Are you an Outlander trading card collector? Have you wondered how the sets get put together? Ever wished you could have your say about what’s included? This year, I had that chance! I was thrilled when Cryptozoic asked me to work on the Season 5 trading card set. Want to know what goes into creating a season of cards? A little background:
In the Beginning
As a writer, especially for this site, I was in a unique position regarding licensed products. I’ve been a big fan of the licensed merchandise we’ve seen since shortly after Outlander debuted in 2014. Early on, we started to see merchandise – shirts, journals, glasses, mugs, and so much more. I jumped on this right away, as someone writing about the show (and books). This was an interesting new world! Since before I joined it, Threeifbyspace has sold a select group of items, and at that time, was dabbling in trading cards. In the course of writing about the great Outlander items coming out, I learned about plans for a show-based trading card set, and Robert (the site’s owner) and I decided to add them to our still-small shop. I contacted the cards’ publisher, Cryptozoic, and got in touch with their card manager, George Nadeau. The cards proved very popular with Outlander fans!
The Outlander cards have been important for Cryptozoic — they have consistently sold out, and fans have been excited to look for everything new from the company. Shahriar Fouladi, CZE’s Director of Product Development, said, “Our motto as a company is ‘Fans First,’ and I don’t think we’ve known a fanbase more passionate than those who love Outlander. It’s incredible to have a group of dedicated viewers who want a production you’re working on, but there’s also a lot of pressure. We know the fans have high expectations! We don’t want to do anything to let them down. That’s why working with someone like Erin, a diehard fan, has been essential as we develop this set.”
That first couple of seasons, George and I got to be friends. I helped out a little bit – I proofread cards, helped identify characters, gave him some knowledge of the Outlander audience, and helped to distribute promotion cards at events and through my groups. A few good friends, Sam, Koko, and Alyson, helped out too, and we had a lot of fun with it! I also became a dedicated collector.
Caitriona Balfe hadn’t signed autograph cards for S1 or S2. At Emerald City ComicCon in Seattle, in the autograph line, I asked her if she had any interest, and she said she hadn’t heard of them! (Sam had signed for both seasons, and urged her right then to check it out.) She signed a card that I brought with me. For S3, George was able to get her to sign a few at a couple of events. For Chicago Wizard World in 2018, Caitriona’s schedule was changed, she came in a day earlier than expected, and George wasn’t sure that he would be able to get a flight as early as necessary. So he shipped me a copy of the 30 receipts and a set of unsigned auto cards, in case he didn’t make it — fortunately he did, but I joked “you might not get all of these back….” (of course, I did return them all, lol). Sadly, George passed away shortly after that event.
So to finish S3, the premium CZX set, and then S4, I worked with the new card manager, Dustin Porras. Dustin was fun, enthusiastic, and excited about the cards. I had a great time doing the same for him – proofreading, passing out promos, and not much more. Dustin left after S4; a new card manager, Amanda Barker, stepped in, and we started talking about S5 cards.
A Big Surprise!
Unfortunately, the next card season was unexpectedly delayed, and by the time the company was able to get going on it again, Amanda was moving on as well. And that’s when my big adventure started! With nobody in place who knew all the details of the show (specifically S5), and a new card manager, Carl Braun, just hired, Amanda suggested that they contact ME! and ask me to help on a more formal basis. This was January of 2022. I was at the Outlandish Adventures event in Seattle when I got an email — and I think people in Tacoma heard me holler. Work with Cryptozoic to develop the Season 5 set??? YES, OF COURSE!
So what does it take to create a season of trading cards? I’ve learned a lot over the last few months, and I wanted to give you a bit of insight into the process, the decisions, the time it takes, and the limitations involved. Typically, in the Outlander sets (and this seems to be fairly universal among most franchise trading card sets), they start with “Base Cards” — in our case, 72 cards that tell the story throughout the season, with photos and text that highlight the important plot points, include the major characters and the more prominent secondary characters, with approximately the same number of cards for each episode.
