In the past few years, the concept of coloring books for adults has been lauded as a new way of relieving the stress and strife of grown-up life with the theory being the unique combination of focus and abandon needed in the act can bring one back to a more carefree and innocent time in their existence.
Personally, when the everyday world gets to be too much for me, I derive therapeutic release by retreating back to an altogether different childhood hobby; one I began somewhere in middle school. Flip through the various catalogs which litter my home and you’ll discover comically large genitalia and devil horns adorning the bodies of beautiful people hawking shell vests and open-toed sandals as well as gas clouds exploding from the rear ends of their cargo shorts. For some reason, this practice of art therapy is not as formally accepted as a grown adult sprawling out on a living room floor with an economy sized box of crayons, but I can say it certainly helps me from blowing a gasket from time to time.
Two others who seem to believe in this form of treatment are brothers Beau and Bryan Abbott.
As boys growing up in St. Louis, the duo would spend their spare time defacing the lesser baseball cards in their combined collection. “As kids we were primarily interested in two things: art and baseball,” the brothers state jointly via email. “We always had plenty of markers around along with the thousands of worthless common cards that any collector from the 80s and 90s knows all too well. We’re also the kids of divorced parents who always had a lot of time on our hands after school and on breaks, so at some point we just started drawing on our worst cards to entertain ourselves while we watched Saved By The Bell, Family Matters and Beavis and Butthead.”
Much like the previously mentioned folks seeking emotional refuge in the pages of coloring books, the brothers found themselves reverting back to their old tricks in an effort to blow off steam from their grown-up gigs in the advertising world. Looking to show off the vast amount of baseball cards they’d damaged over the years, The Abbotts decided to make their juvenile creations public. “One night in 2012, we started a Tumblr and gave it a name, Baseball Card Vandals. We didn’t anticipate that anyone besides our friends would ever see it, and definitely didn’t expect it to become a thing.”
But it very quickly became a thing, connecting with a massive amount of both sports fans and overgrown delinquents. “We probably have such a diverse group of followers because there are a bunch of qualities that draw people to it,” the Abbotts speculate. “It’s a little bit of nostalgia, a little bit of sports, a little punky irreverence, some art/design/illustration, pop culture references, weird, sometimes raunchy, creativity, and most importantly it’s hopefully pretty dang funny. Everybody likes to laugh.” This may be true, but when the Vandals gained an unexpected segment on the MLB network, host Matt Vasgersian seemed genuinely amused by the images while his sidekick and two-time all-star Seattle Mariner Harold Reynolds appeared bemused by it all simply stating, “That’s messed up!”; perhaps he feared becoming the victim of the Abbotts handy work sometime soon.
Although it is a great joy to simply gaze and giggle at Beau and Bryan’s creations, I can’t help but wonder what the routine is behind creating them. Do they set aside time from their normally busy schedules to get silly or simply get cracking whenever inspiration hits them? “We draw whenever we get a chance; at night, on weekends, at work, wherever. The process is very organic in that we don’t sit down to draw a specific joke; instead, the joke kind of reveals itself to us through the words, names, facial expressions, body hair and pose on the card. That surprise factor is what keeps the whole thing so fun for us; we literally have no clue what we might draw until we actually sit down with a stack of cards and Sharpies. It’s totally a reaction to what’s already on the card. For example, we never would have sat down to create a card called “Putting Extra Coleslaw In A Container.” But the player was Alex Cole, the team name had the word “in” in it, and his pose made it easy to draw him leaning over and doing something with his hands. It’s completely absurd, and one of our favorites ever.”
After a while, it got to a point where people began asking how they could purchase the doodled-on cards directly from the brothers themselves. These requests were totally unexpected by Beau and Bryan, even though they somewhat understood why people would want their creations. “We think the fact that our cards are all one-of-a-kind, hand-made drawings on a tactile old artifact makes our content really stand out on social media. It’s more exciting visually than most digital memes for sure, and it’s why we’re able to sell our cards. But that’s not to say we’re unique in that regard–there are all kinds of amazing artists sharing handmade stuff on social media.”
Wondering where next to take their resumed childhood hobby, the Abbotts set their sites on the literary world and began shopping around a proposal to publishers. When the Northern California-based Chronicle signed on to release a book they were ecstatic, but soon realized the gargantuan task which lay ahead of them. “We spent weeks agonizing over it and working with our editor Becca Hunt to find a collection that pretty accurately distilled the varied, bonkers world of BCV into 200-ish pages.” remember the brothers. “We wanted about 80 exclusive, new cards for the book, so selecting just 120 out of the thousands we had posted since 2012 was definitely the hardest part about creating the book.”
Released in March of this year, the book is a solid and spit-take worthy collection that wondrously yields comedy gold even after numerous flip-throughs while exhibiting the kind of distorted wit which would win you both friends and enemies in the schoolyard. “It’s such a great creative outlet that kind of magically suits our skill sets and interests,” said Beau and Bryan. “We like to make art, we love baseball, we’re steeped in music and pop culture, we grew up collecting baseball cards together, and we love trying to be funny. It’s probably the best part-time job on earth.”
Still stupefied with their dumb luck of turning a flippant adolescent pastime into a cottage industry, the duo is at a loss when I ask what is next for them, but seem determined to bring the funny no matter what tomorrow might bring. “In 2012, we didn’t think anyone would ever visit our Tumblr. In 2013, we never dreamed people would want to actually buy our cards. We definitely never thought we’d have over 100,000 followers on Instagram. Somehow, we even have a dang book on the shelves all around the country. We’re clearly bad at predicting the future, so we’ve just learned to keep doing what actually matters–making artwork that’s weird and funny, posting it every day rain or shine–and then taking or leaving whatever opportunities come our way. Just like when we sit down to draw on cards, the surprises keep it interesting.”