I remember the early days of Pokémon coming to the US. The video game and cartoon were instant hits, no doubt. The craze really began once kids went to their local stores and couldn’t find Pokémon trading cards.
It’s sometime in the second half of 1998 and friends at school told me about this quirky new tv show called Pokémon. I had seen some other US released anime like Sailor Moon and Dragonball, but this was definitely different than anything else I had ever seen. Kids were instantly hooked, whether they liked it or loathed it everybody at school knew what Pokemon was. I was also a video game fan, mostly Nintendo. I had read several positive reviews and the kids at school said the game was awesome. I remember the day I bought the game I didn’t want to put it down. Christmas of 1998 Pikachu was everywhere. And yes there were comics, but from what I remember they only brought about 5 issues over that first year.
Flash forward to quarter 1 of 1999. Pokémon is super popular, and now trading cards have hit the market, but the stores can’t keep them in stock. They were literally selling out overnight or in some instances, before they even hit shelves. The big box stores weren’t getting them, specialty stores were. I was a comic shop regular most of my childhood, so hitting up numerous LCSs in my area was nothing new to me. The LCSs were some of the only places you could find Pokémon, and I know that Pokémon cards helped those shops during a tough time for comics.
The cards were selling out so often that stores even brought in import Japanese cards. These also sold out because they were scarcer and in most cases weren’t released in the US(yet). During the initial first edition release my sister pulled a Charizard from a booster pack. Being a collector who knew about paper collectibles, I urged her to keep it in good condition, because “what if someday...” So into a sleeve and top loader it went.
My parents occasionally setup at a local flea market around that time. I was able to resell doubles and triples in order to complete my sets and buy more cards. I didn’t expect to sell any on my first setup, but came home with a nearly empty binder . When the movie came out they gave away “Limited edition” trading cards with ticket purchases. Wizards of the Coast had to pull some sports cards out of production that year because Pokémon cards were selling so much. Pokémon trading card tournaments were happening almost weekly, and Toys R Us gave away limited edition cards and promotional items monthly.
But like all crazes, Pokémon died down quite a bit in 2002-2003. Big box stores now had the best prices on new cards, and you could find them everywhere. As I got to be a teenager I stopped collecting Pokémon cards, but I’ve always kept a close eye on the franchise. Pokémon kept going strong and as I got out of the initial 151 monsters (now 251? Now 351? 800?!) the tv show, video games, and toys continue sell and now I’m buying cards, games and toys for my own children
Regardless of numerous grownups telling me the cards were worthless, or that I should sell now (2000), I held onto my complete sets and numerous first edition cards. As did my sister, and she graciously put her 1st Edition Charizard into my first wave set.
And now as 30 somethings, here we are pondering whether or not to sell off this shiny piece of paper. The memories of chasing those cards, trading, playing the game, and being with friends and family are timeless.