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Wacky Packages
For John Kennedy of Bridgeville, it adds up to great fun
By Tim McNellie, Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A cracker box filled with rats; a sports drink mixed with maggots and sewage fluids; frozen pus on a stick.

To John Kennedy, this is great fun.

Like many others around the country, the 40-year-old Bridgeville resident has discovered rediscovered, actually the joy of collecting "Wacky Packages," the pop culture-spoofing trading cards that were popular for a time in the mid-1970s.

Sold in packs of three, the cards were send-ups of well-known brand names. Ritz Crackers became Ratz Crackers and Crest Toothpaste became Crust, complete with cartoon images illustrating the products' guttural properties.

(The Morton Salt people didn't appreciate the Moron Salt parody and was among several companies to issue cease-and-desist orders against the Topps trading card company).

As a kid, Kennedy was briefly hooked on the silly-but-clever cards.

"My mom would get mad at us for buying them," he says. "We would stick them everywhere."

Eventually, the fad faded and he forgot about Wackys until last year when he bought a new computer and his brother reintroduced him to the world of Wacky packs. Today, his enthusiasm is palpable. An entire wall in his computer is covered with Wacky paraphernalia, stickers, cards, posters and other items.

Kennedy isn't alone. Based on eBay listings and discussion board posts, there seems to be a good number of adult collectors still enjoying the World of Wacky Packages.

Individual cards can sell for hundreds of dollars, and there are at least a dozen Web sites related to the cards, the most comprehensive of which may be www.wackypackages.org, a vast and sprawling page put together by Greg Grant of State College.

The site contains an stunning amount of information about the cards, from prices and availability to accounts of how they were produced to random things like a phylum that categorizes the creatues in the Wacky kingdom.

Wackys were first introduced in 1967 at punchout-style cards that could be licked like postage stamps to stick around. Those first cards with names like Alcohol Seltzer, Slum Maid Raisins and Fearstone Tires (how prophetic) received little notice.

By 1973, however, the jaded world must have been ready for Wackys, as Topps issued new cards and sales soared. Really, really soared.

During the late-Nixon years, kids had an interest in seeing artists from Mad Magazine and comic books turn Hostess Cakes into Hostage Cakes and Comet Cleanser recast as Commie Cleanser.

A legend among traders has it that one year, Wackys actually outsold Topps baseball cards, Kennedy says.

The cards caused enough buzz to spur stories by New York Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

The writer for New York noted that "They are also, in a time when polls show public belief in institutions at an all-time low, seedling skepticism in its purest form."

"Today the cards are just humor, but back then it was rebellion," Kennedy says.

More than a few outraged mothers tossed their kids' collections in the trash. Not the best way to treat junior's investment, as today those 5 cent cards are selling for hundreds, a rate of return far outperforming the Dow.

After a few years, most people, like Kennedy, forgot about the cards. Topps briefly brought back the cards in the 1980s and 90s.

The Wacky tradition continued this year, with Topps introducing the first new series in 13 years, in which Red Bull Energy Drink becomes Dead Bull and Martha Stewart becomes Martha Skewered, replete with prison stripes.

The cards may still have the potty humor of old, but in deference to modern tastes, Topps no longer issues cards with references to cigarettes or alcohol. That means no more "Plastered" Whisky Soaked Peanuts, with scores of dazed and red-faced peanuts in a jar.

While still marketed to kids, the cards have a growing grown-up fan base.

"I think people my age are drawn by the art," Kennedy says.

Pulp novel and comic book artist Norm Saunders painted many of the original cards.

"Saunders was a genius painter with 50 years' experience, and Wackys were his last great hoorah," Grant writes.

Mad Magazine contributors Stan Hart and Jay Lynch did many of the rough drawings for Wacky Packs. Lynch still contributes and has been featured on radio recently talking about the cards.

So for Kennedy, when will his Wacky collection be sufficient?

"I think every collector's goal is to have every complete set, but that may be impossible," he says.

Photography
John Kennedy shows off part of his Wacky Package collection.

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