The Good Word: A Well Designed Mail Day

By James Good

For the last three plus years at COMC I’ve seen every single tweet, Instagram picture, and Facebook post that we’ve been  tagged in. My absolute favorite posts that we get repeatedly see are our customer’s Mailday pictures, where they show their followers all of the items that they recently received in their latest COMC shipment. We routinely reshare these on our instagram page and twitter accounts, so be sure to keep tagging us in your #Maildays!

Seeing all of our customer’s incoming items for their personal collection inspired me to share some of the contents of an incoming COMC package of my own. While there are plenty of not so exciting items in that package that simply fill the gaps of my Mitch Haniger player collection, there are bunch of other items that have been inspired by my latest inspiration for collecting: buying cards based on unique card design.

I think that card design is a very low priority for a lot of collectors, as we’ve grown accustom to cards designed around sticker autos and recycled designs, among other visually unappealing decisions. Most prospectors don’t even consider card design when stashing away players in hopes of a later payday. The truth is that the card design for the majority of modern cards is very underwhelming. I’m not going to publicly shame any manufacturers, because with so many sets being printed these days, poor design choices were bound to happen. Just like without the bad moments in life we wouldn’t appreciate the good ones, without bad card design, we couldn’t appreciate good card design.

The 2008 Topps Factory Set Mickey Mantle Chrome Refractor Reprints set is the perfect example of the modernization of a reprint done right. There isn’t an overload of numbered parallels, and the design is simply a clean replica of the original on a modern chrome cardstock. The 1952 Mantle RC has been reprinted time-and-time again over the years, most having some sort of poor design choice shoehorned in. Topps got it right in 2008, and in the 2006 Topps ’52 set where they swapped the background color of this iconic card in a creative re-imagining. I’ll probably never own the real thing, so these reprints fill the void in my collection.

One rookie card that I am fortunate enough to own is a PSA 9 2007 Bowman Chrome – Prospects Tim Lincecum Gold Autograph #’d 31/50. As I talked about in one of the earlier installments of The Good Word , I love manufactured patch cards. These three are among my latest pick ups that fit the qualifications of well designed cards. Lincecum’s unconventional pitching delivery might have shortened his career, but it did produce a wealth of great trading cards along the way. I’m a sucker for the stars and stripes, so the 2010 Topps – Jumbo Packs Manufactured Hat Logo Relic on the right ranks highly on my well-designed sets list.

 

Which leads me to this 1912 Player’s Countries Arms & Flags Tobacco Card #4. I am not much of a vintage collector, much to the chagrin of my colleague Rich Klein, who two years ago at a National Sports Collector’s Convention took my 1960’s football card knowledge to task. I think that anytime you can buy something that’s over 100 years old for $0.50, you probably should, and this card was no exception. Even being 107 years old with a bit of paper loss, it still checks all the boxes for a well designed card.

As a kid growing up in the 90’s, nothing stuck with me more than the roller coast ride that was the 1995 ‘Refuse to Lose‘ Seattle Mariners. During that period of time, I opened so many packs of 1995 Score in search of the Gold Rush parallel of my favorite Mariners and 1996 Upper Deck Collector’s Choice looking for Gold Facsimile Signatures and You Crash the Game cards. I was never able to pull these two, but thanks to COMC, my hundreds of dollars of summer jobs and allowance money was not wasted in vein.

By comparison, the 1995 Score Gold Rush Parallel is inferior to the Platinum Team Set version. I really love the design on the Hitters Inc. subset, and not just because Albert Belle’s mean mug is a hidden gem. There were many iterations of Collector’s Choice ‘You Crash the Game’ contest across multiple sports, but the 1996 baseball version did it best with a bright orange and red foiled explosion design. Not only was it a great design, but it was a great concept that has stood the test of time. I know a certain 2019 Topps insert set with an awfully similar promotion.

