Friday, January 11, 2008

menko the gathering

I'm too young to have experienced this first hand, but kids in the 40s and 50s and 60s engaged in a game called 'card flipping' whereby Kid A would put a baseball card on the ground and Kid B would in some fashion hurl a baseball card of his own at the first baseball card on the ground in an attempt to flip the first card over and thereby "win". This is what we did before video games, apparently.

At any rate Japanese kids did the same thing with cards known as "menko cards". Squatter and heavier than American baseball cards, menko cards were imprinted with a bewildering variety of subject matter - ballplayers, wrestlers, judo champions, horses, rockets, spacemen, and - oh yeah, Japanese animation characters. They would hurl these cardboard squares at each other, not realizing that forty years later some goof with a blog would post pictures of them. The fools!

I bought these cards years ago at an Atlanta Fantasy Fair from Flaming Carrot cartoonist Bob Burden, who, when not drawing the looped-out adventures of the Strangest Man Alive, would man a dealers room table crammed with amazing stuff he'd culled from attics, junk stores, and yard sales across the nation. When I grow up I want to be Bob Burden. Anyway, here they are!

Alakazam The Great battles a giant scorpion in his quest to Journey To The West in this still from the 1960 Toei film of the same name, which of course was called Saiyuki in Japanese, is based on an ancient Chinese fairy tale about the Monkey King, and was the basis for anime as widely varied as Dragonball, Midnight Eye Goku, and SF Saiyuki Starzinger. Alakazam was voiced by Peter "Speed Racer" Fernandez in this film, which was released letterboxed on laserdisc by Orion Pictures, before they vanished.

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Meanwhile, the Tezuka manga character-turned-anime Cyborg Big X looks on with trepadation as bands of Scotch tape wrap around the midsection of his menko card. One assumes this card saw lots of action in the streetcorner battlefields of the Menko Wars.

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Cyborg 009 and the curious 60s toddler-style Cyborg 007 are on the retreat from both a giant spider robot and their miscolored uniforms on this kinda neat looking card. Menko cards are not known for their printing excellence or their attention to the finer points of character design. Personally, I love the fuzzy off-register printing.

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Here Kimba The White Lion bites what appears to be a very skinny hyena as legions of jungle animals charge towards the scene. I get the feeling this card was more or less traced from the opening credits of Jungle Emperor. Oh, like you've never done this.

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More cards to follow in Menko, Part Two!

8 comments:

Chris Sobieniak said...

Hmm, wonder if the Menko thing would catch on over here again like milk caps? (I can see those desperately wanting to cash in on a craze that cooked up) :-P

Tohoscope said...

What? Don't we have enough kids blocking the hallways at anime conventions with their damn trading card games? With your Pokemons and your Yugiohs and what not...

Chris Sobieniak said...

Tohoscope said...
What? Don't we have enough kids blocking the hallways at anime conventions with their damn trading card games? With your Pokemons and your Yugiohs and what not...


You're right (of course I wasn't thinking of those people when I made my statement and can see how that could erupt into total BS in the process). Thanks for putting me back in place (of course I wouldn't mind a Pog revival if ever just to stare at them brats and tell 'em stories of kids who killed to get those damn caps).

d. merrill said...

I would actually like to see people flip cards in person. The physics of throwing a little piece of cardboard at another little piece of cardboard in an attempt to flip it over seem so precarious to be almost impossible. I'd see it referenced in old Mads and such and I always figured when they said "flipping cards" it was slang for something else, but no, they were flipping cards. If I had a way of printing my own Menko cards, we'd start a league. Wear jeans with the cuffs rolled up, Keds, striped T-shirts, stand around flipping cards. It'll be awesome!

Scott said...

I have been searching and searching for what these cards are called for YEARS! As a kid with a father in the US Air Force, I spent 3 years of my childhood in Japan in the 80's, and I have a nice collection of menko cards at home that I keep on my desk in a small bag. After finding your post today, I'm excited to get home and photograph them--got a lot of Nintendo themed ones, Mario, different anime, Fist of the North Star, Dragonball (before Dragonball Z)...Flood of memories!

Anonymous said...

I too had a father in the air force and played this game in England during the 80's. I Have a bunch of them at my parents house. Yes Dragonball-Nintendo. My favorite one was a fluffy haired guy who hangs out with eyeball like people. I remember one of the eyeballs floating in a bowl of soup. Always wondered what show that was?
We would make our own flippers out of cardboard and tape. I used to love this game as a kid. Nearly as much as playing curby!

d. merrill said...

My favorite one was a fluffy haired guy who hangs out with eyeball like people. I remember one of the eyeballs floating in a bowl of soup. Always wondered what show that was?


That was GE GE GE NO KITARO, the popular horror/comedy/yokai series by Shigeru Mizuki.

Anonymous said...

GE GE GE NO KITARO thanks!
Thats it! I'll have to see if I can find some ep. of that anime with english subs. thanks again.