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Special Report: Dan Curto Sketch Card Artist - Exclusive

Posted by Paul | May 13, 2010 at 06:31 PM ET

Jedi Temple Archives is thrilled to present our readers with an exclusive interview with Dan Curto, one of the sketch card artists for the upcoming Topps 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back 3D card series. We sat down with Dan and asked him all about the experience. And we couldn't resist asking a few other things too! Make sure you check out our very special report Dan Curto Sketch Card Artist, including exclusive first looks at six new sketch cards! Click HERE to check out JTA's conversation with Dan.

By Paul Harrison
Graphic Design by Chuck Paskovics
Sketch Card Artwork by Dan Curto


If you're a Star Wars collector or fan, you are likely to have comes across the name Dan Curto at some point. Serving Rebelscum.com as the main news gatherer and their Photo Archives specialist (among other things), Dan has done much for the collecting community, probably a lot more than you may realize. Dan's latest exploit in the Star Wars universe has taken a new but exciting path to Topps. He was selected as a sketch card artist and 100 of his small masterpieces will make their way to card collectors as chase cards in the 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back 3D card series.

Jedi Temple Archives sat down with Dan and discussed his latest adventure with Topps and we pulled some cool new information out of him about his background in art and how he came to design the sketch cards that have the possibility to be in your collection one day (if you're fortunate to get these chase cards in the card series). On behalf of Dan, JTA is thrilled to provide readers with this exclusive interview as well as a first look at six of his sketch cards, exclusive to this special report. Let the interview begin!

JTA: OK Dan. Fess up. How did you get involved with Topps? Were you approached or did you start the process yourself?

Dan Curto: I used to draw professionally years ago, but I stopped when I got married and instead turned to customizing and photography for my creative outlets. I've really been itching to get back into illustrating again, and with this being the 30th anniversary of my favorite Star Wars movie...it seemed like the perfect time to try. I got a lot of inspiration from other artists in the community, and a few of them really encouraged me to "just do it".

I contacted Topps and showed off a few samples of my work...which admittedly, were pretty old, but they liked them. So I was offered this amazing opportunity to be part of the 30th anniversary celebration, and I've been having a blast ever since. 

JTA: Was drawing something that you have always done? Has your focus always been scenes and characters from The Empire Strikes Back or do you have other concepts based on the other five films as well?

Dan Curto: Yes, always. All of my notebooks and papers in school and at work have always had little illustrations on them.

Funny thing...it was actually The Empire Strikes Back that got me to really start drawing seriously, way back at age 11! I used to trace the panels from the Star Wars comic books when I was young, which eventually led me to try drawing other comic book characters, mostly super heroes.

As far as other Star Wars characters, I've drawn the classic trilogy characters a lot over the years, but not so much the prequel characters. I'll have to start doing that.

JTA: Are there any sketch cards that you can share with us that won’t be making it into the Topps card line?


Dan Curto: All 100 sketch cards I illustrated are included in the packs as random inserts. Additionally, there are 6 that I will be getting back, and I designed those with an overall theme in mind. I played around a little with some ideas, including a few "puzzle cards"...each card can stand on its own, but if put the cards together, you will get an entire scene. These puzzle cards were fun to do. 

JTA: As a man who is extraordinarily busy in the toy industry and heavily involved with working for big collecting sites, how did you make time for this resurfaced passion? Did the sketch cards come out as you had hoped or was there a rush at all where you may have felt the cards weren’t entirely "completed".


Dan Curto: HA! I don't know if I'd say I was IN the toy industry...but definitely working on Rebelscum and Cool Toy Review takes up a lot of time. It actually was a real struggle to find the time to do it, especially when you add in working a full-time job, a wife and 3 kids...yeah, it was a challenge to get it done. Plus, man, I am EASILY distracted! I needed to focus and actually, I recently started studying martial arts, where a lot of the class is about concentration and discipline (I'm too old to care about fighting), so I tried to use those skills while I was drawing. I had 5 weeks to do 106 illustrations. Fortunately, I still had my old art supplies in storage, so I dusted them off (some hadn't been used in 12 years!) and got focused.  

