Hobby Musings: Jean MacLeod is Back as Trading Card Designer – In today’s hustle and bustle of the trading card world, it can be easy to forget about the hobby’s rich history. One of the people behind that history is Jean MacLeod. Responsible for some of the hobby’s most cherished 90s card designs, she got back into the game by doing Upper Deck’s recent Metal design. I had the chance to talk with her about her origins in the hobby, as well as what brought her back into it.
KS: For those who don’t know, how did you get started in trading card design?
JM: My husband Earl and I had our own business. Things had slowed down for us a little bit, so we decided one of us was going to get a job temporarily to get us through that time. We were both offered jobs, and we were trying to decide who would take the offer. My job offer was from Fleer. We had worked in Atlantic City previously, and my portfolio was very flashy and technology driven. They saw that and thought it was something they could see putting into cards. Ultimately, I took the job.
When I got in, we started expanding the brands. There was only Fleer and Ultra at the time, and they really wanted to expand into premium and super premium brands. They asked if I knew any other designers, and I said that my husband was one. Fleer offered him a set and they were happy with it, so they offered him a contract. From that point on, around 1993, he was a contracted designer. That’s how we got started.
I am a collector of a lot of things, but I was not a sports card collector at the time. My family is really into sports, but I kind of learned about them on the job. I think that actually helped us, because we weren’t so tied into the history of what those brands were and could go about changing them. Adding new brands, we created a new voice for them, which was fun.
KS: Between your tenure at Fleer and joining Upper Deck, what did your career entail, and what made you want to get back in the trading card business?
JM: We did a lot of packaging as a graphic design company. We did a lot of websites, logo designs, whatever our clients needed. When I was at Fleer, we did a lot of candy work, so that translated into our packaging work. We always wanted to get back into trading cards. We approached people at Topps and Panini who used to work at Fleer. It seemed a lot of them had gone in house instead of outsourcing their designs, so it was really hard to get back into it.
Around 2019 or 2020, somebody form SB Nation called us. They were card collectors looking into who had designed cards during the 90s, and they came across our website. Our Arena Design website showed all of our work, including the trading cards. They interviewed us and talked about what we did. They also interviewed my old boss who hired me at Fleer. People saw the interview and they started writing to us and asking questions about the sets we did. On our Instagram, we started posting the questions people were asking. People really enjoyed hearing all these stories about little things on the cards they didn’t realize were there, or what we were thinking about with the design.
I found it fascinating that people wanted to hear what went into these cards, but I can understand it. If you love something and you look at it all the time, to find out something new about it is exciting. We did a few podcasts and Mike Phillips from Upper Deck contacted me. I had worked with him at Fleer, and he asked if I would like to do a set for Upper Deck. They said they were thinking about bringing back Metal, and they wanted me to design it. We loved the idea. Of all the brands, Metal was one of my favorite brands to work on.
KS: What was your reaction to being asked back to work on the trading card brand you helped make famous in Metal Universe?
JM: I was so excited to work on it. That brand had gotten such a following, and it’s the set that most people ask me about. To me, it was the most fun to work on in 1997, so I couldn’t wait to try to add new life to it. I didn’t want to recreate it, but rather do something that still had the essence of it. To me, that set was different from any other set we did, because every card was unique and looked at individually. It wasn’t like we said this Jordan card was going to be great, and another card in the set wouldn’t be as great. I treated them as if they were all intensely looked at.
I got to work with the illustrators from Marvel in 1997 since Fleer was owned by them. I would go upstairs and see them working on the cards. The designs had so much color and fun, and I wondered, how can I add that into our sports cards? I asked if I could have access to any of the Marvel illustrators, and they gave me a list of people that did sketching and coloring. So I got to interact with the illustrators and gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted with the player that was outlined, and they could put them into any scenario they wanted without restrictions. Having the chance to do that again was really fun.
Hobby Musings: Jean MacLeod is Back as Trading Card Designer
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Hobby Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
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