There are 2 highly controversial trading card sets, that are very sought after today, that I would like to discuss a little about. Today they may seem a bit tame, but back in the 60s these were created by Topps with the pseudonym Bubbles, Inc. so that the company could distance the Topps name from the anticipated uproar that they would eventually create. The trading cards had a lot to do with aliens in space! Have you guessed it yet?…. Did you guess Mars Attacks and Monsters From Outer Limits? If you did, then you are correct!
Let’s dive into the details, shall we?
1962 Topps Mars Attacks
The infamous Mars Attacks was first released in 1962 by Topps via their Bubbles Inc. banner, originally named “Attack from Space” on the test prototype launch. The standard 2.5” x 3.5” set was 55 cards total in a $.05 pack of 5 cards with a piece of gum. All 55 cards tell a very graphic and gruesome story of Martians attacking Earth and eventually Earthlings attacking back. On the front of each card, there are colorful depictions of a progression of Mars attacking. The backs tell an explanation of what is depicted in the pictures on the front of the card. The cards and the concept were invented by Len Brown.
The drawings were mainly done by Norman Saunders and the story was created by Woody Gelman. It didn’t take long for these very graphic cards depicting Martians brutally killing humans and animals, gory death scenes, and sexual innuendos to create an upset with many parents. The parents were understandably upset because these very colorful cards of horror were marketed for kids. Lawsuits came one after another and Topps worked quickly to sensor 13 of their more violent pictures to be reprinted and dispersed. However, this never happened because a very large suit came forward from the community of parents and halted the production completely. Fortunately, for collectors, this meant the original set of 55 is very rare and valuable.
There were many reprints later on when the topics weren’t as controversial due to the naturally evolving desensitization of society. Topps was excited to reintroduce Mars Attacks to a whole new generation. The first reprint came almost 2 decades later in 1984. During this time Topps was able to create merchandise, mini comic books as well as card reprints which were almost exact to the originals except there was a 56th card depicting the original card wrapper graphic.
In 1994 Topps created Mars Attacks Archives with an expanded set of 100 cards with a release of more new merch. In 1996, Tim Burton produced a movie “Mars Attacks” based on the Mars Attacks card series. Along with the movie came another released merchandise and new trading cards.
In 2012, Topps released their 50th anniversary expanded set of 75 cards called Mars Attacks Heritage with a 4th round of merchandise, book, and wall calendar with 4 brand new card inserts. In 2013, Topps issued Mars Attacks Invasion which was a reboot of the original series with a set of 95 trading cards with a new plotline. Lastly, 2017 came, and Mars Attacks: The Revenge was released with a new sequel series about the surviving Martians, who remained undetected on Earth during the original attacks, seeking revenge on Earthlings.
All that being said- The original 55 set of Mars Attacks trading cards came during a tense time in history when nuclear war was a major threat but also a very exciting time in history when America was making plans to take astronauts to the moon. Because of this, these trading cards intrigued kids and adults alike.
1964 Topps Monsters from Outer Limits
Now let’s get to the next historic trading card series that was released 2 years after Mars Attacks in 1964 called Monsters from Outer Limits. These also were released under Topps’s Bubble Inc. banner, due to anticipation the trading cards could stir up more controversy.
These cards are infamous for their black borders that made it so hard to keep them in pristine condition. The fronts of the cards used black and white photo stills from the actual TV show “The Outer Limits” with a caption in bright yellow underneath the picture. The TV show was syndicated on ABC for 49 episodes during the timeframe of 1963-65. The back of the cards are black with a yellow meteorite depicted shooting across the top.
The title at the top was printed in white letters and the stories were written in black letters within a large yellow box. The card writeups on the back, however, do not correspond with the stories from the show. When it came to copyright agreements and money talks, Topps didn’t have the budget to afford the TV series stories. Therefore, Len Brown, who was the original creator of Mars Attacks, wrote his own stories for each picture on the front.
In a later interview with him, he wrote off his stories as silly and embarrassingly incomparable to some of the original stories from the TV show. To me, as a collector, Len’s stories were fresh and very interesting takes on the characters and their powers. I believe this makes the cards more beloved by many collectors because of how unique they are. When first released, there was some flack from parents who were afraid their kids would have nightmares, but there was never an uproar like the Mars Attacks created. In the set, there were 50 cards total, sold in $.01 and $.05 packs with gum. The cards were standard size 2.5”x3.5”. Five of these cards were double printed and are more abundant to find. However, 23 cards were short-printed and are much harder to find and higher in value. A&BC (England) and O Pee Chee (Canada) released their exact sets as well, but the American set typically sells for a much higher value.
In conclusion, the Mars Attacks 1962 set and Monsters from Outer Limits 1964 set are an absolute win for any collector. Not only are they fascinating collections to have but even more importantly they are relics from a historic time in the 60s. They are a piece in history that will always grow in significance. I do believe that with NASA currently ramping up for another tour of the Moon and Mars, the interest and value in these cards will quickly be rejuvenated to a whole new level! Dare we say- they are “out of this world”!