1962 by Bubbles, Inc. (aka Topps)
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2005 Monsterwax)
Originally entitled Attack From Space, this series was inspired by the HG Wells "War of the Worlds" story, and the eye-grabbing EC comic covers of Weird Science. Len Brown was the young Topps employee who first suggested the idea back in 1962, and together with Woody Gelman, the two worked out the series particulars together. Bob Powell did the pencils, and Norm Saunders did the paintings. Test packs of the series sold really well, and the company predicted a hit. But when the series was shipped elsewhere, negative press accounts and complaints from concerned parents started rolling in.
Paul Wolak was just a kid in Catholic school in Chicago at the time. He remembers how he and his classmates loved to collect Mars Attacks when they first came out. But one day the nuns ordered the students outside in the school yard and lined them up in rows. Everyone knew this meant trouble... Was someone caught drinking the Communion wine again? Did another kid steal something from collection plate? Whatever it was, it had to be serious... Then Mother Superior appeared before the uniformed kids holding a fistful of crumpled Mars Attacks! She barked, "Do you see these cards? These cards are COMMUNIST!"
Sentiments like that soon brought Mars Attacks to a grinding halt. Topps had gotten away with the gore in their Civil War set, and would return to the same type of violence with a World War II series a couple of years later, but for 1962, Mars Attacks was just too much. In essence, they discovered it was okay to show Union soldiers massacring Southerners (in Civil War News) and American GI's bombing Germans and Japs to oblivion (in Battle), but parents didn't want their kids watching Martians blasting humans with heat rays!
One common myth about Mars Attacks is that it is really rare. It isn't. But like the Irish say, never let the facts interfere with a good story. Even Len Brown said in an interview, "[Mars Attacks] went off sale pretty quickly. I don't think the series was ever distributed nationally, which may be why it's so scarce. We never sold that much of it." But it doesn't take long for Topps to flood the market with a hot product. Many kids remember their schoolyards being awash in Mars Attacks cards. It was practically a cultural pop icon of the time. Singles and sets from Mars Attacks appear just as often as other monster cards from the 1960s, (except for common series that were sold as complete sets). There is an incredible demand for Mars Attacks, however, so much so that even a 1994 reprint by Topps has escalated in price... and they made a TON of those. So the price, like the subject matter, continues to rocket skyward.
Mars Attacks remains a legend. It is one of the most treasured Non-sports sets of all time, even if it was ahead of its time. The original sets are too expensive for most modern collectors, but cheaper reprints still show the colorful garish art style that Norm Saunders perfected through decades of painting pulp covers. And of course, the story is just as great now as ever. If you know anyone who doesn't understand the attraction of Non-sports collecting, try showing them a set of Mars Attacks. Because a picture card is worth a thousand words.
(back of Mars Attacks card #2)
JUST THE FACTOIDS: Mars Attacks (Bubbles aka Topps, 1962): Card series storyboards an "Attack from Space" by fleshy headed Martians. 55 cards in the set. The backs have a pink backround and give a preview of the next card in the series. (Later reprints had different color backs.) Retail: $1000-$2,500 Ext-Nrmt.
Note: If you would like to read about the Spanish Mars Attacks bootleg cards, go here.
(Mars Attacks! pack)
Read excerpts from the Len Brown interview from Blab Magazine (reprinted in The Wrapper).
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