The mixed movie is based on a cult trading card
series from 1962 (initially named "Attack from Space" before shortened)
whose already-small printing and distribution run (by Bubbles, Inc. - aka Topps)
was cut short by interference from irate parents who found the gratuitous gore
and depraved violence (giant insects masticating man's best friend, air force pilots being fricassee'd in their cockpits, big bulldozers squishing folks against brick walls, etc)
excessive to say the least
, especially when frequently juxtaposed with B-girl
subject matter to match the B-movie
theme (for instance - co-ed female students in the showers, clad only in steam, being menaced and decapitated by ginormous bugs.)
From Card # 55 (a checklist):
Mars Attacks: A Short Synopsis of the Story. Planning to conquer the Earth, Mars sends flying saucers through space carrying deadly weapons. Burning the cities, the Martians destroy much of Earth's population. The enemy then enlarges insects to over 500 times their normal size and releases them on the helpless planet. People go into hiding, knowing that death is the consequence if they are discovered by the creatures. Despite its losses, Earth launches a counterattack that shatters the Martians on their home planet, Mars.
A pack of cards cost 5 cents and the wrapper featured lurid invitations to SEE flying saucers destroy Earth's largest cities
and SEE giant insects crush everything in their path!
How could you resist?
The series was conceived by Woody Gelman and Len Brown (now, almost 40 years later, the creative director at Topps), who ended up penning the poignant epics that unfolded on the backs of the cards. The goal at Topps was to take the straightforward blood and gore that had made the earlier Civil War News collection such a success and play it through again in a sci-fi setting, distilling in some of the menace and atrocity felt in the '30s Horrors of War series. (Mars Attacks in turn inspired the Dinosaurs Attack card series in the 70s). To this end for conceptual sketches they recruited the talents of Wally Wood, an artist infamous for his over-the-top crime-and-horror illustrations at EC Comics (which eventually got the comic company shackled beneath the "fit for kids" censorship stamp of the Comics Code Authority... but that's another story!) whose sketches formed the basis and inspiration for an eventual set of 66 cards, primarily pencilled by Bob Powell and painted by Norm Saunders.
The grim but ultimately triumphal story runs through the series of 55 cards:
Cards #56 through #66 never appeared in the original print run but came to light in the archival 1994 re-release. Partially based on unrealised sketches by Wally Wood, they were painted in 1989 by Herb Trimpe
and Earl Norem
30 years after the original 55 cards had been run, waiting for four years to see the public in their company. Along with more carnage
and grim irony
these homage cards elaborate on a distinction between peaceful "Paeec
" Martians and nasty (and predominant) "Gnard
s" made in the original sketches but never before realised before a wide audience.
44 more outside-of-continuity cards accompanied these in the 1994 reissue, including some by Norm Saunders' daughter, Zina Saunders
- now an accomplished professional illustrator herself, who contributed among other images a portrait of JFK being throttled by a Martian in the Oval Office.
Other members of the long-lived Mars Attacks franchise include The Mars Attacks Portfolio of Roughs published by Darkstar Marketing in 1980, early concept art by Powell and Wood; partial and full reprints of the cards in 1984 by Rosem Enterprises and Renatto Galasso, respectively; 1988 saw itty bitty Mars Attacks comics produced by Pocket Comics but poor sales brought the series to a close after four issues (out of a planned 54, one for each original card); many more comics followed, including two five-part series by Topps, Mars Attacks High School and a four-issue crossover miniseries with Image; May 1996 also saw the publication of two works of Mars Attacks-inspired fiction: Martian Deathtrap by Nathan Archer and Ray W. Murill's War Dogs of the Golden Horde, featuring a descendant of Ghengis Khan successfully battling back the Martian invaders with Dark Ages technology.