Growing up, buying a pack of trading cards meant getting a hard stick of gum. Or, if the nerd gods proved kind, an ultra-rare chase card. Today, you can purchase a complete set of innovative X-Men-themed trading cards, familiarize yourself with the work of a slew of talented artists, and help a good cause. Kids these days!
The collection in question is The ColleXion: RefleXions, the sequel to The ColleXion, 2019’s popular, completely fan-made X-Men card set (which was spotlighted in X-Men Monday #57). Six months in the making—and featuring original artwork from 40 talented artists—this latest batch of cards mutates the trading card genre further.
Don’t expect to flip over artist Amanda Stewart’s Iceman card and find the same Robert Drake biography you know by heart. Instead, you find Bobby in all his spikey, Emma Frost-possessed glory. After all, this series’ theme is the duality of these Marvel characters. And as you flip from one card to the next, it becomes apparent just how many X-characters have had their “light” and “dark” moments.
Artist Jean Sinclair spotlights Colossus in his iconic, X-Men uniform, as well as Piotr in his Cyttorak-powered Juggernaut days. Bradley Clayton shows Storm in all her regal glory, as well as that time she became a vampire. It’s actually funny to see that pretty much every “good” character has turned villainous and every “bad” character’s had their moment of heroism.
Reflecting on RefleXions
So how does a card set featuring original art of every X-character from Apocalypse to Xorn come into frutition? Well, for ColleXion mastermind Scott Modrzynski, it’s certainly easier the second time around when you’ve got proof-of-concept and at least 20 returning artists.
“Nothing is worse than being an artist asking other artists to donate their time and skills with a vague assurance that, ‘It’ll be fun!,’” Modrzynski said.
Once the stable of artists was finalized, Modrzynski set out to balance the desires of the participating creators, the ways in which their work would shine the most, and the needs of the larger set. Returning artists got first dibs on characters of their choosing, while the new kids on the block, like Jeremy Thew, got to cut their teeth on characters like Toad (who Thew “slayed,” according to Modrzynski.)
“I’m so impressed with the work that Scott puts into making these sets,” said Adam Reck, the artist behind the Angel and X-Man cards. “He does a great job getting such a wide variety of artists involved and then shares their work with the world through these sets. He’s a very good curator who deserves a lot of accolades!”
Adds artist Josh Cornillon, “Scott’s stewardship over the project feels so fan-driven and inclusive, and every artist really wants to celebrate these characters.”
The diversity of art styles becomes apparent the more you flip through the set. Marcelo Biott and Roberto Duque were among the new artists to The ColleXion, who surprised Modrzynski by taking their art in totally unexpected directions. (Biott opted for watercolors, while Duque created animation-inspired renderings.)
“The best part of it all was being among all the other artists who are part of RefleXions,” Biott said. “I’ve always seen their artwork online as just a big fan and getting to participate this time with them all was a huge honor.”
“There’s such a wide variety of styles and mediums, all with different strengths and influences coming to the table,” said Valentine Smith, who contributed cards for Esme Cuckoo, Sage, and the White Queen. “It’s extremely rewarding to see all that hard work come together.”
Beyond ‘house style’
No disrespect to those classic card sets we grew up obsessing over, but there’s no ‘house style’ keeping the RefleXions artists from flexing their creative muscles. That allows artists like Karen Charm to perfectly capture classic Marrow in all her bone-licking glory—as well as her more stylized Alan Davis days.
“Knowing that other people will see it and being in the company of so many other great artists pushes me to be more ambitious,” Charm said. “I want to live up to the cards of my youth.”
And while living up to those classic cards’ lineage, artists like Charm are gaining fans among the ColleXion crew. Reck’s a fan of Charm’s “amazing” Marrow as well as artist Ryan Barr’s “standout” Laura Kinney. Charm is also a fan of Barr’s Wolverine, along with Smith’s “good” Esme.
“It makes me emotional to look at,” Charm shared.
Biott also has love for Smith’s work, adding, “There’s a punk vibe in her art that strikes me. The way she draws the X-People feels natural, like we’re catching them in candid moments.”
Smith was particularly struck by artist Leigh Wortly’s Madelyne Pryor art.
“Particularly the good Maddie side, jumped out the first time I saw it,” Smith said. “The concept is so solid and emotion so obvious, it’s hard to capture that but it’s done so well in that card.”
Cards for a cause
In the late 2000s, when Modrzynski worked for the New Jersey Devils, he attended a press conference where the team owner was christening a Newark, New Jersey youth hockey facility. It was there he heard the phrase, “Learn, earn, return.”
It stuck with him.
When it came time for The ColleXion crew to decide whether they pocket the proceeds from the first set or donate their earnings to charity, the artists unanimously voted to put the money toward making a difference via the Equal Justice Initiative. Proceeds from the second set will once again be directed to the EJI.
“That production coincided with George Floyd’s murder on Memorial Day, which served as a lightning rod to turn my disgust into action,” Modrzynski said. “I’m not deluded. I know what we’re doing isn’t much, but it’s what I can give, and I hope folks agree when I say the entire project is a bit of a high-tides-raising-all-ships sort of deal.”
With a second set in the can, you better believe there’s talk of a threequel—along with the desire to continue evolving the trading card genre. Modrzynski would love to work with more tactile artists, such as sculptors or oil painters with very avant-garde styles, as well as cosplayers. Oh, and what about cards that… move?
“How cool would animated cards be?” Modrzynski asked. “Like an animation festival of digital trading cards?”
Modrzynski always has fresh ideas, and even more come from discussions with his RefleXions collaborator Dave Shevlin, who came up with a good portion of the set’s original light/dark list (while contributing cards for Mirage and Moonstar).
Among those ideas: Spider-Man’s worst foes.
“Like, if a villain was considered better than Cardiac, they’re out,” Modrzynski said. “I love Cardiac, by the way. He fell in that early ‘90s sweet spot when I first got into comics, had very few, and read the same issue dozens of times.”
But that’s an article for another day. If you’re a card collector looking to add a new X-Men set to your binder, you need to act fast; Modrzynski will only be printing 99 sets (81 cards in total). As of this writing, there are under 20 left.
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