Friday, 12 March 2021

The Wonderful Artwork Of Wax Wrappers

Under Wraps

The Wonderful Artwork
Of Wax Wrappers

by Jason Young
No publisher or ISBN.

A very quick, additional review this week to highlight a new, mini-book from the end of last year by Jason Young called The Wonderful Artwork Of Wax Wrappers. Now, this didn’t have the option to ship to me here in the UK but this was something I wanted so much, because of the strong sense of nostalgia and loss associated with the subject of the book, that I got in touch with the author and he agreed to give me an option to purchase and send me one across.

It was 1978, technically the year after I first saw Star Wars at the cinema (I’d caught the film first, right at the start of its release here in the UK, a few days before the end of 1977), that I started regularly buying my first packets of Series One of Topps Star Wars Bubble Gum Cards (as Trading Cards were known in those days, due to the fact that each packet included a tasty but cheek-mutilatingly brittle strip of either yellow or pink bubble gum... colour dependent on which set of cards they were with). Actually, I had tried to put a set together of the Shock Theatre (aka Shocking Laffs) Bubble Gum cards the year before but, very shortly after their release, all the local schools banned the kids from bringing them into the grounds to trade them, due to the violent and quite gory images from the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein movies depicted on the cards... and some groan worthy jokes too but I don’t think the ‘parents’ were too worried about the Christmas cracker humour of them).

Anyway, back to Star Wars... I’d trade my doubles with all the other kids at school in the playground, a courtyard ringing with the battle cries of a gazillion kids yelling... “Need... need... got... got... need... got” as they sorted through each other's sets and tagged the cards for their upcoming trades. I managed to put together full sets, within about two years of what were pretty much the only non-sports trading cards that Topps issued in the UK in that golden age and, unlike many of the people actively engaged in this hobby, I kept all mine, eventually putting them all into albums along with many other sets which the manufacturers didn’t see fit to issue over here, that I’ve slowly acquired over the years (although we rarely had the accompanying sticker sets that came with the cards in the UK versions). So, for the record, the UK releases from that time, which suddenly stopped in 1980 when the horrible Figurini Panini stickers somehow took over in the UK (which were inferior in pretty much every way) were as follows... Star Wars Series 1 and 2 (in the US they had three more series but I’ve only, at time of writing, been able to add the third and fourth series... the fifth, orange set is currently ‘too rich for my blood’), Superman The Movie Series 1 and 2, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek The Motion Picture and The Black Hole. That was it bar a late entry almost a decade later when we got, literally half sized versions of the US Series One of the Tim Burton Batman movie ). Oh... and there were some cheaply made, shrunken sized British sets with terrible gum that nobody paid much attention to, for TV shows like Starsky And Hutch, Charlies Angels and The Six Million Dollar man but, these really weren’t in the same league as the beautiful cards Topps were putting out at the time. I get them all out from time to time and gaze at them with a certain fondness reserved for old people, I guess.

The point is though, while I kept all the cards, I didn’t realise then that I would miss the brilliance of the packaging they came in. That stuff got binned straight away and I don’t know why I ignored it at the time. It costs a bomb now on Ebay if you want to buy empty wax wrappers for bubble gum cards but, that’s where this book comes in. Jason Young seems to have had a similar experience in his youth, although in the US he started a little later when the cards were no longer selling over here, with the first set of The Empire Strikes Back cards (I’ve managed to put together the first three sets of those now but, we only had the stupid stickers over here from the dreaded Figurini Panini). And, I have to say... it’s 80 pages of fun and money well spent.

The book starts off with a wonderful contents page which is a reconstruction of one of those old ‘check list’ cards you’d sometimes used to get on the backs of certain cards, only this time showing the four chapters of the book which are... 1. Introduction, 2. The Beginning (1958 - 1969), 3. The Golden Era (1970-1979) and 4. The End Of An Era (1980 - 1990). And although the text is minimal throughout after his introduction, where he’s opted instead to bring the colour and brilliance of those wax packets to life, reproducing them on every page, what little accompanying text there is on some of the pages is actually quite illuminating, imparting wise nuggets of information I might not have known had it not been for this, frankly, excellent book (well, excellent for people like me, anyway). We all used to love the strangely simplified and almost overly colourful illustrations on these packets and, as this book reminds us, they were an art unto themselves.

So yeah, there are packets of sets here which I’d never heard of and I got a lot out of this one. For instance, I didn’t know that there were multiple sets of Batman cards to tie into the Adam West TV show in the 1960s at the time, including one sequence of cards titled Batt Laffs. Or that there was a tie in set for the old 1950s George Reeves The Adventures Of Superman show which didn’t hit the shops until 1966... which leads me to believe it was already making good in syndicated re-runs of the show, a strong enough presence at least to put these cards onto the marketplace.

Another revelation was something which we never got printed on the side flaps of the Bubble Gum Card packets over here... the chance to send off those old, mini Bazooka Joe comics you got when you bought Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum for prizes. We had these kinds of offers in the separate Bubble Gum singles but, not on the Bubble Gum card wrappers over here. For instance, on the George Reeves packet, there’s an offer to send in 150 of the mini-comics to receive a Cowboy Boot Ring and Lariat. Actually, looking at the artwork of said prized possession on the packet, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to wear this thing (no, not even a kid) but it’s a nicely surreal touch to the packaging of which I wasn’t aware over here in the UK.

And its a lovely tour of... not all of the wrappers, certainly but... a fair amount of them, for sure. There are packets to sets I’d heard about over the years but not seen such as The A Team, CHiPs, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Mork and Mindy... as well as sets from TV shows that never even made it to the airwaves in the UK, to my knowledge, such as Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company and Welcome Back Kotter. It also highlights the inconsistencies from the various companies when certain films in a series had a card set sold for them but others didn’t... such as Jaws 2, Jaws 3D, Rocky 2 and Rocky 4 getting sets (the Rocky 4 set had two great variant wax wrappers where the shop keeper could display the protagonist and antagonist from that film facing each other aggressively on the counter) but with no other movies in their respective series making it to the trading card market.

And there’s not much more to say about this one. The book ends on another ‘lone set’ as far as other movies in the series not getting a look in, with the packaging for the Robocop 2 Bubble Gum cards and it’s a bitter-sweet moment when the author goes on to report on the demise of the wax wrapper in favour of the equivalent of the modern style packaging we get on trading cards today. The end of an era indeed.

The Wonderful Artwork Of Wax Wrappers gets a huge recommendation from me and, again, a big thank you to Jason Young for undertaking a much needed task and service to the people who used to live with waxy paper, colourful cards and the constant barrage of bubble gum fumes in their lungs. This is obviously a labour of love for the author and I think it’s a well needed tome for many private libraries. Brilliant work for which I am grateful.

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