The Real H.G. Wells... At Last!
By Laen August
(Scary Monsters Magazine, issue #58, April 2006.)
The sci-fi stories of H.G. Wells continue to thrill audiences after 100 years. That's a remarkable achievement, especially when one considers how many imitation tales have been written during that time. But it seems that the father of science fiction-- as Wells is often called-- did it best when he wrote the first time machine story (The Time Machine) in 1895 and the first alien invasion tale (The War Of The Worlds) in 1898. Both stories have been made into major motion pictures over forty years ago, and then remade again in the last decade. Wells' other masterpiece, The Island of Dr. Moreau, was made into three different films spanning fifty years. The first version of all three films became classics in their own right, but only one (the recent Pendragon version of The War of the Worlds) told the same story that Wells actually wrote, and that video had such a limited budget that it never made it to theaters. The result was that true Wells fans were often left saying that old cliche, "It was good, but the book was better."
Fortunately, that claim is about to become obsolete, because a new and very faithful version of all three tales is about to be released. This time it isn't a film, nor is it a radio drama or DVD. Instead, it's one of the few forms of media that was actually around when Wells first published his book: Trading cards. They were called Tobacco cards back in Wells' time, and although they are no longer sold with cigarettes-- or gum for that matter-- this new series looks and feels very much like its old hundred-year-old counterpart.
The new three part series is called The Art of H.G. Wells. It features all original artwork recreating the stories of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds. The producer is Monsterwax Trading Cards, and they have a reputation for producing low mintage monster cards in a retro style. They also produced the Tune In For Terror old radio horror cards, and numerous series devoted to monster movies and various 1960s television horror and sci-fi shows. Monsterwax President, Kurt Kuersteiner, is very excited about their latest product. "I loved the old H.G.Wells movies," he said, "but whenever they changed the time in which the story took place, or started messing around with the basic plot, they always seemed to lose something rather than improve it. It's impossible to improve upon the genius of Wells."
The tales are sold as three different series but connected together with a continuous numbering sequence, like the old trading card series of the early 1930s and 40s were. The story itself is also connected through a common character, and remarkably, the basic plot was not changed to achieve this. "I was surprised to notice that Wells did not give names to his characters in either The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds," Kuersteiner explains, "He named the protagonist in The Island of Dr. Moreau, but the other stories identified each character by their profession. (The doctor, the lawyer, the inventor, etc.) Both the other stories featured a writer, and I realized that character could become the perfect link between all three tales."
It's a lucky coincidence that allows the stories to join together into one giant science fiction epic. The complete narrative is 99 cards long, and reads at an exciting pace. The dramatic artwork is by the Argentina painter Ricardo Garijo. His style is reminiscent of Norm Saunders, the famous Topps artist who painted the classic 1962 Mars Attacks trading cards. (Ironically, Mars Attacks is also another example of a modified version of Wells' The War Of The Worlds. So now the story has returned to its roots, both plot wise and medium wise.)
In addition to the 99 story cards, there are 24 more special inserts, bringing the total of the complete three part series to 123 cards. While many collectors would groan at the prospect of buying dozens of boxes in order to get all the chase cards, they'll be to relieved to know about the Monsterwax Box Guarantee. They guarantee that every box contains one of every card made for that series, including all the inserts. This is a first for card companies which usually force customers to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on multiple cases trying to get one of everything listed on the checklist.
If that was not unusual enough, this series has another incentive to excite collectors: Scarcity. Only 166 numbered boxes of each title are made. To put that in proper perspective, most companies consider six thousand boxes a limited production run. There are no additional sets made either, since any sets sold separately are subtracted from the boxes, and every checklist is numbered to prove it. "This is our 15th year of business," explains Kuersteiner, "and we wanted to make it really special. Back in the old days, cards were damaged or thrown away, but today, everything goes straight into plastic sleeves. The best way to make modern cards increase in value is to produce an exciting product at a very low quantity. You do that and you can't go wrong."
Despite the extremely limited production run, the retail price is basically the same as any 36 count box made today. "It's a lost leader," confesses Kuersteiner, "It won't make us rich but it should sell out fast and call attention to our other products. So it pays for itself that way."
The various insert cards run a full gambit of types and subjects. There are three checklists (one or each series). There are also three "back ground" cards, which focus on some historical aspect of Wells' work. In the case of War of the Worlds, it discussed the infamous Mars Attacks cards, and featured a dramatic homage to that series.
There are also three different "Box Art" cards, one of each is printed on the bottom of each series box, except for War of the Worlds, which is a white test box. The Box Art card for that series is given away free to anyone who buys both of the other two boxes.
There are six different promos, allowing two cards to represent each series. (The complete set is included in The Time Machine box.) There is a different auto-sketch card for each series (three total) which has Ricardo Garijo's signature on one side, and an original sketch by the artist on the other. And there are six different prize cards. Three of them are redeemable for Old Time Radio shows of the same H.G. Wells stories on tape. The forth prize cards gives the winner an uncut sheet of The Time Machine and War Of The Worlds. The fifth one entitles the winner to a free DVD of the Charles Laughton version of Dr. Moreau (Island of the Lost Souls). The sixth prize has several boxes of which only one is checked. It provides the winner with authentic production art from the series, meaning the original concept art, or the actual story board sketches, or one of a dozen Garijo paintings from the Island of Dr. Moreau series. (Every box of Island of Dr. Moreau has one of the art prize cards in it, and the odds of it being redeemable for one of the original paintings is 1 in 14. Winners get their marked card back with their painting.)
What does the artist think about his work being given away for free? "I remember as a kid opening Cracker Jack boxes and getting a free prize," recalls Garijo, "I might win a plastic whistle or a decal. I would have fainted if I won original artwork for such a prize!"
In the same email comments, Garijo also mentioned his next Monsterwax project. "I loved painting science fiction scenes from H.G. Wells," he stated, "because it also brought back great memories of reading fantastic stories as a kid. H.G. Wells was one of my favorite authors, and another one was Jules Verne. His stories are the subject of our next series, which is well under way."
Kuersteiner confirmed the rumor. "Yes, we have that and a whole lot more coming up, including a spectacular series scheduled later this year by 'scary Terry' Beatty, the artist who paints the ghoulishly gorgeous covers for Scary Monster magazine! They'll be original tales of terror told and painted in the style of the classic the E.C. horror comics. It's called Shock Stories!"
You heard it here first! Fans can find out more about The Art of H.G. Wells cards as well as Beatty's upcoming Shock Stories at www.monsterwax.com.