Trading cards of conflicted undead dudes

Until recently, True Blood wasn’t much more to me than “that show based on the books with the terrible covers”.

I’m not sure which seven-year-old Charlaine Harris employs to illustrate her paperback covers, but it seems unlikely that her talent search goes far beyond whatever the local elementary school is showing off at the mall. It’s the kind of art that inspires rage in a working illustrator. Someone was paid for this art, and that person wasn’t me. I don’t know if this is meant to evoke some kind of backwoods N’Orleans art brut thing, by way of Jolene-May’s first computer machine, but it’s terrible.

Now, as I slowly crawl through binge-watching True Blood, it’s become a weirdly addictive soap opera. Everyone sleeps with everything, many scenes predicate not on the supernatural suspension-of-disbelief vortex that is Bon Temps, but who’s up in who that day. It’s not as though it contains that much more supernatural junk than your average soap opera, since soap operas are full of possessions and people returning from the dead and demon babies anyhow. I only know this because I write As the World Turns fanfiction under the pseudonym “Welen Hagner”.

TRUE_BLOOD_TRADING_CARD_BOX_RITTENHOUSETrue Blood is infuriating, treading the fine, pink line that exists moments before pornography, and sending a perplexing mix of positive and negative messages. On one hand, there’s an overarching message about acceptance remarkably similar to (but less graceful than) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original X-Men. On the other hand, there’s a whole lot of reinforcement of the idea that it’s cool to stick with abusive boyfriends because they’re handsome when they’re not threatening to kill you to death. And ultimately,  True Blood is not as smart or weird as Twin Peaks, and takes itself too seriously to have the charm of Buffy, despite the rich and interesting (and convenient) mythology. (Blonde girl town between two vampires? DONE.) But I can’t stop watching it.

But True Blood has a lot of people in it—enough to fill up 48 trading cards, without even including the full cast of were-whatevers and glow-fairies. It’s a damn lot of faces, both human and otherwise, of which to keep track. If any show needs a directory, or some kind of color-coded diagram, this is it. Rittenhouse brings us that partial index in trading card form with their True Blood 2013 Trading Cards, which augment and update their 2012 set, as well as two previously-released mini-sets of “Legends” : character-specific sets of 27 cards each. This 2013 set picks up during Season Five, and includes 24 cards which describe the events of the 12 episodes of the season.

In addition to those 72 cards, collectors can collect differently-numbered duplicates of all of ’em, but done up in shiny foil, as well as a subset of “Romance Cards” featuring couples, “Quotable” cards depicting characters and their semi-notable quotes, and translucent “Gallery” cards for different characters. In addition to these fairly standard collect ’em all cards, each box includes two autograph cards and a relic card. (Unfortunately, a limited number of archive boxes omitted the autograph cards due to a production error, but I still managed to snag a great Relic card : a Bon Temps Football t-shirt which may or may not have been worn by multiple cast members.)

The Rittenhouse formula feels like it’s specifically designed for the obsessive; promo cards, signature cards which can only be obtained by ordering ridiculously large quantities of cards, and card variations for nearly every card in a given set. I appreciate the appeal to their audience of serious collectors, and I even appreciate the relatively higher-priced boxes of cards they sell, because the quality they produce can’t be beat – but part of me wants to see more variety within a set. Drop the shiny foil cards for something which enhances one’s appreciation of the show; out-of-character photos and quotes, a behind-the-scenes commentary, a close-up on show props, or trivia, rather than an extra subset of cards which repeats the other half of the set, which itself repeats what any regular viewer already knows. Ideally, trading cards can be a product which adds to an experience, rather than just catalogs it with screencaps.

If one were to lay out a relationship chart for the many characters in True Blood, this is the perfect fodder – even if that chart is basically a mess of spaghetti. If you add “killed” and “tried to kill” lines in there, you’d have to construct the whole thing in the fifth dimension and collapse a star or two to harness their energy. And maybe kill some of the supernatural-STDs which almost definitely infest Bon Temps. Come to think of it, that’s probably where this intense concentration of supernatural crap is coming from. HPVampires.

[Cards graciously provided by Rittenhouse Archives]

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.