Warning: Martians are invading New Milford. They do not come in peace. Expect the worst. These are not cute, little green men from outer space. They are hideously ugly. Picture aliens with giant bulbous-brained heads and wielding flamethrowers as they wipe out the entire town in one fell swoop. Run for your lives!
Or, if a War of the Worlds right here on Bank Street is something you can’t resist, stick around. In October, Topps, a trading-card company, is releasing the first new set of Mars Attacks! cards since 1962. The retro-style, hand-painted cards feature colossal robots, giant insects, flying saucers, and maniacal aliens using guns that shoot death rays. They demolish landmarks such as Stonehenge and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as well as the cities of Tokyo and Paris. They even take down a portion of New Milford.
Science-fiction and fantasy artist Tom Kidd used Bank Street as the scene of one of the five cards he painted for the set, making New Milford part of trading-card history. “I like including bits of New Milford in my art when I can,” says Kidd. “Sadly, the town is being destroyed by Martians; the scene is a Martian carrying off a young woman during the melee. But if you’re a fan of the cards, you love it.” Gabriel Salas, owner of Krypto Comics and Novelties on Bank Street, couldn’t be more thrilled. “I think it’s great that New Milford is part of what is a once-in-a-lifetime event. My grandfather, who is 89, has some of the original cards, and I remember him showing me them when I was kid,” says Salas.
Coincidently, another New Milford artist, 90-year-old Earl Norem, whose career spans six decades, came out of retirement to paint six cards in the new series, though none were set in New Milford. In addition to trading cards, magazines, novels, and movie posters, Norem worked on comicbook projects for Marvel: Savage Sword of Conan, Planets of the Apes, and The Silver Surfer among them.
Martians attacking Earth sounds fairly innocent, but when Topps first released the 55-card series in 1962, the cards—with scenes that depicted the destruction of famous landmarks, subtly hinted at sexuality, and were far gorier than what viewers were used to—caused a public backlash. Norman Saunders, the artist hired for the project, repainted 13 of the cards in order to make them more palatable. Eventually, Topps halted production of the cards altogether. Over the years, the set was reissued, but this entirely new, story-based set is the first of its kind in more than 50 years, according to Adam Levine, publicity director at Topps.
The controversy made the cards eventually more collectable. Deleted cards are considered some of the most sought-after, non-sport trading cards of all. The original 55-card set, which first sold for five cents per five-pack in 1962, is now worth thousands.
Those cards also inspired the 1996 cult film, Mars Attacks!, produced by Tim Burton and featuring an A-list cast that includes Lisa Marie Smith, Martin Short, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, and Sarah Jessica Parker. It was a box-office flop—but like the cards, it has developed it’s own following.
“What’s been fun about painting the cards is that so many people my age remember the cards—and remember them fondly,” says Kidd, 57. Many of the new cards have a retro look and often include some wry humor. In one scene, Kidd painted an “Alien Crossing” sign and shows Bank Street Theater’s marquee advertising the film, Mars Attacks!
Fortunately, Kidd spared the rest of New Milford. “I thought of using the New Milford Green and having the gazebo destroyed and the tank partially melted. If I do more cards, maybe I’ll get to that,” says Kidd gleefully.