Trading cards move into the serious business of 'paranoid fantasy' politics

July 29, 1992|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If anything can change the shallow popular bias that trading cards are strictly for champ-athlete subject matter and juvenile customers, it must be the new Mark Landman-James Vance card folio called "Republicans Attack!"

Touted as "a paranoid fantasy" and relating a grimly amusing story in 36 illustrated cards, the boxed set arrives just in time to antagonize the key political parties at a moment when both can ill afford the distraction from election season. Perfect timing, in other words. Premiered at the Democratic National Convention, the set also can be found at the Republican National Convention next month in Houston.

This is no short-order opportunistic lampoon, however. In the $10.95 "Republicans Attack!" set, Wisconsin-based Kitchen Sink Press also has published the first trading-card project to bear consideration as a candidate for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning.

The Pulitzers, after all, have long since strayed far from the newspapers' editorial pages in honoring whatever year's most impressive job of political cartooning. It's hardly a leap from the funny papers -- where the studiously political likes of "Doonesbury" and "Bloom County" have resided -- to the collector-card shops.

Writer James Vance and computer artist Mark Landman take their cue for "Republicans Attack!" from the fondly remembered "Mars Attacks!" card series of a generation and a half ago. But where "Mars Attacks!" distilled 1950s-style Cold War paranoia and lurid bug-eyed-monster imagery into a laughably grisly narrative, Mr. Vance and Mr. Landman base their fantasy upon calculated interpretations of current events and a coldly lifelike style of illustration. The effect is at once hilarious and chilling.

Mr. Vance's scenario imagines George Bush deploying a souped-up Hubble Space Telescope to eliminate Democratic opposition and commence a martial-law regime: "Beams of explosive force rained down . . . like Hell's own redistricting plan."

As the takeover gains momentum, David Duke sets about torching the inner cities and Pat Buchanan raises barriers to immigration. Richard M. Nixon resurfaces, dragging an Enemies List that has grown to miles in length. Meanwhile, Jane Fonda and Hillary Clinton mount a resistance front.

Computer-art photo enhancement is a field just beginning to find applications beyond novelty. Mr. Landman's work on "Republicans Attack!" advances the form in ways reminiscent of the 1960s' craze for hand-cut photo-collage art. The appearance of reality and a dreamlike state are inseparable.

Mr. Vance's argument -- that the GOP menace mingles terror with insipidity -- obliges Mr. Landman to deliver images that convey an aggressive boredom without being a bore in themselves. The basis of his achievement here is a general color scheme juxtaposing muted tones with bursts of primary color. The source-photos, scanned into the computer and manipulated electronically, are distorted and placed in peculiar contexts to provocative effect.

The most unnerving of the cards portrays Justice Clarence Thomas as Harpo Marx -- transforming Harpo's trademark pursuit of shrieking women into an act of terrorism. Dan Quayle is moved to tears by a reunion with a favorite plaything, which he calls Mistere Potatoe Heade. Ross Perot appears as a devil-or-angel image.

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