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In the Cards : 'Rodney King' Trading Cards Raise Questions--and a Few Eyebrows

April 11, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a nation with an appetite for bite-size information, an abundance of marketing acumen and a propensity for collecting the oddest things, surely there is room for "The Rodney King Beating" trading cards.

At least, that's the rationale of Eclipse Enterprises, a Northern California trading-card company. Eclipse has included four bonus cards related to the King case in its 110-card True Crime II series, a sequel to the first True Crime cards featuring serial killers, gangsters, G-men, desperadoes and law enforcement notables.

The cards each feature full-color drawings and 270-word texts. They depict the 1991 King beating, the Los Angeles police officers charged in the case, the Simi Valley trial and the riots that erupted last spring when not guilty verdicts were delivered in that trial.

The information on the back of the cards was culled from newspaper and magazine accounts on each subject, said Catherine Yronwode, editor of Eclipse Enterprises. "We try not to editorialize too much," she said.

Yronwode said the cards are a revived genre of current-event trading cards that were first published more than a century ago.

In 1988, Eclipse published cards on the Iran-Contra scandal and later on the savings & loan debacle. The True Crime series premiered in 1992 with cards featuring the likes of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, gangster John Dillinger, serial killer Ted Bundy, the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and heroic law enforcement agent Elliot Ness and his squad of Untouchables.

True Crime II offers new G-men, gangsters, mass murderers, serial killers, strange crime stories--and the four King beating bonus cards or "chaser cards," so-called because collectors chase after them, Yronwode said.

Fewer than 10,000 bonus cards were printed, compared with about 750,000 of the other cards. There are 12 cards in a pack and two or three bonus cards in a box of 36 packs--that is, two or three King cards for every 432 True Crime II cards, Yronwode said. The suggested retail price of a pack is 99 cents.

Eclipse has no immediate plans to print more King bonus cards, but Yronwode said a follow-up on the federal civil rights trial of the LAPD officers and its aftermath is a possibility.

Sandy Ferranto, owner of Comic Book Country in Downey, said he has sold all his True Crime II cards and is waiting for a new shipment. Although he's heard some criticism from customers about the King cards, Ferranto said others see nothing wrong with the idea. "Everything on the cards has already been published in the newspapers," he said.

Bill Liebowitz, owner of Golden Apple Comics on Melrose Avenue, said the cards are "reasonably well-researched factual accounts without lurid pictures."

After looking at two of the bonus cards, Levi Kingston, a community activist and head of a child-care center near USC, said he thought the impetus behind the cards had more to do with profit than education.

"There's nothing wrong with that, but there's not enough being said (in the cards) about the political issues," such as police brutality, that have been spotlighted by the King case, Kingston said.

But Yronwode said the King case cards are intended to raise serious questions.

"What is the real crime here?" Yronwode asked. "Is the crime cops hitting Rodney King or the acquittal of the cops? Or is the crime the riot? People were killed. Certainly that's a crime."

Eclipse plans to continue dealing with controversial topics, Yronwode said. Next up: AIDS awareness trading cards.

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