First, some pizza
A few days out from Christmas, and I'm plugging away at #MutantPizza, a fan-made trading card set celebrating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This two-pronged project will ultimately include a limited print run of actual cards – all proceeds will go to the Sea Turtle Conservancy – and a free interactive PDF.
While I'm contributing a few pieces of art for the cards, my main role is as curator, project manager, and art director. Talent search, deadlines, design, research, that's me shooting for a May 2022 release.
It's my third time going through this process, and it seems that "Cards for a Cause," as I've succinctly, if not lazily, coined these projects, will be an annual event that all started with an off-the-cuff tweet.
Back in October 2019, I made mention of the legendary 1991 X-Men trading cards illustrated by Jim Lee, and how cool it would be to get a few artists together to make our own. I tagged some like-minded X-Men fans/artists in the tweet, and after a couple hours of back-and-forth banter, I talked myself into a corner. Why couldn't we make these cards? As designer, X-fan, and research enthusiast, all the pieces were in place for me to do this myself, so I did.
Melding the old and new
I spent the weekend recruiting artists, and we ultimately ended up with 27 (plus me), and two additional researchers, Austin Gorton and Trent Seely. I stole the idea of cited quotes from Marvel Universe Series III cards, adopted the trivia portion of Marvel Universe Series II, and offered the reading lists as something new altogether (after an aborted attempt at writing character bios, a cumbersome and unfulfilling task). We scoured Marvel's publishing history for some of the most memorable, recognizable and sometimes offbeat stories we could find for every character included in what became a 58-card set.
The earliest art came around Thanksgiving. Mike Becker's Storm and Iceman cards fell into my inbox first, followed by Ryan Barr's Cyclops and Phoenix submissions. Blown away by these illustrations, I felt some pressure to ensure I didn't botch the card design. After a few half-hearted attempts, a light shone in my head. Take Jim Lee's fan-favorite design, and update it with the current aesthetic running through Jonathan Hickman's popular 2019 relaunch of the comic series.
Melding these old and new motifs together served a number of purposes: it was yet another homage to the series we were celebrating, and the white borders allowed for the art to pop. (To my knowledge, I don't know of another trading card series to include such starkly white trim.)
A handheld art gallery
The most important facet to this undertaking was to showcase a diversity of artistic styles. I intentionally recruited a wide variety of artists: toy photographers, painters, LEGO builders, pyrographers, and an array of digital illustrators. This diverse, handheld art gallery was a goal from the onset, as I told Comics XF (nee Xavier Files):
I just don’t think there is any right way to make art. No, not all of these styles would 'fit' in what we all consider comic book art, but they do have their place at the table. […] We had plenty of Storms and Rogues and Gambits. We needed more Marrows and Skins and Toads. […] There’s also something to be said for all these different vibes coming together under one banner to form a single, cohesive thing. In very broad terms, that’s the definition of the X-Men.
It wasn't until the pandemic shut down the world (and my printer) in March 2020 that the idea to create an interactive PDF came to mind. I spent few days tirelessly toiling and testing, linking every quote to its source, be it podcast or article or video, and every comic book to its issue in the Marvel Unlimited catalog. Media outlets like Newsarama and CBR picked up on the free-to-everyone release of the PDF, and when 50 sets of cards reached my doorstep three printers later in August, they sold out in a few hours.
In all, the cards brought in just over $750, which I then donated to the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of the crew. When my employers heard about all this, they graciously matched the EJI donation, toppling the $1,500 mark. The modest number motivated me to do it all over again, and a year later, ColleXion: RefleXions came to fruition. But more on that some other time.