Saturday, October 25, 2008

Industry Interview: Brian Kong, Sketch Card Artist

With 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights Baseball now live, collectors are starting to uncover the first sketch cards the product has to offer. Many of the auction sellers that I've seen seem to be setting their expectations a little on the high side. Okay, a lot on the high side. Nonetheless, there's some great art out there.

Interestingly, I've noticed that many of the sketch cards are carrying the Stadium Club design and even state they were pulled from 2008 Stadium Club Baseball on the back. I wonder if that means that presales for the revamped line are on the low end, thus leaving a bunch of extra sketch cards to be inserted. So why not throw them in the Updates mix and make things a little more confusing.

Enough of the critiquing already. Let's get on with the interview. Brian Kong has been working in baseball for several years creating comics for teams and stadium giveaways. He's also been lending his talents to several non-sport sets for sketch cards. Meld the two and you have one of the artists in Topps' second foray into sketch cards.

Like the Rich A. Molinelli interview from earlier in the week, I submitted the questions via email and Kong graciously took the time to provide some industry insights in his area of expertise. If you'd like to learn more about him, see more samples of his work or request a commission, you can check out his website at

What drew you into illustration as a professional? (no pun intended)
Well, as long as I can remember I was always doodling when I was a kid - especially the Peanuts characters. As I got a little older, I was really into comics and tried to draw like my favorite artists (George Perez and John Byrne ). I'd staple together a bunch of paper and make my own comic books and took blank card board and draw my own baseball cards. So I guess I really knew what I'd be doing in the future, lol.

How would you describe your style?
I guess I would say a cross between comic book and realism. I have many influences from the comic book industry and I believe that comes though a little bit when I work a property that requires likenesses such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Heroes.

How did you get started with sketch cards?
After working in comics and advertising I started noticing more and more companies doing sketch cards for the non-sport properties. Cool ones like Star Wars , LOTR , Wizard of Oz...I figured it would be fun to work on these properties and started contacting the manufacturers and was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work on the WOZ set for Breygent.

What were your experiences with sports art prior to the upcoming Topps baseball sets?
I'm a huge baseball fan so I was always drawing portraits of players and get them signed by them at games and signings (since my teens) In 2001, I started drawing "Custom Comics" for several MLB teams such as the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Rangers, Indians and Mariners. These were given away at stadiums to kids and featured the players as superheroes. I also went on to work on a few books for NBA teams [such as the] Mavericks and Heat.

What sorts of references did you use to select the images for Topps' upcoming baseball sets?
Topps provided the artist with photos to work off of and being a fan I have tons of cards and photos myself.

Did you use any "famous" photos or old cards as references?
I did do a couple of  famous cards such as Roberto Clemente & Greg Maddux (87 wood boarder). Those were a few of my favorites and I thought collectors would like them. I wish I had time to do more.

Do you have any favourite players to work on? If so, do these correspond with your favourite teams and players?
I'm a big time Yankees fan and always drew Mattingly portraits growing up. I did do a bunch of Yankees but I realize not everyone are Yankees fans so I tried to give a really good mixture of current and vintage players from as many teams as I could as well as classic moments and rookies.

From the Topps sketches you did, do you have any favourites collectors might want to look for?
It's tough. I had so much fun working on these sets and really went all out on all the cards all across the board. But I really liked a Robinson Cano portrait I did for Updates.

How is working on baseball sketch cards different from your work in non-sports? Do you consider it any harder or easier?
I wouldn't really say one is harder or easier than the other since I've been fortunate enough to work on properties I like. The difference is that baseball players aren't wearing any crazy armor or costumes with details, but their logos can be tedious.

What sorts of limitations did you have on what players you could select? Poses?
There really weren't any limitations on poses, just as long as it was in good taste...I didn't draw any players "adjusting"  themselves, lol. [Editor's note: Thank you!]

What kind of a response are you hoping to get from sports card collectors as they begin to get their first sketch cards?
Being a collector myself, I know the feeling of cracking open a pack and pulling an insert. It is something new and since it is an "original" piece of art combined with the "one-of-one" factor I think that collectors will really appreciate them.

Can collectors contact you for commissions? If so, what is the cost?
I'm available for commission work, depending on my deadlines. I offer personal sketch cards (my own 16pt. /glossy back trading card stock) as well as bigger sizes. Prices vary so [collectors] can contact me through my website

Are you going to make your Topps returns available? If so, how?
Yes, our artist proofs/ returns....for those not familiar...Topps lets the artist keep some cards as part of our compensation that we can sell on the secondary market once the sets are released. In the  non-sports community these usually command even more then the pack-inserted cards.Collectors can contact me at  , some may also pop up on Ebay, my art rep and I do a lot of conventions/shows and often have my cards for sale there.

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