(Editors Note: Please welcome Johnny Martyr to the COMC Blog! Being a Night of the Living Dead Enthusiast with the world’s largest NotLD trading card collection, Johnny wanted to share his collecting story and deep knowledge of the subject through the following guest blog. Johnny is a photojournalist has been collecting for 20 years, and has compiled a full checklist of all NotLD cards that can be found here.)
By Johnny Martyr
When did you first see George Romero’s classic horror film, Night of the Living Dead? I was about five years old when I watched it through my fingers on a rented VHS tape in the early 1980’s.
Article after article has been written on why this unassuming little production, released 50 years ago, continues to have such a massive impact on the horror genre and independent movie making. Trading card after trading card has been released for the last 25 years distilling all those reasons into a fun and enduring collectible.
In 1998, at age 17, I discovered the horror convention scene and began journeying to meet cast/crew members from Night of the Living Dead, or NotLD as they called it. That is when I met Bob Michelucci, designer at Imagine Inc who designed the first official NotLD trading card set in 1988 and produced sets through 1993.
The Imagine cards, today, are the bedrock of any respectable NotLD card collection and include some of the most expensive/desirable NotLD autograph cards like the Keith Wayne autographed green border and On Location cards. Keith Wayne played the character Tom, who tried to make peace between lead Duane Jones (as Ben) and Karl Hardman (as universally despised, Harry Cooper.) Mr. Wayne, regretfully, took his own life in 1995, before NotLD card collecting really took off or many cons took place, making these two cards very special to fans.
Complete, 79-card master sets of green border, 71 red border, alternative border silver foil cards and eight On Location Imagine cards, with all potential cast/crew signatures can sell for hundreds today. Not bad for a a little movie out of Pittsburgh!
I bought my Keith Wayne and other rare autograph cards from Michelucci years ago but continued to fill out my sets with impossible-to-find Imagine cards until very recently. Uncut sheets, unopened packs and original test wrappers are also popular among collectors.
If the Imagine cards are the bedrock to any NotLD card collection, Jim Cironella’s Living Dead Festival cards are the pièce de résistance. While even entry level NotLD fans have at least a few Imagine cards, only die-hard fans are packing Living Dead Festival cards.
These cares were printed in limited quantities in 2009 and 2013 and consist of just two and three base cards (respectively.) But they were only distributed at the Living Dead Festival shows of those years, not sold by retailers anywhere. The other catch is that the cards were created to be autographed by cast/crew who appeared at these shows. So collecting all 36 or 63 (respectively) variations of card and autograph is an ambitious goal indeed, and often strictly the domain of friends of Image Ten (the production company behind Night of the Living Dead.)
Because most signatures on LDF cards are by extras and crew, they appeal to collectors who’ve already collected all the more common principal cast signatures. It’s extremely rare to see a complete set on the market and its unclear just how many actually exist. I own a complete set of 2009’s (all possible signatures on both card styles) and a third of a complete set of 2013’s (all possible signatures on one style card as well as some of the other two cards). Lighting designer Joe Unitas, was still passing out 2013’s as of the last Living Dead Weekend show in 2018.
Speaking of Joe Unitas, a little sidetrack, if I may. Joe is related to the famous Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas. And Joe played some ball himself. He actually appears in jersey #73 on the 1958 Baltimore Colts team photo Topps trading card!
But back to the NotLD card sets…
In 2012, Steve Kirkham of Unstoppable designed what is probably the most definitive NotLD trading card set. The 36 base cards are easy and cheap to come by but some of the six promo and nine autograph cards are quite difficult to locate. The rarest are the Tom Breygent variant promo card, the sketch promo card, Judith O’Dea single autograph card and the Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman cut autograph cards. Unstoppable sketch cards are of course one of one and many great artists participated. I’m always looking for more Ashleigh Poppelwell and Elfie Lebouleux. Artist, Ted Dastick mixed dirt from the Evans City Cemetary where NotLD was shot, into the pigments for his sketch cards!
Fantasm Media is currently releasing a very rare, very attractive nine card set designed by Brian Steward. The cards can only be found as random inserts with purchase of their commemorative magazine, 50 Years of Night. These Fantasm cards are sure to become a hit among fans because they feature images that haven’t appeared on any other trading cards and require some serious legwork to obtain a complete set.
Full sets aside, Night of the Living Dead and its famous director, George Romero have appeared in numerous other non-sports sets.
A favorite of mine is the mega rare Bill Hinzman autograph card by Necroscope for their Terror Cards series. Hinzman played that first zombie, or “ghoul” we see in the cemetery opening of Night of the Living Dead. Hinzman passed away in 2012 but was a warm and encouraging actor who was a favorite at conventions. I believe that only 50 of these cards were printed and all are hard signed. It’s an attractively designed and desirable card, given Mr. Hinzman’s role in history as cinema’s first contemporary zombie!
Breygent’s Classic Vintage Sci-Fi & Horror Movie Poster Series II of 2010 featured a number of fun NotLD cards including a promo, many nice sketch cards and two autograph cards. What I like about these is that they measure 3.5″x5″ which make the larger sketches and signatures look fantastic!
And, if you would really like to subject yourself to torture and drop some good money, there are the Donruss and Panini 2008, 2009 and 2011 George Romero Americana cards with their numerous parallels. Some of the parallels are numbered a mere one of five and feature foil printing, an autograph and even a swatch of Romero’s clothing.
eThe 2008 Donruss Americana II is #248, and I have five of the seven parallels, including the autographed card, silver proof (one of 25) and silver proof foil (one of 25.) In 2009, Panini took over the Americana line with Romero as card #52. I have eight of twelve of these parallels and am looking very hard for a signature-only card. I have the relic-only card and relic plus signature card. For 2011, Panini released both a “regular” George Romero Americana, #57 and same lineup of parallels from 2009, but also a special Americana Celebrity Cuts autograph card. This card is pretty desirable because it is in horizontal orientation and built around a hard autograph of just 75 copies, whereas the rest of the Americanas are sticker autographs with up to 99 copies.
You might have noticed, perhaps more so than most classic film trading cards, that NotLD trading cards seem to go hand-in-hand with autographs. This, to me, is an important reason I’ve enjoyed collecting NotLD cards. As I’ve counted, there have been no less than 28 different cast/crew members to sign trading cards. In most cases, if they didn’t sign a card, they didn’t sign anything for the public at all. So regardless of if your focus is on trading cards, autographs, or horror collectibles, Night of the Living Dead trading cards bring a lot to the table for everyone.
Thanks so much for reading! Happy collecting and as George Romero said “STAY SCARED!”