25 April 2001

CVG 101: Please Don't Chew the Gum! (originally for Classic gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introduction. This article was originally published in CGM #6 (spring 2001). This is the article as I submitted it and may not exactly match what was published. Some information is incomplete, so please see the postscript at the end.]

If you're a child of the '80s, you probably bought at least a pack or two of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, or some other kind of video game stickers.  Remember those?  They came in wax packs with a piece of pink cardboard masquerading as chewing gum, just like baseball cards.  While there were later ones based on characters like Super Mario Bros., for the sake of this article, we'll limit discussion to video games "Golden Age."  (That is, the early 1980s.)

Although there were two different companies making video game related stickers during this time, Fleer and Topps, there are many similarities in the way they were sold.  All of them came 36 packs to a box.  (Super Pac-Man was also available in boxes of 48 packs.)  Each pack (except maybe Dragon’s Lair) contained three sticker cards, three rub-off game cards, and the previously mentioned stick of “chewing gum.”  The packs sold for 25 to 30 cents each.

Fleer started the whole thing by releasing Pac-Man stickers in 1980.  Back then, Pac-Man was on everything from mugs to shoes to bed sheets, so it’s only natural the trading card industry would try to get in on the action.  There were 54 stickers in the set.  The front of the stickers generally had black, yellow, or white backgrounds and featured either one or two Pac-Man characters with word balloons or one or two rectangular stickers with sayings on them.  The text on several stickers was taken from the lyrics of “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner and Garcia.  (“Slide out the side door”/”I’m cookin’ now.”)  Others were just plain silly.  (“Happiness is a hungry Pac-Man.”)  This may also have been where the words “Waka!  Waka!” were immortalized, as they appeared on several stickers.

The backs of the stickers were rather plain.  They had the Fleer logo and said “Pac-Man Sticker No. X of 54.”  They also contained suggestions for holding contests using the rub-off games.  The interesting thing about the backs is that there were a few variations.  In my experience, most have blue ink on the back, but you can also find some that are black.  In the upper right corner is either the traditional circle-with-a-wedge-missing Pac-Man or the legged Pac-Man from the side art of the coin-op.

There were also two different styles of front:  those that had eyes and those that didn't.  That is, you could find the same sticker, but one would have eyes on the Pac-Man and another wouldn't.  The Pac-Men with eyes also had blue and red highlights around the edges.  My observations show that the cards with the circular Pac-Man on the back have a no-eyed Pac-Man on the front, while the side art Pac-Man on the back has a Pac-Man with eyes on the front.  (If you have examples that break this pattern, please let me know.) [There are, in fact, more than two variations. See the postscript below.]

As for the rub-off games, they were a simplified version of the Pac-Man maze covered in gold circles.  You “moved” through the maze by scratching off the gold circles that filled it, revealing either a dot; blue monster; red, orange, or pink monster; or a cherry.  The object of the game was to get through as much of the maze as you could before revealing three non-blue monsters, at which point your game was over.  All the other items were worth points, which determined how well you did.  There were 28 different rub-off games, so once you had an example of each, you were set to cheat your way through the rest of your rub-off games.

Apparently Pac-Man stickers were a success for Fleer, because in 1981 they released a set of Ms. Pac-Man stickers.  Again, they generally featured one or two characters with word balloons or a rectangular sticker with a saying.  Looking at them now, from an adult perspective, there was a strong undercurrent of sexual innuendo.  (“Ms. Pac-Man does it faster.”  Pac-Man saying, “I need it bad.”)  Most stickers had a blue or pink background.  The backs of the cards simply stated “Ms. Pac-Man Sticker No. Y of 54” in pink ink.  The Ms. Pac-Man stickers did not suffer from the variations that the Pac-Man stickers did.  On the fronts, both Pac-People always had eyes.  Pac-Man had the red and blue highlights around the edges while Ms. Pac-Man did not.

Since the Ms. Pac-Man arcade game had four different mazes, there were four different mazes for the rub-off games.  In addition to the cherry, the Ms. Pac-Man games also had pretzels and bananas.  The basic premise remained the same.  The backs of the games came printed in either blue or black ink.  I have never seen a count of the unique game cards for any sticker series other than Pac-Man, so I do not know how many different Ms. Pac-Man games there were.  The same goes for all of the sets described below.

Fleer’s last set of Pac-Man stickers was Super Pac-Man in 1982.  It was more of the same on the front.  Once again, the Pac-People all had eyes.  The backgrounds were red, blue, purple or divided into three stripes of purple, white, and pink.  The backs this time all promoted a Pac-Man poster contest.  They featured either a child wearing a Pac-Man hat, a girl wearing a Pac-Man shirt, or a boy holding a Coleco Pac-Man tabletop game.  I’m uncertain if you could find the same sticker with different backs.  It was pointed out to me by Geoff Voigt at Classic Gaming Expo 2000 that if you turn all the fronts to face the same way, some of the backs will be upside down!  Because the stickers don’t tell you how many there were in the series, I’m not sure, but there were at least 40.  From the previous two sets, I’d say 54 would be a good guess.  The rub-off games this time were all the same maze, but there were gates in the maze that you were not permitted to go through unless you revealed a key nearby.  There was also a large gold oval in part of the maze that might direct you to the scratch-off “super speed button” at the bottom of the card for bonus points.

