Saturday, June 6, 2015

Marvel Trading Cards Nostalgia

Last week Shea Serrano over at Grantland wrote a really nice piece about the original Skybox NBA trading card set, and reading it woke up dormant memories of what inspired me to get into reading comic books in the first place.

Captain America Marvel Card Series 1 1990
Because I was a dumb kid, I spent way too much time wondering
if someone really counted every Cap battle as a win, loss, or draw.
I was six years old and living in Hawaii when my grandparents came to visit. My grandfather hadn’t been to the island since the Korean War, but I guess that didn’t stop him from finding a local flea market. In between looking at audio equipment and wondering whether Yamaha speakers were knock-offs and whether he could fit them into his luggage (my grandfather was borderline-obsessed with Sony audio equipment, particularly if he could buy it for cheap), he found something that he figured might be a fun gift for his grandson; a collection of pro wrestling cards (from the 1990 Classic WWF series) and Marvel cards (from the 1990 Series 1 set).

Marvel Series 1 Cards 1990 ad

I can barely guess why my grandfather thought this was a good gift for me; I had been a fan of wrestling, but my parents wouldn’t let me watch it during this time period (I only became a fan again via the N64 games years later), and I had never read a comic book. I think I had a few action figures, and I was just starting to care about baseball and other kinds of trading cards.

I can’t say why I connected with these cards, maybe it was that I liked the combination of art and text, especially the bombastic style aimed at kids slightly older than me, but both sets really blew me away. I probably read the back of every card five times, and would often spend rainy afternoons sorting them based on who would win in a fight, who was my favorite, or by multiplication tables (I might have been a weird kid, but remember, the internet did not exist). I spent a lot of time imagining what might be happening in these fictional worlds; who was Hulk Hogan wrestling next? What was Deathlok doing? Could Deathlok defeat Hulk Hogan?

Marvel Card Series 3 1992 Captain Britain
The card-set I have permanently burned into my brain: the computer effect backgrounds
connected so that the cards looked extra nice when set in order in your card binder.

Even after I moved back to the mainland, it was cards, not comics, that I liked. I had friends who lived next door, and somehow I convinced them to waste their money the same way I did, and  the three of us managed to build a somewhat impressive collection of Skybox’s 1991-92 NBA set (the sequel to those featured in the Grantland set, featuring white backgrounds and colorful crazy computer effects) and Marvel’s series 3 trading cards. Only after collecting these cards, along with watching X-Men every week and buying some ToyBiz action figures, did I feel like I should start reading comics, first some give-away Pizza Hut issues, and then various stuff I’d buy at the bookstore with my parents. My first comic subscription, a few months later and for my birthday, was the New Warriors, a series I was only interested in because I’d collected their trading cards: I had never seen an actual physical issue, since it wasn’t sold in bookstores, but I knew the premise and the characters from trading cards. Before movies or video games or even cartoon shows, it was trading cards that got me interested in fictional worlds. There’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be writing this in a blog about 90’s comics if my grandfather bought me a knock-off disc-man.

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