Trading cards will always have a special place in my heart. Even though I was never a major collector because I’m OCD and clutter makes me want to die, they played an important part in my childhood. Trading cards gave me the Cliff Notes version of what actually watching / reading the source material would teach me in order to hold my own in playground conversations.
I was never really into comic collecting. I’ve read a few series over the years and enjoyed them, but it just wasn’t something I paid much attention to. How I first got into Marvel / DC / etc. comic book characters was through the Fleer (and other branded) comic cards of the 90s. The illustrations sucked me in and made me wonder the backstories of all these awesome drawings and the descriptions on the back were an amazing source of information.
Reading and seeing all of this caused me to go to my local comic book store, Claude’s Comics (named for his dog who also served as the mascot), and pick up a few random issues here or there.
I still remember the sign with his dog in a Superman costume with a big “C” on his chest. That place was magical. During the comic downturn, however, it became Claude’s Cigars and eventually closed its doors completely. That place held a lot of nice memories. I don’t think Claude would have approved of tobacco use, however, and maybe he sued for unlawful use of his likeness.
I see trading cards as little, unassuming pieces of art and a great introduction to intellectual properties that you’re not necessarily familiar with. If you are the collecting type, they can also be a fun challenge for building complete sets.
Recently, and mostly through Dinosaur Dracula’s monthly fun packs, I’ve come across some defunct trading card series from the 90s that I feel would be interesting to talk about. Most of them are pretty cheap to procure on eBay and they’re worth a look if you want to explore something new or relive a part of your formative years that you may have forgotten until now.
If you weren’t aware, Spawn was all the rage in the 90s. Todd McFarlane, one of the greatest toy crafters in the history of mankind, created the character when he was 16.
From there, Spawn blew up as his eponymous comic book took the scene. Al Simmons, a CIA operative murdered on a mission in Botswana by his friend and partner, is sent to hell for his life as an assassin and strikes a deal with the devil (Malebolgia) in order to return to the world of the living to see his wife, Wanda.
Stripped of most of his memories, left disfigured, and tailed by a demon guardian who often poses as a clown named Violator, Spawn uncovers bits and pieces about his past and decides he doesn’t want to return to hell and instead becomes an anti-hero.
The cards in this pack showcast the amazing art style of Todd McFarlane and why this character became so popular. The story seems pretty uninteresting, but the visual style is absolutely fantastic.
It’s also funny that one of the cards is just a super 90s Lifetouch-inspired portrait of Todd himself in a jean jacket looking pensive. It fits in well with the flaming, tattered capes and green necroplasm.
The backs of the cards include blurbs about the issues of the comic that the images were pulled from. However, Todd’s card instead displays checklist for collectors of the comic book series to aid in figuring out which issues they’re missing. This reminds me of the old Wizard magazine and its comic checklists.
The art style of these cards is worth the price of entry alone. Even after 24 years, they’re still impressive to look at. There’s a reason Todd McFarlane is still recognized as one of the greats in toy crafting and still molds impressive figures from movies, comics, video games, and TV shows to this day.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Trading Cards (1995)
Based on the Klasky Csupo cartoon series of the same name, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters was one of my favorite Nicktoons as a child.
It had a great blend of the Little Monsters / Monsters Inc storyline of sneaking into houses and scaring people as a day job as well as the gross out humor of cartoons like Ren & Stimpy.
Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm were the main monster characters and lived in a school for monsters underneath the city dump where their class assignments involved venturing out from the safety of their monster school to go out and scare humans.
The cards are pretty typical of anything based on a TV show or movie. They basically amount to screen grabs with descriptive titles at the bottom of the image.
The best part of these cards are the art pieces surrounding the little blurbs on the back. The “Monster Life” card has a really awesome framing with a detailed trashcan full of refuse surrounded by black and white sketched flies buzzing around. The thematic attention to detail here really speaks to me.
Similarly, the “Oblina Transformations” card is another sight to behold, featuring Oblina puking a green gas/sludge cloud full of fish skeletons and half-eating pudding pops.
The screen grabs don’t do much for me, but I think these are worth picking up just for the fun and wacky art on the other side.
Street Sharks Trading Cards (1995)
Capitalizing on the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the human/animal hybridization craze in children’s programming of the late 80s up through the end of the 90s, Street Sharks was a modest hit.
After creating a device known as the “gene-slammer,” good Dr. Bolton is transformed into an inhuman monster and his evil cohort Dr. Paradigm uses the device for his own nefarious means. He transforms Dr. Bolton’s sons into shark/human creatures known as Street Sharks.
The Street Sharks refuse to do his bidding when Dr. Paradigm captures their friend and instead they carry out a rescue mission, in the process combining Dr. Paradigm with Piranha DNA and creating the villain known as Dr. Piranoid.
Honestly, the toys were the best part of this series as they were these giant, rubber figures that served as a great addition to any action figure lineup. I often used them as the good guy “muscle” in the massive toy battles on my bedroom floor. Personally, my favorite shark was always Streex because he had sharp claws and was permanently affixed with a set of rollerblades.
The cards themselves are pretty generic, they also include card puzzles. The 3 varieties of card puzzles I came across in a handful of packs were the Street Sharks family poster, a shiny-framed Ripster, and a shiny-framed Dr. Piranoid.
While not a groundbreaking assortment of art or anything particularly special, it did the bare minimum as a trading card series in order to exist as somewhat acceptable. I just wish the card backs had descriptions and tidbits about the show/backstory instead of just the boring card puzzles.