AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSELF ABOUT BASEBALL CARDS
At the midway point of my involvement in TOPPS’s year-long “PROJECT 70”, I decided to sit down, take a breath, wrap my fingers around a blackberry Bubly and a pile of chocolate-filled marshmallows, turn on ‘A Nightmare on Elm St Part 5’, put a mirror in front of myself, and interview myself about how it’s going. Literally.
MIRROR ALEX: Hey man, how’s it going?
In-Real-Life-ALEX: You KNOW how it’s going, weirdo. You’re me. We’re fine.
MIRROR ALEX: Ok, we’re being self-aware. Noted. So, you’re halfway into the project now, how do you feel? Or, I guess WE are halfway in, how do WE feel?
IRL ALEX: That sounds weird, you can just say “you” from now on. We can pretend we’re two people, otherwise this is gonna get ugly. But to answer your question, I feel great, I think. This has been really challenging, but a FUN challenge, you know?
M-ALEX: Yah, it seems like you’re having fun, for sure. You just released your brand new FERNANDO TATIS JR card that appears to be a mash-up of one of the most popular current baseball players and my personal favorite movie monster.
IRL ALEX: YES! That card just dropped and it’s still available to buy on TOPPS.com until July 31st, so hopefully we put out this interview before that.
M-ALEX: Awesome. Well, it kinda feels like we skipped ahead, but we probably shouldn’t go full Loki with the timeline if we’re trying to be informative. Let’s jump back a little bit. Before we dive into your process and how you got involved, what exactly IS “PROJECT 70” for anyone who might not know about it?
IRL-ALEX: Project 70 is a new collection of baseball cards produced and curated by TOPPS, featuring art from 51 artists and designers from around the world, with each card featuring either a current or a retired player in which the designs are inspired by an existing TOPPS-Style card from the past. The intention of the project is to create “TOPPS cards that never existed, or that COULDN’T have existed”. For instance, Mickey Mantle played in the 50s and 60s, so creating a 1995 Topps Mickey Mantle card would fit the bill in this project. But the extra additional twist that makes this project stand out is that each artist has the freedom to add their personal art style to the card, too. So you’ll get a lot of unique cards. Some subtly unique, some more skewed into clean graphic design, and some just full-on bonkers and weird. Each artist is tasked with making around 20 cards throughout 2021. At this point I’ve put out 9 cards plus a bonus All-Star Card, so I’m at the halfway point.
M-ALEX: How are the cards released?
IRL-ALEX: Topps curates the project and releases 4 different cards each weekday on their website. And each card is only available to purchase online for 70 HOURS and then it disappears forever.
M-ALEX: What other artists are involved in the project?
IRL-ALEX: A ton of other artists. Some who I have been inspired by for years, like Craola, Pose, Futura, Boby Hundreds, Ron English, Ermsy, Blue, Morning Breath, and a bunch who I just discovered through the project that are super inspiring to me now, like Lauren Taylor, Chuck Styles, DJ SKee, King Saladeen, Mikael B, JK5, Efdot, and a bunch more. You can see the whole list here at the PROJECT 70 site
M-ALEX: How did you get involved?
IRL-ALEX: There are a few different curators for the project who were working with Topps on selecting the artists, and one of them is Roger Gastman from Beyond The Streets and S.A. Studios. I’ve been wanting to work with Roger on a project for like two DECADES so when he asked me about being involved I had this crazy dilemma. On one hand, I wanted to automatically say “yes” no matter what the project was because I wanted to work with him, but on the other hand, when he told me the job was “designing new baseball cards with Topps and the MLB” I was taken aback, and kinda freaked out a little.
M-ALEX: Why did you freak out?
IRL-ALEX: Umm, because I didn’t think I could do it.
M-ALEX: Why not?
IRL-ALEX: I guess I’ve just always been intimidated by any kind of design work involving reality.
M-ALEX: What do you mean?
IRL-ALEX: I knew this job was going to call for at least SOME kind of human-realism, considering that I would be working with both TOPPS and the MLB (Major League Baseball Association) on getting likeness approvals of the players, and to be honest, drawing real humans was never really something that I had enjoyed doing in the past.
M-ALEX: So you were scared.
IRL-ALEX: Yah, I was scared. Well, also, I draw and paint because it’s FUN. Because it’s therapy. Because I don’t have many rules outside of what I can imagine. The moment you throw in “likeness approvals” it no longer sounds fun in my opinion.
M-ALEX: So why did you say yes to being involved?
IRL-ALEX: It was a mixture of a few things, I think. One, I wanted to work with Roger. And Two, I wanted to work with TOPPS. I literally grew up with TOPPS. TOPPS as a company was a HUGE part of my childhood. Don’t you remember?
M-ALEX: Yah, but this is your interview, so you say it.
