National Chicle is the art set of baseball this year. And I'm all for an art set. I'm also okay with preferring some artists' work over others. That what art is. Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock both worked in different styles and appeal to different people. Baseball cards, art-based or not, can have the same affect. While I love realistic portraits, I also hope there's some crazy stylistic choices made by the artist (within reason, of course. I'm still wondering why Chipper Jones and Babe Ruth are being compared). Hell, give me some abstract baseball cards. I can handle it. But why does it need to be under the National Chicle banner?
Topps had something going 14 years ago with Topps Gallery. The brand was created to present cards as art, even if they were just photographs at first. But eventually they became painted cards, and nice ones at that. However every set seemed to be the same and pretty soon it was just another excuse for short prints in the base set and a jersey card in every box, just like every other set from seven years ago.
Do the math: expensive paintings + expensive canvas card stock + slowing sales = no more Topps Gallery
But now if it's retro, even if you haven't heard of the cards or collected them before, they sell. Ten years isn't retro yet, so no resurrection of Topps Gallery. However if it was to become a convoluted mess like Stadium Club, I'm okay with the moritorium. Kill this National Chicle stuff so I can see the brand I recognize in a decade or two.
Branding aside, there's another error in the execution of National Chicle. It's an art set but the chase element is largely autographs and jersey cards while the sketch cards are in non-art sets like Topps. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Although sketch cards haven't been embraced by the sports community like they have been in non-sports, here's a perfect platform to convince them why they can be cool. A nice sketch card has no counterpart. It's a mini piece of art that isn't duplicated like a jersey card that has a generic white or grey swatch. So even when there's a sketch card in every box like a lot of non-sport sets, there's still a sense of uniqueness even when you don't get the best artist or "just" a pencil sketch.
For National Chicle to really catch on, it needs to fully embrace the unique stature the brand brings. Offering a fully painted base set isn't enough. Autographs, jerey cards and Allen & Ginter-esque parallel levels don't do it either. Sketch cards would have made more headway. Give me a whole bunch of nice and/or crazy art that makes a statement beyond Chipper Ruth and I'm all in.
If you want to see some art sets done right (even if they're not baseball), check out Topps' Star Wars Galaxy, Lord of the Rings Masterpieces or Indiana Jones Masterpieces.