Making Monster Cards can be HELL!
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2020 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
It’s been a rather scary spring this year, what with all the virus headlines. It may not be the zombie apocalypse, but it sure feels a lot like it! My family flew out of state to visit a brother for spring break, and when we returned, we had to self-isolate for two weeks. That time expired on midnight March 31st—which was followed precisely one minute later by Florida’s 30-day shelter-in-place order. Normal people would probably go insane isolated inside for 44 days, but fortunately, we card collectors have our cardboard companions to keep us company.
Manufacturing such cards can be a story onto itself, especially when you start to notice spooky elements in the process, including some coincidences that are hard to explain away. I’d like to share those creepy details in a true story I call… The Cards From HELL!
I started Monsterwax in the early 1990s to produce original art cards (usually just one series per year). I’ve recently used crowd funding to help finance those endeavors. Last year, I produced a series called Monsters From Hell. The artist was a Spaniard named Pablo who goes by the alias of Oblix Hell Art. He draws incredible monster art and released a series of 76 cards in Spain called Monsters.
I managed to locate and buy a set. They are hard to piece together and it cost me $100, but they were also one of my favorite sets… except for two minor problems— problems common to most Spanish sets. First off, Spanish trading cards are often much smaller than US cards. These only measured 1.5 x 2 inches in size. And secondly, the backs are often blank. Most Spanish card collectors paste their cards onto checklist-type posters (into spots reserved for each card) so the backs of each card are usually blank or only have some sort of generic graphic.
I decided to try to track down the artist and see if he would allow me to publish his series here, and also add a compelling story to tie all his monstrosities together into an exciting science fiction narrative. After an exhaustive internet search, I found an interview with Pablo and contacted the writer, who provided me his email address. I wrote a letter to him (in Spanish) and we struck up a correspondence. He liked the idea of co-producing the series for the USA and after a couple of months of preparation, I launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $13K to produce them.
Now came the harder part: fulfillment. Sure, the artwork for the base set was done, but the story still had to be written and the day after the campaign ended, I realized I had absolutely no idea how I was going to tie all those monsters together into one story! After many hours of staring at a blank computer screen and getting nowhere, I decided on a different approach-- I stared at the cards instead. To my surprise, a horrifying idea popped into my head: What if there was a disease that appeared out of nowhere, was easily transmitted, and it spread before the authorities even realized it was here? What sort of chaos and panic would that cause? I went from card to card, and the story started to write itself. It was almost as if someone or something was dictating it to me. I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening to other writers, but it never happened before to me. I kept worrying the inspiration would stop as quickly as it began, but it didn’t. At night, I would sometimes have nightmares that would continue the story as I slept, and I would wake up and write it down. It went that way until the very last card.
I’d like to say it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, except I’m not really sure I wrote it. Physically I did, sure, but mentally? Who knows who or what was really responsible. If you read the story, you’ll know more of what I’m talking about. The first series tosses out numerous theories as to what is actually happening and why. And while most the answers are resolved, not all of them are (yet).
Of course, the made-up disease was just a plot device to introduce other elements of the horror story. I never actually thought something like that would start happening in China the exact same month the series started shipping in the US (in November 2019). Just one month earlier, we were using the same plot at our annual commercial haunted house. We passed out promos for the cards. The crowds were the largest we’ve ever seen in over twenty years. But alas-- due to the epidemic, we are not even sure we’ll be allowed to open the haunt this Halloween. Everything is turned upside down!
But if we are closed for Halloween, we’ll still be open to make more cards, and I’ve already begun the sequel— the final conclusion to Monsters From Hell. Once again, all of Pablo’s art is completed and looks gorgeous (with the emphasis on “gore”, heh-heh)! Although the story hasn’t been written out, the storyline is complete. The only spoiler I’ll reveal at this time is that it makes the current virus look like a picnic! (Like my grandparents used to say, “Things could be a LOT worse!”)
One of the neat things about crowd funding is that popular projects can surpass their original funding goal. When this happens, it allows one to spend more on stretch goals and extras. I wasn’t originally planning on offering wax packs and boxes—just a factory set of all 76 cards. But as the popularity of the project became apparent and patrons started asking for more, I was glad to oblige.
We not only added a really cool 24 pack box, but also nine “Fearsome Foreground” cards. Those were cards with UV spot coating that makes the subject pop out from the background of the card. They were essentially “history of hell” cards, detailing the most interesting versions of hell throughout the ages. All nine of them were painted by Tim Proctor. Tim is not only famous for his dramatic horror art, but also for playing horrific zombies in The Walking Dead, which is filmed in his native town of Atlanta, Ga.
There were also 12 “Favorite Fears” cards. These had a favorite sample from each artist who contributed original art cards. They were (in random order) Mike Stephens, Jason Crosby, Neil Camera, Jim Kyle, Scott Harrell, Rebecca Sharp, Chuck Zsolnai, Trey Baldwin, Floyd Sumner, Rich Molinelli, Jon Mangini, and Tim Proctor. Each card included some biographical details about the artist and listed what they feared the most. Those were a lot of fun for me to compile, as well as read.
Then there were the original art cards themselves. A random original art sketch was included in every box, but up to eight Kickstarter patrons could order super master sets, which included sketches from every single artist. (They all sold out.)
There were lotsa other goodies, including a “Get out of hell free” card, actual printing plates from the series, DIY art cards, and a “Living Hell” lenticular card that showed a demon explode into fire. Finally, there were also 9 metal cards that featured the rare chase cards from the Spanish version of Monsters. Only 99 of each were made, each numbered.
Overall, the series required a lot more work than first intended, but it was also much more satisfying than expected. (Not to mention, far more prophetic than I would ever want.) The irony is never lost on me every time I mail an order out during this current crisis! So from that standpoint, they will always remain The Cards From Hell!
The P.o.p. box for Monsters From Hell (1st series) at Monsterwax.com
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