Long before he was winning Pulitzer Prizes as America’s most critically adored comix practitioner, Art Spiegelman cut his teeth as something far closer to a R. Crumb-ian “freaky” underground cartoonist. Spiegelman would eventually blend highbrow and lowbrow more thoroughly than perhaps any other comix figure, bringing a whole generation of talented avant-garde European artists to contribute to his self-published zine RAW on the one hand while coming up with the idea behind the Garbage Pail Kids (with Mark Newgarden) on the other. Crumb, Spiegelman, and all the rest were heavily influenced by the “usual gang of idiots” at Mad Magazine, and that lineage shows very strongly in a 1971 edition of Topps cards Spiegelman spearheaded called “Nasty Valentine Notes.”
To be clear, Spiegelman didn’t execute the art on these cards, or at least not all of them. According to Jay Lynch:
Art Spiegelman did the art on the wrapper and box. He also did the finished art on some of the pieces themselves….and he wrote most of them and did roughs. So he is the main guy behind this series. Some of the final art on the pieces are by Ralph Reece. Jeff Zapata was only 5 years old then…Len Brown and Woody Gelman had the Jobs running the creative Dept. that Jeff Zapata and John Williams have today. So Jeff is of a whole other generation….He edits the Topps stuff that comes out now. Woody and Len edited it back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Every card had an, ahem, “witty” quatrain with a rim-shot punchline that would have felt stodgy in the days of vaudeville. These “sick” and satirical anti-Valentine’s Day cards do much more than lampoon the sickly sweet sentiments that govern most of the holiday. 1971 was a prime moment to stick it to the hippies, and boy, does it do that with a vengeance. Woodstock, Easy Rider, yoga…. all of them take their turns as whipping boy. My favorite is the fourth one below, which not only makes fun of men with long hair but also assumes that the only sexual option is hetero. Well, they do say satire often has a conservative bent….
The cards are a little convoluted. They had to be sold in the same format as baseball cards, so every card necessitated being unfolded three times and had five images on two sides. If you’re trying to read along, suffice to say you should be reading from small type to large type. I’ve put the “front” image for each card on its side because trying to read upside-down text makes my brain bleed.
There were 30 cards in the entire set, and you can download almost all of them—in the correct size to be printed on both sides of a page, should you have a yen to do that—at this tribute site to the series.
You’re really into yoga
You’re really into zen
But why study Eastern mysteries?
You can’t even count to ten!
More ‘Nasty Valentine Notes’ after the jump…