If I were to rank Topps flagship designs, 1968 Topps would likely fall in the middle of the list. It’s not a bad design per say, it’s just not my style. I do love the rounded corners of the black border and white space between the player photo and border, but the textured brown outer border doesn’t work for me. That being said, this card jumps off the page to me because it features one of the best photos of any Mariner ever featured on a trading card.

Vogey looks larger-than-life in this pose, and the Safeco Field logo in the background is a nice finishing touch. It almost makes you forget that he has a career MLB batting average of .197, or that Safeco Field is now T-Mobile Park.This card screams “In Vogey We Trust” , that he’s our guy of the future, and that I’m willing to put in writing that he’ll hit 30 bombs whenever he’s given his first full year in the Bigs.

Last but not least, there hasn’t been a better non-sports set idea since the Map Relic Insert Sets from Upper Deck’s last two Goodwin Champions sets. These sets have checked all of the boxes I’m looking for when determining good card design:

  1. Make it unique
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Feature Great Photography

These cards do an perfect job encapsulating the points of interest they feature. The embedded map relic is a unique element that I don’t recall ever seeing on a card prior to these sets. My goal is to eventually collect all of the map relics of places that I’ve visited. Right now that list is at eight:

Niagara Falls, Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, Capital HillGolden Gate Bridge, Freedom Tower, Mount Rainier, and Ruby Beach .

Ruby Beach holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the destinations along the first road trip that my fiancé and I went on almost four years ago. Traveling to the coast of Washington to be close to the water has been a recurring trend in our relationship. Later this year, we’ll get married near the beaches of Moclips, Washington, about 65 miles south of where the photo of this card was snapped.

Now it’s your turn! In the comments below, let us know some of your favorite cards from your most recent mailday!

The Good Word: It’s in the Game!

One of the best parts about my job at COMC is the amount of collectors I get to talk with about the hobby on the weekly basis. Whether it’s at The National talking to our members in person, or retweeting personal collection pick ups on twitter, it’s fascinating to see what collectors enjoy collecting and how they build their personal collections. I was recently talking with one of the members of our Developmental Team who didn’t collect cards prior to joining the COMC Team, but is slowly carving out his niche in the hobby – collecting trading cards featuring dogs!

That conversation led me to the discovery of a set that I had never seen or heard of before – The 2006 Enterplay Nintendo Nintendogs set. Nintendogs is a real-time pet simulation video game that was released on the handheld Nintendo DS console almost 15 years ago. This would fall somewhere in the timeline after the rise-and-fall of Tamagotchi toys, but before social media and mobile games such as Farmville gained massive popularity. The game spurned a whole slew of spin-offs and imitation games that can be had for a buck or two at any used gaming store.

Furthering down that rabbit hole, I wondering what other video game themed trading card sets were out there that I didn’t know about. To my surprise, the answer is shockingly not that many. Before we go any further, for the sake of this blog post, I’m removing all Pokemon related cards from the discussion, as that is a video game that has transcended beyond gaming to pop culture status. My Grandmother can name far more Pokemon than just Pikachu, and she hasn’t played a single video game since the days of Atari in the early 1980’s.

The origin of video game related trading cards can be traced to the 1980 Fleer Pac-Man Stickers set. Each $0.30 pack contained 3 stickers, 3 trading cards, and 1 piece of gum, with each box consisting of 36 packs. The cards themselves even feature a cleverly designed rub-off game that is essentially the Pac-Man game built into a card. The price point is interesting at $0.30, considering a game of Pac-Man at the arcade would cost you $0.25 (or your whole pocket of quarters, because who only plays one game of Pac-Man?)

Nintendo appears to have initially been hot on trading cards as they began to make a name for themselves in the United States. In the late 1980’s, they released stickers and several trading cards sets that featured similar scratch-off games themed after popular video games such as Double Dragon, Punch Out!!!, Super Mario Bros, and the Legend of Zelda.

