It’s pretty easy to hate on Pogs. Pogs a pretty much slabs of hot cardboard garbage that were a colossal waste of natural resources. Every pog was either beaten to death while they were being played with, or just forgotten in the back of your closet in a shoebox. You don’t frame a pog. You don’t really treasure a pog. And while pogs, as a whole, have their place in the whole cosmic-cultural scheme of things, and represent a pretty visceral snapshot of a very specific time, not all pogs are created equal. Here are the first 20 (of 40) of the most hideous, misbegotten pogs of all time, in no particular order.
1. Fork Ball
After the yin yang, the 8-ball, and for some reason, David Letterman, sports were a pretty popular topic for pogs, whether it was regular photos of sports stars (Michael Jordan had his own set), or just general cartoon sports wackiness. This Cronenbergian body horror somehow found a position on a baseball team doing one thing, and one thing only: throwing forkballs with his terrible, shameful hand. While pogs tend to make up a lot of straight-up nonsense, a ‘forkball’ is a real thing in baseball; why this terrible drawing of a Coney Island contortionist is throwing one is anyone’s guess. It’s the worst sports-based pog in a collection of thousands, and that includes quite a few mid-’90s extreme sports d-bags; the manufacturer was too ashamed to even give it their imprint, and I don’t blame them.
2. Abstract Chicken?
It’s hard to tell if this abstract doodle is just abjectly terrible, or a meta commentary on the laziness of most pog designs, but I’m willing to bet it was the former. There’s kind of a discernible eye bobbing around in the middle of this unpalatable trash soup, and the whole ‘design’ was given a quick MS Paint cutout before it was dropped on a pretty typical ’90s techno-psychedelic background. Odds are that someone just had to come up with something very quick to print before the fleeting spark of pogs died; scanning in their sweat-soaked nightmare journal probably wasn’t the best idea, though.
Sheep were kind of inexplicably popular during a few months in the ’90s, quite possibly due to Dolly, the world-famous cloned sheep, being born in 1996. Shari Lewis and Lambchop were still on TV, and sheep were having the time of their lives. As a strangely-colored sheep pog, this thing almost works as a perfect example of exceptionally poor design choices one might make in an 8th grade design class… but one extra terrible thing about ’90s pop aesthetics was to slam stupid sayings and sassy phrases onto just about everything. Are we being asked a question? One can’t help but feel that the sheep is just placating us by behaving exactly as we expect it to, sarcastically. And if there are two other things that the ’90s were, it was overly sarcastic, and disdainful of conformity. Just give it a rest.
Computers are hard, but they were never harder than they were in the 90s. Except maybe in every era before that. But in the ’90s, we had some of the first really accessible, kinda-powerful graphics programs available to us in our home computers, and at that time, one of mankind’s greatest inventions was the Flood Fill. One click, and like God himself cleansing the Earth with oceans of vengeance, you’d fill every pixel within a drawn boundary with your chosen color. But if a single pixel of than boundary is broken, your Flood Fill would cover everything in sight; color would flow everywhere and nothing but the undo button could save you. Use that tool with reckless abandon and absolutely no patience, and you get Bobcat, a terrified mess of yellow-green flesh and fur missing half of his head. Why go back and fix it? We had to get these pogs to the presses while bobcat stock was still high!
5. Bone Head
Because ‘Scrotum Head’ probably wouldn’t have met the approval of the imaginary Pog Council that could have stopped stuff like this from happening, we got Bone Head. Apparently drawn in ballpoint pen by someone bored in biology class who’s still somehow never seen an actual bone, it’s pretty hard to get more amateur than this blue-toothed doofus. Charming, in a weird outsider art kinda way? Sure. Not even an effort to mangle the background with a terrible computerized effect? That’s truly a bonehead move. May this abomination’s empty, green eyes keep you awake at night, pog maker. And everyone knows that bones don’t have noses.
