1962 Mars Attacks Original Painting Auction Preview: The Ultimate Norm Saunders Artwork!

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

                           122381.JPG            mars017a1.jpg

                               original painting                       published card  #17              

 The original paintings to the 1962 Mars Attacks set are the most desirable of all nonsport card artworks. Every time we have had the privilege of offering an original Mars Attacks painting, we have thought it might be the last. There are only fifty-five cards in the 1962 Mars Attacks set, so theoretically there could be as many as fifty-five original artworks in existence, although only a handful are known to have survived. Over the years REA has offered ten Mars Attacks artworks including the original painting to the iconic card #1 which sold at REA in 2009 for a record $82,250:


We have just received for auction a particularly extraordinary never-before-offered Mars Attacks painting. It is pictured below, along with the issued card. As can easily be seen, the original painting differs in a very significant way from the issued card. The painting pictures a man in the bed, while the issued card features a woman. This naturally led us to research the painting to hopefully understand why it is different (note: only the figure in the bed is different; this is the very painting that was used in the set, with the figure of the woman painted over and replaced by a figure of a man). The answer and information we found was so fascinating we thought it would be worth sharing as an early auction preview.   

Here the catalog writeup with the whole story:     



1962 Topps Mars Attacks Original Artwork for Card #17 - Beast And The Beauty - The Ultimate Norm Saunders Card Artwork!

Presented is the original painting to card #17 from the 1962 Topps “Mars Attacks” set, entitled Beast and the Beauty, created by artist Norm Saunders. The horrific scene pictures a Martian crashing through a window as it grabs a terrified man from his bed. Anyone familiar with the “Mars Attacks” set is probably shaking his head right now, because the artwork offered here is drastically different than that on the issued card, which pictures a woman, not a man, being menaced by the Martian. 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. Apparently, 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 revised by Saunders have been identified. They are those used to produce card numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 29, 30, 32, 36, and 38. The known 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 sales price of $29,000. Only just recently has it became officially recognized as the fourteenth known revised “Mars Attacks” artwork.It should be noted that for many of the revised artworks the changes were slight, but for others, such as the offered card, they were major and drastically changed the content and emotional impact of the scene. What makes this particular artwork all the more significant is that the image of the man seen here is not a generic figure, but a self portrait of Norm Saunders himself! That information is derived from an interview with Norm Saunders’ son, David, that appeared in a 2009 article by Kurt Kuersteiner, titled “Norm Saunders: The Book & Cards!,” that appeared 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):

Another issue this book resolves 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, I 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.” It also shows some colorful close up photos of the original revisions. 

While it is not known for certain why Topps never issued the revised artworks, David Saunders’ conclusion is most likely correct. Topps’ baseball-card line was so profitable that there was no reason to jeopardize the company’s good name by continuing to print the set, revised or not. Economics probably factored into the decision as well. Because the reverse of each card featured a narrative of the scene pictured, and also listed the title of the next card in the series (which, as in the case of the offered artwork, would sometimes have to be changed as well), it was probably not economically feasible to redesign the whole set. They simply stopped printing the cards and the controversy went away.

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. That is easy to see on the offered piece. The woman in the original image had a large head of hair that the man does not have. Obviously, Saunders couldn’t make the man’s head as large as the woman’s, otherwise it would be disproportionate in size to the body. Instead he simply painted over the excess hair in brown to match the background of the headboard. That can be seen upon close inspection when viewing this artwork.

Any Mars Attacks original artwork is rare. Theoretically all of the other artworks exist, but few examples have ever come to the marketplace over the years. The images from the “Mars Attacks” set have been ingrained into the consciousness of 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 known revised artworks makes it especially desirable. 

The offered artwork is undoubtedly the most significant of the fourteen revised versions produced by Saunders, not only for the amount of revision work done, but for the fact that he painted himself in the scene. This is the ultimate Norm Saunders Mars Attacks original artwork, and an extraordinary  piece and one that would be a significant museum-quality highlight in any world-class Norm Saunders, Mars Attacks artwork, or  non-sport collection. The artwork (5.25 x 3.5 inches) has normal production-related remnants on the reverse, including the card number “17A,” and is otherwise in Near Mint to Mint condition. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open).

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