THE UGLY STICKERS
Written by By Jonathan Wojcik
All scans courtesy David Paul of Bubble Gum Cards!
I was acquainted with the Uglies before I ever even knew it, having acquired the wriggly rubber critters you see here from some entirely unknown source at some entirely unknown point in time. Really, they were just sort of there one day, in a ziplock baggie, in a wicker basket, in a cardboard box on a ping pong table in my childhood basement. My parents never remembered owning them before or buying them for me, but I'm glad they were there, as they remain some of the coolest and more valuable toys in my entire collection.
It would take a few years for me to figure out, but what I'd initially taken to be some sort of generic, brandless vending machine toys were actually a short lived toy tie-in with a line of collectible stickers by Topps trading cards, originally printed in 1965 with additional releases and modified sets through 1976. Illustrated by Norman Saunders and Basil Wolverton, each slobbering, putrescent monstrosity was available with one to four name variations, allowing children named Iris, for instance, to be taunted by their peers with sticker #23 here. "Haha, Iris!" they would say, "There's a decomposing cuttlefish whose mother also apparently named it Iris!"...life before all those x-station-game-boxes must have been sweet.
If you've even just recently stumbled upon Bogleech or my artwork, it's probably already apparent that the Uglies combine everything I've ever found appealing about monster anatomy, sometimes all in the same Ugly. If I could bring a single monster to life as my best friend forever, I'd probably pick one of the Uglies. If I had to become a monster in some kind of paranormal mishap I'd probably pick one of the Uglies. Taken as a whole, the Uglies represent my most ideal possible menagerie of beasts and weirdos, the most flawless, sublime collection of creepy-crawlers ever to see print, and it's about damn time I gave them a proper home on Bogleech. Thanks to a hefty image donation by the Bubble Gum Cards website, I can finally not only host a set of Uglies myself, but meticulously review every single one of them. Click the thumbnails below to check out the entire Uglies series! You can also check out the official site of Norman Saunders!
Ugly #1 is one of famed cartoonist Basil Wolverton's designs, and typical of his absurd caricatures. I like this creature's long, dangling nose, which kinda looks like it might be used in conjunction with the feet in a weird, loping locomotion. Each of these basic Uglies came with four possible names, so I'll be referring to them by their numbers.
Ugly #2 gives me a toad-like overall impression despite having nothing necessarily in common with a toad. The third, stalked eye is rather cute, though its "normal" eyes are much less so. Of all Wolverton's Uglies, this one looks the most to me like it belongs in a fantasy adventure game, perhaps as a sidekick to some sort of goblinoid beast.
I usually like to save my personal favorites for the very end of these reviews, but I'm going in order, and my single favorite Ugly is only #3 of the set. It's hard to explain what's so special about this one, really; everything about it just "clicks" for me. I like the fuzzy underbelly, the flattened two-lobed anatomy, the oddly shaped binocular-like eyeballs...it's all just incredibly cool and alien with a simple, compact little bug-blob shape. I must not have been the only one to favor this particular Ugly, since it was also printed as a twelve piece puzzle, a single piece included in every sticker pack!
#4's face is almost entirely gigantic, jutting teeth, and the first of many Wolverton Uglies shown only from the neck up, leaving us to ponder what the rest of these bozos look like! I suppose there doesn't have to be much more to them, though...I like to think at least a couple really are just heads and necks, possibly rooted in place like some sort of horrendous plant life.
#5 gives me an ape-like impression, even though its body terminates in a legless, slug-like stump and its second set of shaggy, knobbly arms are more insect-like than anything else. I also enjoy that gummy-looking flesh stretched between its head and torso.
#6 is one of my favorite Wolvertons, with the almost umbrella-like form of its twisted stalk-head and dangling hair. That seems to be either a nose or an ear dangling opposite the mouth.
#7 has a rather mundane, reptilian body, but that only makes its face seem even weirder by contrast. I like the tubular nostrils where you would normally expect the eyes, giving off a very different personality depending on how you look at him.
#8 Reminds me of various fantasy game creatures that would come decades later, including Final Fantasy's Ultros, Malboros and Earthbound's Master Belch. While the face sort of combines that of a frog with a gorilla, the overall effect makes me think "hippopotamus." I only noticed now how the lower teeth bizarrely continue along one of the tentacles!
#9 has a sort of "Chinese dragon" face going on, but on a scrawny, chicken-legged little gremlin body, the kind of thing that probably scrabbles around jagged rocks in the fiery underworld. I enjoy its panicked expression, like it's more afraid of us than we are of it, but it hopes it can put on a good bluff.
#10, on the other hand, looks a little more confident in its horrendousness. This shaggy beast has all the makings of a perfect childhood closet-monster, with its slavering mouth and many goggling eyeballs. You can tell just by looking that its preferred diet consists of "anything poking out from under a blanket."