IRL-ALEX: Right. I mean, I collected baseball cards in the mid 80s, but once I saw Topps’ GARBAGE PAIL KIDS, my life was changed. “I WANT TO DRAW LIKE THAT!” I think I screamed that inside Longs Drug Store when I got my first pack of stickers. But those Garbage Pail Kids were a gateway to discovering all of these other TOPPS cards, some older sets that were all monster-based, as well as, like, newer movie cards at the time, like Gremlins cards, Indiana Jones cards, and my FAVORITE cards, Topps’ FRIGHT FLICKS that all featured horror movie monsters with awesomely bad captions.
M-ALEX: I remember those!
IRL-ALEX: Of course you do, weirdo, you’re me.
M-ALEX: Oh yah. Sorry.
IRL-ALEX: It’s fine. I loved all those cards, though. All of the old Fright Flicks cards, the monster cards, Mars Attacks, and Garbage Pail Kids. So cool.
M-ALEX: So, after you got hired to work on Project 70, what then? Do you just…draw a baseball card?
IRL-ALEX: No, not at all. There was acutally a really long prep-period before I even started. The main thing that had to get taken care of was picking my players and my card-styles.
M-ALEX: How did that work?
IRL-ALEX: Topps provided me (and all of the other artists) with a list of like 2 or 300 current and retired players that they had licenses to produce, so I had to pick 20 players that I wanted to create cards for.
M-ALEX: We didn’t know much about baseball at this time, right?
IRL-ALEX: No, we didn’t.
M-ALEX: So, how did you pick your players? Randomly? Darts? Did you let Dave Correia pick them?
IRL-ALEX: Well, I knew a LITTLE. And I also knew that I wanted to simultaneously take this job seriously as well as have as much personal fun as I could, knowing that it was going to be a challenge for me creatively. Like I said, I collected baseball cards for like 6 years when I was younger, and I played baseball, too, so I knew some 80s and 90s stuff. I knew I wanted to pick some 80s and 90s players that I liked as a kid. But the more I started thinking about it, the more I took it even more seriously and I started researching current players, and watching highlight reels of everyone on the list. I didn’t know MUCH, but I started picking players who I thought looked like they were having fun playing baseball. That’s where current players like Ronald Acuna Jr, Fernando Tatis Jr, and Pete Alonso came in.
M-ALEX: How long did that process take?
IRL-ALEX: Probably longer that it should have. Like a week maybe.
M-ALEX: A week of just watching baseball highlights?
IRL-ALEX: At least.
M-ALEX: Yah, our YouTube recommendations are still all just baseball stuff now.
IRL-ALEX: I know. It’s wild.
M-ALEX: So you picked your players, now you just draw baseball cards?
IRL-ALEX: Umm, I think maybe theoretically that’s what was supposed to happen. But I was hesitant to jump right in.
M-ALEX: Because you were still scared?
IRL-ALEX: Kinda, yah. But also, I had an idea for the project that seemed like it might have been a little too odd or weird, but it was an idea that I thought would make the project fun for me, as well as being able to incorporate my personality and my art-style into it without fully compromising and just drawing baseball players. So I actually put together a little visual pitch to Topps about what I envisioned for the project.
M-ALEX: Which was?
IRL-ALEX: In short, I wanted to pull inspiration from some of the older TOPPS cards like Fright Flicks and Garbage Pail Kids and mash together monsters of all sorts with baseball players, creating this new alternate universe of monster-athletes. I sent them a really rough sketch of Ronald Acuna Jr and tried to explain what I wanted to do, and how I really wanted to make sure that they knew that I wanted to respect the players and the collectors by paying homage to all of them with these monsters I love. Basically my goal was to create the ultimate cards that I would have LOVED collecting as a kid.
M-ALEX: I’m assuming they said “OK”?
IRL-ALEX: Yes! Not only did they say “OK”, but they basically asked to make sure that I do this same thing with ALL OF MY CARDS! So, once again, I was relieved and excited that they went for it, but knowing how big of a task it was going to be to create unique monsters 20 times over was going to be a fucking JOURNEY.
M-ALEX: So NOW you start designing the cards?
IRL-ALEX: Yep. Finally!
M-ALEX: What’s your process like designing them? Is it the same for each one?
IRL-ALEX: For the most part, yes. The only difference is in the brainstorming and the sketching, which is actually the longest part. Basically, my process is this: I start by researching the player. If there’s anything that stands out like a nickname or something they are known for, I’ll try to think about how that could translate into a cool monster. Regardless, then I just scroll through Getty Images (where our approved photo-references exist) for hours, looking at tons of photos of the player as I just start imagining what they might look like as different monsters. Then I just start scribbling. It’s similar to how I usually approach all of my art. I scribble. Horribly. For a long time! Eventually something shows up on the paper that I think I can rework into a tighter design. (Here’s an intro/process video shot and edited by Chloe Rice showing a little of my design approach):
M-ALEX: Then what?