Among the first things I discussed with Cryptozoic were what we wanted the base cards to include. I knew they had to have a great photo, but I also suggested that each card, instead of having a short scene synopsis, have a relevant quote from one of the characters, and that’s what we agreed on.
To come up with the 72 cards, I spent HOURS in February (while at our vacation condo in Florida) watching and rewatching all of the Season 5 episodes. Let me tell you, it was no fun at all rewatching episode 12 about five times! Below are pictures of my journal. As I watched, I noted all the possible scenes, including the time stamp, characters, etc. Then I went through that list, crossed out the obvious non-contenders, going from about 15-20 to 9-10, then re-re-watching to narrow it down to about 6 per episode. I took a photo with my phone of each at the time stamp of the image I wanted to use (I couldn’t screenshot anything from Starz, just wouldn’t work) so Cryptozoic knew exactly what to look for, and wrote down a quote from that scene. The CZE artists would then get a high-quality shot from my time reference. (If you’re in one of my groups, you may remember some of the odd questions I asked — those were for the trading cards! Thanks for all your help.)
I made LOTS of changes as I went through — this for that, a better shot, more important quote… I figure this took me about 6 hours for each episode, or an hour per card. There was a definite learning curve — I had to figure out if I was going for episode highlights, the most interesting visuals, or telling the story of the episode in 6 cards or less. They’re really different things!
Fairly early in the process, Carl explained, they had to run a price quote based on our plans for what would go in each pack and box. Based on projected sales, current costs of printing and packaging, and other factors, did this mix and number of cards make financial sense? Would CZE be able to keep the cost affordable and still make an appropriate profit margin? And then with those results in hand, the final mix — number of parallels, extra sets, number of autographs they could afford to contract for, etc., would be approved.
Once this point is reached, where all the chase sets are developed, the base cards are chosen. cards are designed, the set goes to Sony for approval. It’s possible that Sony may come back and request that a different scene be used, or more likely, that a specific image NOT be used, and Cryptozoic may come back to me, asking for suggestions for changes.
Of course, the temptation was to fill the base set with all the beautiful pictures of Jamie, or Jamie and Claire…. but of course, there was so much more to the story! And rewatching, this was the season of Brianna and Roger’s wedding; and Murtagh & Jocasta; and Murtagh’s death; Jamie wearing the red coat. So much to remember through the Base Set.
Then, there are “parallel” cards, which have the same photo and info as the base cards, but include some fancier detail — foiling, special card stock, embossing, etc. For Outlander, each season has included more than one parallel set, with increasing rarity. These need additional graphic work, but what should the detail be? What can be pulled up from the season’s story that makes sense graphically? I wasn’t much involved in this, and haven’t seen what they’ll look like yet. I’m excited to see what they come up with!
Beyond the Base
In addition, there are 3-4 “Chase” Sets per season. These sets typically consist of 9 cards, focusing on one topic. We’ve had portraits, cards focusing on set design, garden party character cards (season 2), Gaelic phrases (season 1), and more; and a puzzle set, where the 9 cards can be put together to make one special image. These were really fun to work on.
What topics should we go with for the Chase Sets? We had several ideas between us, and while our final chase sets are all unique and exciting this year, my favorite is the set that focuses only on the Season 5 finale – Claire’s mental safe space, the 1960s “Never My Love” sequence and its many “Easter Egg” references. (You’ll want to pick up the October/November issue of Non Sport Update magazine for a special 10th Never My Love card, and a detailed article about the new season!) Fortunately, we all agreed on which Chase Sets we were going to try to put together!
