Summer Book Club Review: Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi, and welcoming you to join in on book discussions in the comments. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums. Please enjoy!

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One of our picks for the Art and Coffee Table Books Gift Guide this past holiday season was the first volume in the Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series by the Abrams Books ComicArts imprint. Since then, two additional volumes have been published so far during the first half of 2016. Let’s take a look!

First up is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two, a complete reprinted collection of the 353 cards, 88 stickers, and 30 oversized photocards that made up the three series of collectible trading cards based on the second installment of the original trilogy, first wrapped in wax packets back in 1980. Each page shows the front and back of a card in the series, the collection hardbound in chronological order so you can follow along to the loose sequencing between the card scenes and the movie plot. If you weren’t a collector back in the day, each card depicts a character image, spaceship, movie scene, behind-the-scenes photo, or piece of production art, while the backs feature character bios, scene synopses, trivia questions (with answers given on the next card in sequence), movie facts, and images to piece together into puzzle images (the fully pieced together puzzles are shown). Some of the cards and backs are each given a full page to shine, but for most of the cards the front and back are side by side on the same page. Some may not like this change from the first volume, but even though the image size is smaller I prefer having the full extent of the card art and information presented on a single page.

The next book in the Topps Trading Card Series is Star Wars Galaxy, a more modern and artistic trading card collection spanning three series originally dating back to the early to mid 90s. The Galaxy set is notable for its changed approach away from depicting direct movie scenes and photos to original works of expanded universe art by well-known artists in the fields of comic books, science-fiction, and fantasy. With images inspired by the three original movies, as well as TV shows, cartoons, books, comics, and other promotional tie-ins, the card art comes in a wide range of styles, from Ben-Hur movie poster artist Joseph Smith’s series of 12 classically painted character portraits to John Van Fleet’s depiction of a high-speed Rebel X-wing raid created using a unique technique that combined xerography with a belt sander.

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Some other highlights include a Joe DeVito painting of the Slave 1 gunning down an X-wing, Slave Leia pieces done in pen-and-ink, markers, and colored pencils by Bret Blevins and Ted Boonthanakit, a watercolor portrait of Obi-Wan by Mark Chiarello, and a gouache piece in which Bo Hampton depicts an un-filmed faceoff between Han Solo and Boba Fett on Dagobah. There are even some lighter, more comic/cartoon-style card illustrations such as an Amanda Conner and Mike McPhillips piece of Chewbacca working as a mechanic, as well as a satirical piece done by Sergio Aragones that shows C-3PO dying of oil thirst in the Tatooine desert. The art is so beautiful, diverse, and all-encompassing of the original Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately, unlike the two other volumes the Star Wars Galaxy book for some reason is missing quite a few cards from the original series and doesn’t show the card backs. I’m not sure if this was done to leave room for a second volume, but by comparison to its counterparts this book is half the size (224 pages versus the others which are both in the mid 500 hundred range). Serious card collectors will definitely have an issue with this, but anyone who didn’t collect these cards originally won’t know what they’re missing, and thus likely won’t care. The art is so fantastic overall that the omission is easier to stomach purely from an art book appreciation standpoint. There’s also the fact that the price is five bucks cheaper to compensate somewhat for the trimmed content.

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In both books, Gary Gerani, the original editor that helped create the Topps Star Wars series, shares insight into how the trading cards were edited and produced through introduction chapters outlining the general creative process and collaborations with Lucasfilm, as well as light running commentary throughout the book in captions for individual cards. It’s fascinating to get a look behind the scenes (and into the past) at the decisions that went into the image selections, color scheme and graphic design motifs between series, dialogue choices for the card captions (a lot of which were made up by Gerani himself), and even errors that were made in certain scene descriptions. That said, even more captions would have been great, especially in the Empire Strikes Back book which leaves many cards to speak for themselves.

Abrams did a phenomenal job with the collectible packaging and presentation. For starters, each book includes a bonus pack of four physical trading cards, which is a really neat touch. The nostalgia is kicked further into hyperdrive by the dustjackets that mimic the wax paper and foil packaging of the original trading card series while simultaneously hiding the sticks of pink gum that are printed directly on the front and back hardcovers. Little flourishes like that only help to heighten the collector’s appeal.

Though there are debatable formatting decisions and incomplete elements that some readers may take issue with, in general I think it’s safe to say that most Star Wars fans are going to be too overwhelmed by the nostalgia and collectible appeal of these books to muster much anger. And with all the cards bound together, there’s no more worrying about bent or torn edges, or having a card suddenly go missing in the crack of a sofa or at the bottom of a box!

Buy From: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two is available from Abrams Books and Amazon.com for $24.95. Star Wars Galaxy: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is available from Abrams Books and Amazon.com for $19.95.

Disclosure: Review copies of the Star Wars Topps Trading Card Series were provided to VGBlogger.com by Abrams Books.

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