Trading Card Set of the Week – Beavis and Butt-Head (1994, Fleer Ultra)
Like the improbable European Kojak cards from Monty Gum, that Beavis and Butt-Head, MTV’s spokesteens for a generation, filled out a set of trading cards is something to warm the heart. This would apply even if the quality of said product was less than desired, if it lived up (or down) to its subject’s low-brow aspirations. Yes, they were dumb, they were crude, they were controversial, but Beavis and Butt-Head were funny and great — and somehow endearingly unrepentant. The show was almost hypnotic, their trademark laughter the watch drifting back and forth before your eyes. Mike Judge’s other cartoon creation, King of the Hill, may have had a much longer run, and on network TV no less, but it never burned (Fire! FIRE!) as brightly as those two chortling idiots.
If any fictional duo deserved a decent tchotchke, it was them. And guess what — Beavis and Butt-Head had some of the nicest cards you could get your hands on back in the day. These weren’t churned out on cheap brown cardboard stock. Oh no. With a well-planned design under a prestige banner, they dazzled your eye, tickled your fancy — and scorched your nose.
“Beavis and Butt-Head: The
Inogural First Edition” was brought out in 1994 by Fleer Ultra, the high-end branch of the Fleer family, their answer to similarly glossy brands like Topps’ Stadium Club. The cards are shiny and full-bleed with bright colors and clean lines and gold foil lettering on most — they never once bring to mind words like “slapdash.” In fact, many of them, ostensibly frames from the original cartoons, are actually cleaned up approximations of scenes from the early episodes, which often had pretty rough animation. If there’s one mild complaint, it’s that the cards are oddly numbered, as each has a “69” (huh-huh, huh-huh) somewhere in it, so that the first card is numbered 0069 and the last is 6950. This is maddening at first as you’re trying to sort them out, but you get used to it. Every box had the usual 36 packs, with 10 cards in each, so that in theory you could fill out a couple of the 150 card base sets from one. More on that in a moment. But now, on to the cards themselves.
The set opens with 62 cards based on episodes — so most of the first three-plus seasons. Sadly, my favorite episode, “Beard Boys,” which stands at an apex of human achievement, was released after they were produced and thus doesn’t have a card. Alas. But if you’re looking for encapsulations of many of the highlights of our heroes’ aimless, worthless lives, you won’t be disappointed. A close second to the aforementioned beard episode is “Incongnito,” in which Beavis and Butt-Head disguise themselves as foreign exchange students (please note that their t-shirts, instead of “AC/DC” and “Metallica,” are “Skull” and “Death Rock,” as they are in all licensed merchandise, including comics):
Just an aside, but “Incognito” is one of several episodes consigned to a dark corner in MTV’s library, as the reason they “hid” their identities was to escape the wrath of a gun-toting fellow student. Gun-play in schools is an understandably touchy subject.
The card backs remain fairly consistent throughout, with a few design changes as you move from subset to subset. Each has text written in the voice of Beavis and/or Butt-Head (who can tell the difference in print?), with sometimes a quote from an episode or a “helpful tip” thrown in. Here’s the back for the card of another fine episode, “The Trial”:
Next are a couple dozen cards with Beavis and Butt-Head in assorted costumes: Elvis, Little Red Riding Hood, Arabs, Russians, Orthodox Jews, cave men, etc. They range from amusing:
Back around to whimsical:
Next up are character cards, each focusing on personae large and small from the boys’ background ensemble. Wimpy Stewart (whose “Winger” shirt becomes “I Love Unicorns” — don’t mess with Kip Winger, I guess). Oblivious hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen. Bellicose Coach Buzzcut. Befuddled Principal McVicker. Delinquent dropout Todd. Intellectual foil and star of her own spin-off show Daria Morgendorffer. Exasperated neighbor and Hank Hill prototype Tom Anderson. All there. But there are also a number of one-offs that flashed through the B&B universe and disappeared as soon as they arrived — including Bill Clinton. Who can forget Mistress Cora Anthrax, the aged, saggy-boobed dominatrix from one of the earliest episodes?:
After this come several cards of the boys going through some of their daily activities — playing air guitar, smashing mailboxes and the like — and then a few centered on the major holidays of the year. While seeing Beavis and Butt-Head dressed as Santa and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and leprechauns is great and all, it seems that, with Halloween coming up, it’s important to post this card — you know, for all those people who like to carve intricately designed jack o’lanterns and are scouring the web for ideas:
The base set winds down with some more cards of the stars in moments from the series, and concludes with, of all things, them modeling tattoos. (It’s as if the people crafting the set desperately wanted to get to 150 cards, but were out of ideas, so came up with this.) And then we come to the chase cards. And Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t just have any chase cards — they had scratch and sniff base cards. Legit scratch and sniff cards. I can attest to their olfactory potency, even at a two decade remove from their original production. There are ten of them, each a repurposed front from one of the base cards, with a dollop of a distinctively odiferous substance strategically smeared. Take this one:
Yes, I scratched it. Yes, I sniffed it. Yes, it stinks. No, not a vile public restroom stink, but like a stale, musty, mixed spices stink. It’s literally enough for you to scrunch up your face and recoil. Potent. Kudos to the Fleer people for not going half-ass (literally) and chickening out with their scents. They swung for the reek fences.
To cleanse the palate, both visually and olfactorily, here’s another:
Yes, I scratched and sniffed the grapes hiding Butt-Head’s junk. I’m pleased to report that they smell like grapish Kool-Aid. Which is an improvement.
As far as value goes, these cards have held theirs fairly well, especially considering that they were produced in the glut of all gluts in the mid-1990s. Unopened boxes are still fairly plentiful on eBay, often selling for around thirty bucks per, and complete sets of base plus chase can be right around that when you factor in shipping. I bought a couple of boxes for far less (I found a deal) and opened both for kicks, giggles, and hard-nosed first-hand reporting. The chase cards come one every four packs, so doing some simple math (36/4=9) tells you you’ll need a couple of boxes to get all of them. As far as collation with the base set, the first box I opened I was still thirty-plus(!) cards short of a complete set. Which is dreadful. Fortunately the second filled out that set and another to boot, so I didn’t fly into a rage. But buyer beware. Your mileage — and collation — may vary.
Often card sets for treasured shows and movies of yore underwhelm. They leave you not just wanting more, but wanting something that doesn’t suck. Not so with Beavis and Butt-Head. Fleer Ultra lived up to its pricey promise with this set, and looking at them now, all these years later, will bring a smile to the face of anyone of the generation that came of age with these cretins. If you’re a fan and ever have some spare cash burning a hole in your pocket, you could do worse.