Three of the Chase Sets you’ll see this year are, of course, the Never My Love set; one focusing on the kids and animals of the Ridge; and one detailing the time travelers and items required for travel (this set was suggested by Koko Pipkin). The Never My Love set was a natural — all the discussion of the people, the outfits they wore, and the “Easter Egg” items found in the set made this almost required for Season 5. Once CZE agreed on this as a Chase, it changed the images I pulled out for that last episode, and allowed me to not only select some of the important, heart-wrenching and poignant pieces from the episode, but to dive deeper into Claire’s mental retreat instead of glossing over it with one or possibly two cards at the most from those scenes. That also required some research into the Easter Eggs — I wrote about them in my review of that episode. Other sources, such as Matt Roberts’ after-show “Inside the Episode” and fellow bloggers, found pieces that I hadn’t detailed. I hope you’ll agree with my choices to spotlight.
Season 5 was also the first time we really focused on the kids of the Ridge — Germaine, Jemmy, Marsali’s pregnancy and newborn baby Felicité (daughter Joanie’s birth was not covered in the show), and the animals — Rollo, Adso, and others. Many fans mentioned wanting to see the “critters” show up in the trading cards, and I had fun looking for images of all of these cuties.
And the third chase set, Time Travelers, required looking back to previous seasons, something that hadn’t been done in the trading cards before. Where was their experience with time travel the most prominent, where did it affect the series the most? Of course, in Season 5, this came into play with Roger and his family’s attempt to return to the 1960s, but he had wrestled with this decision when taken prisoner by the Mohawk in Season 4. But the time travel was important to another scene in Season 5, and of course, some other important characters were also travelers. How could I show these people, and the items needed for travel, to their biggest impact? This set probably took the most time, rewatching several different episodes throughout all the show’s seasons. I hope fans will enjoy the choices we made for the subjects and specific images of this season’s Chase Sets — I already have ideas for Season 6, if I’m asked to come back and help with that!
In the middle of working on all of this, I traveled to New Zealand for three weeks to visit my son and his family. I still had work to do on the cards, but without my biggest resources, my own collection of previous season cards and access to the season 5 episodes (due to geo restrictions). That’s when it comes in handy to have all your best friends be card collectors as well!
Since I had access to the Starz press site, as a show reviewer, I was able to provide Cryptozoic with some images they hadn’t seen, and we used some of those as promo cards and in the Chase Sets. Starz produces absolutely beautiful pictures that fans get to see, either through the official Twitter and Facebook accounts, or as distributed by writers like me who have access to them to download and use as promo. But since the CZE staff isn’t as familiar with Outlander as I am, they hadn’t seen many of these great pictures.
Then, there are the special cards, the ones everyone wants to collect — autographs and wardrobe cards. Autos were easy — make a list of the characters and actors, and take the top/most popular/most interesting. See how you can pair them up for doubles, triples, and maybe more. Remember season 3, when we got autos from the guy who fell on the brick fireplace? I was trying to avoid characters who only had 5 minutes of barely-remembered screentime. Using that list, Cryptozoic went to actors they already had contracts with (some have multi-season autograph contracts) and sent out cards to sign. Then they went to the others to negotiate contracts. We hope there will be some fun surprises this year! Wardrobe cards are still being discussed….
What Else is Included?
We discussed and explored some out-of-the-box ideas. Other franchise card sets do some things that Outlander cards haven’t yet done — were any of those possible? We discussed some past additions — sketch cards, etc. We talked about never-seen signers, like crew or management (remember Diana signed a limited number of cards for one release). A lot of these died quickly — they had been explored and rejected before; Sony had nixed certain ideas; specific people had already said they weren’t interested. Some of the ideas came from a couple of the Outlander card trading Facebook groups, and many of these were terrific, but ultimately impractical suggestions. But don’t think that they weren’t considered! As a card collector, I want the same things you do — something unusual and new. Some ideas went farther than others, and with any luck, a handful of these just may be seen this season!
But now that most of our set has been developed and designed, we’ll start to be able to get you some details in the coming weeks. Like I mentioned above, the Oct/Nov issue of Non Sport Update has a lot of information, and I’ll bring you previews as I get the go-ahead to release them. Pre-orders should be announced in a month or so — don’t forget, when they’re available, you can pre-order right here, through threeifbyspace!
Follow me on Twitter: @ErinConrad2 and @threeifbyspace
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