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Rad Retro Valentines

No day was filled with more dread than Valentines Day for elementary school boys. Girls still had cooties, but in order to score some candy, you had to play the game. Actually from kindergarten to 4th grade, it was just about being considered cool enough to receive a Valentine card from anybody. But as we got older, there was always that special someone in class we hoped would drop a colorful piece of flimsy card stock into our construction paper mailbox.

For me the most exciting part of Valentine’s Day was going to the grocery store to choose the coolest motif for your card. There were dozens of choices featuring all sorts of characters and themes. Your choice of Valentine’s Day card could say a lot about you, so today I’d like to take you down memory lane to look at the Rad Retro Valentine’s Day Cards and who the givers were.

Garfield was pretty much omnipresent in the late 80s. That lazy, orange cat was on everything from cartoons to Trapper Keeper folders to fruit snacks and that included Valentine’s Day greetings. The kids who gave these out were usually freckle-faced and sweet with several pet cats at home. Garfield was pretty gender neutral in terms of playground politics, girls or boys could give these out without fearing any type of taunts at recess. That being said, there wasn’t anything super exciting about getting one of these cards either. They were basically the vanilla ice cream with sprinkles of the holiday.

If you were tossin’ out Super Mario Bros. themed Valentine’s Day cards, you were definitely getting a reaction from the receiver. Everybody was on "Team Nintendo" before Sega Genesis drew the line in the sand, but the kids who boldly declared their allegiance in these early days were definitely already popular. It was as if they wanted to stay on top and new that the easiest way to please was having Mario spread the love. The Super Mario Bros. 3 card with the mustachioed plumber in his Raccoon suit is by far the winner here. It’s the kind of card that even though it wasn’t a sticker, you would still proudly glue it into your sticker book and show off.

Popples were basically punk rock contortionist Care Bears with the ability to be tucked into a pouch and become a colorful ball of fur. They had a fairly short run in toy aisles, but did manage to get their own show on Saturday mornings. Then again, what toy didn’t have its own cartoon in the 80’s? These would be kind of an obscure choice and the girls (definitely girls) who chose these were usually the artistic, space-cadet types. You know, the ones who sported finger nails painted with colored markers and too many charms on their bracelets? These were the kind of Valentine’s you appreciated for breaking up the monotony of another Garfield card, but didn’t really have any connection to.

Michael Jordan was a marketing machine in the early 90s, so I’m not surprised that he showed up Valentine’s Day cards with boxes modeled after Wheaties cereal. Hey, his red jersey and pink tongue were perfectly in sync with the color scheme of February 14th. Still, it always seemed weird getting something sports themed on a day that was supposed to be all lovey-dovey, especially when Air Jordan is being featured in front of a 4th of July fireworks display. Kind of kills the romance. These were usually delivered by the testosterone filled tough guys who ruled the handball and basketball courts at recess. They definitely wanted to “Be Like Mike”.

Including a piece of candy with your Valentine was as surefire way to be praised and instantly forgotten. On the one hand, attaching a little box of Nerds to your heart shaped gift instantly made you everybody’s best friend. But just as soon as those sweet treats were in our possession, we totally forgot where they even came from. A sad reality of 7 year old sugar junkies, they are anything but loyal. It was usually the rich kids who managed to impress us with their generous donation to the cause. Other varieties of candy Valentine’s included the traditional box of chalky message hearts, but I always preferred the Sweet Tarts brand for that extra kick of sour flavor. You might also get a heart shaped lollipop with a poorly printed, “Be Mine” on the front, but I feel like those usually came from the teacher.

The fact that Ren and Stimpy even had Valentine’s cards is amazing to me. They were like the “kid-friendly” version of Beavis and Butt-Head that your parents didn’t approve of, but let you watch anyway because it was on Nickelodeon. These messages were definitely toned down from their usual antics featuring crusty lint, butt-cheeks and acts of violence, making them seem more appropriate for mass consumption. There’s no doubt that it was the hyper-active, back-talking, troublemaker who passed these things around. You know the guy, he was the one whose parent’s packed a can of Coke in his school lunch and let him play with fireworks unsupervised. Still there was a giddy little thrill in getting these “dangerous” valentines.

Troll dolls were inescapable to schoolchildren of the 80s and 90s whether as miniature pencil toppers or key-chains hanging from backpacks. Those neon colored tufts of hair were a part of the visual landscape of the classroom. The cool thing about putting Trolls on cards was that they always photographed them in a fun scenario like skateboarding or listening to a Walkman. The fact that it was an actual picture of a toy you could own added a whole new dimension. This style of Valentine was distributed by the smarty-pants girls who always wore dresses and headbands to school. You just knew they had dozens of Troll dolls neatly arranged on a shelf in their room next to plastic horses.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought a party atmosphere to the Valentine’s Day festivities. Always in motion with a permanent smile on their faces, it was instant excitement when you pulled one of these out your mailbox. Plus everybody had a favorite, so there was always the idea of, “I hope I get a Raphael one. Oh man, SPLINTER? You’re breaking my heart”. Honestly quoting Michelangelo from the first movie, “I love being a turtllle!” may have been the first time any boy dared to utter the word L-O-V-E, so it makes sense to have them be a part of the annual celebration of the institution. The bringer of such bodacious fun was usually the kid who took his karate classes a little too seriously, but never used his skills for evil.

As I close out this article I want to throw out some random runner-ups like these Captain Planet and The Planeteers Valentine’s, which I never saw in stores, but would totally have given out. That green mulleted do-gooder was always one step removed from being anybody’s favorite character, but still widely known enough to satisfy my need to be unique. And then there’s Nicktoons stalwart Doug. Since many of the episodes dealt with Doug’s will they/won’t they with Patty Mayonnaise, I think he would have been a great ambassador for the holiday.

So what were some of your favorite Valentine’s to give out back in the day? Did you ever receive one of these?

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Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 15, 2016 at 06:28 PM

Really, my design was more about LOOKING better than the others. Maybe getting a little more creative with the materials. Not just boxes with stickers or drawings on it.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 15, 2016 at 03:36 PM

@Vaporman87 I am imagining multiple puzzle based locks and mechanics in your Valentine receptical.

@pikachulover Yeah, Tiny Toons and Animaniacs were definitely big for everybody back then.

pikachulover Posted on Feb 14, 2016 at 10:08 AM

I definitely remember getting a few Ninja Turtles ones. I also got California Raisins, Berenstain Bears, Nerds and Garfield. When I first went to school I used to give really girly Valentines like Care Bears and Minnie Mouse. Then I moved onto ones for boys and girls like Chipmunks, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Rugrats. I liked getting sports themed Valentines they were something different. I remember getting NFL ones.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 14, 2016 at 02:19 AM

I'm pretty sure I received several Smurfs cards. They were pretty popular in the early 80's, when I was in elementary school. Sometimes Star Wars would make it into the mix too.

For me, making my "receiving box" was the highlight. I always did my best to deck that thing out and outdo the others. LOL

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