Teaching AIDS awareness through trading cards

By Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.
AIDS Awareness trading cards

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series exploring the 30th anniversary of HIV and AIDS. Check out the companion website.

Magic johnsonTrading cards may be best known as a popular form of entertainment. But a set of cards in our collections was used to educate those who could not be reached through more traditional methods during the AIDS epidemic.

In 1993, comic book publisher Eclipse Enterprises released a set of 110 AIDS Awareness trading cards. Courtesy of an anonymous donor, the museum’s Archives Center recently acquired a full set of the cards for its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Collection. The cards feature a variety of HIV-AIDS information and organizations, as well as personalities who died from AIDS, were currently battling the disease, or were involved in AIDS awareness. The cards depict individuals like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, fashion designer Halston, lawyer Roy Cohn, and founder of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser. The back of the cards provide more information on the individual, topic, or organization depicted on front.

Gay men and aids Based in Forestville, California, Eclipse Enterprises was founded by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney. Initially focusing on graphic novels and comic books, the company—under the guidance of Dean’s wife Catherine Yronwode—moved into producing trading cards as well. During the 1980s, Yronwode again nudged Eclipse toward new projects: the company released a line of nonfiction trading cards that eschewed the usual subject matter of sports and instead focused on controversial political subjects such as the Savings and Loan scandal, Iran Contra, serial killers, the Kennedy assassination—and the AIDS crisis.

The AIDS Awareness cards were distributed in packs of 12, along with a condom. When first released, the product generated some negative publicity. Card No. 7 showcases Kimberly Bergalis, who died in December 1991 after reportedly contracting AIDS from her dentist, David Acer, also depicted on the same card. The woman’s father, George Bergalis, decried the cards, calling the premise of the series “sick” and accusing Eclipse of “capitalizing on people’s tragedies.”

Esther Another individual featured in the trading cards is Ryan White, who contracted HIV from a contaminated blood treatment, was expelled from middle school because of his disease, and died at the age of 18. His mother, Jeanne White, objected to his inclusion in the series because of the condoms accompanying the package. Reportedly, the most controversial card of the bunch was No. 66, “HOW TO PUT ON A CONDOM.”

But Yronwode defended the cards in the Orlando Sentinel: “If you take the time to read the cards, you will come away with a good understanding of the disease,” she said. Fifteen percent of the proceeds were donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a New York-based charity that raises money for Ryan whiteHIV-infected people involved in the arts. By 1994, however, Eclipse ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy the following year.

The AIDS Awareness cards were written by William Livingstone, Perry Gaskill, Althaea Yronwode, and Catherine Yronwode. The illustrations were done by Charles Hiscock and Greg Loudon, and the sticker art by George Willett.

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr. is Archives Specialist for the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History.