Nineteen eighty-two was also the year Topps got their chance to cash in on the video game phenomenon.  They acquired the license to produce Donkey Kong stickers.  There was no set layout for the front of the stickers, which featured various corny sayings.  (“Jump Man at work.”  “I’m ape over Donkey Kong.”)  The backs of each sticker featured a piece of one of two pictures.  It took 15 stickers to make a complete picture.  There was a 16th sticker for each puzzle that showed what it should look like when completed, so there was a total of 32 cards.

There are four different styles of rub-off games, one for each board of the arcade game.  The object is to get to the girl at the top without revealing a combination of three fireballs and barrels.  That’s right, there are both fireballs and barrels on every card, even though barrels only appeared on the first screen of the coin-op.

One thing about the Donkey Kong stickers people don't know is that a slightly different version of them were included in specially marked packages of Donkey Kong cereal.  The fronts are identical to those found in the packs.  The puzzle pieces on the back, however, are oriented vertically instead of horizontally, and it takes less of them to make a complete picture.  The two pictures were the same, however.  Each picture was made of only nine stickers, plus a tenth one showing the completed picture.  Thus, a complete set of these would be 20 stickers.  Good luck finding them, though.

The next year, in 1983, Topps released their Video City stickers.  Instead of featuring a single, highly popular video game, this series of stickers featured four moderately successful ones:  Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger, Turbo, and Zaxxon.  A complete set consists of 28 stickers:  seven for each game.  However, describing the seven is a bit complicated, so bear with me.  There were four stickers that had a portion of a larger picture on the back, similar to the Donkey Kong stickers.  Then there was a fifth sticker showing the completed puzzle on the back.  The catch is that front of this fifth sticker was identical to one of the first four.  For most of the games, it’s the same as the one with the lower left puzzle piece on it, but for Frogger, it’s identical to the upper right piece.  The sixth sticker front is the same graphic as the complete puzzle and has playing tips for its arcade game on the back.  Then, there’s a seventh sticker for each game that is also the same as the puzzle, but has a special subscription offer for Electronic Games magazine on the back.  The rub-off games are much simpler to keep track of.  There’s only one board design per game.  In the case of Donkey Kong Jr., which had multiple screens, Topps used only the first screen.

Finally, Fleer got back into the act one final time with Dragon’s Lair stickers in 1984.  I have to admit, I never even knew these existed until a few years ago.  Most of the stickers featured art from the game, some with an extremely corny word balloon (“Please don’t squeeze the Dirk.”) and some with a just label naming the featured character.  Some didn't feature any art from the game at all, just a saying.  The backs of the stickers featured playing tips for the game.  Some game tips were repeated on multiple stickers.  According to the front of the stickers, there were 63 in a set.

I’m not sure anyone knows how many Dragon’s Lair rub-off games there are.  They featured art from the game as their backgrounds.  The problem is there are at least two dozen different backgrounds used.  Unlike all the other rub-off games mentioned here, instead of circles, they have solid paths that branch.  A nice change of pace after all those circles.

Now that you know what’s out there, you might wonder where to find these stickers.  First, there are the usual sources:  other collectors and eBay.  You might also try comic book and trading card stores.  Geoff Voigt let me in on an online merchant that he doesn't mind sharing named Marchant Non-Sports Cards (www.marchantcards.com or www.nscards.com).  Their prices for Donkey Kong and Video City are very reasonable.  The prices on the rest might give you pause.  Just remember, no matter where you manage to find your stickers, please don’t chew the gum!


If collecting stickers isn't up your alley, but you’d like to give them a glimpse or know what they say, try these web sites:

Donkey Kong

  • http://www.ohio.voyager.net/~ngsippel/cv/donkeykong.txt

Dragon’s Lair

  • http://www.tomheroes.com/Video%20Games%20FS/Arcade/dragon's_lair_cards.htm
  • http://www.dragons-lair-project.com/community/merch/ [Try this instead.]
  • http://bioinfo.mshri.on.ca/people/feldman/vgmuseum/cards/dlruboff.html


Author note: Many thanks to Geoff Voigt for his help in researching this article. You can also thank (or blame) him for letting us use his title.

Postscript (12 June 2013)

As I mentioned in the previous Classic Gamer Magazine entry, this article was written quickly to replace one that was rejected. (You can read about the reasons in that entry.)

Some of the information above, while maybe not inaccurate, is incomplete. If you have any interest in stickers for the various Pac-Man games, you must visit The Pac-Star web site by Kevin Jay North! It is the end-all and be-all of information on these stickers. (And Russ Perry, Jr. and I helped provide some bits of information.)