by Johnny Martyr
Few classic films have inspired as rich and varied a collectibles market as George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It's really staggering, the amount of THINGS that are out there to celebrate this movie! So what's a dedicated horror fan to do? My recommendation is to go straight to the trading cards.
What's great about NOTLD trading cards is that there's something for every taste and budget. And while there are hundreds of different cards available, gathering complete sets isn't totally insurmountable.
The first NOTLD trading cards of 1987 were an unlicensed 50 card set. They featured low resolution images and chipboard backs. They were sold as a complete set and there were no chase cards. Collectors prize unopened sets in the original Scotch-taped paper wrapper. These aren’t very rare or expensive unless you are lucky enough to lay hands on one of only 33 uncut sheets! The Living Dead Museum in Evans City, PA has one if you’d like to check it out in person.
High-quality, licensed cards quickly followed from Imagine Inc. DAWN OF THE DEAD's Scope Zombie, Bob Michelucci, designed and released three sets of beautiful cards from 1988 to 1993. Images were taken from the negatives and accompanying graphics made an icon out of the Kyra close-up portrait. Though all the base sets were also sold complete, this was the beginning of chase cards and related paraphernalia like unused wrappers, uncut sheets and even a watch! These sets are still considered quintessential NOTLD collectibles and they ushered in the NOTLD autograph collecting market as we know it.
The 1993 Imagine On Location cards are my personal favorites. This eight-card base set was complimented by a three-card promo set for the 25th anniversary of the film. The base set features color behind-the-scenes portraits of the cast and crew. The photos chosen for the On Location cards transport us back to the summer of 1967. Taken on the farmhouse property, we see bitter rivals Ben and Harry, actors Duane Jones and Karl Hardman, lounging happily in a sunny field of grass. Judith O’Dea is not “out of her head” Barbra; she’s a beautiful, ambitious young actress who returned from California to star in her first film. Marilyn Eastman is stately, sharing her hypnotic gaze with a well-positioned Arriflex camera. Judith Ridley’s infectious smile is almost laughing at the stark contrast between these bright photos and the dark movie that they promote. Keith Wayne, whose blue t-shirt was ripped by a ghoul, sits in the shade of a tree decades before he chose to take his own life and is shown smiling keenly in the leaf light.
Three of the rarest card sets for die-hard Living Dead heads were the event tie-in cards that Jim Cirronella designed for Image Ten from 2009 to 2013. The 2009 Living Dead Festival cards consisted of two card designs and were intended to be signed in person by the 17 cast/crew members who attended that event. A fan could potentially have collected as many as 36 cards—17 signed copies of each of the two cards and one unsigned copy of each card. This small but spirited LDF was Judith Ridley’s and several extras’, first ever public appearance and yet there were only around 200 fans in attendance, making these cards very desirable now.
In 2012, an effort to refurbish the crumbling Evans City Chapel was put forth and promoted with two new trading cards. Originally freebies, they are now sought after by collectors and feature color images and cartoonish artwork by Matt Orsman.
Cirronella did three autograph cards for the 2013 Living Dead Festival at which there were 20 cast/crew members. A complete set would then consist of 63 signed and unsigned examples. Being all b&w save for the LDF logo in green, these cards use the natural space in their featured photos for autographs which stand out beautifully. My absolute favorite card features the image of the truck fire signed inside the ball of flames by Judith Ridley. The ghoul field cards signed by Ella Mae Smith and Paula Richards are awesome too.
The 2012 Unstoppable cards were just that. This British card maker put out the first truly modern NOTLD card set. It has all the bells and whistles of contemporary trading cards that are sure to keep fans coming to get more! Like Imagine, these cards are licensed but were sold by the pack rather than as a complete set. So, building a complete master set is a real scavenger hunt! There were 36 base cards, nine autograph cards, nine poster cards, six promo cards, and innumerable 1-of-1 printing plate cards and sketch art cards. One-of-1 cards aside, two of the the hardest Unstoppable cards to find are the Tom Breyer promo and Judith O’Dea autograph. Nearly impossible to find but very desirable are the Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman cut autograph cards, as only a handful were printed. The sketch cards in this series were created by talented artists and truly dedicated fans.
Being the iconic film that it is, it's no surprise that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has made appearances in other non-sports card sets. Breygent's 2010 Classic Vintage Sci-Fi & Horror Movie Poster series gave us big, oversized autograph and sketch cards. Small, independent card makers like Monsterwax, Necroscope, RR Parks and Lunchmeat have also showcased NOTLD. There are at least two card games that contain a NOTLD card. There were even NOTLD trading cards that predate the actual movie, such as lighting director Joe Unitas’ 1958 football card and television ad cards depicting Bill Cardille in the early 1960’s.
And where does one procure items of such horrific beauty? Well, eBay is the first and most obvious place. Comic.com and Beckett.com usually have a selection of these cards available as well. You may find a friend at NonSportsUpdate.com or SketchCollectors.com. And don’t forget that nifty card set that you can pick up from Fantasm-Media.com! But once you have the more common cards, the best place to find specific cards is in your friendly NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD community. Find fans like myself at horror events, on the relevant Facebook pages and contact us via email (JohnnyMartyr@Hotmail.com). Buying, selling and trading with folks you know is always best, particularly when getting signed material.
Because collecting NOTLD cards and collecting NOTLD autographs go hand-in-hand, it’s important to know who was alive and present at which shows and when which cards were available. Be sure to only buy cards that have been well cared for and that you care for them in turn with proper archival storage. Try not to overpay, but also, don’t shortchange other fans who’ve been good custodians of these monstrous little treasures!
*Note: The photos contained in this article were taken on Kodak Tri-X 35mm film, one of the same stocks used to shoot NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I hope that the lack of color and presence of grain summon the same spirit as the movie itself! Enjoy! (All photos Copyright 2018 © Johnny Martyr)