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Imisstheoldschool.com

6 Twisted Kids' Trading Card Sets

Imisstheoldschool.com
Imisstheoldschool.com

Just about every recent generation had some kind of trading card set in their youth that ate up their allowances and turned ordinary pieces of glossy card stock into sought-after collectibles. They also went far beyond traditional baseball cards that served as delivery systems for sticks of gum hard enough to cut diamonds. Some brands told twisted tales about gruesome disembowelments and hideous creatures that could make a set of autopsy photos look like a collection of Hawaiian vacation stills.

1. Garbage Pail Kids

The most famous and popular of these offbeat card series—Garbage Pail Kids cards, a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls—landed on store shelves in the 1980s.

The Topps Company actually tried to get a license to print a series of Cabbage Patch Kids trading cards after the dolls became a phenomenon, but it was too expensive—so their team of artists, including a young Art Spiegelman of "Maus" fame, decided instead to just spoof it. According to a Slate essay written by Spiegelman, the series actually started as a parody product in Topps' Wacky Packages card series, originally drawn by artist Mark Newgarden. The first character they created for the new series was "Adam Bomb," a cherub-like doll pushing a nuclear launch button that caused a mushroom cloud to explode from its own head. The series took off from there as the artists tried to determine the lines they could and couldn't cross with their jokes and depictions of Cabbage-Patch-esque dolls stabbing themselves in the head (Mick Dagger), crawling out of toilets (Potty Scotty) and using their own snot as a sandwich spread (Hedda Spreader).

The cards were an instant hit. A federal judge also ordered Topps to stop making the cards after the company that made the Cabbage Patch dolls sued Topps for copyright infringement before the two settled the matter out of court. It also sparked an infamous movie spinoff that tanked at the box office. Former Disney chairman Michael Eisner actually commissioned another feature film about the gruesome kids after his company purchased Topps and put filmmaker PES of "Fresh Guacamole" fame in the director's chair.

2. Toxic High School

i-mockery.com

Parents who objected to the Garbage Pail Kids cards wouldn't truly know the meaning of the word "controversy" until they saw this serious series of attacks on high school education. Topps commissioned some of the same names who created the Wacky Packs and Garbage Pail Kids cards to work on this story-driven series that showed scenes of America's most violent, poorly supervised, and structurally deficient high school.

A fictional student named Warren Lugnut Cropsey took kids through his twisted high school, which had a school bus driver "always gets us to class on time" by literally driving the bus through the wall of his kids' classroom; a school cafeteria chef "who puts a little bit of himself in every meal" and the kitchen staff vomiting their guts into cooking pots; and an art class in which all of the students try to emulate master painter Vincent Van Gogh by cutting off their own ears. These were pretty tame compared to some cards that didn't make the cut, according to artist Jay Lynch.

3. Mars Attacks!

Trading Cards.org

In the beginning, Topps' primary focus was as a bubble gum company, so they avoided controversy with their trading cards. That changed with the popular and quite gruesome American Civil War series, which prompted them to push the envelope a bit further and focus more on the cards and a series that could have more original stories with more gruesome details. 

The Mars Attacks! cards of the 1960s became Topps' most infamous series as it featured hideous Martians unleashing Hell on Earth against defending soldiers, innocent civilians, and even kids' pets in all sorts of gory and gruesome ways. In one card, a soldier is burned alive by a Martian's ray gun; in another, giant insects bite into people's throats. The series never got national distribution, but the cards got under the skin of many parents, and led to a backlash against Topps that forced them to cease production on the series after just six months on sale, according to Len Brown, who wrote the story for the card set.

Director Tim Burton discovered the series after playwright and screenwriter Jonathan Gems showed him two trading cards sets he found in a Hollywood gift shop, including the Mars Attacks! series. Burton said they both would make great movies but he decided instead to do one based on the Mars Attacks! series; that film bombed at the box office. Since then, the cards have been turned into a series of comic books; Topps recently announced they would release a brand new set of Mars Attacks! cards next October.

4. Dinosaurs Attack!

Bob Heffner

The other pack of trading cards Gems showed Burton came from another short-lived Topps series that featured dinosaurs instead of Martians wreaking bloody havoc on the modern Earth and its inhabitants. 

The Dinosaurs Attack! series was released in the late 1980s. Just like its predecessor, Mars Attacks!, the cards told a story, this time of a time travel experiment that accidentally brings the extinct creatures into the modern era. The scenes also left little to the imagination as dinosaurs gobbled up classrooms and school buses full of kids and gored a groom and bride on their wedding day. The series didn't sell very well and instead became a cult collectible. IDW Publishing, the group behind the Mars Attacks! comics, recently announced they would also revive the cards as a series of comic books.

5. Bathroom Buddies

StrangeKidsClub

One of Topps' failed attempts to capitalize on the toilet humor of the Garbage Pail Kids focused solely on mining humor from the bathroom.

The late '90s saw the release of the short-lived Bathroom Buddies, which depicted cartoonish scenes of bathroom humor with odd but appropriately named characters like "Urine AL," "Constipa-TED," and "Tootin' TINA." The series featured artwork by some of Topps' regulars such as Tom Bunk and John Pound depicting characters doing almost everything in bathrooms but using them correctly and safely. A second series was commissioned but was never released due to poor sales.

6. Meanie Babies

ABS-Cards

The Meanie Babies series from Comic Images and Dark Horse Comics, released in the late '90s, tried to do to Beanie Babies what the Garbage Pail Kids did to Cabbage Patch Dolls. They also tried to revive the gross-out collectible card market that had fallen by the wayside by skewering the insanely popular toy series' long line of collectible animals—both figuratively and literally. Some of the characters included a vomiting duck named "Upchuck," a farting Sphinx-like sculpture named "Sphinxter," and "E. Coli the Baby Bacteria," according to a COLLECT! magazine preview of the card series.

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New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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