Article: Adult Trading Card History Made

Clubhouse Diamonds…

The Story Of How A Late Night Strategy Started A Massive Movement  -or-  How A Pebble Became An Avalanche

by Rusty Gilligan

The date was February 3, 1993 – the time was 4 a.m. (which makes one wonder: at 4 a.m. how does anyone remember the date ?!).

Our story begins, on yet another hot night in Las Vegas, as 3 men sit quietly brainstorming inside a hotel room. The goal, at the time, was to create a new type of trading card as an attraction to the second edition of the Clubhouse Diamond card set. Our players are:

Brian “Buddy” Fetter… owner of Clubhouse Diamonds and Gentleman’s Club Magazine. Short, rich, gruff, and coughing from the latest cigarette.

Tayne Onekea… Buddy’s business and shipping manager. Tall, Hawaiian, bored, and mad because he gave Buddy his last cigarette.

And myself, Rusty Gilligan… trading card designer and comic artist. Red-haired, blue-eyed, tired, and coughing from Buddy’s latest cigarette.

Ok, enough of the fancy story writing LOL

Buddy was a nice guy, to an extent, and was looking for a way to attract more customers to Clubhouse Diamonds cards… one of the industry’s first and best adult trading cards. If you wanted to see skin, you came to the right place.

A few ideas on the table were transparent cards (which, as a design, I had already pitched to Hot Shots) – gold foil cards (boring and expensive) – and “Win A Date With…” (followed by Win A Condom and Get A Blood Test). The ideas weren’t flowing for hours, but Buddy had a hard time sleeping, so Tayne and I were basically getting paid to stay up with him until he fell asleep, something that we commonly and often did. All during the time I was working with Clubhouse, I was designing and doing publicity for other producers such as Comic Images, FPG, Fleer, and Topps… so ideas like these were never wasted, just rejected by one publisher and sent to another down the line.

As the night rambled on into the morning, Buddy saw me sketching some girls on a tablet, and asked me if I planned on doing anything with it. At the time, we already had designs for a subset of adult art, but you had to remind him of everything – between the cigarettes, the liqour, and the time of night, he couldn’t remember his own name. The adult set that we planned at the time was called “Clubhouse Diamondbacks” (a name that later went un-used) and the set went into Series 3 due to the fact that the deadline was nearing for the printing of Series 2.

“With the deadline so close, I’m not sure how we can do anything quick enough to make the next set.” I said. I remember at the time, Buddy had already taken another bite from his cold pasta from room service and slammed the box into the trash… Tayne was startled enough to where he was wide-eyed from the noise, jumping up from his dozing. “If we don’t come up with something quick, we won’t have enough to pay the bills, let alone all the crap that we ordered for the catalog.”

The ‘catalog’ that he was mentioning was the new Clubhouse Diamonds Catalog that I had designed and laid out a week prior. It had product from a lot of other producers like Roger Worsham’s “Mother Productions”, DB Cardiff’s “Hot Shots”, the terrible “Penthouse” cards (complete with the lame foldouts), and whatever drek that Dave Grossman came up with from Infinity Card Co. (or whatever he called himself that week). He actually ordered overstock from everyone so that he could sell through a catalog. We begged him to do consignments, or act as a sales agent, but there was no talking to Buddy. He eventually learned though – right around the time he almost lost his shirt on cards from Comic Images and FPG, which barely interested adult card collectors back then.

So anyway, let’s keep the story rolling… we were too late to add to the sheets that Dave Grossman were printing (he also managed Pioneer Paper in NJ, and everyone went to him for adult printing)… and we needed something that someone could print in a hurry, low cost, that we could add to the advertising that needed to go to Diamond and Capital the next day by 5 p.m.

I personally thought that the set didn’t need anything more. Weeks before, I sat in a room at a hotel in Malibu, California – and compiled the best images from 3 photographers for the set. We had around 200 images (fronts/backs) and great layouts from a studio that partnered with me at the time. The cards looked great, some even had gold foil variants – something unheard of in adult cards, even to this day. They were UV coated, packed in really nice plastic wrappers, and featured order cards for the video tapes and magazines they offered.