IRL-ALEX: From there it’s just execution. Taking that tighter sketch and making it tighter and tighter until it’s a final drawing, and then, in a way, just coloring it in digitally.
M-ALEX: What do you use to color it in?
IRL-ALEX: I usually jump between PROCREATE on my iPad Pro and Photoshop on my Mac.
M-ALEX: Why do you alternate between the two?
IRL-ALEX: I like using the iPad, it’s comfortable and convenient, but I like to work in pretty high-rez and unfortunately in Procreate I can only use like 10 layers, and I like to use about 110 layers, so I have to go back and forth. Here’s a little crude step-by-step video of my newest card (that’s available NOW here at TOPPS btw…)
M-ALEX: How many cards have you released so far?
IRL-ALEX: 10, including the bonus ALL-STAR CARD. Here’s all 10 up till now. We’re halfway there! Here are all of my cards that have been released as of July 30th, 2021.
M-ALEX: You know, I see you get a lot of questions and comments about the “STORY” element to the cards. Can you talk about that a little bit?
IRL-ALEX: Sure. The stories are basically done for me, I think. It’s another form of therapy. I love storytelling and I try to crowbar it into a lot of my art. This project I’ve tried to do a lot of storytelling, too.
M-ALEX: So each card or monster/player has a story behind it?
IRL-ALEX: To a degree, yes, at least in my head. I basically have a loose, really short story idea or concept of what this monster is, or why Willie Mays is a werewolf, and so forth.
M-ALEX: Where can we see or read the stories?
IRL-ALEX: I incorporate them into the marketing. I usually write the story as a little intro when I’m sharing the cards for the first time in my newsletter (you can sign up for that HERE btw), but I also like to incorporate them into little promo videos when I first tease the cards, and I share those on my Twitter and IG. Here’s an example of a teaser for my Pete Alonso card.
M-ALEX: How’s the response been for your cards so far?
IRL-ALEX: Surprisingly good, to say the least. Similar to my hesitance to pitch Topps on the initial idea, I was also hesitant to see how the collectors and fans were going to respond. But it turns out there are a lot of collectors like me, that wanted to see something weird and fun and different. I think one of the coolest response that I’ve been getting is from adults who are collectors that are getting my cards for their kids to introduce them to collecting, because their children respond to my cards a lot since they are bright and colorful and unusual. That makes the whole project worth it to me to be honest.
M-ALEX: So, tell me a little about your new card that just came out, Fernando Tatis Jr. The card reminds me of a certain hunter that hates Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover!
IRL-ALEX: Really? You, of all people, pull the old “Reminds me of” comment? Gross.
M-ALEX: It was a joke. I promise.
IRL-ALEX: Fine. But yah, my Tatis card just got released and I fucking LOVE this card for a number of reasons. First off, this was an idea that I had from Day 1 and I wanted to design it a LOT earlier but because I was so excited to design it, I kept messing it up. I couldn’t get the sketch right, I was overthinking it, and so forth. So I kept putting it aside. But a couple weeks ago I was finally able to get the drawing right, and from there it was just really fun figuring out the rest of it. The Predator is probably my all-time favorite creature design. I had never seen anything like it when I first saw it. Usually, in order to become an iconic, bold monster, simplicity is the key. But the Predator is the exact opposite of simple design. It has like 8 layers of clothing and armor, different weapons, 4 different skin tones, space-dreadlocks that may or may not be hair, and a fucking mouth that shouldn’t work, but it does! It’s so cool. Also, the mythology behind the Predator species is that they not only hunters, but they are the BEST hunters in the galaxy. So, it made sense to combine it with Fernando Tatis, Jr, who is arguably also the BEST in the galaxy.
Plus, I think this card is significant for me because its 100% exactly what I was going for when I envisioned the project. Knowing that I wanted to combine Topps baseball cards with Topps FRIGHT FLICKS cards, along with my own art style and personality, this seems to be a really good representation of what I want to do with the project. Also, what was funny about this, too, was that I thought I was the only one with this idea. But pretty quickly within the project I was getting suggestions on Twitter to make Tatis as a Predator and then I even got pointed to this post from the MLB over a year ago that literally labels him the Predator.
M-ALEX: So where can we buy the card?
IRL-ALEX: My Fernando Tatis Jr card is available NOW HERE on Topps.com but ONLY until the morning of July 31st, then it turns invisible like the Predator.
M-ALEX: Alright, cool, you done talking to yourself?
IRL-ALEX: I guess so, are YOU?
IRL-ALEX: Cool, get back to work.
M-ALEX: Thank you for my time.