6. Brok’n Hearted
Maybe Bone Head was the most amateurish pog in the lot, but Brok’n Hearted is a pretty close runner-up. There’s no real explanation for the violently apostrophe’d title, nor a reason for the lobes of this paper heart to be torn asunder, but this does show a softer side of the pog. Poison, skulls and Bad Boy Club usually dominated the whole pog scene, but pogs like this were presumably geared towards girls, since the ’90s weren’t quite as enlightened about gender roles as we are today. And what did marketing think that real ’90s girls liked? Boy bands, traumatized teddy bears, and broken hearts. Hold on, my Dream Phone is ringing, and this pog is terrible. Everyone knows that we played pogs to get away from our awkward 5th grade romantic disasters.
7. Oh Shit, Internet
Was this pog trying to warn us of the weird and wonderful dangers lurking on the Internet in 1996? Did this guy accidentally find his mom in the AOL Married But Looking chat room, or did his 56k modem finally load enough pixels to show a real lady nipple on that JPEG he’s been downloading all day? Is this the exact moment that someone saw the Dancing Baby for the first time? It’s difficult to tell if this pog carries a pro- or anti-Internet message, but we can be absolutely sure that it’s probably wrong either way, and this guy died of a heart attack about 20 years ago at the tender age of 17.
8. Mystery Carousel
This is why you always proof your prints. It’s difficult to tell what this animal was supposed to be, but there’s enough archaeological evidence left behind to make some safe assumptions. It has a saddle, so it was meant to be ridden. It also has a standard carousel pole, which confirms that suspicion. It has the tail of an elephant, or maybe a rhino. And it has one floating eye in a mess of partially invisible viscera. Like so many pogs, this feels like a mad rush to the manufacturer to meet the insatiable demand for pogs. Who cares if the drawings aren’t even done? America thirsts for pogs, and kids are idiots. Print it!
9. Ayeee Matie! & Crazed
It’s impossible to single out one of these without leveling equal hatred at the other, since they were birthed from the same wretched, neon-soaked womb. One is a pirate skull, which itself is not a terrible idea, until you forget what a skull looks like and draw it anyhow. The other is some kind of huge-headed vampire, judging by his pair of pointed teeth, but the text also assures is that this guy is not once, but twice crazed. He’s so crazed that one of the ‘crazed’s is backwards, which is how you know someone is absolutely gone, like in The Shining. Was this the pogmaker’s Kubrick/redrum moment? No, definitely not. This is a day-glo orange abortion that not even a nosferatu would drink from.
10. Cute Dragon aka Puff
One of the constants of the universe is that cute pogs are terrible. Glittery teddy bears and dolls and big-eyed animals have no place in a game where you slam things with heavy, metal objects. While this specific set had a pretty diverse range of oversaturated marker drawings, only a few were cutesy. Some were a bit racist, and the rest reflect some sense of awkward style. But this flop-cheeked, impotent dragon is the worst of the bunch. His voice probably sounds like Woody Allen.
11. Dreamin (of Murder)
Psychedelic background? Check! Really stupid phrase? Also check! Lazy drawing that kinda looks like a copyrighted lasagna-loving cat? Yes also. The dynamic between cat and mouse has played out for centuries, immortalized in decades of cartoons, but what is this really about? A cat with no remorse is fantasizing about a bird, and it’s not because they’re in love. It’s because he wants to taste blood.
Take the flippant, dismissive phrases that afflict most pogs and amplify that to their final form, and you get Duhh?, maybe the worst pog of the batch. It’s difficult to devolve much further than this; poorly applied gradients, an overly dark drop shadow, a sloppy typeface, no real design elements, and a terrible attitude. Is this the absolute pinnacle of the soul of the pog? Maybe that makes it the best pog ever. Maybe this is the last thing you see before you die.
