A deliciously ghoulish album from the golden age of trading cards and sticker collections.
Kids today, with their myriad of distractions and high-priced pleasures, know nothing of the more simple delights that could distract entire generations in days gone by. None were more simple yet fiendish, ephemeral yet eternal as the endless frustrations and joys of collecting stickers and chewing gum trading cards.
We’ve previously covered the oddly gory Hammer Horror Shock Theatre cards, which featured the sort of imagery that its target audience was still being protected from by the film censors – but these were just one example of an endless phenomenon that ran from movie-related cards to football collectables and sticker books of prehistoric animals, comic book heroes and just about anything else that might seize the imagination of young kids. The stickers outshone the trading cards in one important way – central to the concept was the sticker book that kids were supposed to fill out, a bit at a time, while always being aware that this particular run of stickers might come to an end at any moment – something that encouraged as many purchases as the collector could afford. Unlike the cards – where the size of the collection was something that only became clear after a while when no one had a card beyond a certain number – kids would know from the start exactly how many stickers were needed to fill an album. A gap in such an album was much more obvious and frustrating than a gap in a card collection and so as the book filled out, so the desperation to fill those final gaps became more intense. Oh sure, you could send away for a handful of missing stickers – but not too many. As a kid, I managed to complete one album out of many and it felt like an actual achievement. These things were very attuned to the psychological needs of kids and knew exactly how to exploit them – including having much shorter runs of certain stickers that became like gold dust as no one ever seemed to find them. A cruel and unusual punishment for kids, you might think.
In 1970, Americana – the leading sticker book producer of the first half of the decade – produced Horror Parade, a collection of horror stories that was a more imaginative collection than most. Requiring almost 300 stickers to complete, it consisted of several cartoon stories that required the reader/collector to complete parts of each panel – a face, a hand, a weapon and so on – as well as more traditional rectangular portrait stickers. This added a new twist to the whole affair, as not only would you often find that the packet of stickers that you’d just bought only contain dull illustrations of the hero’s head rather than the exotic monster that was being kept a tempting secret from you, but it would require the precise positioning of a vintage antique repair, something made harder because some stickers just didn’t seem to fit properly or had a different colour palate to the printed page. Minor issues to you or me, sources of endless frustration for kids.
The stories – No Blood for Count Dracula, Planet of Terror, Justice in the Wax Museum, The Ghosts (a four-page epic), Secret of the Casket and House of Evil – are, as you might expect, rather basic fare. But they are fun in their own way and just the thing for kids with a love for horror. As with many of these things, the artwork is often derivative, owing more than a little to classic horror movies.
Horror Parade first appeared in 1970 and I guess I must have encountered it as a pre-schooler some point after that – certainly, it lodged itself in my mind and when it reappeared in my local toy shop in 1975 I was thrilled. It seemed to vanish as quickly as it appeared though and I spent many frustrating years trying to remember just what it was called. Say what you want about the world wide web, but it sometimes helps clear up long-standing and unimportant mysteries.
Americana vanished in the second half of the 1970s, superseded by Panini and a general shift from stickers to smaller cards that you would glue down. A collection like Horror Parade would’ve been unthinkable in the 1980s and 1990s, when video nasty paranoia was rife, and the whole market for stickers and trading cards has rather diminished outside of the adult nostalgia market. A reissue of this set for that audience seems long overdue.
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It could have conceivably appeared in the post-Nasty ’80s. Sure, things got sanitised but many seemingly didn’t get the memo, and Kiddie-grue in sundry forms persisted. There was some cards given away with tea (or Weetabix?) that riffed on Horror themes – I have one, around here somewhere, that I ebay-bought, that is a Giger-Alien homage. ‘Blood-beast’ or soething, I got it from ebay as a memento. Monster Munch had some fantastic mythological monster profiles on the bag reverse early on – I possess a precious, mist-enhanced (fogging and heightening dreaminess) memory of my eldest sister reading one to me, ending on the salient detail of the beast in question being partial to human flesh!!! Yes, even harmless ‘Scream’ comic disappeared, but this was fairly late on, and it’s vanishing added to it’s repute. It was a ‘proto-Nasty’ for us tadpoles, beleived banned for being too scary. Thank Cthulu, we British don’t simply jump into formation. Haunted houses and skulls remained abundant. Surely Vyvyan’s decapitation was more graphic than anything seen in supposed ‘Nasty’ insomnia cures like Frozen Scream. And what about Kenny Everett’s hapless handyman character. I swear, when I was a kid I saw one sketch where he got a geyser of blood in the face. On the subject – as a kid I was OK with Kenny chopping off a finger mistaken for a sausage (easily done), but was petrified by a sketch in which double glazing holds a vampire at bay. Just shows, kids have a more complex psychology than these so-called ‘grown-ups’ can conceive of!!!! A friend of mine was brought to tears of fear by the ‘Crime – Together We’ll Crack It’ slogan/campaign. ‘Course being 41 he really should’ve got over it by now …
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