The Other Mars Landing

Forget about the American Mars probe, the rover Curiousity—it’s time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mars Attacks, the Topps bubblegum trading cards co-created by my old (late) friend Woody Gelman and Len Brown, originally illustrated by Wally Wood, penciled by Bob Powell, and painted by the great pulp cover artist Norm Saunders. Now there is a book of all the cards produced from 1962 (there was also a film directed by Tim Burton in 1996) Mars Attacks 5th Anniversary Collection, with intro and commentaries by Len Brown.

An afterword was contributed by Zina Saunders (Norm’s daughter), who writes: “Dad would sit at his table, unwrap Powell’s sketch, and start painting. He was a fast painter, and he counseled me never to let an art director know how fast you are—they won’t pay you as much if they know you do the painting in half the time they think it takes you.”

One of the truly great card series, Mars Attacks was deemed “unsuitable for children” by a DA in Connecticut. “Sadly, the combination of bad press, some negative letters from concerned parents and the DA’s phone call, brought an end to Topps’s plans to expand the series,” writes Len Brown. But here they are, scores of them in all their gory glory.

4 thoughts on “The Other Mars Landing

  1. Chuck

    Growing up in Chicago I don’t recall this series of cards but there were others that were similar but with photos. As I recall, they were taken away from classmates in grade school and we were told they were not what we should be seeing. Seems silly now.

  2. Wallace Wood Estate

    Mars Attacks created by Brown, Gelman & WALLY WOOD:In 1962, inspired by Wallace Wood’s cover for EC Comics’ Weird Science #16, and using it as presentation art, Len Brown pitched the idea of Mars Attacks to his TOPPS card company boss, Woody Gelman. Gelman green-lighted development at which point Brown called Wallace Wood — whose work inspired the entire concept — to help develop the property. Wood work
    ed-up concepts and sketches but was uncomfortable with the “peak drama” / “moment of impact” direction from Gelman-Brown, and did not paint the final, historically-gory, over-the-top cards. Wood’s reluctance was due to the fact that the fallout from the 1950s horror comics witch-hunts still stung and were still fresh to him. Wood recognized that what TOPPS wanted — though fun to his own sensibilities — was exactly the kind of things that got Wood, EC and the entire comics industry into so much trouble (including companies shutting down, firings, page-rate cuts, shame, etc.) not so long prior. To be less risky for everyone’s sake, Wood tried to steer a slightly safer course but, TOPPS just thought he wasn’t “getting it.” Wood was relieved more than disappointed when TOPPS hired Bob Powell to pencil and Norman Saunders to paint the final art to the notorious 55-card set which featured final text by Brown and Gelman. Wood’s reluctance proved correct as, while the cards proved popular with children, their explicit gore caused a public outcry, leading the company to have to halt production. Ironically, the halted production, while adding to making the cards notorious also made them major collectors’ items. Here is one of Wood’s concept sketches compared to the finished published art. While Powell and Saunders did excellent work, and the gore factor increased as per TOPPS’ wishes, in the final art, they also lost much of Wood’s natural sex appeal and charm. Mars Attacks was later adapted into the 1996, all-star cast, feature film by Tim Burton which, credits Wood as an author ( nm0940071/bio). In the film, Burton played-up both the horror and the kitsch factors of the property.