Thursday, May 24, 2018

1992 Eclipse True Crime - The Mega-Controversy the Card World Forgot (plus a contest!)

Look through a Tuff Stuff Magazine from the early 1990s once in a while. It is a real trip. I have a June 1992 copy and paging through it is like a damn time warp. There is just SO MUCH product being advertised, discussed, sold and traded.

SPORTS! The big four, boxing, golf, track and field. NON-SPORTS! This is where is really gets crazy.. cars, movies, motorcycles, wars (seriously), tractors, comics, TV shows, pin-ups… everything that anyone could have a passing interest in what given a damn card set in 1992.

And people had more than a passing interest in serial killers in 1992. Milwaukee’s own Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in the summer of 1991, sparking international fascination with his horrific spree of murders, mutilations, and acts of cannibalism. It was one of those moments where true crime goes mainstream for just a bit, and all the so-called “respectable” news outlets get to thrash around with the slop with those who write gory and sensationalized stuff for a while before returning to their ivory towers. So, with carnage and blood all over the news in 1991, it seemed natural that a True Crime card set would hit in 1992.

In that same issue of Tuff Stuff, there is a short column on a set that was due out in May from Eclipse, a comic book publisher who specialized in edgy material. In January 1992, the tv program Entertainment Tonight (one of those schlock-centric garbage shows that lived on sensationalism, but never owned up to being a  schlock-centric garbage shows that lived on sensationalism) aired a segment on the set, which they claimed would be dedicated to serial killers. The segment caused an uproar, but only got it half-right. The set was to be dedicated to True Crime, and it would include gangsters and crime-fighters as well as mass murders. But the outcry was enough to get legislators in eight states to introduce legislation to ban sale of the cards to minors or to prohibit them altogether – a bill in New Jersey would have given a penalty of 18 months in jail to anyone who sold the cards to kids. And this was all before even a sample card from the set had produced.

 Victims’ rights advocates and free speech supporters debated about the cards on TV. Larry King hosted a segment on the cards. Newspapers all across the nation wrote about the controversy. Meanwhile, Eclipse Co. upped their initial print order for the cards – which would sell for $1 for a 12 card pack – from 10,000 cases to 25,000.

And the cards sold like mad. Only one of the efforts to ban the cards came to fruition… Nassau County, on Long Island, banned sale of the cards to anyone under 18. A lawsuit by Eclipse, supported by the ACLU, eventually overturned the ban. By the end of 1992, with a second, 110 card series rushed into release, the New York Times reported that the company had sold $1 million worth of the product. The cards gained such a high profile that in early 1993, the Hillside Strangler – Kenneth Bianchi – who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 10 women, brought suit against Eclipse for using his likeness for commercial purposes. The suit was thrown out.

The booming success of the cards didn’t seem to do much for Eclipse’s trading card efforts. They had been in the game since 1988, issuing tongue-in-cheek sets on the Iran Contra scandal and political corruption. In 1990, they printed a set on the Kennedy assassination and a “Friendly Dictators” set and, in 1991, issued sets on the drug war and the savings and loan scandal. Although they had announced plans for an “AIDS Awareness” set for 1993 – which would feature Magic Johnson – the concept seems to have been scrapped. In 1993, Eclipse issued a handful of movie sets – including a National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon set – and then bowed out of the card game for good.

I picked up a lot of the second series on eBay recently. I was pretty impressed. The artwork is great and the backside have plenty of copy. There are far fewer “star cards” in this series. Dahmer, HH Holmes, John Wayne Gacy and the like all get their due in the first series. I’d like to pick up some of those to try to complete this set. It’s weirdness and controversy are just too much to pass up.

So what do you think of this set? The uproar seems kind of silly in retrospect, but it’s easy to forget that in 1992, trading cards were seen by many outside of the hobby as something strictly for kids. But so what? I was ten years old in 1992 and read plenty of Milwaukee Sentinel articles on the Dahmer case as it unfolded. No one was suggesting that kids not be allowed to read the newspapers. There is a definite double-standard at play in all of this, the kind that is found when people try to deny the fact that – in general – people are pretty interested in those who do wrong. And if they read about it in the papers or in books (like the books I write) or if they read about it on a trading card… isn’t the real difference in all this just the status of the medium?

And, for the record, no one said boo about the Civil War and World War II trading card sets… and that depicts something that killed more people than a caseful of Jeffrey Dahmers.

I have a couple of unopened True Crime II packs left... leave a comment below with your thoughts and I'll random them off. I'll give you until 11:59 pm on Wednesday, May 30.


  1. And now I'm wondering why Topps hasn't done a subset of these in Allen&Ginter…

  2. They did make 1993 Eclipse Aids Awareness cards featuring Magic Johnson.It is a very nice set.In addition to the cards, each pack contained a condom.

    1. Whoa! I heard about those, but didn't see it in the TCDB, so I wasn't sure if it was ever produced.

  3. ooh I've got some of these
    i can't decide if they are cool or really distasteful
    dat Gacy card is both


  4. how awful one set we for which can be thankful it doesn't contain relics!

  5. Interesting set. Kind of unique to own while also chilling

  6. The only thing close to these I've ever seen is the Jack the Ripper card from 2007 A&G. I have an odd fascination with this sort of stuff, would be interesting to open a couple packs...

    Also, not-so-fun fact: Dahmer was sentenced four days before I was born.


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