Obscure objects of dezire

Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

“Odder Rods”
Donruss trading card stickers, 1970
Illustration: Bob “B. K.” Taylor

JMR Design: excavated from the archives

By the time the Nutty-Mads/Stanley Mouse/Big Daddy Ed Roth-influenced Odd Rods came along, B. K. Taylor was already a veteran cover artist for the 1960s and 1970s MAD magazine-rival SICK, had been a member of Jim Henson’s workshop as a puppeteer and character designer (“Sam the Robot” on Sesame Street; “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem” on The Muppet Show) and would later contribute to the “funny pages” at National Lampoon—first appearing in the 1975 special edition “National Lampoon’s Very Large Book of Comical Funnies” with the comic strip “The Appletons,” a family feature which supposedly ran in the 1950s (spoofing the predictable character of such traditional comic strips as The Family Circle, Gasoline Alley, or Blondie—if not a lampoon of form but more of content and repetition). Taylor’s work and style was out of the school of Wally Wood-and-Bill Elder, the two pioneering MAD artists whose hallmark in humor was combining deadpan delivery with slapstick humor and obvious sight gags and titillation humor (and Taylor’s art style was very much reminiscent of Elder’s, with more than a passing nod to another MAD great, Jack Davis). Hilarious and subversive, “The Appletons” was joined in Lampoon’s Funny Pages by “Timberland Tales” (a Mark Trail-meets-Dudley Do-Right style farce). Taylor has gone on to work for all the big corporations who trade in humorous entertainment, including Walt Disney, Nickleodeon, and has even been a contributor to MAD magazine itself (not to mention a stint as a staff writer on ABC’s Home Improvement).

Regardless, he is legend to a legion of school children (like me!) from 1969 through their sequels in 1970 and 1973 for his paintings for the “Odd Rods” trading card stickers for the Donruss Company. The popularity of classic horror monsters had peaked somewhat in the late-1950s through the middle-1960s (think Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and every local television market having a late-night weekend “horror host” introducing reruns of old monster movies, and the Addams Family and The Munsters on the networks) yet the youth culture was still in ascendency, and surely riffs on the popular idiom could still be mined. Monsters and hot rods had been in the “Kustom” subculture (hot rodders) since the ’50s, so why not bring that back to the kid market with trading cards (hey, it worked for Nutty Mads in the mid-’60s)? Better yet, trading card STICKERS! I can’t begin to tell you how brilliant an idea that was (me and my friends ate it up). For a time in the early-’70s among nine and 10 year-olds, your cool factor could be gauged by how many Odd Rod stickers you had on your pee-chee folder—abetted by STP stickers and decals you could get for free from the local gas station (!).

A little modern reality postscript: Donruss went out of business after the 1990s baseball card boom went bust and their properties went into receivership and an investment firm named DZ Hart bought up the rights (for future exploitation). Taylor says the exclusive intellectual property rights are his—he did draw them all 40 years ago and creator rights would seem to apply (and unless Donruss had signed him to a work-for-hire deal, this would seem to be true) but of course the investment company is disputing this and our beloved Odd Rods have been in court since 2010. Stinkin’ corporate intellectual property grab (there’s mud in yer eye).

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