Hi there, my name’s John and I’m big geek. My geeky specialty is comic books, but I like to think of myself as a well-rounded geek with interest in computers, video games, science fiction, movies, etc. I also like things that aren’t geeky- including sports- but I’m not nearly as knowledgeable as Casey. Growing up, sports cards never really held my interest; I liked the Orioles and remember watching the Super Bowl with my family, but I was never into the off-season or other teams until I was much older.
It wasn’t until 1997 I started to really watch the NFL and that was only because the Ravens moved to Baltimore and held their pre-season workouts in my hometown. I used to go to those practices because a relative of mine was dating a wide receiver. I remember some of my friends collecting sports cards in elementary school, but in the early 90s sports cards were seen as an old-man’s game, as investments. The bubble hadn’t completely collapsed yet, but they were expensive enough that kids my age didn’t actively trade them or amass them to the point we were putting them in our bike spokes. So we found other things to trade and collect and ultimately discard; pogs, stickers, pencil-toppers, and comic book cards.
I remember really getting into comic book cards (which we called “X-Men cards” even if they didn’t feature anyone from the X-Men) around 1994-95. This was the height of the X-Men cartoon series and at the height of the comic speculator bubble. For those of you that don’t know (read: normal people) the comic speculator bubble happened in the early- to mid-90s where comic books were seen as “investment items” like baseball cards. This was due to two main factors: one was the popularity of golden age books like Batman and Superman reaching all-time highs in auctions, and the other was the wave of small-press and independent comics that were being optioned for toys and movies. If you were one of the lucky people to get a first edition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or GI Joe, you saw a huge return on your investment in those days. So people were going out and buying not just old books, but new books hoping that they’d have something historic and rare.
Just like baseball cards, the companies making comics took full advantage of people trying to find the next comic that would instantly appreciate in value. So they began to put out “variant” covers for books that could only be purchased by the store if they bought a certain number of regular covers. And they began using gimmicks like embossing and chrome foil to mark “special editions” that often were printed at the same or greater levels as the regular covers. It wasn’t uncommon at that time for some customers to walk into a comic book store, buy every copy of a variant cover at an inflated price, and never read them. Eventually, people realized that the market was flooded and stopped buying which caused a crash that caused titles to be cancelled, creators to be fired, and entire companies to collapse. The fact that most of these books weren’t very good to begin had little to do with the collapse, and no one was sad to see most of these titles cancelled.
But there were still kids to exploit, and Saturday morning cartoons were also booming in popularity, which meant a ton of merchandising and tie-ins. One of those tie-ins was trading cards, which had been around for a very long time and were benefitting from the renaissance baseball cards were seeing in their chase sets and super-rare inserts. At this nexus of comic books, cartoons, and trading cards was 9 year-old me just waiting to spend his allowance on pieces of cardboard with pictures on them. Of course, this bubble would also burst and the market would become flooded with absolute crap, but they never truly went away.
The cards changed over the years to include collectible card games, movie tie-ins, and television shows, so the non-sports card world never left, it just went back into the basement with the rest of the comics and toys that haven’t stood the test of time.
Non-sports cards have evolved almost exactly as sports cards have over the years. As soon as sports cards started being sold in wax packs with bubble gum, companies have sold non-sports cards. These have included every popular topic under the sun- from The Monkees to The A-Team to Annie and beyond. Most of these sets weren’t popular, but notable examples include Mars Attacks (which was never mass-marketed because it was deemed “too disturbing”), and Garbage Pail Kids. Once sports cards made the jump to foil packs, so did non-sports cards. When sports cards started making chase sets that included shiny foil, holograms, and signatures, non-sports cards weren’t far behind.
The early non-sports cards were cheaply made still pictures put on cardboard. The pictures were production stills of a movie or television show, or photos that had previously appeared in a magazine, with brief blurbs on the back that described the scene. Eventually companies started branching out into more original endeavors where they would commission actual artists to draw directly for the card. Some of these were very well done and others, simply put, were crap. These cards were often meant to tell a story arc over the entire set, but I doubt any kid in the 60s and 70s ever cared enough to follow along.
Sports cards started including pieces of jerseys which non-sports cards couldn’t replicate, but movie tie-in cards did have pieces of costumes worn on set. Recently, the big thing in non-sports cards is to include a sketch card: a one-of-a-kind pencil and ink sketch that may be worth some actual money depending on the character and quality of the sketch. This is enough to keep me and other geeks coming back, and if the sports card world ever includes a randomly-inserted sketch by Mike Tyson, I might be tempted to start buying those, too. Actually, that’s not a bad idea- randomly inserted self-portrait sketches from players.
As Casey has mentioned in a few previous posts, I bought a box of comic cards specifically for his blog that I will open and document similar to what he’s doing. While there are still a few sets and boxes from yesteryear that I would love to dig into, I decided on one of the newer boxes for this project. I hope that doing this sheds some light on the other half of trading cards just as Casey’s posts have shed some light on the sports card world for me. Along the way, I will be sharing some anecdotes of collecting years past and commentary on the current state of comicdom. I am going to structure my posts slightly different from Casey’s in that I’m not going to open a pack a day- I’m going to open 12 packs a post partly because I don’t want to steal Casey’s idea and partly because I have no willpower. If people like what I’ve done, I’ll keep at it- there’s still a lot out there.
John’s first wax cracking for us will be posted shorty. He will be highlighting hits from Packs 1-12 of 2008 Upper Deck Marvel Masterpieces Series 2. Welcome, John!