We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark Roberts and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mark, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I never had a “thought process” nor had I ever thought about starting a business like this ever, I started this totally by accident! Since I had always been a fan of The Walking Dead and decided one day to visit the small town of Senoia Ga which is the centerpiece of the filming for the show. I was so intrigued during my visit that I decided it would be cool to see if I could reach out to any of the actors of the show with the hopes of just getting to connect with them. I had heard by the locals during my visit that there were frequently actors that would wander around the town so I thought it should be easy enough to catch at least one of them. Unsuccessful, yet Determined I ended up finding some of the actors on social media instead and started chatting with them and from there I have since forged some real bonding friendships with several of these awesome folks. I learned that this is literally one of the best groups of people to get to know as they are like a family and from that, I became a part of that family. Before starting a business making trading cards, I had always played around with graphic design as a hobby and decided that it would be cool to see some of the background folks that I had gotten to know on trading cards. So I started digitally creating trading cards and adding in my friend’s images and then I would present the art on social media for them to check out. Some turned out well enough that people were asking where to get them and that they had no idea that they were even on trading cards. I had to let everyone know that I had only been making digital fanart and that these were only digital images. Some of them had surprisingly turned out so well that I started getting requests from fans and actors alike to make actual trading cards of and for the actors, but I would just laugh and say, “I have no clue how to properly print a trading card” and would just leave it at that. I kept making the digital trading cards, so even more folks would come around asking me to make cards for them, but I still wasn’t interested until finally, one day someone told me that I should seriously consider making the trading cards as tangible items. So, I went off and thought about it for a while then did some research and here, I am today making and printing custom made trading cards for all kinds of folks and not just TWD actors. I’ve had all sorts of actors, stunt people, cosplayers, (business folks who were looking for a “different and interesting kind of biz card) and even fans have had me to make cards for them as well.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As I stated earlier, I started in business totally by accident, but it is no accident that I make these trading cards for the people on them. After meeting so many amazing people in the business, I learned many things about show biz, but the one that sticks out in my mind is how difficult it really is to be an actor. Making movies and TV shows is cool but, in many aspects is a brutal profession to be in. With that, there are many aspects to making trading cards that can be challenging as well. What keeps me busy is the creation process along with all the backend and administrative work that goes along with it. Since I mostly use real people’s images to make the cards, it can alternately be just as challenging getting decent images to use to make their cards with. Once I get the images, I like to try to learn a little something about the person on the cards so that I can maybe create them in scenes that would make the most sense for them, so that takes time as well. Also, since I do not use templates to create my cards, there is that time spent making sure the background goes along with the subject.
It is important to note that I only make Fan Art for the actors, and what I am making is for them and not for their respective shows or movies unless there have been special arrangements made such as a contractual agreement to acquire the rights to do so. Sometimes, when I make things for the sole proprietors of the movies or shows such as the awesome movie Circus of the Dead, I have full permission to use the movie name and characters on my cards from the owner of that film. Billy Pon, the creator of Circus of the Dead has given me full permission to do this as he believes in the creative process and allowing people to create! He’s an awesome guy by the way. Sometimes however, there will have to be contracts made and especially in cases where there is more than one stakeholder in the movie or show or some other special circumstances that must be met with the actors themselves.
Getting started was not easy as you do not simply create artwork then get it printed like some might think. You cannot just use any print shop to get trading cards printed. You must use a printer who can do this work on a larger scale and who has the proper equipment to handle the job. You also must show proof that you are a business entity when you use these large companies and then you must do a lot of leg work getting what you need and when you need it.
I am very picky, so working with the print companies themselves can be a bit of a challenge and time consuming in and of itself. There have been many times that I have had to contact the printer after a job was complete (which can be one of several print companies that I deal with) and I will send jobs back if they do not pass my own quality test. Card printing is not a simple task, and there have honestly been a few times where I was ready to throw my hands up and say I’m done! If for whatever reason you are not getting a decent product after taking the time to create something the way you want it to look then that is a problem because the final cut is a direct representation of your work no matter if you’ve done an epic job or not, if it comes back on a crap print job, then all is lost.
How did I overcome the challenges… persistence. I also have a “day job” but I put a lot of hours into my trading cards because you cannot be successful by taking a casual attitude, so I stay plenty tired and worn out, but I love making the cards and making people happy, so I keep producing them. Seeing the reactions from people when they see themselves on a trading card is extremely rewarding and I have made a lot of solid friendships by doing this.
Lessons learned, from a business aspect… you cannot please everyone all the time and a simple rule of thumb with any business is If you aren’t making it personal then you should never take it personal. Eventually, folks will come around if you are not making it personal, but always being personable.
Producing the art and making people happy is what I enjoy, but manufacturing is the part of it that I do not enjoy so much, and I’ve learned that making cards is not an easy task like some may think. Sure the art is easy if you are creative, or even if you know Photoshop well then no problem, it’s small… but the business of making each one custom for each person and not stamping them out by template and then dealing with getting them printed (and printed correctly), having to QA the work from the printers when you get it, having to make the calls for quotes or issues, and having to make sure that everything is correct can be very time consuming and can also take away from the actual time you spend making the art itself.
What would I like for the world to know? I would like for the world to know that The Dead Cards is for everyone whether you are an actor, musician, artist, or a fan, you can be on your own trading card. I also have done collaborations with other artists where I put their art on my cards. This gives artists another avenue for people to be introduced to their work. That way, once people become familiar and like their art, they can then contact that artist for the bigger prints of the pieces that they may be interested in. So, they also become a great advertising tool to boot. There are literally so many ways that they can be handy and to so many people, or just cool to collect.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh, where I’m from… white water rafting or hiking in the mountains might be just about all there is to do. There’s just not lot in WV to do unless you like the outdoors.\ The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to give a shout out to the many actors and especially the first 14 who allowed me to use their images on my cards and who have supported me since the beginning, there are so many that it would be difficult to name everyone, but you can see them all on my website. Also, to the fans who have been just as supportive of all the things that I have been creating. To the Directors, Billy “Bloody Bill” Pon and Thomas Churchill who gave me opportunities to make trading cards for their awesome projects. To Actress Dawna Lee Heising for being so kind as to be the first actor to use my cards as trading/business cards! She is always pushing and promoting my cards and has used my cards in her own shows “Dawna of the Darkness” and “Eye on Entertainment” which is where I received my first IMDb credits for producing content for a show. To my friend and my brother actor and artist, Oscar Rodriguez who has given me the chance to produce art for his awesome TWD themed convention called “The Camp” that he has put on for the fans for the past several years. He has given me the chance to design and produce art both with him as a collaboration and for his show as well as being an announced guest which gives me a place to share and interact with the fans. It has been an amazing experience for me to have this opportunity and I am grateful for each person, and they know who they are! We are the #TWDFamily
I have rights to all images.