Perhaps the lack of retail success of these sets could be the attributed to the reason why Nintendo branded trading cards all but dropped off the face of the earth in the 1990’s. While there were a handful of food issue cards and promo cards included with video games, there are very few Nintendo trading cards from the 90’s. In fact, the only real video game set with any hobby relevance appears to be the 1993 Topps Sonic the Hedgehog set, a Sega-brand character, and even that is a set that COMC has seen very few cards from over our existence.

It strikes me as odd that the 16-bit and 64-bit eras of gaming in the 90’s are incredibly underrepresented in the trading card world. The Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 produced so many great series that would have translated well into  trading card sets, such as Kirby, Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter just to name a few. Even Sony didn’t venture too far into the world of trading cards, with only a couple of sets released highlighting Final Fantasy, one of their flagship series at the time.

It wasn’t until Enterplay acquired the licensing rights to several of Nintendo’s most popular franchises in the late 2000’s that video game related trading cards would see any sort of consistency with products and releases. Along with the aforementioned Nintendogs set, they also released sets for Nintendo Wii games such as Mario Kart , Super Mario Galaxy, and the Legend of Zelda. While it appears that Enterplay still has a partnership in place with Nintendo, they’ve since shifted their focus almost entirely to the My Little Pony Collectible Card Game, which now has over a dozen different sets since it’s debut in 2012.

My biggest issue with the Enterplay cards is that they’re emotionless, featuring very uninspired designs and characters ripped straight out the video games. These cards do a very poor job celebrating these beloved franchises, which have been well represented elsewhere through time by big named artists and fan-created artwork that put the Enterplay cards to shame. I understand that Enterplay is a relatively small player in the trading world, and probably needed to keep production costs down on these products, but even fan submitted artwork om these sets would have drastically increased the overall production quality. Give me an insert featuring painted landscapes of all of the locations in a Zelda game, or the tracks in Mario Kart. But don’t expect me to get excited over cards that come across as second-rate marketing material.

Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption. An incredibly complex character who struggles with morality and social stature of the life of turn of the century cowboy.

So where do we go from here? Video game sales topped $43 billion dollars in 2018, an 18% increase of 2017. We’ve come along way from the days of 8-bit side-scrollers and top-down racers. Gaming franchises are only becoming more beloved as their creators tell deeper and more complex stories, with characters displaying stunningly human-like ranges of emotions, motivations, desires, flaws and traits. I would argue that most story-driven video games do a better job with their narratives than even the very best Hollywood movies can accomplish. So why do we have so many non-sports card sets for  movies such as Doctor Strange, Aliens, and James Bond, but none of Final Fantasy 10-15, Red Dead Redemption, or Assassin’s Creed?  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a knock on movie cards , but rather a call to action for the gaming industry

Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins made nearly $10 million dollars in 2018 as Fortnite’s most popular streamer and gaming personality. He appeared on the cover ESPN Magazine, sparking a transition into full blown celebrity status.

Fortnite is the biggest video game on the planet right now. Children, teenagers, and even (or, especially) adults spend literally hundreds of dollars on a game that is free to play by purchasing cosmetic items that allow them to customize their character. These items have zero effect on competitive game play. With Fortnite’s publisher Epic Games making money hand over fist with their product (the company has an estimated value of $8 billion dollars), why aren’t card companies like Topps, Upper Deck, and Panini eagerly trying to acquire the licensing rights? There HAS to be a multi-million dollar market for these products just waiting to be capitalized on.

Imagine if a card manufacturer was able to sign some of Fornite’s top competitive players and popular streamers, offering chase cards that granted those who pulled a card the opportunity to play with some of these players? It doesn’t even matter what the quality of the product was at that point, that concept alone would sell insane amounts of product. Those unfamiliar with the concept of eSports and video game streaming culture may not understand why this would be a big deal. So imagine if you busted a pack of trading cards, and inside you won a trip that involved taking batting practice with Kris Bryant, or running routes and receiving passes from Patrick Mahomes II, or learning how to shoot threes with Steph Curry. For those ingrained in the video game world, who watch these players on a daily basis the same way we watch sports athletes, it’s the exact same concept.