With its branching tendrils and shaggy green coat, #11 gives me the most plant-like vibe of any Ugly, though the resemblance is really only superficial. The thin, blue tongue atop the broader, redder tongue is an interesting detail, implying some peculiar sensory function or feeding habit we can only guess at.
Ugly #12 is the most tantalizing of the head shots, since those multiple stalks are unlikely to connect to a humanoid body. Maybe they just keep going. I could definitely see this one walking around on a bunch of octopus-like tentacles. What really completes this one, though, is the slicked little hairstyle.
#13 is a simple cyclops, but the proportions of its eyeball are fairly impressive. You thought his lower eyelid was a nose at first glance, didn't you? Just you try to un-see it, it's impossible.
The vaguely insect-like #14 seems like the most docile Ugly, or maybe we're just catching a ravenous nightmare beast in a rare moment of contentment. Maybe it's in love. What would one of these clowns be in love with? Maybe some sort of disease.
My love of #15 almost matches that of #3, and in fact, this is quite possibly my favorite design ever given to an eyeball-centric monster, which you know is a pretty bold statement on my part. The thick cilia and multiple mouths lining its worm-like arms are a gorgeous combination of features, and I like how hard it is to figure out what it would even look like from any other angle. It has at least one more appendage back there.
Three out of #15's four possible names are female. Hello, ladies!
#16 might have the most coldly alien visage of the original Uglies, just a bulbous, menacing brain-owl-bug-face wobbling atop a creeping reptilian body. This one truly belongs on the cover to some 50's horror comic. My favorite detail is that weird facial cavity with the red "teeth"...perhaps its body can contract up into its head?
#17 is just sort of a dense sphere with many peculiar protruberances; bug hairs, insect legs, multiple tongues (but only one protruding from an actual mouth) and curious, tubular projections housing branched, slimy tendrils, probably some sort of alien sensory organ...or maybe they serve a reproductive function. This thing could be mating right now and we probably couldn't tell.
#18 is a simple "rearranged face" Wolverton design, but a pretty cute one. The wrinkles have an odd, unnatural look to them that I think helps this guy to stand out a bit more. The little line of drool is a nice touch.
#19 is one of those few Wolverton uglies with a full "body," but still bears little more than a head, which is mostly nose. At least a few of the others probably also terminate in only a huge hand or foot.
#20 seems to be patterned after a shoe, with its skull busted open and its brainless, exposed stem apparently wriggling. Cover your shame, #20! There are children present!
While this is only another head with an off-camera body, I can't help interpreting the neck as a stiletto heel. Even I would walk in heels if they were also broken monster heads.
#21 has a simply wonderful face. I love that lopsided, gaping maw and fleshy hoses holding its eyeballs to its tiny cranium. Sticking that atop a shrunken bug-legged body was a marvelous decision.
Charmingly, #22 has what can be either an overbite or even more hilarious underbite whether it rests upon its conflictingly positioned hands or feet.
I think I prefer this angle. There's something a whole lot cuter and more hilarious about this grumpier inversion.
#23 was the first Ugly I recognized as one of my mysterious rubber toys. This one is easily the most "evil" looking Ugly with its hairy squid-maggot body, dangling eyeball and truly menacing, diabolical ghoul-face, but I like to think it's really a kind and gentle soul.
Can you imagine a more pitiful-looking mutant than #24? I'm not sure if its face says "lobotomized vegetable" or "pleading to die" but either way, it's pretty comical. The bony plates or shoulder blades are cool, though they also seem like they restrict a lot of blood flow to its brain.
#25 would be just another hairy, snarling beast if not for its one morbidly enlarged eyeball, adding a unique Ugly Stickers touch to this simple, savage bugaboo.
Alright...it's only my second or third favorite, but objectively speaking, nothing lives up to the Ugly Stickers name like #26. You know you have one hell of a monstrosity when it floods your mind with simultaneous impressions of human, cephalopod, annelid, pachyderm, amoeba, fungus, candle wax, pus, entails, genitalia and possibly a spaghetti dinner. This incomprehensible abomination makes the creations of H.P. Lovecraft look like neopets. It's a design so beautifully twisted and insane that it deserved so much more than a sticker and a rubber bug. This thing deserved its own horror movie, which would have probably been banned for graphic depictions of small children being sucked inside-out and still screaming as their tissues are dissolved from their bones, because what else would this thing do?
Ugly #26, you are positively magnificent. So are you, Norman Saunders.
While nothing can live up to the majesty of our last Ugly, #27 is reasonably delightful on its own merits, both goofy and disturbing with its frog-monkey face and alien lobster body. I could see hordes of these things flailing around as some evil overlord's lowliest, most expendable minions, dying in undignified ways but always coming back in droves.
