There are relics from the early-90s that perfectly preserve the neon-bright, carefree, kinda-stupid culture of the time… and then there’s Rad Dudes trading cards from Pacific, a strangely tone-deaf nightmare that shows off youth culture of the 1990s as only a middle-aged marketing executive could imagine it. Skate culture wasn’t new in 1990, and idiots have been around since the dawn of humanity, but Pacific chose to bring the two together in the most useless way imaginable. Which, in its own way, is probably a better representation of the year 1990 than anything on any of these hideous cards. Yes, 1990 – so much of you was glorious garbage, and we love you for it.
Rad Dudes are a lazy riff on 1985’s Garbage Pail Kids, which were themselves a gross-out combo of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and whatever vile concepts Topps could come up with. Using the same rhythmic naming patterns and pop culture fixations, Rad Dudes gives us totally gnarly characters like Cannonball Cory and Awesome Volleyball Val. The fact that these make us long for Garbage Pail Kids’ excessively hirsute Armpit Britt is a powerful and sad statement.
The set is composed of 110 cards. Half of the cards have a large puzzle on the back, and half have absolutely terrible conversations between the cards’ characters. Since there are only 55 characters, the front images are repeated, so unless you have two copies of Boom Box Bryan with different reverses, your life will not be complete, and you will not be rad. Sorry, Crammin’ Clint.
In essence, they’re perfectly ’90s. They’re printed in neon colors, and there isn’t a single character with normal human anatomy. In a charming way, they’re not unlike idle notebook doodles, but in a far less charming way, no one should really be expected to pay for someone’s angsty, bored scrawls, printed in neon or not. You can tell that they’re trying to capture the same spirit as, say, the cover of Thrilla’s Surfari, or the art of Jim Phillips, but it never really goes beyond a distorted marker sketch.
If there’s a single standout card, it’s Alien Exchange Student Al, which is so wonderfully weird that it kind of validates how amazing this weirdo set of cards COULD have been. A 1990s skater high school full of monsters and aliens? I’m there.
A close second? Bored Brandon, whose only dream is to make it out to California to see the beach and babes, staring at the viewer with huge, soulful eyes, begging to escape from this horrible set of trading cards. One can only imagine the flat, dry, middle American hell that Brandon had to endure every day, and the teasing he got for wearing an entirely hot pink ensemble to class. Brandon is a 1990s fish-out-of-water high school movie waiting to happen. Everyone else is just kinda straight up assholes.
But it’s the imagined conversations where things truly fall apart. At no point in history were video games ever shortened to ‘video’. So, a sentence like, “Hey dude, you’re totally awesome at video,” or calling a Game Boy a “mini video” is a pretty weird and incorrect twist of 1990s terminology. It’s the equivalent of calling all video games “Nintendos” or ever uttering the word “Pokeymans.” It just shows that you’re old and you should stick to what you know. It’s not as through the copy editor was on duty; the cards regularly use the traditional Irish “o’contrair” instead of the more acceptable, French “au contraire”. Basically, the whole thing is a verbal nightmare from which there is no escape.
Even though these monstrosities were published in 1990, they’re more of the ’90s than about the ’90s; they’re garbage, but they’re the exact kind of bright, colorful, barely-edgy garbage that the 1990s produced. Which, to be honest, is pretty rad. I’d have been extremely disappointed as a 10-year old to have spent fifty cents on a pack of these, but landing an entire box of wax packs for five bucks as an adult is well worth the cost. There’s a nostalgia value in seeing something that absolutely misses the mark, and remembering things that actually have hit the mark.
We can only hope that most of these horrible, sex-obsessed, ever-so-stupid humans have died in terrible and extreme sporting accidents by now. Except for Totally Tubular Tiffany; she’s probably had a dozen stupid kids and had her totally tubulars tied.
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.