I originally planned to only do pencil drawings, and I watched the movie a few times (never a bad thing!) and compiled this huge list of what I was going to illustrate. However, as I got into it, I started doing more inking, cross-hatching, and coloring. I changed my mind on a bunch of them from my original list, and dropped a whole themed series I wanted to do. My kids were home on spring break, and they all had some suggestions on what I should draw. Some cards have some subtle colors added to them, which was their idea. 

Still, I kept coming up with more ideas...I could easily have done twice as many cards if I had more time (there's a 4-card Darth Vader puzzle card series that I penciled, but I would love to have painted it!)
 
As for being "completed"...well, these are "sketch cards" right? Not "finished art cards." So in a sense, none of them are 100% complete...just ideas. On the other hand, since I probably won't ever see them again, I guess they're as "complete" as they will ever be!

JTA: What are some of your favorite pieces in the sketch card set?


Dan Curto: Ooooh....tough one. I am pretty happy with them all, but obviously I put more time into some over others. Artists are their own worst critics, so I always see the mistakes before anyone else. But you learn from them and hopefully do better the next time. I'm really happy with the creature cards (Wampa, Ugnaught, Space Slug, Tauntaun), the finished marker comp cards, and the puzzle cards. I also did a "progression series" where the image starts out as a rough sketch on the borders, and gradually becomes more finished as you get closer to the center (finished pencils, inks, and then color), which I am really happy with the results on those.

I also got to have some fun with another series, getting my fellow fans' input. I invited the ForceCast listeners to send in their suggestions, and I drew the 10 ideas I liked best. Some suggestions were already on my radar or I had actually already drawn, but all of these were fun, and I loved getting my fellow fans involved.

JTA: Will actual real hand drawn samples make it into the card packs or will they be prints of your artwork? And if so, is it hard to part with them?

Dan Curto: They are actual original pieces of art inserted into the packs. Mine were all hand-drawn by me..."Curto originals"! :)

Parting with them was really strange. It felt great to have them all done, but also a little sad to just send them off in the mail one day. After carrying them around with me for weeks, they were just gone! I mean, I was drawing at work (during lunchtime only, I swear!), in the car while waiting to pick up my daughter, while watching TV at night...just taking them with me everywhere I went for over a month. Honestly, I miss them!

JTA: So you think we will see more Dan Curto artwork in future Topps Star Wars lines? What about anywhere else?

Dan Curto: That would be great. Hopefully, this was just "my first step into a larger world"...and there will be more to come. Who knows? I would love to participate in future Topps card series. Maybe I'll get the chance to draw some of those prequel trilogy characters I was talking about!

I'd also love to pursue my original dream as a kid, which was to draw comic books. I had a few opportunities in the early 1990s that fell through after the industry imploded, so I moved on to other things. More recently, I actually was involved with a series of webcomics, but that project fell apart in the planning stages.

I'm happy if this is the only illustration work I get to do, but I have a lot of ideas now! There will always be a part of me that wants to draw...

JTA: Topps certainly isn’t the only place you have left an indelible mark on the Star Wars collecting universe. But since you are getting the full credit here, do you find your experience with Topps the most rewarding?

Dan Curto: Honestly, I'm a HUGE fan boy when it comes to Star Wars...so being able to do anything (official or otherwise) is great. People obviously know me from Rebelscum or through the ForceCast, but I've been living online for years now, getting my start through customizing, then doing toy photography and reporting on various collectibles. I've gotten to know so many people around the world, even if we have never met face-to-face.

For me, that's part of the fun...getting to know my fellow fans and sharing my love for that galaxy far, far away...

JTA: Are there any other additional or special final details we should know about the 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back sketch card series? When can we expect these cards to hit retail?

Dan Curto: The set is due out at the end of May...just in time for the anniversary celebration! I'm sure there will be more official announcements as the release date gets closer, but I'm excited to see what else Topps has in store.