#28 is a surprisingly unremarkable monster by Ugly Stickers standards, but compensates with the most hysterical transportation method I've ever seen. Look at that thing. Tell me with a straight face that you don't want to ride a lizard with a plunger on its head as a scooter. Tell me you don't want that more than anything in the entire world. From here on out, nearly every series one Ugly is engaged in some kind of everyday activity.
#29 is the first of four unusual Uglies who came with only a single name. Doc, of course, could be a mockery of anybody in the medical profession, and the only Ugly who may (but probably doesn't) boast some sort of formal education. He doesn't look very professional, but who knows, he might just have the cure for cancer in those needles. Or rat urine, whatever. Rat urine seems like something an Ugly might think belongs in a syringe.
#30, like Doc, doesn't need a first name. This could be anyone's hideous, alien "granny" knitting multi-legged Pajamas for one of her mutant grandspawn. This is the one and only Ugly Sticker with a full background scene, which as a reader pointed out, parodies the famous Whistler's Mother.
#31 is an Ugly specially tailored for little boys who either play or enjoy baseball, which was practically required by law back when these were all the rage. He's nothing really to write home about, but he does have bats for arms, and of course the Ugly sport of choice is eyeball.
#32, known only as Tommy, doesn't look as lonely as he should be playing tennis with himself. Perhaps his green side and red side have their own independent brains? Maybe there's even a third personality in the middle, so they can keep score.
#33 is perhaps the most heartwarming Ugly, seen taking its offspring out for a nice stroll. It's also an especially cool and striking design with its telescope eyeballs, arachnoid jaws, bizarre head ornamentation, bird feet and stylish stripes. Every single thing about this monster is just neat, and really stands out even among the outlandishly diverse Uglies.
#34's pointed ears, maniacal smile and reddish complexion give me a rather "devilish" vibe. The suckers lining its legs and nearly boneless toes are a nice dash of weirdness, and thin, pointed snouts can add personality to any vicious little gremlin. That scalp is pretty nasty, though...it looks a bit more raw and diseased than the rest of its skin.
#35 bears some superficial similarities to #3, though more elongated into a worm-like shape with very long, irregular upper teeth. I'm not sure what it's supposed to be drinking here, what kind of mug is that? The green underbelly, dark "drips" of flesh, speckled skin and blood-red eyeballs are all pleasing touches to this slimy thing.
Though the multiple lips and central mouth-snout are an eerie combination, #36 is an especially cutesy Ugly Sticker, and could have possibly gotten away with starring in a children's show as some child's secret friend from mars, probably with magical powers.
#37 is simple, but satisfying. I like its compact, wrinkly shape, huge sharky mouth and two-lobed snout with those lovely pop-out eyeballs. It would be cool enough doing nothing at all, but I'm really glad it's roller skating. It's such an adorable, sweet contrast to its crazed, ravenous expression...unless of course it only bought roller skates to catch up with tasty, tasty children.
#38 is extremely monkey-like, albeit with sucker-tipped digits and a giant clump of eyeballs. At first glance, it appears to be playing with one of its eyes as a Yo-yo, but on closer inspection, its plaything doesn't match its own eyeballs at all, making this one far more frightening than your typical Ugly. The dim-witted expression only adds to the creep factor of the situation; he's not cruel, of course, but his little brain just might not grasp that body parts aren't always toys.
#39 is one of the funniest looking Uglies, mesmerized by its own reflection in what appears to be a state of confusion and shock. I can't look at it without hearing some sort of caveman-voice. "BUH!" it would say, followed by a prolonged "UHHH!"
#40 is another one with only one possible name and a black background, an odd choice of status for a long-legged, upside-down grubworm archer. Do you suppose Charlie always walks around like this?
#41 might be the least unusual Ugly from a design perspective, resembling an almost believable amphibian if not for the extra legs, but I do really like this worm-slurping croco-frog and its nice, croco-froggy color scheme.
Another really stand-out design, #42 shares the dual bodied, bi-color gimmick of #32 or "Tommy" but does far stranger with it by putting a mouth in each eyeball. Do we look at this as one creature with two mouths or two complete beings stuck together? In any case, I'm sure it rocks that guitar.
#43 is apparently a bit of a shutterbug, maybe working with the press or just a tourist with expensive (for the 60's) tastes. There's a lot of neat things in this design, like its hammerheaded eye arrangement and octopus legs, but my favorite part are the fleshy suckers instead of teeth. What might those be for exactly? Maybe it suckers onto victims with a bite, then siphons blood through some unseen drilling apparatus in its throat.
Finally we come to Ugly #44, the very last sticker in the original set. With all we've seen so far, this tentacled, warty, bug-eyed humanoid head feels almost mundane, but for a tentacled, warty, bug-eyed humanoid head to be mundane only goes to show just how fantastic the Uglies really are. The magic of this initial wave would never be recaptured - anywhere - but a second wave of new Uglies would be produced in 1966, and these reviews will be sticking it out to the end!