13. Dark Alley Man
There are a few pogs in this set that are just disgusting looking faces with terrible cross-hatching but this doorway-lurker is the most scarring. While we can never be sure if prisoners in the ’90s were commissioned to draw art for pogs, this is exactly what they would have looked like. This is Diablo Solo; he keeps to himself and has a devil of a time trying to use the bathroom in front of anyone. He’s up the river for 10-15 for grand theft bozo: holding a clown for ransom.
14. Beaver and Buffcoat
While we’re on the subject of some of the worst portraits ever drawn, we have these two miscreants. It’s hard to even find an angle on discussing how terrible these are, but it’s emotionally draining to think that someone probably got paid to make these, and then someone else spent money on them during the height of pog popularity, and then probably got very, very sad and wished they invested that fifty cents for their future. Pogs were dead, hope was dead, and this is what killed them both. [See also: Rad Dudes trading cards.]
15. Egg Balls
Inexplicably, 8-balls were one of the top five most prevalent themes in pogs, and they had more variations than you could possibly imagine. They’d show up as straight-up pool balls, or skulls, or in sawblades, or as eyeballs, or exploding, dripping, color-saturated avatars of universal consciousness. And once, they showed up as ‘egg balls’. Sure, we could have understood the theme here just by the picture alone; 8-balls appearing in unusual situations was not unprecedented. And yet, this pog feels that it has to explain it to us. These are 8-balls, but they’re also eggs. Thank you, Professor Pog, for your infinite wisdom. Your tenure is a joke.
16. Excuse Me!, the Farting Bear
’90s sass is present here in full force. Either that, or this is some kind of obscure Russian cartoon character. Why a poorly-executed bear, and why during a moment of biological distress? Because capturing the most humiliating moments of animals is a tradition as old as America’s Funniest Home Videos, which was also still a thing in the ’90s. This is just another example of the raging id of the era, and the complete lack of filter that was placed between the ‘artist’ and the final pog. They were cheap to produce; why not just produce every single terrible idea that you came up with? Excuse you.
What do the year 1994, a pixelated kinda-fractal, and the word ‘feeble’ have in common? Aside from appearing on this terrible pog, nothing. It’s unclear if this pog is commenting on the pog player’s skills (since you have to flip pogs to win, this trash-talking message would remain if you lost), or maybe this pog just knows how terrible it is and it’s acknowledging its own feeble attempt at design before you can comment on it. Too late, pog. I’ve got your number. You are terrible.
18. Frankie Baby! (aka 8P1)
Deciding on whether or not I love this pog is probably one of the more emotionally taxing experiences I’ve ever had. On one hand, its holo-foil gimmick is on point, it’s a halloween-orange depiction of a beloved monster-man, and its typography, edged in foil blue, is pretty great. But despite its shades of Art Clokey’s Gumby, this drawing is just awful. Is his giant head supposed to read ‘198’, but the drawing got flipped? Why the white nose? Why anything? All of the disparate elements in this never come together, making it a true Frankenstein’s Monster of a pog, in every way.
19. Disgusting Shiny Garbage Cat
The second ‘cute cat’ in this collection of reasons to hate pogs, it’s hard to tell if this doe-eyed vagabond is gigantic, or just foraging in a very small trash can. Either way, the plight of stray animals is nothing to laugh about, revealing the heartlessness of this pog artist. The disco ball glitter effect has no actual purpose, other than to emphasize the divide between the poor and wealthy. Just kidding, this just sucks.
20. Genius of Love – Any Questions?
We round out the first part of this list with one of the weirdest pogs ever made. It’s hard to tell if this is a reference to the song by Tom Tom Club, but yes, we’re left with a lot of questions. Why is this man with a Qing Dynasty ponytail a genius of love? Who thought this was a good idea? What was the fevered, midnight train of thought that derailed and brought us to this conclusion? All we know is what he’s gonna do when he gets out of jail: he’s gonna have some fun, natural fun.
Pogs can be awful, but are these the worst? Continue on for the next 20.
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.