Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Trading card completism: Gotta get 'em all

it's sometime in late 1983, on a hot summer Saturday afternoon in an empty Timaru, and all I care about is Return Of The Jedi trading cards. I'm 8 years old and all I need is card #47 - Boba Fett's last stand - and the #1 title card, and I've got the whole flipping lot.

It's all anybody cares about, all my friends are collecting the same cards, and the local dairy runs out of new packs in less than a day. We're all chewing the nasty gum that comes with it, and we're all trading doubled-up cards with each other, trying to fill out our own sets.

And with so much less media saturation, we're into it for months. There is no Youtube to watch our favourite scenes over and over again, and most people even didn't have a video player yet - and it takes years before ROTJ is available on tape -  so printed material like magazines and trading cards were the only way to relive the fun.

So when I finally, after weeks of trading and searching, I find card #47 in a pack bought from May's Bakery (who still make the best pepper-bomb pie on the planet), I know I've nailed it. I can ditch all the excess double-ups I have for a #1, which is exactly what I do with my mate Phil later that week, and then I've got the whole lot, and it's the best feeling in the whole world. When it comes to geek shit, nothing really comes close to that feeling again.

Even before the ROTJ-mania, there were other trading cards, I had bits and pieces, usually inherited from cool uncles. I had a surprising amount of the very first Star wars cards, and random samplings from the Superman and King King films.

(I never got to see that 70s Kong, and when I did it was crushingly disappointing, because the art in the cards usually featured the extraordinary pre-production art, not the clumsy reality.)

Due to the fact I was only 2 years old when those cards came out, I never had a chance of getting a complete set from those films. So when Jedi rolled around, and it was possible to actually get the whole lot, it became a major obsession. I can still taste the thrill of it in the back of my mouth, although that might just be that bloody bubble gum again.

This needs to be put in some context, because we're talking about the early eighties and I'm a kid with no income living on the arse end of the world, who is already feeding some substantial comic and Doctor Who habits on the small change I can get out of my dad when he's had a couple of jugs.

This means I never had the chance to get the complete set of anything. Distribution of all the cool shit from overseas was always awful, and trying to get Uncanny X-Men every month was hard enough when you're scraping the cents together, but it's impossible if they never show up on the shelves in the first place.

After obsessing over the impossibility of getting all the Marvel comics, or completing a set of all the Doctor Who novelisations, getting the chance to get a complete run of anything was intoxicatingly rare. And even if they were dumb little cards, they were something where I could get it all.

A few years later, when I'm goddamn teenager, I take another shot at getting a complete set of cards, when the 1989 Batman movie comes out. I never come close, even when I buy a complete box of unopened cards, and find that even with dozens of dozens of unpacked cards, it's still full of repeats, and missing half a dozen key cards.

This sours things on the completest front for a while.

When everybody card crazy in the nineties, I'm right there, and there are severeal trading card series that I buy with the disposable income of the working youth - sets featuring Mark Bagley's Spider-Man and Bone and loads of Jim Lee artwork.

There are lots and lot of painted superheroes on these cards, and some of them feature gorgeous work by artists like Bill Sienkiewicz and Glenn Fabry and Chris Bachalo that has never been reprinted anywhere, and a lot of art featuring bulbous muscling from the likes of the Brothers Hildebrant.

There are card sets for every comic and TV show and movie under the sun, and I sample a lot of them. I don't get hooked on any enough to try and get a complete set, but some of them are lovely little objects, and I have a wide sampling.

I do eventually get a couple of complete sets - the DC super teams one and the oversized Vertigo cards that mixed terrific original art with the best covers in the line - but I just buy them complete from the local comic shop. there's no hunt, there's no fun, there's no satisfaction.

I haven't bought trading cards in years now, but I still have a small box stuffed full of them. I recently found I had lost some of the ROTJ cards so I don't even have a complete set anymore, even though I somehow have a huge amount of doubles. I don't know how this happened. Maybe they've been breeding in the back closet.

All those Batman '89 cards have vanished, along with the few wrestling and cricket sporting cards I had. They never lasted.

I use those Jedi doubles now as bookmarks, which is exceptionally helpful, because I have about 100 spare cards and I am historically bad at losing bookmarks. They disappear within old books or down the back of the desk, and now I've got a supply that should last me a couple of years, before they vanish into the ether.

I'm still an 8-yer-old dork at here, still trying to capture that feeling of a complete set. It's got a lot easier over the years, and I've managed to track down whole runs of favourite comic books with ease, but it's still a rush to fill it out, and I'm still chasing it.

It will never fucking end. About the same time I go crazy for the Return Of The Jedi cards, I start  collecting 2000ad comics, and 35 years later, I'm still dozens and dozens of issues away from getting a full 2100-issue set (and it's all pre-prog 100 comics). Maybe I should've just gone for the Judge Dredd trading cards.

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