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PeopleCards: Sell 'Em, Trade 'Em 

Collect all 6 billion!

Wednesday, Mar 28 2001
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I am not a natural collector. As a child I had a number of stuffed animals, a large but incomplete set of Star Wars trading cards, and a pint-sized stack of East Indian religious comic books, but these were phases, having more to do with the adults around me than any personal predilection. I don't have the eye, or the stamina, to be a collector. But collectors themselves have always held a certain fascination for me; in fact, it has become part of my trade over the years, writing about people with prosaic passions -- everything from Pez dispensers to bones to advertising logos to garden gnomes -- and seemingly normal lives. One thing I have come to realize: A "normal" life does not a normal person make; people are strange, and interesting. This is something that PeopleCards -- a fledgling business being run out of a yellow one-car garage in the Sunset District -- completely understands.

PeopleCards are collectible trading cards of ordinary people. They come eight to a pack, with "7 real people, 1 real artcard, 0 celebrities" printed on thick, glossy card stock. Each card is numbered, with a full-color photograph printed on one side and detailed personal statistics printed on the other. While the artcards are heartening -- featuring little-known works by independent artists -- the people cards are more satisfying.

No. 053 Roy Peters is a steelworker living in Walnut, Miss. He likes American bald eagles, Dr Pepper, and working on hot rods. The possessions dearest to him are his wife and kids, and his most pronounced habit is picking his nose in public. You might not guess from the photo, which displays Peters and his beer belly in a pair of suggestive sweat pants, that he is commonly referred to as "Hotdogchevy."

No. 059 Jacqueline M. Jones, a 37-year-old Hebrew Israelite from Nashville, Tenn., says her most prized possession is her Bible, but she kind of likes the robot that cuts her lawn.

No. 070 Bri Dellamano is a 19-year-old spot welder living in Warren, Ohio, who creates zines in her off time. Her favorite drink is whiskey; her favorite books are Geek Love and anything by Charles Bukowski; and her motto is "The world is broken." People call her "Trixie."

No. 095 Johnny Blue is white trash living in San Francisco whose hobby is scaring tourists.

PeopleCards is the brainchild of 25-year-old Brant Efrem Herman (his favorite movie is The Big Lebowski; his favorite food is bagels with whitefish; and his favorite book is The Stranger), who got the idea while working for an Internet auction company that dealt in sports collectibles, coins, stamps, and celebrity memorabilia.

"What becomes collectible is so arbitrary," says Herman. "I never understood why someone would spend three or four hundred dollars on a picture of a celebrity they have nothing in common with. Wouldn't you rather learn about people you might relate to? Instead of reading about how many movies an actor has made, or the batting average of a sports hero, wouldn't you like to read something and say, "Hey, I really liked that book,' or, "I bite my nails, too.'"

"There's been a shift in media-focused reality," continues Herman, "but even on so-called real-TV shows, they take real people and put them in situations that totally warp them. What's wrong with presenting people as they are?"

The initial idea was to interview real people in a celebrity format. Herman and his 28-year-old brother, Todd Asher Herman (a model-boat builder who likes iced tea, dolphins, and North by Northwest), sat on street corners handing out lengthy questionnaires to passers-by. Though people seemed to enjoy answering questions about themselves, of the hundreds of questionnaires that went out, only two or three came back. Brant Herman then contacted various groups -- Elks Lodges, the Clown Association of America, comedy clubs -- for submissions, but still nothing came back. Then he decided to post the questionnaire online. Within a short time he was receiving over 100 submissions a day. Enlisting the help, and monetary backing, of his brother and a friend, Brian Patrick Mullin (he likes Beck's beer, hyenas, and Jacob's Ladder), PeopleCards selected 105 faces for its first series.

"It wasn't easy," says Todd Herman inside the brothers' AstroTurf-covered garage/office. "We picked several hundred based on pictures that really seemed to capture people as they really are, then we had to whittle down the number based on people's answers. Everybody seemed to have something funny or interesting to say."

