Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with Tom Hodges

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
My first sketch card gig was Star Wars Heritage for Topps in 2004. It was just after Lucasfilm announced the Web Strip I was going to be doing to run from Fall 2004 until post EpIII release. Steve Sansweet told Topps to use me on the set since I was now officially approved to draw Star Wars and was working with Lucasfilm directly.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
It's a love/hate relationship. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. It mostly boils down to what winds up on the card. If I do a really bad card, it's because I'm not having one of those days. A good card means I'm enjoying that particular piece. It also comes down to the cards drawing surface. Some of these companies have NO IDEA what to print these cards on. Topps cards are always excellent. Rittenhouse does a good job as well. The card stock from the Marvel Masterpiece set I was on was excellent as well. But occasionally there will be a company that sends you cards on really bad stock that is difficult to work on and it makes the job less then enjoyable.

How do you feel about companies no longer doing aftermarket sketch card sets?
I was one of the first artists to offer the "Blank" on eBay with the Star Wars Heritage set. We also received 20 BLANK cards with to do as we pleased. Then the rules changed to 6 returns. The aftermarket cards were right after that. It was excellent for us to do it. I know we complain about getting X amount for each card and I know a lot of collectors complain about the effort we put into the sets depending on how many cards we do. So, when you received a card, in pencil, that wasn't so great, you could go to the artist that did that quickie sketch and have him create a full color card either from that image or a new one. I enjoyed it. It was a nice way supplement our income from the low pay we do on the cards.
It also opened the door for artists who were not on sets to erase cards and do their own thing on them and sell them privately or on eBay. But if I get into my feelings on that I'll piss off a lot of people. In the end, I think the end of the aftermarket makes for artists to do better return cards and less cards for the set. I know I'm down to doing 25 cards per set, all of which are full color.

What media do you like to work with for your cards? Is that different than what you normally use to produce artwork?
I usually use pencils/pens and marker on cards. When I'm producing art for say the Clone Wars Web Comic, I will use pen and ink and digitally color in Photoshop.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Deadlines are deadlines. You keep them, you get your work done. Occasionally the deadline will be ridiculous to meet, but somehow they are cool with extending it.

How do you approach your cards? Is there a lot of ‘prep’ time for you?
Here is my prep in this order: Oh! Cards arrived! Draw. Ship. I don't over think sketch cards unless there's specific needs.

Is your approach to your base cards any different than your sketch cards?
Entirely. I don't color with marker, for one. I do my coloring digitally... OH WAIT, NOT entirely true. My Lord of the Rings Legolas base card was marker colored. So I'm a liar right up front. LOL. As for putting more work into the piece, yes. I try to spend no more then 20 minutes on a standard sketch card, and even that is generous. More involved return cards I will spend a good hour on. Base card art, I'll spend a whole day penciling, inking and coloring one piece. I treat base cards like I would say a comic page or cover.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Oh very much so. I tend to have a specific group of people who I contact concerning returns. I also have regular clients of PSCs. A lot of collectors are very loyal to their artists and I for one appreciate that. I tend to suck at getting things done timely and sending things out, but I also regard them highly.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the card set?
I think I'm more offended by them feeling they deserve to know what we make and that we CHOOSE to get paid X amount per card. People want what they want, plain and simple. I'd feel cheated if I opened a case and pulled 20 squiggles on a card in pencil because some artist said it was Indy's whip. But if you complain about a pencil sketch that is pretty awesome because it's not a full inked/color card, you need to just walk away from collecting. This is why I 1. do far less cards then I used to and 2. stopped doing it for awhile.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
If you don't have a bad experience with a collector at least once, you're a Saint! Nothing specific, but I had someone at a Con stand over my shoulder art directing me on a $10 head sketch. A F***ING $10 HEAD SKETCH!!!

Bad experiences with companies?
You know, honestly, most companies have been pretty good with us. For those that start out rough, once they "get it", they tend to be more artist friendly. My biggest issue is when they use you on several sets and then you never hear from them again. LOL.

Has your career as an artist benefitted from doing sketch card work?
Eh... I wouldn't say yes, but I also won't say no. I think my work on other projects and my con appearances have forwarded my career more. The sketch cards have, however, given me a fan base that has grown to collect beyond the cards. Do I think sketch cards have helped, yes, but I don't think my career is riding on Sketch cards. I mean, I stopped doing them for awhile and just recently returned because I do like my work reaching people it might now. Some folks JUST collect the sketch cards, nothing else. So why not reach them on a regular basis as well?

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
The sets early on. I did 2000 cards for Heritage and 2000 cards for EpIII. There were days I was doing 200-300 cards in a day. THOSE would be the cards collectors would throw me into the fire for. Quickies of R2 and Battledroids made me less popular amongst the collectors. I've also had issues with the Strictly Ink cards. NOT the company or deadlines, the drawing surfaces were less then artist friendly. I also had a set of cards lost in the mail going back to them, which I regret.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
OH I have quite a few that whenever I see them I just LOVE that I managed to put them on a card(s). A lot of my LOTRS and M2 cards were like that. My returns on that first set were among my favorites. There was a Frodo pencil sketch card I did on that set that I absolutely loved. It was simple, completely in my style and I thought it worked so well. I REALLY liked, surprisingly enough, my HALO cards I did for Topps. There's too many Star Wars cards to name, but the G5 set recently, to me, had many cards I really enjoyed.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you? What are you planning to do with them?
I sell them. I don't really collect cards. I usually keep a base set and whatever "bonus" cards come in the set, unless they're a card someone might want and I sell them. My returns I also don't hold onto. I sell them all. I can't take it with me and better someone else has my work to enjoy.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I took a break for awhile and was surprised I missed it. I'll do any Star Wars sets that are released for sure and anything that really peaks my interest. I'd like to do more Marvel/DC cards. I really loved the Marvel Masterpieces line.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Stop emailing me to get you work. No, I'm serious. I am NOT the editor at Topps, Rittenhouse, Upper Deck... etc. POST YOUR ART ON FORUMS. Get a website. Get yourself seen. If you have something to offer, you'll get work. These companies troll the sites/forums. If you're good and/or interesting you'll get work. Emailing me will get you the exact same advice. I have in the past seen artists on sites and sent emails to editors and said "Check this guy/gal out!" I know other artists have as well. Just put yourself out there and don't be afraid to hear criticism. Nothing better then having someone ask your opinion, giving it and then have them tell you that you're just jealous of their work and should go F*** yourself. Be humble. Take advice and run with it.

What are you working on now?
Currently wrapping up Season 2 of the Clone Wars web comic for, just finished a new Acme Archives/StarWarsShop Limited Edition print for the 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and gearing up for a very busy con season... OH! and bringing my Red 5 Comic "MidKnight" back with a new writer.

Where can people see more of your work?
My website is currently in a state of construction, but you can check out my work on my DV art page here: and if you go to, you can check out Season 1 and 2 of the Clone Wars Web Comic. I'm the lead artist and I have a killer team of other artist working on the comic as well. Grant Gould, Jeff Carlisle, Daniel Falconer (Season 2)and Katie Cook (Season 1).

Thank you so much for your time, Tom!!

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