Photo by Colin Ridgway
Photo by Colin Ridgway
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I first saw a Charizard card in my 4th grade science class. The kid in front of me had scored it from one of the many booster packs purchased by his mother. We could look, but we couldn't touch. I got the sense that he enjoyed teasing the boys who'd gather around his desk. This was the late '90s — the all-time peak of Pokemania — and while we all had our foil favorites (Chauncey, Machamp, Alakazam), Charizard reigned supreme.
Like many kids, I didn't play the Pokémon game, but I avidly stuffed my cards into three-ringed binders and showcased them proudly during lunch hour. Charizard, with his fiery tail, viridian wings, and ornery demeanor, always possessed an appeal that the rest of the pocket monsters simply couldn't muster. It became a genuine local crisis. Eventually my school banned Pokémon cards outright, because we'd all rather stare at Charizard than focus on long division.
Who knows where that popularity came from. Maybe it was the heritage? Charizard evolved from Chameleon, which evolved from Charmander — one of the three starting Pokémon in the original Game Boy games, and therefore he holds a special place in the hearts of many millennials.
The power level didn't hurt either. Charizard is the only card in the original Pokémon set capable of dealing 100 damage per its ability text, which was awe-inspiring to the average grade schooler. I would lay on my bedroom floor, staring up at my poster of the original 150, comparing Charizard's health pool to all the other creatures in the Pokémon phylum. He was the unanimous king of the jungle. Those humble Geodudes could never hope to compete.
But honestly though? I think Charizard's primary appeal came from the art on the paperboard. Here was this gigantic, impervious dragon, a stark departure from the cutesiness that defined the rest of the Pokémon bestiary, wreaking havoc on any potential rivals. I distinctly remember a cold war brewing in the classroom. Some liked their cute Pokémon — like Butterfree or Poliwhirl — but if you were an 11-year old boy, there was truly nothing cooler than this indomitable leviathan patrolling the skies.
Charizard was immediately enshrined as the holy grail of the trading card boom, and decades later, it remains one of the most expensive collectors items on the market. In March, a gem-mint original print Charizard sold for over $300,000.
That's kinda ironic, because Charizard was never a prominent feature in Pokémon's marketing push. Pikachu was forever the primary mascot, alongside Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and the aforementioned Charmander. When Ash's Charizard popped up in the Pokémon anime, he was often portrayed as a mercurial, unresponsive grump that the team desperately needed to win over. At one point, Charizard fell asleep instead of responding to Ash's commands, costing him a crucial gym badge — a cardinal sin! (Though to be fair to the dragon, he did come up big in the clutch a few times. And the episode where they reunite is an all time classic.)
Regardless, Charizard's influence persisted — in 2005, Yahoo compiled the top Pokémon search queries inputted into their engine. The word "Charizard" was near the top of the list.
Nintendo responded to that unlikely popularity. Charizard has been consecrated in three different Super Smash Bros. games, and we can frequently watch the dragon being piloted by all sorts of top players throughout the fighting game junket.
But, the biggest boon to the Charizard legacy probably occurred earlier this year, when Logan Paul wore a PSA-graded 10 original-run foil bearing the drake to the ring for his bout with Floyd Mayweather. Paul fit the bill perfectly — young, geeky, and finally rich enough to chase down a card that engendered so much envy in our adolescence.
That's the funny thing about Pokémon. Nintendo keeps cranking out new pocket monsters — all equipped with their own unique quirks and rarity tiers — ensuring that the Pokémon canon stays flush with new ideas. And yet, there is an intangible mystique with Charizard that can never be recaptured. He was the coolest and rarest Pokémon in a world at a time when many of today's young adults were at their most impressionable. Anyone who had him in a plastic sleeve was immediately the talk of the town. Decades later, we're still at the mercy of Charizard's aura, shelling out six figures to be in his presence again.
Otis will be dropping a 1999 1st Edition Charizard, Shadowless Holo PSA 10 on Tuesday, October 26th.
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