Lost In Space- The Art of Ron Gross!
By Kurt Kuersteiner © 2020 Monsterwax Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
Growing up as a kid in 1960s America, it was virtually impossible not to know about Lost In Space. Not only was the science fiction show about the first colonists in space full of exciting special effects and future gadgets, it also featured three of TV’s most memorable characters: A red-headed kid named Will Robinson, his loyal B-9 Robot, and the scheming Dr. Smith. I loved watching their weekly encounters with monsters, aliens, and other unexpected threats. The first season (filmed in black and white) was very suspenseful and often quite scary. But once Batman started airing on a competing network during the same time slot, Lost In Space added two new ingredients: Color and camp.
I continued to enjoy the show—though not as much. They still managed to produce some good episodes, but the increasing campy humor often undercut otherwise dramatic stories. It lasted two more seasons that way.
Fortunately, there were some great souvenirs to keep the golden memories of my favorite first season alive and well. Aurora put out a great model featuring the giant Cyclops about to smash the tiny Earthlings below him with a boulder (as seen in episode 4). There was also a colorful lunchbox with a similar scene splashed across the front. But best of all, was the series of 55 Topps chewing gum cards from 1966.
The black and white cards featured clear close ups of the cast and even some of the monsters (like our one-eyed pal, Mr. Cyclops). Most of the photos looked like they were not staged, but taken straight from the show—and all from the first season. The backs had several different graphics and a short storyline—albeit rarely an accurate one. (Thank goodness they weren’t puzzle backs!) This was one of Topps better 1960s sets and remains quite popular today. The Cyclops box design looked great, too.
I remember being so obsessed with the series as a youngster, that I used to have dreams about it. It was pretty cool to wake up after visiting Will and the Robot most mornings. The series was a dream come true for any kid of that era: We all wanted to be astronauts and the thought of owning our very own robot buddy was icing on the cake! The masses thought the robot was “real” and Irwin Allen encouraged the error.
Fast forward some forty years, and I receive a call from an old college buddy who wanted to record a weekly podcast about his favorite 60s TV show. He asked if I would be interested in co-hosting it. (That depended on which TV show he was talking about, of course.) When he said Lost In Space (LIS), I readily agreed!
That was in late 2018, and we’ve had a blast ever since. The show is called Alpha Control, and we enjoy reviewing, dissecting, recreating (and sometimes roasting) the classic LIS. It’s really given me a new appreciation of the series. We discovered many behind-the-scenes stories. We’ve also interviewed a lot of people who were either involved with its production, promotion, or syndication—past and present. We spoke with Angela Cartright (Penny), Kevin Burns (the man in charge of all of Irwin Allen’s TV series, and executive producer of the new Lost In Space series on Netflicks), and we unearthed and aired a previously unheard interview with Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith, who passed away in 2002).
One of the most interesting characters I’ve met through the podcast was Ron Gross, an artist who creates the licensed calendars and posters for LIS. Ron was even more obsessed with the series than I was, and like myself, he especially enjoyed the more serious first season. We began talking about it. He said he really wanted to make a trading card series that faithfully portrayed the best of that first season, but featured sensational artwork that showed it all in gorgeous color. He asked for my help, and of course, I was thrilled at the prospect—if we could get the license to make it from Kevin Burns. Ron already had licenses to create the calendars and posters, and since Kevin liked our show—he was willing to work a deal to do the card series as well. So early 2019, we were suddenly off on our own space card adventure!
The amazing thing is how good an artist Ron actually is. The images look gorgeous, photo-realistic-- and his colors are fantastic as well. He’s also the writer. I usually write the back text but when he offered to do it, I figured I’d let him try. As it turns out, he’s a great writer. I hardly found anything to change other than a typo or two. And Ron’s knowledge of the original series is so complete, he actually added cool details to the cards that were part of the original script but cut out for time reasons (stuff few fans even know about).
My major contribution was getting him to add additional subsets beyond the 45 base cards, like the 9 monster stickers, and the three additional subsets. Those consisted of 9 cast cards, 9 model & cover cards, and 9 fantasy world cards (which covered the other three Irwin Allen fantasy shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and Time Tunnel).
We also added 6 additional metal monster cards. These were favorite monsters (most from the first season) that deserved extra attention. These are card sized metal plates with a super rich color process reminiscent of the vintage Outer Limits cards. We don’t repeat images in metal cards like other sets do. These are all new images and really fill out the set. There is one in every box, but they are also sold as a stand alone set, so collectors don’t have to buy six boxes to get everything (which helps avoid dumping of base sets and other duplicates).
Last but not least, was getting Ron to include a Bio card, to tell a bit about him and his work. I did this for two reasons. 1st, I thought collectors might want to know more about his LIS connections, and 2nd, I wanted to include a great picture Ron had sitting next to one of his pen pals from LIS, the unflappable Jonathan Harris. The two knew each other for many years and Ron has some golden stories to relate about Harris. (Ron signed half of those, and the other boxes contain an actual printing plate.)
As I collector, I was thrilled with the outcome of the cards. I can honestly say that from a visual standpoint, this is THE best LIS set I’ve ever seen. Even the box is amazing. Like those classic Aurora monster models boxes, the dramatic cover calls forth and urges fans to buy the product, and then save the box to put it on display.
Suffice it to say, Ron did a remarkable job and deserves real credit. I know some vintage collectors can be rather snobbish about buying new products (something I’m guilty of, too), but this series deserves a serious look.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, not only does it come with an oversized LIS podcast card in every box, but also it’s own gum—a stick in every pack! (Danger Will Robinson! Tooth decay danger!) So if you really want a fun blast from the past, you can listen to the podcast while opening the cards and rotting your teeth out with “cosmic gum”! You can see the cards at Monsterwax.com and hear the podcast on iTunes or LostInSpacePodcast.com.
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