- Posted by Johanna on October 10, 2008 at 7:46 am
- Category: Books and Prose, KC
- PUBLISHER: Abrams; $19.95 US
Review by KC Carlson
As if comic books and Mad Magazine weren’t enough to separate me from my childhood allowance, at some point Wacky Packages appeared out of nowhere to make sure that I never started saving for college.
Some of the slickest, sickest, and nastiest parodies of consumer products ever seen — and therefore hysterically funny to the average 10-year-old brain — Wacky Packages became one of the biggest non-sports card successes in Topps’ history and in the process grew into a true American cult phenomenon. Now the likes of “Weakies: Breakfast of Chumps,” “Minute Lice,” “Hostage (filled with Mud) Cupcakes,” and “Cap’n Crud” cereal (Inside: Real Pirate!) have been lovingly (or hatefully, in Wacky-speak) collected into the coolest little 240-page hardcover book, specially designed for the world’s smallest coffee table!
Collecting the first seven “series” of Wackies from 1973-1974, one to a page, in a size more than twice that of the original stickers, this book also features an introduction by Art Spiegelman (Maus) in which he discusses — for the first time in decades — being part of the creative team that created the cards back in the mid-60s. A concept sketch by Spiegelman that accompanies the intro for “Sicrats: Cheese Flavored Cough Drops” features a cartoon mouse that could be distantly related to his much better-known mice. A well-researched afterword by Jay Lynch (Bijou Funnies and another key Wacky Packages creator) puts the lie to my theory about the Wackies being inspired by Mad Magazine (like everything that is good is) in a short, entertaining essay about the origins of product parody stretching back to the 1800s and the likes of P.T. Barnum. Yoiks!
Those who have been paying close attention will note that I indicated that Wacky Packages were created in the mid-60s (they first appeared in 1967), but that this book collected the first seven “series” of Wackies from 1973-1974. Yeah, I wondered about that seeming discrepancy, too, especially since I distinctly remember hoarding Wacky Packs in the 60s (pre-high school, for me). Further research led me to the very entertaining — and exquisitely detailed — Wacky Packages Web Page. Digging deep into my closet for a shoebox full of old cards, I discovered that I was (still) the proud owner of the two original pre-sticker series of Wacky Packages. And that these two pre-series were represented in the book — sort of.
The first (1967-1968) series of Wacky Packages, called the Die-Cut series because they were printed on cardstock cards and had to be punched out, consisted of 44 different cards. 30 of those cards were reprinted in 1973 and became Series 1 of the sticker series (and are reproduced in the book). The second original series (1969) of Wackies were a true anomaly called Wacky Ads. They were printed on 5 1/4″ x 3 1/8″ cards that featured a full-blown ad for the parody product, while the product itself was die-cut — like the original series — so it could be punched out.
There were a total of 36 cards in the Wacky Ads series, but 6 of the cards featured reprints from the first series, four to a card, leaving only 30 all-new Wackies. 25 of these became the basis of the 33-sticker Series 2 (the rest were all-new). However, in the transition from Wacky Ad cards to Wacky Packages stickers, only the product itself, not the whole ad, was used, and most of these were repainted versions based on the originals. (One product, Garbage Baby Food, was renamed Gurgle Baby Food.)
It’s also interesting to note that these two original series also were “stickers” of a sort. The cardstock backs were covered with a glue that you had to lick (ewww!) to activate. But due to the thickness of the card and the inadequate glue, they did not stick very well to anything — leading Topps to develop the the pressure stickers that we all came to love! And that became the bane of parents, school administrators and janitors the world over.
The geek in me would have preferred that this kind of historical information been included in the book, but given that the early release history of the Wackies is somewhat convoluted and obscure — I spent a couple of hours at the website soaking up this knowledge — I can see why it was left out of this great general interest pop culture picture book.
The care and detail put into this volume is just astounding. The book jacket is a mock-up of one of the original Wacky Packages packs, and made of a waxy-type paper to boot. I swear it smells like gum! (Although that may be my overactive imagination at work. For a great gum-gag, slip off the dust jacket and check out the front and back covers!) And don’t miss the two extra special features tucked away in the inside back cover — a reproduction of Spiegelman’s Wacky Pack Codex gagfinder (explained in his introduction) and four bonus Wacky stickers!
This last feature is cooler than cool as three of the four stickers are never before published “Lost Wackies” and the 4th (“Muller Low Life” beer) is from the original 1967 die-cut series and has never been reprinted. According to the Wacky Packages Web Page, the second printing of the book, now available, has a different set of four stickers. All of them are cigarette or alcohol related, and rare, as Topps no longer parodies these types of products. Two of these — “Schmutz” beer and “Alcohol Seltzer” — are also from the original die-cut series and are not otherwise included in the book itself. The second printing of the book can be determined by the “Introduction by Art Spiegelman” blurb on the front cover, as opposed to the “Interview with Art Spiegelman” blurb on the first printing.
Wacky Packages is a must-have for everybody who thinks about “Quacker Oats” and “Skimpy” while they’re shopping for oatmeal and peanut butter. You know who you are! (A complimentary copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.)