A Chat with Todd Brainard

A chat with the illustrator of the original Bicycle® Zombie Deck.

A Chat with Todd Brainard

Todd Brainard Is the artist behind the ghastly and ghoulish art of the original Bicycle® Zombie Deck, which lurched off the shelves as soon as they hit early last year. Since it’s October (the season of the undead), we sat down with Todd to get some behind-the-scenes intel about what it takes to make such a cool deck.

Club 808: How did you get to be the lucky illustrator on this deck? Was it your idea, or The United States Playing Card Company’s?

Todd: When we came up with the idea for the deck, our Brand Manager at the time needed some concept images to help sell the idea, and since I like to draw, I volunteered to throw a few things down on paper. Everyone seemed pretty pleased with what I turned in, and they let me run with doing the whole deck. Luckily I had a lot of help on the art side from Jon Wolery, our Senior Designer, who gave me some great direction.

Club 808: What’s the process like for deck creation?

Todd: This project really started in early summer of 2012, when there seemed to be a number of cases in the news of people acting like “zombies.”  I think there were a few instances of people just acting crazy and the Internet just attributed it to “zombie-ism.” We were sitting around the office of our Brand Manager and got to talking about how we would survive a zombie outbreak here at the building – we are attached to a huge, somewhat creepy factory after all. What’s your escape route? What supplies from the office would you take with you? More importantly, which of your co-workers would you take along?

After some good (and pretty entertaining) discussion we realized that could be an interesting deck idea – how do you survive a zombie apocalypse? We started a list on the wall, and at first it was all of the practical things, like “Stay away from alleys” or “barricade your doors and windows.” We pretty quickly realized that we needed to get a little more humor in this deck or it wouldn’t be very entertaining, so we went in that direction and ended up with tips like “Avoid Zombies at all cost: They always get the munchies.”

The first draft of the art was darker and the figures were a bit more realistic, closer to what you would see in the movies. The artwork had more of a sketchy tone, and once we decided to move to a more humorous take on the survival tips, we decided to lighten up the artwork.

My process for creating the individual zombies was just to simply sit down and start drawing. I would draw out a figure in pencil; make any tweaks that were needed, then ink over the pencil directly.

Once I had the drawings done, I handed them off to Jon Wolery, our Senior Designer, who scanned the images and then went about placing them on the cards and making them look as good as they do.

As the art was being worked up, we were also brainstorming the Survival Tips – we had to come up with 52 final tips, so in reality we had to develop a much larger list and then refine it down to get just the right ones.

All in all, it took about 4 months to get deck from the initial idea stage to be ready for print.

Club 808: How long does it take to draw an individual card?

Todd: We went through a few iterations before we landed on the final look of the zombies, but once we go there it took me about 2 hours per card to do the drawings – pencil sketch to final black and white inked version. Once I hade those drawings done I gave them to Jon and he scanned them and added color.

Club 808: What’s your background as an artist?

Todd: I studied illustration and art history in college but somehow ended up as a project manager with our Research and Development group, so drawing playing cards isn’t in my usual day-to-day routine. I do some concept drawings for other projects when needed, but if the right project comes along, maybe I’ll get to contribute some art in the future.

Club 808: What would be a deck design you’d like to do in the future?

Todd: I guess if we need any monsters, vampires, aliens, etc. then I’m fully on board. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do some other projects, but I’m open to working on any design.

Club 808: Why zombies?

Todd: Zombies are just fun. The whole idea of having a list of Survival Tips for a zombie apocalypse was pretty appealing and sparked a lot of fun conversation around the office.

Club 808: What’s your favorite card in the deck? Favorite survival tip?

Todd: My favorite card in the deck art-wise is the Joker. When we first came up with the idea for the deck this was the initial image that popped into my head. Favorite tip is on the ten of spades: “Don’t get friendly, they only like you for your brain.”

My all-time favorite art wasn’t used though. It was the zombie for the Ace of Spades and instead of just having a spade on his t-shirt (which we ended up using), there was an actual spade shaped hole in his chest. I thought it was pretty interesting, but maybe a little too rough for the overall tone of the deck.

Club 808: Favorite zombie movie?

Todd: My favorite zombie movie has to be Shaun of the Dead, but I also really love the Walking Dead.

Club 808: Thanks for speaking with us, Todd!

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