The year was 1999, and three dollars was all it cost to buy a kid a ticket to another world. That ticket came in the form of shiny plastic foil wrapped around 11 pieces of cardboard: a Pokemon Trading Card Game Booster Pack. When my parents handed me that first pack, purchased from the game store in the local mall, I don’t think they knew it was a one way ticket. I never left that world of trading cards again, at least not wholly. I was changed by what I found there. Their old son never came back.
2.5 inches wide x 3.5 inches tall. ⅛ inch border on all four sides. Eleven cards per pack. 36 packs per box. From that point on, these were the dimensions I dreamed in. And a lot of kids probably did. Pokemon cards took the US by storm, and captured and enslaved the minds of its children better than any alien parasite ever could. If you weren’t a kid in 1999, I’m not sure you can truly understand what it felt like. The closest I can come to making an adult understand how powerful and amazing pokemon trading cards were is to say this: I will never be as excited about owning a car or a house as I was owning a holographic Charizard card in 1999. Pokemon cards were a gateway all kids shared, and the most prized possessions we would ever own. They were a social network before facebook, before myspace. You were revered by what you had, rejected for what you didn’t. They built friendships and broke others. They were everywhere, inescapable, a monetary system that was better than money because they weren’t money; they were multicolored pieces of glossy cardboard depicting our favorite cartoon characters.
1999 was a glorious, all encompassing, spiritual experience. 1999 was a shared dream.
Most kids woke from that dream by the time they hit middle school. Some left to play basketball, or chase girls, or new hobbies, but I never did. From the moment I opened that first booster pack, I felt I had to stay in that world. And as I found it retreating around me, weakened with every child lost, I knew I would have to take things into my own hands. I would have to make my own world. I'd create my own trading cards.
I love drawing and art, and have been doing it unconsciously for as long as I can remember. Looking back at it now, I think it was all training for the great task. A world needs feeding after all.
I love drawing and art, and have been doing it unconsciously for as long as I can remember. Looking back at it now, I think it was all training for this one great task.
My early creations were crudely drawn, but creatively ripe. And I felt powerful. All of creation was in my two little hands. I could do anything, everything. This initial card series was based on Brian Jacques "Redwall", a series of books detailing the mythic lives of a bunch of castle dwelling mice and the various vermin they battle. (figure 3.) Drawn in rough pencil on construction paper, and colored only in the most minimal sense, Redwall proved itself to be too daunting a task for little old me. It was a good test run though, incorporating the language of trading card games: common, uncommon, and rare for instance.
But my artistic skill grew, and with it, so did my patience. I started to slow down, to create my own characters and creations (figure 4). I started to visualize the boundaries and structures of a world of my own. Coloring in the lines that had previously only been pencil scratches elevated my craft, but something was still missing. Certainly not creativity, that's what I had always been praised on; but Authenticity was what I needed. I wanted my cards to be accepted by the masses, proven through trial and test to stand up to anything the Pokemon card company could put out.
Computers naturally entered my arsenal I reached the pinnacle of what Microsoft Word could achieve; dropping in textures, shadows, boxes, lore, cropped images, more boxes, gradients, symbols and even more text boxes! Thirteen year old me thought I was on top of the world, stealing pictures from google images from a dozen different franchises. I delved into Terminator (figure 3), Jurassic Park, Iron Man, Transformers, LOST, District 9 (figure 4, LOL). With blinders firmly attached, I barreled onward, oblivious to the dangerous amounts of time and computer ink I was using to feed my dream.
With my artistic skills blossoming nicely throughout high school, I took a graphic design class in my senior year, and was introduced to a program called photoshop. It changed my life. A career in the art field was no longer just a wish, but a necessity. Various artistic endeavors followed, and somehow I held tight to my childhood dream. And now I find myself in the now, a professional graphic designer and artist. I have passed crude line drawings, stolen photography, clipart, text boxes and drop shadows, and have reached the bright, shiny world of the present. It's a wide open world, and into it I bring... Booster Brat- A Trading Card Story. My story.
To say this is a culmination of all the art and experiences I have had thus far as a twenty something year old is not an overstatement. So many of the stories I remember from my childhood have a 1/8in black or yellow border around them, and those are the stories I have captured here. Each card features an original piece of digital art inspired by the characters and situations my younger self had to navigate through. And if you are wondering "how could stories about trading cards be interesting?" you haven't thought hard enough about what it is to be young, ruthless and excited. You haven’t thought hard enough about 1999.
I remember anger when my ‘friend’ Kyle attempted to back out of a trade when I was in first grade. I remember shame when my father caught me manipulating my own little brother into giving me a card I wanted. I remember pity when my brother begged to trade with me and I saw nothing in his entire collection that was of worth. I remember horror when my entire Digimon card collection reappeared as a wad of sodden paper after it went through the washing machine. I remember the excitement, the anger, the disappointment, the joy. I know others remember those things too.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are other people out there, many others, that have similar stories. They've likely forgotten them, or tucked them away as adulthood reared its ugly head. Many probably feel they have outgrown the stupid cardboard rectangles that defined so much of their formative years. These are the people I want to reach. I want to transport them back, even just for a few moments, to a time when things were simpler. I want them to bask in the anticipation of the unknown. I want them to feel the excitement of ripping open a booster pack again. They don't know what is waiting for them on the other side, but it is likely something glorious. I want them to take the chance.
Booster Brat features avatars of the shaping forces of childhood, and their competing hold on my attention and interest. My parents were an iron fist of control in the early days, blocking our most idiotic trades and protecting us from brutality of this new world. My brothers, character of their own, often dictated the direction I walked in. Where their interest went, I followed, for the safest way to keep my world alive was to have someone help me do it. I followed and led them into Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Digimon and more. And finally there was my Greed. Uncontainable and growing like a many armed monster always seeking more, it became a foe as well as a guide. These are the characters that populate the cards of my childhood, and so they will guide my audience onward into the story of all of us.
60 cards came in the original Pokemon Starter decks. These are preconstructed packs with set cards that best allow a new player to enter the game and become addicted to it. I'd like to invite my audience into my world with something like that, a starter set, if you will. And from there, the possibilities are endless. 11 card booster packs came next, tiny sealed containers of promise that became the backbone of collecting. That seems like a nice place to go next. Trading cards are like separated panels of a comic, split pages of a book. Yet they are more valuable because they stand on their own, as their own art, as well as part of a collective. So every card I create can be its own story, individually released to a waiting audience, feeding their interest in this greater story that encompasses not only my life and memories, but their own.
Having worked on this project the last few years, I have thought long and hard about what it truly means to me. I want to finish it right, taking my time to get every conceivable detail right, and as close to my memory as possible. Let this project be another portal for you to step through, back into childhood, back into the unknown. It has been for me, and I'm willing to let y'all nab a ticket of your own.
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