Since wrestling trading cards were introduced in the late 1800s, everyone from Frank Gotch to Simon Gotch has appeared in trading card sets. Thanks to one artist with a style all his own, collectors have the opportunity to own cards of some very different wrestling stars.
California artist Cuyler Smith recently unveiled his latest work, “Trading Cards Series 3,” a 40-piece exhibit that presents trading cards of fictional characters from a variety of sports movies. The artwork is currently on exhibit at Gallery 1988, located at 7308 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles through June 9. Each piece of artwork is also available as a traditional sized trading card.
Wrestling fans may especially be interested in cards of Randy “the Ram” Robinson from “The Wrestler,” Zoya the Destroya from Netflix’s “GLOW” series and Jack Black’s masked “Nacho Libre” character. There’s also a card of Mr. T as Clubber Lang from Rocky 3, which played a big role in the success of Hulk Hogan and the WWF in the mid-80s. Each card is limited to 90 copies and costs $15, available at https://nineteeneightyeight.com/collections/tradingcards3.
A League of His Own
Smith’s idea for trading card-based artwork blossomed a few years ago, when Gallery 1988 was hosting a show dedicated to the films of Tom Hanks. For the exhibit, Smith chose to do a piece on Jimmy Dugan, Hanks’ character from the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”
“I completed a portrait of him for the show and I already printed a small run of prints,” Smith said in an interview with PWTorch.com. “At the last minute, I decided to do something different and print a small batch of trading card-sized prints as well. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the series took off from there.”
Since then, Smith’s subjects have included sports characters from movies and TV shows, such as the kids from “The Sandlot,” Daniel LaRusso from “The Karate Kid,” George Costanza from “Seinfeld,” Mitch Kramer from “Dazed and Confused” and Will Smith from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” among others.
“From my own collection, there are a few sets that mean a lot to me,” Smith said. “I was a huge fan of ‘The Sandlot’ and ‘Friday Night Lights.’ Seeing those cards and sets evolve over the years along with the response from the fans and some of the characters and actors themselves has been amazing.”
Smith’s artwork also pays homage to some historical and well known trading card sets. As a kid in the early 90s, he collected baseball cards with his father and regularly went to card shows and conventions, accumulating what he called a “substantial collection.”
“The 1987 Topps (baseball) design will always hold a special place in my heart,” Smith noted. “That was the first baseball card I remember seeing as a kid. When I started collecting, I was a huge fan of Upper Deck and had a few complete sets.”
Smith’s cards have become collectible in their own right. Many of the cards from the first two series regularly sell on eBay in the $40-$55 range, a significant increase from the original $15 price tag. Limited edition framed pieces and artist proofs can sell for quite a bit more.
Series 3: Dudes, Ducks and a Destroya
“Trading Cards Series 3” includes an eclectic group of 40 characters, including Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Jesse Hall from “The Mighty Ducks,” Kelly Kapowski from “Saved by the Bell,” Happy Gilmore, the Baseball Furies’ Thurman from “The Warriors,” Peter La Fleur and White Goodman from “Dodgeball” and Jeff “the Dude” Labowski.
Series 3 also marks the debut of wrestling characters in Smith’s “Trading Cards” series.
“I have an ongoing list that I have compiled of cards that I would like to do,” Smith said. “I wanted to do the Randy ‘the Ram’ for a while now, but it did not fit with the previous two shows. As for Nacho, I find that fans gravitate towards the comedic pieces or the ones that people aren’t expecting to see. I had ‘Nacho Libre’ on in the background when I started working on this current show and decided I had to include him.”
Longtime collectors will notice familiar looks to Smith’s wrestling pieces. The card of Randy “the Ram,” for example, is clearly influenced by Topps’ 1985 WWF Pro Wrestling Stars, the first ever WWF-exclusive trading card product. The Nacho Libre card resembles the yellow bordered 1986 Monty Gum Wrestling All Stars set.
“I always want the cards to seem genuine to the time period, but also to the character,” Smith explained. “I always add my own personal touch and variation to the design, but it is fun to see collectors become nostalgic over some of the designs.”
“Trading Cards Series 3” includes some other cards from movies with ties to wrestling. There’s a card of Lincoln Hawk from “Over the Top,” the 1987 arm wrestling flick that featured Terry Funk and other wrestlers in cameo roles. And as previously mentioned, there’s Clubber Lang from “Rocky 3,” following cards of Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the previous serious. That just leaves Hulk Hogan’s Thunderlips, which Smith said is on his to-do list.
Smith is always opens to suggestions for future cards. Collectors can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cuylersmith. His other work can be seen at cuylersmith.com, which includes pieces inspired by Masters of the Universe, comic book characters, Harry Potter and more. Smith is also available for commissions, but doesn’t currently do custom trading card commissions.
All images are courtesy of Gallery 1988 (nineteeneightyeight.com).
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PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.