Perhaps I’m just angling too hard for the cross-over potential of two things that I love and am passionate about. The history of video game related trading cards over the years paints a picture of repeatedly missed opportunities. There have been a lot of clever innovations over the years in the video game industry. Nintendo is among the those at the forefront of that effort, from utilizing NFC-technology in their Amiibo figurines to creating Nintendo Labo DIY kits that are functional robotics with just the technology of a Nintendo Switch controller. But aside from Pokemon cards, they don’t seem to have a desire or clue how to take their franchises, their most powerful asset, and capitalize on the beloved characters and stories they’ve created over the last 40 years. Maybe it’s time to pause and hit the reset button, because they’ve been playing the trading card game wrong for a really long time.

The Good Word: Manufactured Blog Post

(Note: COMC Communications Manager James Good wears many hats at COMC, including Social Media Manager and Blog Editor. While he does a wealth of the writing and curating of other blog posts found on our Blog, ‘The Good Word’ is a new regular Editorial style blog series where he will more openly share his opinions and thoughts on sports and trading cards.)

It is rumored that P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. I’d like to think that there are no such thing as suckers when it comes to collecting, but that every single one of us has a guilty pleasure or two that other collectors might see as silly or downright foolish. Whatever you want to call it, I have no shame in admitting that I love manufactured patch cards. Manufactured patches are hit-or-miss among most collectors, and I like how polarizing they are. There is very little gray area when it comes to them, collectors either love them or hate them.

My fascination with them began in 2008 when I was getting reacquainted with the landscape of the card industry following a hiatus from collecting. Among the first Felix Hernandez cards that I bought for my personal collection were his 2008 UD Premier Stitchings manufactured patches. The logo inside these cards was very well designed, and in Mariners colors as well.

The first Seattle Mariners card I ever fell in love with was obviously the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.. The second was Alex Rodriguez’s 1994 Flair RC. The third card in that list is one from a set that most collectors are probably much less familiar with. When I first saw the 2007 Upper Deck Black Pride of a Nation set, I thought it was one of the most unique sets I had ever seen.  I was 22 years old at the time and didn’t have a lot of money, but I was able to strike a deal with a collector via a forum and in four $25 weekly paypal payments I was the owner of this beautiful piece of cardboard:

I think that when done right, a well-designed manufactured patch or logo card is better than most authentic game used swatch jersey cards. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for a sick patch, laundry tag, or logoman. But take a look at the below series of cards and tell me which one appeals to you more:

Ok fine, maybe don’t answer that last one, because as far as I’m concerned the Babe Ruth Jumbo from Tools of the Trade is the pinnacle of jersey cards. It goes without saying that most of the time we would much rather have a historical piece of the game over a manufactured patch, so my theory doesn’t exactly apply to legends and Hall of Fame players. Which creates an interesting question. I prefer the manufactured patches of Tim Lincecum and Peyton Manning shown above now, but what about fifty years from now? Will the overproduced jersey and patch cards of today’s greats be coveted or as remotely desirable as some of present day in-demand Hall of Fame memorabilia cards such as 1/1 bat knobs and the  Babe Ruth that I shared above?

Card manufacturers will need to continually innovate as they roll out new products, parallels and cards that are intended to draw the interest of new collectors. For some lifelong collectors, flagship Topps Series 1 or the Young Guns RC’s in Upper Deck Series 1 hockey is more than enough to keep them ripping wax on a yearly basis. But as long as the demand remains for unique cards, the rat race of latest and greatest goes on. I think that manufactured patches, rings, and relics offer a solid creative outlet for them to continue to produce some unique additions to the hobby.

To wrap up the first installment of ‘The Good Word’, I felt compelled to share some of my personal favorite cards featuring manufactured materials. Enjoy!