The Bubble Gum Gallery of Art!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (©1996 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine ish. #137
Most people claim to appreciate art, but few consciously support it. Museums spend millions acquiring master works, but how many of us spend the few bucks required to visit them? On the other hand, almost everyone spends money buying the art I like best. The irony is, it's not sold as art, but advertising. It might appear on a cereal box, record sleeve, comic book cover, movie poster, or bubble gum wrapper.
They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but that's how most of us shop. I never thought I bought Quisp cereal for the box, but I did. I don't even think I liked the taste, but I loved that goofy Martian on the box. I couldn't count the number of comics I bought because of a cool cover, or the thousands of movies I watched because of the exciting poster. Yet there's one thing I can easily count, and that's the number of cavities I got chewing the pasty gum out of gum packs.
My mom threw away the cereal boxes, she destroyed the comics, and she never allowed me to get any movie posters. Only one thing survived the early days of my art appreciation, and that's the gum cards. They were small enough to hide, cheap enough to buy on the sly, and popular enough to trade with friends.
I still collect them to this day. They don't come with gum any more, but I'm running out of good teeth anyway. I started buying gum packs back in the early 60s, and despite all the years that have passed, my favorite sets are still the same ones I loved back then. I consider them modern day classics, because time doesn't diminish their appeal. If I were to set up a gum card art gallery, it would feature all sorts of sets, but there are four it would have to have.
The star attraction would definitely be Mars Attacks. Almost any kid alive in 1962 loved this set. The Norm Saunders artwork of a Martian invasion was gory and terribly exciting. The stories on the back were just as neat. If mom found these, it was curtains! The original set in excellent condition costs well over a thousand dollars today.
Another great set was Outer Limits. I wasn't even allowed to watch the TV series, let alone collect the cards, but hey- what parents don't know can't hurt them... This set was made up of photos, but they were colored with a weird process that made them look psychedelic. This 1964 set cost about $500, but the reprints are usually $25. The corn-ball adventure stories on the back had nothing to do with the TV show, but were so ridiculous, they're worth the price of the set alone!
The only series my folks knew I collected was Civil War News. They thought it would educate me about history. Did it ever! All the blood and carnage depicted in this set was thrilling. Some of the history on the backs may have been true, but who cares? Again, it was the graphic artwork of Norm Saunders that made me love this set. A high grade set of this 1962 classic now costs around $500.
A similar series came out in 1965 called Battle. This was the same artist and concept as before, only this time it was about WW2. The prejudice these cards depicted against Japanese and Germans is unbelievable. Yet believe it I did, like millions of other kids who were entranced by the hynotic artwork. All I cared was that our side won the war before reaching the checklist. A Nearmint set of these is around $900.
There were other wonderful sets from that era as well. Batman, Tarzan, Odd Rods... They were all fun, but the best always featured lots of color, great pictures, and an exciting story on the back (even if it was a little corny). Maybe one day they'll wind up in a museum along side the other classics. The gum can already be found beneath the benches there.
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