A while back Topps unveiled their latest app on the smart phone users of the world with the Star Wars Card Trader app. It was through this app that I rediscovered something that had been lost to me for over 20 years. I LOVE COLLECTING TRADING CARDS. Not this digital stuff mind you. I like having binders with pages upon pages of clear plastic card holders so I can thumb through and look at the cards physically.
I’ve tried to figure out why I love it so much, and I think it just comes down to the things that have kept me in the toy game for so long. There are three things that make this hobby enjoyable for me. They are as follows:
ONE – THE THRILL OF THE HUNT
I’ve never been a hunter. I’ve never had the desire to wake up early in the morning, don camouflage coveralls, spray myself down with some type of animal urine and go sit and wait for a beast to come into my line of site so that I may take its life from it while I sit a safe distance away smelling to the animal like it was going to have a good day.
If you take away the coveralls, animal urine, and outside, and exchange them with regular clothes, a car and rumors of new waves of action figures being spotted within a 60 mile radius…well…the game is afoot. I will drive for miles and walk countless toy aisles coming up empty-handed more often than not in hopes that I can find that elusive Rey in Resistance Outfit or the six-inch Black Series Ahsoka Tano. So there is definitely a thrill to the hunt that results in a charge of excitement when you find what you’re looking for.
With trading cards that thrill is increased exponentially. Imagine, blind pulling a pack of cards and thumbing through them to find that one card you need to complete you set. Or, in the day and age of multiple inserts, autograph cards, and “here’s a piece of the building that was used in the movie about Die Hard” cards the rush of getting one of these cards is really amazing. Especially if you’re just buying a pack or two of cards and haven’t purchased a whole box just to get said pulls.
It’s that feeling that makes any kind of collecting so addictive. You get a certain high from finding what you’ve been looking for. If you’ve had a hard time finding that certain piece to finish a collection of some sort then finding that one thing can make your whole day. Collecting Cards is all about the hunt, and the hunt is fun and often frustrating, but when you score…man does it feel great.
TWO – RE-EXPERIENCING THE THING YOU LOVED
In the days before video rentals and even VCRs, non-sports trading cards made it possible to thumb through still shot after still shot of that movie or TV show that you loved so much and experience it all over again. Sometimes there were stills that showed a different angle from what was on screen, or part of a scene that never made it.
This was especially true for Star Wars trading cards. In 1977 and ’78 Topps produced FIVE SETS of Star Wars trading cards to coincide with the first movie. Each set contained not only still shots from the movie, but also tons of pictures from different angles and stuff that was only on screen for a brief second or two. For example, take a look at the card from the the first series that accompanies the opening paragraph of this blog. This (as all of the other pictures) is a scan from my personal collection. It’s one of my favorites from the first series because it is a view of a Dewback we never get in the movie. Close up and personal, this image allows us to get a view of not only the scaly hide of the creature, but we also discover fur or some sort. That’s something that you could never see in the movie at the theatre OR by watching the VHS.
Trading cards let you relive favorite moments, learn about characters, and – in the case of many movie trading card sets – learn a few things about the behind the scenes goings on.
LOOK AT THIS CARD! It’s from the third series of Star Wars cards in the 70’s and it features a look at a protocol droid we only briefly see at the very outset of Star Wars. He’s following along behind C-3P0 and R2-D2 and then takes a right turn down a different hallway than the one our two favorite droids are walking. This is one of those great things that make non-sports card collecting so much fun. Imagine being a kid who was only able to see Star Wars in a movie theatre (and maybe only got to go three or four times max) opening a pack of cards and flipping through to find this! It’s exciting, intriguing, and it fires the imagination.
THREE – IT’S ANOTHER WAY TO CONNECT TO YOUR FANDOM
Before I expound on this third and final point, please note that I never once mentioned money in any of the points listed. In the nineties someone decided that cards of any sort should be seen as an investment. This mentality spread like wildfire to people of all ages and just like the comic market, the card market became flooded with just about any type of card you cold imagine.
I was excited when Marvel Comics cards hit the shelves and I could collect cards with artwork and information about my favorite superheroes. I enjoyed trying to put together complete sets of baseball cards by pulling pack after pack of whatever brand was available in my little area. I had fun riding my bike down to the little locally owned convenience store and using the change in my pocket to buy a couple of packs of Batman cards and a jolly rancher then riding home and sorting the cards while eating my candy.
However, When companies realized that they could fleece the consumer for more money by adding
holographic inserts, special subsets, cards with actual pieces of uniforms, or a thousand different other gimmicky ideas, they started doing just that, and for me the hobby lost a lot of what made it fun. Collectors would buy packs of cards and discard the base set cards just wanting that special short run card, or triple foiled insert. Because those were worth the money. The fun of collecting when by the wayside while the business of collecting took center stage.
At the heart of collecting trading cards for me though has always been that it is simply another way to express and connect with my fandom. When I was a kid watching and loving baseball, I would read players’ stats on the cards and get to know them so I could better understand who I was watching on Baseball Tonight on ESPN. Braves players had a special place in my collection because the Braves were my team.
When it came to non-sports cards, I enjoyed all of the things I’ve already discussed about collecting those sets, but the comic book cards, and the movie cards of films I was into were cards that would be readily available for me to peruse and read the backs of and when I had extras decorate a notebook or something. At the end of the day card collecting was for me like collecting the toys or reading the novels or comics or watching the shows of whatever set I was collecting. It was and is just a way for me to get fired up in my fandom.
My earliest memories of Star Wars collecting center around Topps’ Empire Strikes Back card set. I carried my cards around in an old fishing tackle box and would go through them over and over again. I WAS THREE WHEN EMPIRE CAME OUT. I kept those things with me everywhere I went and as I learned to read, I was reading the captions on the front of the cards and the descriptions on the back. I kept Star Wars with me wherever I went because of trading cards.
I didn’t see Dick Tracy until two or three years after its theatrical release, but I had the trading cards. I knew the characters and could kind of make out the plot thanks to those glossy yellow-bordered pieces of cardboard. I wasn’t the biggest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, but what I knew about them came from the first series of TMNT cards that followed an early episode or two of the cartoon. Card collecting not only kept me in tune with my fandom, it helped expose to me to other movies and television shows and arms of geekdom and fandom I may not have otherwise been exposed.
Later, through sets like the Marvel sets and Star Wars Galaxies, I would be exposed to artists and interpretations of characters and situations that helped define my tastes in pop art.
I am disappointed that in the culture of collecting cards we have today that it is practically impossible to complete a full set of cards due to all of the inserts, special cards, and super limited runs of other cards associated with sets. I long for the (insert number here) cards and (insert number here) stickers and you’re done. I understand the model of making money, but I can’t help but feel some of the joy is removed knowing that the only reason I want card Number 101 of Topps Force Awakens Series 2 is so I can complete the base set and be content with a full set of at least one part of the collection, and being slapped with the realization that it is a short run card that would require I either spend 11 or 12 dollars for the one card or buy a whole box of cards hoping that one is in there.
HOWEVER, I love the fact that there are card sets I never knew existed out there that are readily available through ebay and other sites. This little micro series of blogs will chronicle that journey and hopefully share the joy and fun I have rediscovered with trading cards.
If you’re interested in getting in to the hobby or getting BACK in to the hobby, get yourself a binder and some card pages and get started with what you love. Topps has a Journey to Rogue One set coming in the fall of this year. If it’s anything like their Journey to the Force Awakens set it will be frustrating but full of great cards and fun inserts. Or, just peruse ebay and see if you can locate some of your favorite properties of yesteryear. You may be surprised what they slapped on cardboard and how easy it is to come by these days.