Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

July 21st, 2008:


We were just BSing a couple of nights ago over wine and beers at Julie's christening, and LOLCats came up. I'm not a regular reader of LOLCats, but I've seen it enough to get a sense for the genre, and the addition of a little zinfandel reminded me that this is not a new thing.

Nossir. I remember Monster Cards.

Back in 1961 or 1962, a fad was raging in my corner of the Immaculate Conception grade school playground: Monster cards. These were a little like baseball cards (and about the same size) but instead of sports heroes, they had stills from old monster movies, with a silly caption at the bottom. This was in plain English and not LOLCats-speak (which itself is a parody of IM shorthand) else the card at left would be captioned PUT ME ON UR FRENZ LIST? On the flipside was a drawing of a ghost over a joke calculated to make fourth-graders laugh. (As you might imagine, the bar was not very high.) The whole thing was wrapped up in plastic with a card-sized rectangle of some tepid and invariably stale bubble gum. My friends were all collecting them, and even though I spent my money on Hi-Flier kites and Tom Swift books rather than monster cards or comics, I flipped through my friends' stacks, grinning at some and rolling my eyes at others.

There were two types that I remember, both available from Perlen Drugs at the corner of Canfield and Talcott. The larger cards had “Spook Stories” printed on the back and were copyrighted by Universal Films. These had the most famous and recognizable monsters: Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Wolfman. The jokes on the back were sometimes even clever. The smaller cards had “Monster Laffs” printed on the back over the jokes (which were invariably stupid and rarely funny) and were printed in sheets of three with bad perfs between them. My duller friends who didn't catch on to folding at the perfs before separating them often had to Scotch tape their cards back together after inadvertently ripping them in half. These smaller cards (which collectors have dubbed “Monster Midgees”) were copyrighted by cheapo fright house American International Films, and apart from the several incarnations of the She Creature and the memorable Colossal Beast, showed monsters that few of us had ever seen, even with Chicago Channel 7's perpetual scraping of the bottom of the monster movie barrel. Mostly they were hokey-looking paper mache alien things or brains with eyes, over even hokier (and generally un-funny) captions.

I'm surprised at how little there is online today about monster cards, at least the ones that I recall. The genre continued long after I left grade school, mutating as it went, but I ignored them because they dropped the humor. The legendary Mars Attacks! cards were in no way funny; in fact, they were a gruesome comic book presented one frame at a time. (I wonder sometimes if they were a poke in the eye of the Comics Code Authority.) Cards from mid-60s TV series like The Outer Limits and Star Trek had stills from the shows but no funny captions and no jokes—and sheesh, guys, I had already seen the TV shows. I half-expected full indices of the cards and their captions online, but apart from a few fan pages and pictures of cards for sale on eBay, they've mostly been forgotten. “Caption humor” seemed to go into eclipse for forty years, not to emerge until the Internet Age and LOLCats. I guess everything comes back eventually. I used to wear purple bell-bottoms and worse in the late 60s and early 70s. Are they next?