It had hit 6 a.m., the city was coming alive, and chain-smoker Buddy was already onto his next pack. Tayne was asleep on the bed as the news was playing on the tv in the background (Rodney King videos and the Reds’ owner being suspended LOL – I can’t believe I remember that). I was sketching out ideas again, as I often did to pass the time. Most of the designs wound up in others’ hands – Buddy couldn’t afford them. He had a terrible habit of losing money on gambling, girls, and liquor (among other things).

Well as luck would have it, I left my book on the table, and got up to stretch… Buddy had just put down some loose cards he was looking over… and the light was dim enough to fool my vision. When I looked back, the small rectangles i drew with images in them seemed to blend in with the cards, and it gave me an idea. “How about if we get some artists to draw original art on some blank cards, and we shove them into the packs ?” I said “Our other subsets are limited, but these would be one-of-a-kind cards, only ones ever made !”

It was like something out of a movie… Tayne shot up and barked “Dude, that’s brilliant. Can I go home now ?” and Buddy shot me a disbelieving look. “Can you get these done in a week ?”

It was a cinch really. We quickly added the info of ‘one-of-a’kind’ cards to the advertising, and it began my week of hell. We had a ton of blank cards left over from Series 1, and the local Kinko’s copy store made us stickers within a few days that we affixed to the backs. I personally drew 20 cards, all black and white (hey, I’m and inker LOL). I overnighted 5 to my friend and famous comic artist, Rich Buckler (1 card was tossed because these cards wouldn’t take watercolors), and the rest were given to friends of mine right there in Vegas since they were close and quick. There were 49 in all (Buckler ruined 1 LOL), and they barely made it for ‘packout’ at the printers.

The fronts were clean white, with different color marker sketches of girls’ chests, dancer poses, etc… the backs were also clean white with a sticker that said:

“This card contains a one of a kind piece of art from Clubhouse Diamonds and their artists.” and a copyright line “(c) Clubhouse Diamonds 1993″

We had no idea what we had done…

After a few hours sleep, we faxed the distributors and gave them the set rundown:

* the regular nude dancer cards.

* the “Diamonds In The Buff” subset that I designed using Tony LaSala photos. They had gold foil and featured actual 800 numbers to call the girls and chat with a credit card. Buddy made a killing on the royalties.

* the “Miss Nude World/Showgirl of the Year” cards I designed, and I had to say I loved these. They were photos taken from the pageants. And not all were nude, since some were showgirls from Vegas. The foil logos were a nice touch.

* the “Topless America Card” which was a throwback to Series 1, with the same lame design as the last crappy designer gave them. Buddy needed to get this card out since he missed printing it in Series 1.

* the “promo cards” were actually not promos at all. The were never released early, and the designs were different. They were actually a subset of cards/photos that we were giving to Dave Grossman (at Infinty Card Co.) to release as his own, and to reduce the printing bill, but the idiot packed them in the regular packs. So they actually became a subset LOL. The actual names of these cards was “Showgirl Pageant Promo Cards” (they were really just images duplicated from the set)… he changed the name on the files for his own use, so God knows what they eventually became LOL.

* then the usual contest cards, sales cards, etc – each with a nude on them (my idea, collectors were hungry for the nudes, this way, they kept them and collected them).

And, to answer a commonly asked question by collectors “Why were cards #181-190 duplicated ?” Well, it wasn’t an error in numbering as many mistakenly think. There were 2 sets of those cards due to the distribution going into foriegn countries, another first I arranged for Buddy, You see, we were selling into Canada, the UK, and even Japan due to the fact that they all had gentlemen’s clubs who would sell them at the counters and stores right inside the clubs. So we needed to produce a variant version of those cards to replace the ‘racy’ nature of the regular cards to avoid trouble with the laws. Since Dave Grossman (Pioneer Paper) made too many of them, we included them in the American packs, and even added gold foil, to give ‘more’ to the fans. So you see, those cards were never intended for US distribution, and on the other hand, the world market never saw those cards in theie original form.