Dan has been gracious to provide Jedi Temple Archives with an exclusive look at some of the cards he has made for the Topps sketch card series. Click each thumbnail below for a larger look at each!


Yoda


Wampa Progression Series


Princess Leia on Hoth


Luke Skywalker on Tauntaun


Dagobah 2 Card Puzzle Series 1


Dagobah 2 Card Puzzle Series 2


Assembled Dagobah 2 Card Puzzle Series

BONUS QUESTION!

JTA: While we have you Dan, we just have to pull some information out of you about the Hasbro line. You have been instrumental in helping Hasbro make some long-awaited action figures for all of us, especially in the Saga Legends lines as well as the many "repack and repaint" waves of figures. Are there any great stories you can tell us about your experiences with Hasbro that you won’t get into trouble sharing with us?

Dan Curto: Yeah, let me tell you about the latest top-secret project...  ;) No, just kidding.

The Saga Legends tournament we ran on Rebelscum back in 2006 was a lot of fun...and a LOT of work! We took a look at the entire modern line (at the time) and the fans were able to vote in a "March Madness" style bracket tournament to determine the #1 fan-favorite modern figure (since 1995)...which turned out to be the Darktrooper from the Expanded Universe line. Along the way, it was determined that the top 8 characters would be included in the line (the "Saga Legends" name wasn't even determined when the tournament began) would be a "Fans' Choice" series in 2007. The results even changed a few of the "normal" figures, like Boba Fett, the Sandtrooper, and of course the 501st Legion Trooper getting the SA upgrade...something I really wanted and I still smile whenever I see that figure in stores.

The problem was that although the voting was open to the public, many collectors felt this was a "Rebelscum-only" vote, which was NEVER the case. So, when the time came to plan the 2008 vote, we opened up the voting in such a way that every website that participated in the Q&A sessions were involved from the beginning, and Hasbro's website hosted the final vote to pick the top 5 characters that were aded to the lineup...before the Saga Legends line changed and dropped the Fans' Choice aspect. 

This same voting strategy was used for last year's Fans' Choice Poll, only ToyFare magazine was used as the anchor instead of Hasbro's website.

As for the "repack and repaint" wave from 2007, that was a result of the delay of The Force Unleashed video game. When those 7 TFU figures were pushed back, there was an opportunity to add in 7 additional characters, and I was invited to brainstorm some ideas for this new wave (TAC wave 7.5). Out of the 20-30 suggestions from the brainstorming, we nailed down the final 7 were shown at Celebration IV...only a few weeks later! There have been others that spawned out of those conversations, but I will leave that up to you to decide who they were. Sadly, Badoo Bok was not made...and I suggested him!

I'm really excited for this year's return to the Vintage cardbacks. While I didn't have any direct involvement in this line, the poll that ran on Rebelscum 3 years ago did played a factor...with the addition of prequel trilogy and EU characters, and not just limited to the classic Kenner characters. Hopefully fans will be as excited by this line as I am. 

As mentioned above, I'm a big fanboy. I'm always ready to talk Star Wars, and I think my enthusiasm comes through and is infectious.

Additional Notes

If you liked our Special Report "Dan Curto: Sketch Card Artist" exclusive, we bet that you will like some of our other Special Reports including:

2010: The Year We Make The Rest (A Vintage to Modern Comparison)

A Digested Look At The Legacy Collection (JTA Ranks the Best Figures in the Blue Phase of The Legacy Collection)

Bantha Tracks Archives (We Have Almost All the Original Bantha Tracks Archived Here)

A Timeline and Guide to Collecting Hardback Novels

A Timeline and Guide to Collecting Trade Paperbacks

All Other JTA Special Reports Can Be Found HERE.

And if you liked what you saw here, keep up to date with us by joining our Facebook page and be sure to visit our other main features including our extremely popular Visual Guides and Research Droid Reviews. And we would be thrilled if you joined our forums at Jedi Temple War Room.

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