Saturday, May 19, 2012

REVIEW - 2012 Bowman

A full week after it hit shelves, 2012 Bowman finally made its way to the Walmart in my town, so this is the first chance I've had to take a look that the set.

Starting off with the base card design, the first thing you'll notice is the familiar black borders are gone. I'm a little torn on this one. For the last decade or so, Topps did a great job of branding Bowman with something as simple as having a consistent black border on the base design every year. Looking at these all-white borders, I'm kind of missing that Bowman feel. But on the bright side, the black borders are notorious for showing every little imperfection along the edges, so their absence here helps rectify that.

Another change of pace is the introduction of team-specific colors into the design. In years past, the only colors to go along with the black borders were a small bit of red for veterans or green for rookies. Now you'll find blue and purple and a whole host of other colors.  The team logos return in full color after showing up in gold foil last year.

There are a few things I'm not crazy about. The names being in silver foil on top of black is just as hard to read here as the the gold on black was on the flagship design. I'm also not a big fan of all the unnecessary bevels around some of the frame elements. Those are, however, small quibbles. Something that's subtle but really helps the players shine here is the light drop shadow you'll see around the guys. It more noticeable on lighter backgrounds, like the Utley one up there, but helps to add focus to subject of the card. If it were any heavier, I'd probably be bitching about it forever, but they got it about perfect here.

The back side of the base cards continue the same feel as the front, only the border here is gray instead of white. Can't figure that one out. Only having stats from the 2011 season seems like a trade-off they had to make for the veteran cards since Bowman's primary focus is prospects. The 'RESUME' 'SKILLS' and 'EVOLUTION' things are fine, though I prefer the 'UP CLOSE' section on the backs of the prospect cards, which replaces 'EVOLUTION.' One thing they kind of messed up on is having the card number in the right corner instead of the left. BASEBALL CARD LAW: horizontal backs have to be numbered in the upper left corner to help for storage box sorting.

The design for the prospect "inserts" is really, really similar to the base design. In fact, it's almost problematically similar. For the 2011 set, the prospect cards had a white border to differentiate from the black bordered-base, so it didn't really matter if the designs were similar or not. This year, though, the made the designs almost identical on top of having the same colored borders. Not sure what the thinking was there unless they're really trying to test the MLB's patience with the whole Bowman prospect worship thing. Regardless, I think it was a dumb decision.

There are parts where the designs differ, though: prospect has a symmetrically convex border compared to trapezoidally-shaped base border with the little weird notches on each side; the cutout for the position on the bottom is wider and rounder for the prospect design; the base set doesn't have those weird wing things on each side of the logo. I think if the base design didn't have those notches or if the prospect set didn't have the wings, you'd have an all-around better design for one or the other. But holy hell, they shouldn't look this similar.

I'll give them credit regarding the autographs, though. They did away with the facsimile autos on the 'base' prospect cards, which really helps the make the actual auto cards more unique.

Just like every other Topps product, this one comes with lots of parallels. Gold, blue, red, orange, green, blue, international, blue, red ice, silver ice, Dentyne ice, blue. I think the flags on the international is kinda neat. The silver and red ice versions are basically just atomic refractors. Really, they have at least twice as many parallels as they should, if not more. But in honor of the Preakness today, I'll refrain from beating that dead horse.

Finishing up here is this year's edition of the Bowman's Best insert. Again, they have the red version for veterans and blue for prospects. There are also die-cut versions, which have all kinds of crazy refractor parallels themselves. Design-wise, I like the different textures on the swoosh and the background. Along with the type and name bar, I appreciate the simplicity of the design.

Overall, I think there's some pretty good, modern design here even if it's not completely "Bowman."

Base cards: 4.25/5
Parallels: 3.5/5
Prospects: 4.25/5
Inserts: 4/5

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pennant Throwbacks

So one of the things that really jumps out at me when thumbing through retro sets like Gypsy Queen is when you see a card like this next to a card like this. No matter how many filters you run on photos of current-day players, they'll never quite match that historic feeling you get from old photos of retired players. One way to help bridge the gap would be to feature today's guys wearing throwback uniforms.

Here's the first insert set for the Pennant brand. The design for Throwbacks isn't specific to a certain era, just a bit of an amalgamation of a handful of characteristics you'll find in various retro sets. It kind of follows the philosophy of the base set, combining a feel for the old and contemporary.

The hard part here is finding the right images in a somewhat shallow pool. There aren't a whole lot of throwback games on the schedule so the odds of finding an actual star wearing these duds in a good photo are a bit smaller than usual. The Lincecum image here is from a 2008 game while the Kemp one is from last season. The color boxes aren't the exact shades you'll find in the teams' styleguides, but they're in the right neighborhood to allow for the sometimes funky colors of the throwback unis.

Another wrinkle to add to the set is a relic parallel. With a round cutout just above the last name, it's a perfect place to house a sliver of these throwbacks. And, luckily, since the uniforms depicted are so singularly unique, you know that the swatch is from the actual uniform depicted. Even though it's the Dodgers, you have to love that baby blue relic.

Here's what the base and relic look like side by side.

On the backside, you'll see the write-up is specific to the game in each throwback uniform is involved. The base has a game recap along with a little bit of info regarding the throwback worn. For the relic version, it includes the fine print of the swatch being authentic and unique to the player and uniform depicted.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spirit Deluxe Portraits

Trying to come up with 'new' or 'innovative' ideas for cards isn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. Even though there are plenty of complaints to levy at Topps for some of their product choices, they actually do quite a few things that are pretty successful and cool. At this point, most of their missteps come from constructing releases and not so much the actual cards themselves. People like autographs and minis and parallels and short prints and die-cuts and memorabilia and just about every other 'gimmick' out there to varying degrees. But all in all, these are basic elements that go into constructing a set.

This blog has basically been me just rearranging some or all of these elements into what I think would be fun to manufacture. If there were another licensee out there releasing product in 2012, these are things I could see fitting into the marketplace, acting as either a supplement or an alternative to Topps.

That brings us to the cards in this post. I was looking for another 'insert' or whatever you'd like to call it for the Deluxe set. I didn't feel like doing one of those triple swatch, nickname cutout sticker autos that you find in Triple Threads. Even though Deluxe is Spirit's 'high-end' product, it's probably more in tune with something like Finest (which is definitely the very top of my own personal price range.) I see that Topps plans on having some die-cuts in Finest this year, but hopefully this doesn't come across as copy-catting.

So for the Deluxe Portraits insert, there are 3 different versions you could get your hands on. The first would be the standard Deluxe Portraits insert base, seen here with Jaime Garcia. The design features a tightly cropped portrait with the Deluxe-familiar team-color cloth background. The only other thing adorning the front of the card is the Spirit Deluxe logo in silver foil. Somehow, these seem to come across as more personal and intimate without the player name cluttering the front. The back continues the team-color cloth with a brief write-up.

The second version is the die-cut parallel, here with David Price. The design is basically the same except the obvious die cut edges around the player. And finishing off the trio is the die-cut auto version, seen at the top with Brett Lawrie.

Even though parallels can sometimes be redundant and annoying, I feel like this insert captures the best aspects of paralleling a design. Each version offers something different other than just a different color border or refraction. The whole 'cut-out head' thing may seem a little hokey for a 'high-end' set, but I think it's fun. And if you ask me, fun is definitely something we could all use more of in card design these days.