Archive | July, 2015

Mars Attacks

17 Jul


“A group of young men banded together in a plot to cut oxygen lines on the Martians’ spacesuits. Creeping up slowly behind them, the youths were poised to strike. Suddenly the spacemen whirled around, as if an inner sense had warned them of their peril. Firing their guns, the invaders quickly wiped out their attackers. The Martians continued on their way, leaving only the charred bones of the brave youths behind.”


The 1960’s were exciting times. You know the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy walks from the black & white shattered remnants of her home and moves into the vibrant colour in the Land of Oz? Well that’s what the 60’s were like.

USSR put the first man into space & the first woman. USA put the first man on the moon. Pop music exploded onto the airwaves. Doctor Who & Star Trek appeared on TV. Sean Connery was James Bond. Silver Age comics. We had never had it so good.

Sadly like Oz it also had a darker side.

U.S. President John F Kennedy assassinated 1963, Robert F Kennedy assassinated 1968. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King assassinated 1968, Malcolm X assassinated 1965. Beginnings of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Bay of Pigs invasion, Berlin Wall built, Cuban Missile Crisis, The Vietnam War, Racial riots etc, etc.

In the middle of all this madness a boy who had as yet travelled no further in this world than the Lancashire resort of Blackpool, made the short journey from his home to the little terraced shop at the top of the road. In his hand, clenched tightly, was the money his mother had given him for a loaf of bread, and for his trouble a couple of pennies to spend on himself. Getting the loaf was the easy bit; the harder task was deciding what to spend his errand money on. The boy’s eyes scanned the shops interior, hovered over the penny tray, and slowly perused the glass jars lined up neatly on the shelves, decisions, decisions Then he saw them, hidden away on the counter behind the sherbet fountains…”MARS ATTACKS”


Mars Attacks were part of an infamous trio of bubble gum cards that caused controversy in the 1960’s. The other two sets of cards were similar in style i.e. wonderfully gruesome, and were called “CIVIL WAR NEWS” & “BATTLE”.

Let’s start first of all with Civil War News. It came out in the same year as the Mars Attack collection, 1962. All the sets were produced by the American firm Topps and were drawn in the main by the late great Norm Saunders. The cards naturally enough told the history of the Civil War in America albeit in a potted way. The backs of the cards told the history in news style but it was the fronts that caused sensitive parents to recoil in horror at what little Johnny was collecting.

Death was displayed in all its myriad forms and in glorious colour, kids loved it naturally. Thankfully my parents were made of sterner stuff; after all I had been collecting Monster mags since the age of eight or nine. Soldiers of the North & South were depicted impaled, drowning, exploding, crushed, hung, shot, bayoneted, arrowed, burned & being run through by a sabre. Now why would anyone want to ban that!

One other aspect of these cards that set them apart from the norm was the inclusion of replica confederate dollar notes. These notes ranged from one dollar up to one thousand dollars. Girls especially enjoyed this aspect of collecting them, I know my sisters did. My wife carries on this tradition today only with my money!


The success of these cards led to Mars Attacks being produced later that same year. These took cartoon gore to a new level and were inspired by the E.C. comic “Weird Science” The artists really got their teeth into this set and it later inspired Tim Burton to make a film version of the cards. Now the whole world was a battleground and women and kids were legitimate targets. Oh how I wanted to smash those alien brains in as they groped our young nubile women and death rayed little kids. But the maddest I got was when they killed a kids pet dog, the dirty low-down slime balls!


Thankfully it all came out good in the end as our cartoon earthlings travelled to Mars and kicked their butts in on their own turf. Sadly though little Johnny’s parents had finally had enough, the cards were quickly withdrawn much to the dismay of smelling salt producers around the world. The story text on the back of these cards was really well done and quite scary but thrilling to a child. I read somewhere that the Topps company had a warehouse full of these cards. Unable to sell them they just dumped them in the river, sad really especially when you consider that a mint set of these cards would cost over $2000 dollars in the USA. In fact just a perfect wrapper would bring over $1000 dollars, when I think of how I just ripped those wrappers off!

In 1984 Rosem Enterprises produced a limited edition set of 13 Mars cards. Even then 22 years later on, the cards were considered too explicit and the sexy women were repainted as boys or men and open skulls on victims were painted intact.

In 1965 the infamous trilogy was complete when Battle cards appeared on the scene. These World War 2 cards carried on the bad taste benchmark set by the previous sets.


Yet again people met grisly ends in every way imaginable, even classrooms were blown up. Servicemen threw themselves on grenades to protect beautiful women (Always in tight fitting jumpers with full make up!) etc etc. In fact three of the cards were considered too bad that they were banned from British shores. Another bonus with this collection was the military cloth badge that was included in the pack.


Sadly this card series didn’t sell very well even though it was very popular at Tommy More School. Topps carried on producing great card sets in particular the Batman series also drawn by Norm Saunders but the heights reached (Or depths depending on your point of view!) in 62 & 65 were never to be repeated. The young boy who spent his errand money on the cards grew to be a man, a peace loving man with a love of the uncanny, the weird, and the scary. Is it any wonder he chose Wigan Athletic to support!

Keep the Faith


Tony Topping