Monday, November 21, 2011

Mars Attacks!

Proposed cover for Mars Attacks! comic

Back in 1962, the Topps Gum Company put out a set of 55 cards that came packaged 5 to a pack along with a stick of pink bubble gum. The card set was called Mars Attacks! At the time, Topps was the largest seller and manufacturer of gum cards. Collecting and trading gum cards was a national phenomenon. Primarily, known for their baseball cards, they also created several other odd assortments of exciting collectibles. Previous to producing, Mars Attacks!, Topps had great success with their Battle line of gum cards. Battle showcased scenes taken from events in WWII. Most of the scenes were either exaggerated or flat out fabricated. The cards were bloody, violent and brilliantly depicted by pulp artist, Norman Saunders. Even though they weren't historically accurate, none of that seemed to matter to the kids who enthusiastically snatched up the packs. After the success of Battle, Topps was looking for a way to continue their momentum.

Inspired by the B-grade monster movies of the time, and tapping into the uncertainty and fear brought on by the Cold War, Mars Attacks! was born. The series revolved around a Martian invasion of Earth, where all kinds of destruction and mayhem occurred. Topps again turned to Norman Saunders to paint the images for the card set. Saunders was assisted by lay-out artist Bob Powell to create these miniature masterpieces. Because of the questionable imagery, Topps decided to publish these cards under an alias name, Bubbles Inc. The cards had limited distribution, and it wasn't long before parent's made their disapproving voices heard. Topps ended up pulling the cards, but not before their impact had been felt. Today the cards remain very popular, and are hard to find in complete sets, and when they are available, they are extremely high priced.

Recently IDW acquired the license to do a comic book series based on the card set. When I heard that, my heart started racing. I've always loved those luscious, lurid little paintings printed on cardboard. I always looked at them as being "fine art." I was too young to experience them the first time around, but was introduced to Saunders paintings through his work on the Batman card series. Those definitely imprinted my very porous mind at the time. As I got older, I realized all of the different things Saunders had produced. Mars Attacks! was a card set I had to own. I have a couple of re-printed sets, and a few of the original cards. I treasure them. I love that I never really have to grow up!

Because of my enthusiasm for IDW's announcement, I took it upon myself to mock up a cover for the comic book. I sent it off to them, hoping that they might see my desire to be part of the project, and grant me my lifelong desire. We'll see...

On the cover, I wanted incorporate the old with the new. Since I love the paintings so much, I thought it would be fun to include part of that image, with a new inset illustration by me. I contrasted the enlarged card image showing the dot patterns and modeling effects with my flat color and heavy black outlines. I tried to be clever with my imagery, using influences from the old B-grade invasion movie posters. I like the idea, I think it would stand out on a shelf next to the other comic books.

I don't usually pitch ideas, but I was so thrilled to hear that IDW was going to be involved with this property, so I thought I would give it a shot. Are you listening IDW? Please...


  1. You're posting so fast that I can't keep up! This is great! I want a larger version, so I can see your illustration better. Nice!

  2. Good luck Randy. That would be a sweet gig. I too love Mars Attacks! Thought the film was a lot of fun, but it'd be great to see some new stories from that universe. One day I'll own an original set of those cards. Oh yes I will. The Norman Saunders book is great btw. Going to pick it up soon. So many beautiful images, including some of the Mars ones.

  3. Chad,

    I actually re-watched the film recently, and I think it captured the spirit of the cards. The martian designs were great, I think that must have been a really enjoyable experience to work on that film. Tim Burton kind of gets it, don't you agree?

    I have the Norman Saunders book that you are referring to, and you are right, it is fantastic.

    Good luck on your quest for the original Mars Attacks! cards. When you get them all, please don't tell me, because I will be extremely jealous!

  4. Randy - as I understand it, Topps reissued the cards twice in the sixties. I saw them in 1967 or so from an older neighbor kid who had them. Some of them were quite disturbing to me at the time. I used to have a reprint set of them from the '80s, but I fear my ex made off with them.