Trading Cards  



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Trading cards are like cover art, with an extra design challenge. You have to make the art work at such a small size. Lots of artists get around this by showing a close-up of a face or solitary figure. What if they had to show a guy in a vintage gas-mask holding another guy hostage in a dilapidated amusement park while two other guys fight overhead on a helicopter drop ladder with propwash blowing everything around? That's what cards were like in the old days of Mars Attacks and the ‘60s Batman TV show. The artists rendered one lurid image after another, each perfectly readable and beautifully painted.

Boydthe crow

Kitchen Sink Press produced a card set based on the sequel to The Crow movie. Robert Boyd, editor at Kitchen, asked me to do a card.

The Crow is about a guy who is shot to death and comes back to life to wreak vengeance on his murderers. I decided to show this entire sequence of events in a single drawing. Boyd wanted to see a sketch to submit for approval with The Crow's licensing company. Licensed properties are tricky because art directors guard the franchise, the character's image. The guy who originally played the Crow died and the studio had a sequel coming out with a new actor. There was plenty of paranoia surrounding the Crow's image.

I hacked out this color sketch using my daughter's paint tray. As is usual with a fast sketch, it has a certain energy the final piece lacks.

The Crow people saw it and told me to get rid of the beak. They said it "defaced" the character

I thought the Crow was already pretty ugly and the beak was interesting. I tried to sneak it in, hoping it wouldn't be as offensive in the final painting.

Unfortunately, in acrylic it was even more grotesque. Th
ey still rejected it.

Technical note: I made the spectral faces in the background by laying down a red watercolor wash. On top of the wash I drew each face in thinned rubber cement. After the faces dried I painted over the entire thing with black acrylic, picked up the rubber cement, and there were the red faces.

The Crow people accepted the beak in the final drawing, so long as it was tiny. I'm not sure which version is better. I guess it really wasn't worth the fight because the piece wasn't anything personal to begin with. But I still managed to pour some anguish into it.

Illustrators sometimes have to build a personal head of steam around an uninteresting project. If you have to paint a cookie for Keebler, you try to fetishize it somehow, making the chips chunkier or the sugary coating more surreal. Illustration is more restrictive than fine art, so the challenge becomes expressing what the client wants and expressing your own personality at the same time.



madman card

Physical Education
cel vinyl on board
9.5" x 13.5", 1996


Michael Allred wrote to me out of the blue one day asking for any art I had laying around. I sent him xeroxes and he sent me comics and we've been friends ever since.

It's not unusual, though. Mike has lots of friends in the comic business, and sometimes he gets them to draw his Madman character for trading cards and pinups. I kind of like the painting I did, but it doesn't work at the size of a trading card.

I show a villain I created a few years ago, an overgrown schoolroom bully type. Operating from another dimension, he's towel-snapping Madman and administering an "atomic wedgie." The fact that I have to explain all this means the illustration doesn't work.

This card is my homage to the 1960s Batman cards by Norm Saunders, hence the surreal subject matter and impossible predicament — and the villain's Joker-like face.

Only recently did I discover that Saunders painted his originals at a small size, 5" x 3.375", so they wouldn't lose their detail when reduced. Even at that small size I noticed in Chip Kidd's Batman Collected that the original Saunders paintings are very sketchy and transparent, and that they gain their tight, plastic-like textures in the reduction. I'll do my next card at a smaller size and I won't paint as tightly as I did here.

Madman Sketch 

Left is a preparatory sketch. I used the "Paint" program that comes with Windows to lay out my color scheme.



Congratulations card
for the Allred's
new baby
ink on board
9" x 13"





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