Another mistake was the date of the set. Clubhouse Diamonds Series 2 officially hit the streets April 1, 1993 (no joke), and not in 1994. Most refer to it as a 1994 set due to an error by Diamond. When the set was listed in the Diamond catalog, Buddy was late getting the ad in to Diamonds’ printers, so the listing ran with no ad, so it went kind-of unnoticed. The following year, 1994, Buddy relisted the extra cases and boxes that he had and placed a full page ad to promote it. Later collectors believed that this was the date of release, and began listing it as a 1994 set. The cards were at Pioneer Paper in NJ in late February – they were shipped early in March – and were advance sold in late March – the street date was April 1, 1993.

To my surprise, we’d won awards from Diamond and Capital in the US, and from Styx in Canada, that year for Series 2… which was an incredible feat since the designer of Series 1 was awful, and Series 2 almost didn’t come out. It was the first time the market had seen cards of this nature, rather than the simple ‘nudes’ the fans saw stage dancers, strippers, and show girls. Clubhouse Diamonds to this day remains the number 1 producer of adult trading cards in both the amount of releases and the work we had done to pioneer into the hobby.

I was surprised how many producers ran with our sketched cards idea at the time. “Defective Comics” from Active marketting… “Ken Kelly” sets from FPG… even the damned “Simpsons” cards from Skyboc (although you had to mail away for those)… it was like open season on our ideas. We did phone cards, Hot Shots did phone cards. We did a magazine, ACCQ did a magazine. We did comic book nudes, Penthouse did comic book nudes. I know we didn’t have a spy !! LOL

The adult card art we did was so popular that I was asked to draw the pack art for Series 3 as I’d mentioned earlier. That piece was used for banners at adult shows, on a t-shirt, and on the cover of Buddy’s magazine. The printed art card subset featured art from myself and others in comics such as the late Grey Morrow, Rich Buckler, Larry Welch, and others. Soon after I did an art card that was used as an insert for Bill Gussin’s “Girls on Cards Guide” – and another card, signed and numbered, for ACCQ Magazine that was turned into an art print and sold by Hallmark Cards.

Well, Buddy eventually moved into a house in Vegas and Clubhouse Diamonds cards became a big hit. I went on to design 4 more card sets, a dozen or so phone cards, and numerous video tape cases and magazine covers for him. He was a nice guy, aside from his drinking and drugs. He eventually went back to Michigan, leaving the business, and passed away in an accident with his car. Tayne eventually got to go home and sleep LOL. He has a daughter with one of the dancers featured in the set, and still lives in Las Vegas with his family. I lost touch with him about 14 years ago. He was the best salesman and manager I ever knew, and a great friend. God bless them both.

I eventually went on to design for Skybox, The River Group, Fleer, and a number of other trading card producers… aside from my work in comics. Adult trading cards eventually died soon after. There were some really nice sets, but none like the ones we worked on from 1992-96, that was our ‘golden age’. It’s nice to see that adult cards are coming back now, with various offerings from Playboy and the new Hot Shots, and the ones seen at wish that we had the resources back then, that these die-hard producers have now.

Last I’d heard, these art cards were impossible to get. I saw one of the sketched cards up on Ebay for $150 a few years ago. I advertised for them for years, but never even got a bite… literally no one has them, or quite possibly, they’re not giving them up.

It’s hard to believe, that a lame idea that we thought would never work, through red and drowsy eyes, in the middle of the night, actually turned into such a big thing now as modern day sketch cards. Seeing the cards being produced now, It actually makes me kind-of proud.


Rusty Gilligan has been a comic book artist since 1978, with credits that include Marvel, DC, Image, and films such as Heavy Metal, Spiderman 2&3, and Capt. America. He’s currently still working on sketch cards for producers like Upper Deck, Breygent, Cryptozoic, and others. You can find him working on a new comic book series based on his cats, Mac and Trouble… how original… LOL

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article (c) 2011 Rusty Gilligan