The Mini-Toons story starts simply enough, but quickly develops into nightmarish complexity. It's true that Letraset were not unduly concerned about making things easy for future chroniclers, but even so there had to be a great deal of rational deduction to make sense of it all. Hopefully the information on these pages will help answer many of the queries I get, asking me to explain what was going on…
The first batch of twelve Mini-Toons, serial numbers GK34 to GK45, came out in 1970. Three Patterson Blick Instant Picture Books claimed the next GK numbers, but then a second batch of twelve Mini-Toons occupied GK49 to GK60. Unusually, not only do the serial numbers appear on the transfer sheets, but also on the backgrounds; this would have made it easier for Letraset to match up the right sheet with the right card during packing.
Mini-Toons were extremely successful; in fact, John Hunt (Brand Manager from 1973) described them as Letraset's most successful range (along with the later Star Wars titles). So the almost immediate release of another batch is not too surprising; however, already we find a complication.
It seems that the second batch (13-24) was commissioned by A&BC confectionery. For this reason, it is quite easy to find the second batch in A&BC livery, & without numbers. But you can also find them numbered, without the A&BC logo, so either Letraset printed them for themselves first, then allowing A&BC to licence them, or A&BC had them first, letting them revert to Letraset once the A&BC licence expired. The latter explanation is more likely, because the A&BC titles are marked "COLLECT ALL TWELVE TITLES" & "Printed in England", whereas the same titles without the A&BC logo are marked "COLLECT ALL 24 TITLES" & "Printed in Holland". Furthermore, the first batch of twelve can be found with either "TWELVE TITLES" or "24 TITLES".
This strongly suggests that the sets marked "24 TITLES" are a second printing. It could even be argued, since the serial numbers of the first twelve & the second (A&BC) twelve were effectively simultaneous, that Letraset from the start intended releasing both their own & A&BC's ranges of Mini-Toons at the same time for different markets.
If that's not enough for you, well — we've only just started. The first twenty-four titles were also distributed in a German-language version in Germany, Austria & Switzerland by confectioners PEZ.
And PEZ distributed the English-language version in the US & Canada. So it could be that the cards for Nos.1-24 marked "COLLECT ALL 24 TITLES" are from the US distribution.
(There's more about PEZ on their own page.)
Now, what did Letraset do next immediately after the second batch of twelve? That's right; they printed twelve more Mini-Toons-related titles. GK61 to GK72 were printed for Post cereals of Canada as "Groovy Doodles de Post". By now it was 1971.
(Groovy Doodles are covered in more detail later.)
The twelve Groovy Doodles were new titles in the Mini-Toons style. So much so, that Letraset very strangely chose to incorporate their transfers as half of their L61 litho reprint range of the first twenty-four Mini-Toons. But before this could happen, they had to release Mini-Toons 25 to 48.
The first twenty-four Mini-Toons had been printed full-bleed (i.e., the artwork extended right out to the edges of the paper), but the next twenty-four were printed with margins — white borders around the edges. The latter is easier to print, but less satisfactory for the customer. So already we have a drop in quality…
There were at least two printings of Mini-Toons 25 to 48; one is marked "24 TITLES", & the other "48 TITLES" & "Printed in Holland".
Are you confused yet? Because there's plenty more where that came from…
In the image above you can see some of the evidence for all this, which may help collectors correctly identify their Mini-Toons. At top left we have some of the first batch of twelve, first printing; the back is marked "COLLECT ALL TWELVE TITLES". This back cover is indistinguishable from the next, that of the A&BC second batch of twelve, which were unnumbered. But the front covers differentiate them easily. The top right cover shows how the second printing of the first twenty-four Mini-Toons were printed.
On the left of the lower row, you can see the back of a German-language PEZ Mini-Toon. They were numbered, & covered the full identical range of the English-language series. The transfer sheets were identical, but the background artwork was adapted in some cases for the German language.
The last two back covers are each of the same title (No.34, "Space Special"). But the rightmost says there are 48 titles, & was printed in Holland; the other doesn't specify a country of origin, & claims there are only 24 titles. (N.B.: "Printed in Holland" refers only to the cards; all transfer sheets were of necessity printed in England at this time.)
Right then. All clear? Here are some backgrounds to show you the differences between the various language versions. On the left are the original, full-bleed, GK Mini-Toons. In the middle are the L61 reprints (patience — we haven't got to them yet!), with margins, & on the right are the Sodecor Smash i Trasferibilli Mini-Toons, with some translations for the Italian language.
Then we have three versions of the background for Mini-Toon No.12, "Zany Zoo", firstly in English, next in German for the PEZ European distribution, & finally in Italian for Sodecor.
The first twelve Mini-Toons were very well distributed Internationally. Here are some examples from Italy (courtesy of Agostino di Torino), Portugal & Argentina.
The "Aventuras en Letraset" Argentinian versions (shown above with an advert for the series, taken from a magazine) are particularly interesting in that they appear to be sponsored by Suchard. Even PEZ only stuck their logo on the card, & not a whole advert!
Having hinted at the existence of the L61 & Sodecor reprints, I should come clean at this point & reveal that there are a few more variants to discuss as well as those: PR124, the Topps/Scanlens Magic Rub-Offs, & so on. But that can wait for a while. The next few pages will display the original GK Mini-Toons — what you might call "the main event".• Next Page — Mini-Toons 1-12 →
Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives — Agostino di Torino
© Tom Vinelott 2016