Where Wild Card’s set of trading cards for the 1992 presidential election is concerned, the question is less how the set came to be than why. The how part is easy: Given a smallish photo budget, a sufficiently defective sense of judgment, and no meaningful pressure to sell any of the cards, a company could theoretically make a set of trading cards about any subject. Hams Of The World; Amphibians: Rookies And Traded; Operation Desert Storm—during the giddy and profoundly stupid heyday of trading cards during the early 1990s, the light was green to print and pack out a set commemorating whatever doomed idiocy a creative director could dream up.
This was not a good idea! From the very onset and for the entire duration of that strange and short boomlet, card companies seemingly understood the spike in interest in cards and collectibles to be 1) effectively permanent and 2) strictly the result of a newfound interest among the general public in cardboard rectangles. They took this as carte blanche to produce an effectively infinite number of products on whatever subjects struck their fancy. This includes Wild Card’s 1992 Presidential Election set, and it also includes Wild Card’s set commemorating Operation Desert Storm—which should not be confused with Topps’s set commemorating the same war. A special offer on the outside of the pack for the 1992 Election cards offers a special promotion on the Desert Storm cards, “including the highly sought-after Norman Schwarzkopf.” Most things, as apostate Deadspinner and current Splinter staffer Nick Martin and I discovered in the process of Remembering these 1992 Politics Guys, have gotten at least a little bit worse in the 26 years since these cards first hit shelves. Cynically selling war and grim grindhouse politics as entertainment, on the other hand, has stayed mostly the same.
Wild Card was a short-lived trading card company that was among the first to understand and leverage the fact that scarcity is what creates value in trading cards. That’s remarkable given that Wild Card existed while every other card company was frantically printing as many of its cards as possible; it’s less impressive when you consider that Wild Card went bankrupt in part because of a lawsuit relating to its less-than-honest approach to honoring its own promises in that area.
With the exception of the vaunted Ross Perot Billionaire Insert Series, the 1992 Election cards offered no such collectible hook. In that sense, it mostly resembles my recollection of Wild Card’s NFL and NBA sets centering around rising draft picks and prospects whose identities seemed chosen more or less at random—I remember a basketball set that featured a decent number of that year’s top prospects but also a host of twentysomething goofs who had been averaging 19 points per game in Romania since leaving the Atlantic 10 several years earlier. But beyond the 1992 Election set’s haphazard-unto-incoherent conception and the broader fact that there is absolutely no justification for its existence whatsoever, the resulting product was not really that bad. The backs of the cards are weirdly soulful at times and always at least unfailingly earnest; the fronts of the cards, from my experience in trying to Remember the Guys, featured not enough Guys and perhaps a few too many buildings and stock photos. But if you have to make a set of cards to commemorate a Presidential election—and I cannot emphasize enough that you do not have to do this—you could surely do worse.
There is, in the process of Remembering Guys, always a buried element of sadness. Sometimes it’s more buried than others. But there’s invariably something poignant about even the fairly recent past, which is close enough to feel at least a little bit real but also all the way gone and mostly subsumed into something both darker and more urgent. Anyway, that’s just something fun to think about for when we get to the “Issues: Pro-Choice” card.