Project 2020 Allows Artists To Recreate Iconic Topps Cards

The 1952 Jackie Robinson Topps card in tattoo-artist style. A 1983 Tony Gwynn via a cartoon artist. Or a 2001 Ichiro card from a painter. The 400 combinations in the new Topps Project 2020 gives 20 diverse artists creative license over 20 iconic Topps baseball cards, creating limited-edition styles released daily on the Topps website.

“We were seeing what was happening with other products, such as in the sneaker world, with brands partnering with artists to create these special limited-edition products,” says Jeff Heckman, Topps director of global ecommerce. “We are all about limited-edition cards, so we thought it would be really cool to partner with 20 great artists, pick 20 iconic cards going back to 1952 and let artists have creative reins.”

It’s worked for Topps. Project 2020 is proving plenty popular. Launched this spring, the 400 total cards release with two new cards every weekday on the Topps site, available in a print-on-demand format for just 48 hours. The cards are printed and shipped within three to five business days. The program will last through the end of December, allowing all 20 artists to create their own take on the 20 iconic cards.

“We really spanned the number of types of art, going for a range,” Heckman says. “We have painters, tattoo artists, traditional artists.”

Topps focused on baseball for its first-of-its-kind effort, selecting cards instantly recognizable. The oldest cards in the collection are the 1952 Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays versions. The newest is a 2011 Mike Trout card. Others include Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken Jr. Tony Gwynn, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro and Derek Jeter.

The reaction from fans has been “amazing,” Heckman says. The lowest print run was 1,100, but on April 16 they did a run of a Derek Jeter release that required a printing of 9,800 cards.

“Like anything, you see there are some teams and players more popular than others,” Heckman says. “It is no accident Derek Jeter printed so high. Ken Griffey Jr. is very popular and Mike Trout as our only current player. Different styles appeal to different people and different artists have higher followings than others and those factors go into it. We have seen a lot of consistency, there is not one level of artists and another level way below.”

Topps has spaced out the schedule as best it can so that the same players and same artists aren’t launching together, really upping the diversity. That means fans will see Ermsy, a cartoon artist, Gregory Siff, who dives into the back story of a player, Fucci, a painter who has never done sports and doesn’t paint faces, all merge together into the program.

“They all have their own styles,” Heckman says. Blake Jamieson has his own painting style; Ben Baller is known for designing jewelry and brings that element into the cards; and Tyson Beck has a background in working with the NBA. Even artists within the same vein have different takes, such as tattoo artist JK5 who only works in black and white and Mister Cartoon, also a tattoo artist, who uses vectorized art.

“We could talk about how every one of these artists is very fascinating and unique,” Heckman says. “When we drop these cards, they are all very different.”

Other artists in the program include Andrew Thiele, Don C, Efdot, Grotesk, Jacob Rochester, Joshua Vides, Keith Shore, King Saladeen, Matt Taylor, Naturel, Oldmanalan and Sophia Chang.

Heckman says the goal of the program was to really increase the Topps relationship with the creative community, having always had a history in that world. Topps first used paintings instead of pictures, after all, on cards. “It has been awesome and really unprecedented and really opened up doors for a lot of people who haven’t thought about Topps in a while,” he says. “We have people going to the website and searching Topps to see our current lineup. That was always the goal of it and so far, we have been able to accomplish that.”

As the discussion continues to grow around both the Topps and artistic communities about what trading cards can be, Heckman says the brand has really just started exploring the potential of the concept. “Topps has always been a creative company and the creative community has come to Topps,” he says. “We have planted our flag and it has been great to see the interaction with the artists and the response from non-traditional trading collectors. We have really just scratched the surface of what we could do.”

Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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