CHICAGO — For decades in Chicago, gang members came with business cards in hand.
Brandon Johnson's book, "Thee Almighty & Insane," explores the vintage business cards Chicago's gang members carried during the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Johnson recently sold out his first edition of 500 copies, which each sell for $30, and he's planning a second edition of at least 1,000 more books for May publication.
"It's very interesting that these business cards existed," Johnson said. "People are amazed in general by this phenomenon."
Johnson first found a gang card from the Royal Capris that was in his father's cigar box when he as 12 years old. Johnson, 32, started collecting the cards on eBay and found enough of them to create the book.
Johnson said the cards were used to assert their pride, recruit new members and serve as general tokens of affiliation.
The cards gave information about the gangs — but also contained jabs at gang rivals.
A card for Thee Almighty Miniture Villa Lobos boasted: "Masters in crime/Killers of slime/And loving the fine/Young ladies all times."
The Stoned Freaks's card said the gang was "SWORN TO FUN LOYAL TO NONE."
"It was a way to represent who was in your crew and who you hated, and it was a form of communication," Johnson said.
Like sports memorabilia, the gang cards also were traded, Johnson said.
Johnson said the gang card culture took place in Chicago and nowhere else, although he wasn't sure why.
It stopped being practiced in the early 1990s, likely because of the "digital era coming upon us," Johnson said.
"They just went out of fashion," Johnson said. "And I imagine the gangs just stopped being interested in doing them."
Johnson added that while there is a surface level appeal to the cards, there's a deeper history of violence beneath that should be recognized and learned from, which he explores in his introductory essay in the book.
To preorder the second edition of "Thee Almighty & Insane," click here.