When it comes to 1990s-era ladycards, there are few that put in less effort than Imagine Inc.’s Fantasy Girls, a haphazard, blurry set of mis-numbered cards that’s more embarrassing than exciting. But therein lies their weird charm.
Back in 1993, Imagine, Inc. was better know for their horror-themed publications: things like Scream Queens Illustrated magazine (which you can read for free today), monster movie collectors’ guides, and Dark Shadows trading cards. They also dabbled in wrestling legends cards, and a set of cards dedicated specifically to de-throned beauty queen Rhonda Shear. It’s a mixed bag of pop culture and almost-porn that started pushing through boundaries no one knew they had in the ’90s, before the days of the full-penetration centerfold, and we’ve never looked back.
This isn’t a set of women with giant ’90s hair meant to titillate; it’s a gallery of broken dreams.
Fantasy Girls, like most sets of ladies-in-lingerie cards, is populated by semi-anonymous models using names that may or may not be real, but even more interesting is the skeleton crew of people involved in making this card set.
The owner of Imagine Inc. was Bob Michelucci, or as some know him, ‘Scope Zombie’ from Night of the Living Dead, or the producer of Scream Queens Swimsuit Sensations. Today, he fills his Facebook page with Looney Tunes memes. Lesser known is the fact that he’s an incredibly talented artist, having painted some beautiful paintings of classic Universal monsters.
Most, if not all, of the models in Imagine Inc.’s Fantasy Girls set were photographed at Michael Ray studios, which still operates in Pittsburgh, all these years later, but chooses not to mention this dalliance on their website, possibly because all of the actual photography was done by Bill Suttle. Whoever Mr. Suttle is or was has been lost to time, unless he happened to become an adjunct professor of photography at SUNY Purchase, some hours away in New York. As the set’s makeup artist, Jeanie Brown, also seems to appear on some of these trading cards, promoting her newly opened MakePeace Productions, which there’s no sign of today.
Fantasy Girls was a local deal all around, calling in models exclusively represented by Pittsburgh agencies, so curiously, this isn’t really a card set about envisioning your finest fantasies. It’s a set about envisioning your finest fantasies… as long as they happen to be in the general area of Pittsburgh. And let’s face it, if your fantasies involve Pittsburgh, you’re probably not shooting very high. Or clean. Or smart.
Not coincidentally, Fantasy Girls uses a handful of the same models as Scream Queens Illustrated, who are actually given full names in their magazine appearances. In many cases, Fantasy Girls is just the tame outtakes from larger photoshoots, before the clothes actually came off and/or the zombies came out to chomp down on naked ladyparts.
But is this also a set full of terrible lies? Crissy claims to have won the title of Miss Hawaiian Tropic, but no one named Crissy has ever won the title, let alone by 1993. Does she even like skiing? Sandy claims to have had many movie roles, but what can we even believe anymore? The real identities of these women have been completely lost to time, but if you’re really into ladies from 1993 whose careers probably never involved any serious modeling again, you can hunt down autographed cards that were randomly inserted into these sets… or could be purchased for a grand total of about $33 in 1993 money. That’s about $57 in 2017 money; an investment that isn’t even worth $20 today. It’s pretty clear that the costumed fantasy girls craze of the 90s died very, very hard.
And making a complete set is something of a mystery, since the cards double up on some numbers, and skip others altogether. While counting has never been a strong suit of sexy lady cards, maybe if you’re looking at the numbers, you’re doing it wrong. Back before the information age, these were the things you hid between the pages of Lord of the Rings, much easier to hide than anything under a mattress or behind a bookcase. Hiding nudey trading cards in literature was the original anonymous browsing. Today? These are artifacts of a more innocent time, when we could get some girl named Nicole’s chest size on the back of a trading card, and it was cool if Crissy totally faked her un-Google-able ‘Miss Hawaiian Tropic’ title. We’re on to you, Crissy. We’ll get the truth.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.