpse into the making of the card series. They show what Kuersteiner originally envisioned and what Garijo ultimately provided. Sometimes the two images are very close to one another. Other times, they are completely different. Kuersteiner would often email the images but ask Garijo not to view them until after the artist had imagined the scene himself, and then decide which was better. Check out the examples and see some of the results.
* The last option on the card is the only one that doesn't really offer any art. It gives away one of 12 free sets of the sister series, Time Machine or War of the Worlds. One can't complain too much though, since the other 154 Moreau boxes have art and every one has the free DVD and tape! Monsterwax returns the cards (marked) with the prizes. But be aware that all the prize cards are only redeemable for two years (until Jan 1st, 2008).
As if that weren't enough, there's also an autographed sketch card in every box. It's an image of art from each wrapper which Garijo signs, and then flips over and draws a sketch in pen and ink on the blank side. (All three series have different wrappers, so there are three different sketch card fronts.)
The only thing that doesn't appear anywhere on the checklists are the three different prototypes. One for each series was made and they are a bit tough to complete. One was given away in each October 2005 issue of Non-Sport Update.
Unlike The War of the Worlds, which was issued in a standard white test box with a wrapper glued to it, The Time Machine and Island of Dr. Moreau have beautiful color boxes featuring different art from one another. They also have a cut-out "box art" card on the bottom. It shows the cover art reduced to card size, without any titles or logos on it. This will probably be the hardest card to find on the secondhand market, because only 166 boxes are made and most people will not cut out the cards. Since the War of the Worlds box was blank, the box art card for that series is being given away for free to anyone who buys both boxes of the two new titles at the same time.
The card images are dramatic. They recreate three very popular science fiction motifs: Time travel, a mad scientist who makes monsters, and an alien invasion from outer space. As far as the story part of the cards go, it's compelling for a similar reason. It's taken from one of the best science fiction writers of all time. The way all three series are tied together is definitely an added plus.
An atmospheric image from Island of Dr. Moreau.
One wonders what would have happened if these cards came out during the 1950s when George Pal's Time Machine and War of the Worlds movies first played. They certainly would have produced more than just 166 boxes! Kuersteiner's reason for that is rather shrewd: "It's a lost leader," he said, "It's not meant to make a lot of money. It's designed to generate excitement for our products."
It will be interesting to see if art story cards (continuous or not) make a comeback, or if more H.G.Wells stories will be added to this existing series. Time will tell. Let's hope it doesn't take another 55 years!
Read also The Wrapper Magazine review of War Of The Worlds.
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