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Lot # 1379 (of 1512)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1962 Topps "Mars Attacks" Original Artwork for Card #15 Saucers Invade China

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $8,400

Presented is the original painting created by artist Norm Saunders for card #15 in the 1962 Topps "Mars Attacks" set, titled Saucers Invade China. In this scene Martian flying saucers are pictured shooting atomic beams down at a city while its fleeing citizens rush to evade a deluge of rising water and billowing flames. The text on the back of the issued card reports that no place on earth was safe from the attacking Martians and that Chinese peasants thought the attacking saucers were sent by angry gods. Anyone familiar with the "Mars Attacks" set is probably shaking his head right now, because the artwork offered here is different than that on the issued card, which instead pictures burned clothing and bloody heads. Fortunately, there is a very good explanation for the discrepancy between the image on the issued card and the artwork, which, as we shall document, is one of fourteen original "Mars Attacks" artworks later revised by Norm Saunders under the direction of Topps.

The "Mars Attacks" set, with its violent subject matter and graphic scenes of men, women, and even pets being mercilessly slaughtered by the Martians, was somewhat controversial at the time. Topps obviously anticipated a negative reaction from parents and teachers, and this is the very reason Topps listed the name of a fictitious company, "Bubbles, Inc.," as the manufacturer of the series on the back of each card. The controversy grew so great that Topps felt it had to "tone down" a few of the more gruesome scenes pictured on the cards, including those that saw humans being burned to death. To that end, artist Norm Saunders was recalled to touch up a number of the most offensive artworks. To date, fourteen original "Mars Attacks" artworks are known to have been revised by Saunders. The revisions range from removing blood, impalements, explicit gore, bodies on fire (both the living and the dead), etc., to, most intriguing of all, threatened women being repainted as men. (Destroying a Dog was also revised to show a soldier in place of the dog!) Interestingly, Robert Edward Auctions sold the revised artwork for card #5 Washington in Flames, in our May 2006 sale; however, we did so unknowingly! We never noticed the slight difference between the artwork and the illustration on the issued card (Saunders removed the flames from one of the men being attacked) but obviously a few shrewd bidders did, because it sold for a much higher-than-expected price of $29,000. Only just recently has it become officially recognized as the fourteenth revised "Mars Attacks" artwork.

It should be noted that for many of the revised artworks the changes were slight, but for others, they were major and drastically changed the content and emotional impact of the scene. Much of the information we have regarding the revised artworks was disclosed in an interview with Norm Saunders' son, David, that appeared in a 2009 article by Kurt Kuersteiner, titled "Norm Saunders: The Book & Cards!," published in The Wrapper. In the article, which is both a biography of Norm Saunders and a review of David Saunders' new book Norman Saunders (The Illustrated Press, 2009), Kuersteiner makes special note of the thirteen revised "Mars Attacks" artworks (at the time of the article only thirteen altered artworks were recognized):

One of the most important issues resolved in David Saunders' book is that regarding the legitimacy of the 13 revised Mars Attacks cards. They were issued in 1984 by Steve Kiviat of Rosem Enterprises and were called Mars Attacks- The Unpublished Version. They show less violent versions of cards #3, 6, 8, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 29, 30, 32, 36, and 38. Chris Benjamin's guide was uncertain if they were real, since their exact origin couldn't be documented. But according to the new book, "Topps hired Saunders to paint amended versions of the most shocking cards. [He was] amused by the hypocrisy of selling amended 'indecent' cards under a fake company name." (Topps changed their copyright notice to "Bubbles, Inc." to dodge any controversy that the cards might cause.) To make certain David wasn't relying on an unreliable third party for his card censorship story, Kuersteiner contacted him to ask if he had any personal knowledge that they were definitely real. His response: "My father did paint them. I saw him doing it and I remember the entire controversial process of producing a less offensive version of certain cards. The image of the girl in bed that is being attacked by a Martian breaking through her window, was repainted to show a guy in bed, but instead of just any guy, Norm thought it was fun to make the guy a self-portrait, so that guy in bed with a mustache is a self-portrait of the fifty-five year old Norman Saunders! All thirteen images in that 'unpublished' set were painted by Norman Saunders." The book concludes that particular controversy with this: "In the end, the lure of potential profits was not as great as Topps' fear of bad publicity for their more lucrative business of selling wholesome bubble gum and baseball cards, so the revised set was shelved and no additional printings were made."

What must be fully understood is that in each case, whenever Saunders made a revision, it was done on the original "Mars Attacks" artwork. Saunders did not create a new painting. He simply took his original artwork and painted over the piece in making his changes. Here, Saunders simply painted over the clothes on one of the soldiers in order to eliminate the objectionable elements of the original painting.

Any "Mars Attacks" original artwork is rare. Theoretically all of the other artworks exist, but only slightly more than half have ever surfaced. (Incredibly, nearly all of the other examples that have come to auction in the past ten years have been offered by Robert Edward Auctions!). The images from the "Mars Attacks" set have been ingrained into our popular culture, and have had a lasting impact not only on the youth of the early 1960s, but on all generations since. Every painting in the set is a classic. The fact that this is one of only fourteen revised artworks known makes it especially desirable. This particular example has been locked away in a major private collection for decades and has never before been offered at public auction. This is an extraordinary piece and one that would be a significant museum-quality highlight in any world-class Norm Saunders, "Mars Attacks" artwork, or nonsport collection. The artwork (5.25 x 3.75 inches) has normal production-related remnants on the reverse, including the card number, and is otherwise in Near Mint condition. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,400

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