Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Allan Caplan, president of Inkworks, the company responsible for the highly regard collectible cards for various popular movies and TV shows like X-Files, The Family Guy, Buffy, Angel, Lost, The Simpsons, Veronica Mars, The Sopranos, Smallville, and (of course) Serenity.
For some reason I forgot to ask him anything about any of the other shows…
Why start your own company? Wasn’t Topps enough for you?
‘Cause that’s what I do. This is the third company that I’ve started from the ground. One I was very fortunate and sold to the American Express Corporation, second one I sold to Blockbuster Corporation, and this one, hey, I’m open! Somebody comes along with the right cash, I’m easy!
I happen to love trading cards, I’m a big kid, like a lot of us, and after selling my last company, nicely, to Blockbuster and being a consultant to them for three years, then I looked around to see what’s next. I looked at all the franchises and realized I’d be upset with them after the first week because I knew more than they did. And by the way, every franchisee thinks that. And by accident a friend of mine took over a failing trading card company, Skybox (it was initially called Impel), and he called me and said, “Look, you know about this stuff” – which I didn’t – “come on down and help.” ‘Cause my background’s always marketing. And we turned that company around nicely, it went public, then another corporation came in and bought it, sold all the stock, and then it was like, “OK, what do I do?” They asked me to stay. I didn’t like the people that bought it – by the way, they eventually went bankrupt – but I liked all the nice kids working there. And to me, everyone’s a young kid at this point. So I started by taking one of their people each week for about eight weeks and we started Inkworks.
Our first set was “Goldeneye.” The first year we did four sets, second twelve months we did six different sets, now we do twelve sets a year.
Were you approached to do Serenity cards or was it your idea?
Oh no, we went after them, there was no question or thought, it was boom! We do all of Joss’ cards for everything he’s done.
How do you decide which images to use?
With Serenity they sent us a pile of (images); with Firefly which we’re doing now we did DigiBeta grabs. And it’s a combination of shots, what’s clean looking. Sometimes we have to make sure all the actors’ images are approved, sometimes if you pull a shot you actually have to have the actor say, “OK I like it,” and if the light isn’t right, we don’t use the image. And then when we do the cut-up clothing, the Pieceworks cards, we get the costumes from the studios, production companies, and we must have the image when they wore it on the show because these are real show-worn. Not cloth like two of my competitors use, ‘cause if I wanted cloth I’d go to Northwest Fabrics.
And it’s happened where they’ve sent us something’s that’s been cut and it’s on the floor, and so we don’t use it.
When did you come up with the Pieceworks concept? Who thought of putting chunks of the costumes into the cards?
Actually it was looking at what the football card people were doing, and they were doing game-worn shirts and stuff…
Yeah, and we though if they’re doing that… Our first set was probably 1999, with X-Files, and the first one we did was David Duchovney’s sweatshirt.
How do you get the autographs for the autograph cards?
(laughter) Depending on the studio; some studios want to make the contact themselves but more or less now all the studios know we do it better, quicker, more effective, ‘cause they have so much other good stuff on their mind and so we’ll get a list of their contacts. Mainly their agents, we rarely go directly to a star. They all have these invisible shields around them…
How did the Serenity set sell, compared to your other series?
It was sold out before the street date. It was wonderful. We sold out of the binders even before the cards went. The binders are now selling for two and a half times what it used to retail for. And the cards… I’m questioning if you can even find a box on the (convention) floor. Now we have base sets left, we always have base sets for the fans. ‘Cause a real fan might not be a card collector but he wants to enjoy the 90 images, the 90 memories of the movie he just saw. And I happen to love Serenity.
We saw it in one of the Browncoats parties, in Charlotte, drove to Charlotte, stayed overnight. And it happened to be on Joss’ birthday and, oh my God, they brought all kind of food in, all the kids there brought in fudge brownies and cookies of every kind that every one of their mothers ever taught ‘em and they were going up and down the aisles ‘cause they was so much food. And I’m thinking, “I love sweets to a point but I’m gonna become a diabetic!”
And that was great. And one of the producers was out there. And we did so well with Serenity, and… I’m a real… I love movies, and I loved that movie. I know it was damn good, and I’m a little upset with Universal for not promoting it properly. When I left the movie at that first preview, I wanted to see the next movie right then and there. And Summer Glau… my wife would let me run away with her, she said.
A lot of the fans wrote in, “can you make another Serenity set?” Basically no. If there’s another movie, yes. Or a TV show, maybe… (laughter) So we went to FOX, the license-owner for Firefly, and we’re now going to do all 13 episodes on trading cards. They’ll be out in April.
Do you ever cruise eBay just to see the prices?
I relate eBay to the devil. (laughter) There used to be a group of gypsies, when I worked in the video store, that would come and steal from us. I think all the gypsies moved to eBay. I would find it very hard, unless I know the company, to buy from eBay, and I have told readers on our site that if they see something that looks to good to be true on eBay, it is. Stay away, turn the other direction, crash your machine, don’t get hurt. Because every time an eBayer sticks a good person we hear from it because they think it’s our mistake. And when we can tell them who they bought it from by the city and state where it was delivered, they say, “how’d you know that?” I’m a genius.
Can you tell me anything about the Firefly set?
There’ll be plenty of autographs. Costume cards we’re working on. It’ll be again a beautiful set, there’ll be a nine-card puzzle, there’ll be a six-card puzzle, and of course a collector’s album. And we’re going to make more of them this time than we did of Serenity (laughter) because what it is with Serenity and Firefly fans, they’re all the same fan and they just wanted the binders to hold all their other stuff in. The pictures of the actors they got at different shows, the magazines… they not only bought the binders for their cards, they bought it for everything.
So we’ll have more Firefly binders. We won’t produce more cards because we don’t want anything ever to denigrate the license, the intellectual property.
Mr. Caplan, thank you, I'll be looking forward to the set in April.
This is a photo of the flyer exhibited at the Inkworks booth (click for larger image). It promises cards that capture the stories of the original series, behind-the-scenes cards, character cards, and more. Autograph cards (to be announced), a 9-card foil puzzle "Firefly Forever," 6-card "Against the Alliance," 3 box loaders "Partners," and a case loader "Outlaw."
Diamond Comics lists the street date as April 26.