Wacky Packages, the hilarious and sharply illustrated trading cards which parody popular American consumer goods, celebrate their 45th year in existence this month. Produced by the Topps Chewing Gum company, best known for their sports card lines, especially the Baseball series, Wacky Packages remains, a popular favorite to this day.
The cards skewer everything from Rice-A-Roni, (dubbed Rice-A-Phony), Cheerio’s (dubbed Cheapio’s), Minute Rice (dubbed Minute Lice), Kool-Aid (dubbed Kook Aid), and even itself (dubbed Wormy Packages). The series also takes on cigarette ads, magazines, fast food, home cleaning products, and everything in between. The original series sets are highly collectible, and the cards remain valuable and nice individual works of art as well. The comedy style applied to the sets are of the Mad Magazine and National Lampoon humor mold and always hilarious and spot on with its uproarious take on the original products.
They debuted as a die cut card set originally back in 1967, and were illustrated by luminaries in the illustration world such as Kim Dietch and Art Spiegelman (Pulitzer Prize winner for Maus) and ex-DC artist George Evans as the years and the series went on. Each illustration was done extremely meticulously in a way, but yet with a tongue firmly in cheek, keeping it with the strange cocktail of being weird, zany and funny, yet quasi-realistic when compared to the genuine article product it was parodying. The original set was created mainly by Spiegelman and painted by staff artist Norman Saunders. Two years later they were revamped in a Wacky Ads series, in which advertisements on Billboards became the subject of the parody. It also spawned one of the few law suits ever filed against Topps after its release, by the makers of the Good and Plenty candy line, who were less than thrilled to see a card in the set which was titled “Good and Empty.” The card was removed from the initial release.
By 1973, they became stickers, with a checklist included, and some backs resembling a puzzle piece which made up a big sized version of one Wacky Pack parody of a product. This series ran for 3 years. In years to follow, reprints and even a sticker book version of the series was rolled off the assembly line by Topps. A revamp of the series in the mid-1980s and 1991 proved much less successful. When the cards made their return in 2004 however, they found a new success and generation and a new lease on life, as to this day cards and series sets are still being mass produced around the 50 States. The series has also seen spinoffs, in which posters and post cards were produced and there has been merchandising also of the series, via T-shirts, and books, graphics, stuffed oversized plush versions of some of the parody products and even erasers, all which sport the Wacky Packages licensed logo. Even Wonder Bread used to include stickers within its loaf bags, and they were also extremely successful, spawning their own series sets as well.
So here’s to 45 years of Wacky Packages, the fun, scathing, well drawn and wittily done stickers and cards sets, which kept generations of youth retaining a rather jaundiced yet sharp eye in regards to consumerism in America, and how ludicrous and tacky, outlandish and wacky the big businesses who make the real packaging certainly are and can be, underneath.