A casual test of the marketability of PeopleCards, conducted in my own kitchen, proved the appeal of the creation. No one who saw the set could read just one or two cards. Finding outlandish statements, or familiar ones, became a compulsion among my friends and roommates. Those who found the cards objectionable were lovable, misanthropic sorts with ill-concealed self-esteem issues ("Why would anyone want to make a card with that guy on it? He's just a disgusting hippie with a loser bar band."). But even they had to feel an affinity for No. 101 Evangeline, a dementia specialist from St. Louis whose motto is "Go away or I shall taunt you again." (I feel a personal kinship with No. 096 Melissa Danielle Altman, an art restorer living in New York City who likes Gummo and Iron Chef, but I'd like to sit down for beans and corn bread with No. 069 Cheryl Shultz to discuss her most-used expression, "I'm fine as frog's hair.") And Brant Herman believes the appeal will be widespread.

"It doesn't matter where you sell PeopleCards as long as there are people there," says Brant Herman. "We already have the cards in gardening centers, bookstores, Army surplus flea markets, and toy stores. They fit anywhere. You sell truck parts? It doesn't matter. These are the only cards a gardener and a mechanic will both find interesting."

As to the collectibility of the cards, Brant Herman trusts the human instinct: "Humans abhor a vacuum. If there are only 100 of something and you have 97, you will naturally want the other three."

"Won't it be great when Series 10 comes out and everyone is clamoring to get the No. 001 Bob Burkin?" suggests Todd Herman. "A high-voltage lineman from North Attleborough, Massachusetts, whose trading card has become a collector's item? And people are trading and bidding for a little piece of Bob Burkin?"

Chances are good. Since the first printing in January, over 30,000 cards have sold.

"It's funny," says No. 029 Rob Weisskirch, a professor whose perfect idea of happiness is simultaneous chocolate and oral sex. "I have odd sensations of being carried in strangers' back pockets at times."

To ensure PeopleCards' value on the collectibles market, the company will discontinue a few numbers during the second printing and replace them with others, fulfilling the collector's need for the hunt and the childlike thrill of acquisition.

According to Werner Muensterberger, author of Collecting: An Unruly Passion, "Collecting is an almost magical means for undoing the strains and stresses of early life and achieving the promise of goodness."

"But even if they don't become collectible," says Brant Herman, "it's really fun."

In addition to the cards, PeopleCards supplies a funny, very real, interactive Web site with sections for fan mail (moderated through PeopleCards to prevent stalking of real people), games, travel (hometown guides submitted by folks living in places like Thayer, Mo.; Mount Sterling, Ky.; and Vandra, Estonia; as well as Houston, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles), crib tours (excursions through "ordinary" homes, cars, purses, or wallets), and a media bucket where folks submit strange clips of video or music they've created or come across.

Over the next year, Brant Herman hopes to throw PeopleCards mixers for the artists featured on the artcards (the first 15 works that appear in the series were created by Bay Area artists like robot builder Kal Spelletich, environmental sculptor Coreen Abbott, lithographer Nathan Price, painter Kelly Jo Shows, and photographer Jenna Brager). In the not-too-distant future, PeopleCards hopes to travel the country throwing PeopleCards parties in the hometowns of PeopleCards people.

"We'll go to Marquez, Texas, and serve chili, Dr Pepper, and strawberry ice cream," says Todd Herman. "And [No. 003] Don Hall will be the guest of honor."

"We'd eventually like to hold Realympics," says Brant Herman. "With pack-a-suitcase competitions, bag boy competitions, set-a-table competitions. ... If you look at people in a certain way, everybody's interesting. That guy with the big belly has opinions and interests and dreams. He's as valid a human being as any movie star."

And as collectible. If anyone has PeopleCards No. 64-68, I'm in the market.


If you'd like to be kept in mint condition, log on to www.peoplecards.net and fill out the questionnaire.

About The Author

Silke Tudor

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