Trading Card Tuesday: The American Spirit
It’s the first Tuesday of the month, so we are coming in hot with a brand new installment of Trading Card Tuesday!
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This month’s hero comes straight out of the Pulp novels of World War I. But as you’ll learn in the design notes from Luis Valero-Suarez and me, the influences behind the character are wild and varied. Get ready for the star-spangled man with a plan, the high-flying hero known as the American Spirit!
1918 – THE AMERICAN SPIRIT
Thomas Bale aka The American Spirit was a Captain in the United States Army during WW I who underwent a series of experiments that lead to his becoming an extra-human soldier. He later went on to struggle with what it meant to be the symbol for “The American Dream.” It was clear to me that, in this world, he serves as the Captain America archetype but what I thought was interesting was that this super soldier sports a pair of technological wings which made him visually more in line with Sam Wilson’s Captain America. So, I kept both Caps in mind when brainstorming Bale’s design.
I didn’t really have a specific model for his face; I mostly just amalgamated different pilots from photographs. I just wanted to make him seem like a handsome and honorable man.
Since he’s got the wings motif, I figured I’d base his design on aircraft pilots and aviators of the early 1900’s. I looked through various photographs of American Service pilots and read about the kind of gear they’d need to fly in the sky. It can reach very low temperatures when flying that high and pilots were usually exposed back then (unlike today where pilots are protected by the cockpit canopy) so they would wear bomber jackets, leather flight helmets, gloves, and sometimes scarves. A lot of winterwear.
The wings and his star-spangled banner theme also gave me the idea to go with an American bald eagle look by making the flight helmet white and adding a nose piece to the aviator goggles to mimic a beak. I almost gave him a scarf, but I figured it would get in the way too much, so I scrapped the idea. I didn’t go overboard with the American flag motif since we already have characters like Captain America and Homelander who visually are walking, talking American flags. That’s why I mostly kept his primary color scheme red, white and blue with brown pants and utility belts to ground him a bit and kept the American flags limited to the pouches of his jacket.
- Luis Valero-Suarez
The American Spirit was one of the first extra-human heroes I sketched out when developing the Omniverse. He plays a big role in the first comics script I wrote set in this world. As you’ll see in my very first sketch of the character below the paywall, Luis and I had a shared vision for the aesthetics of The American Spirit.
As always, I LIVE for Luis’s attention to costuming details. Drawing on the practical military gear of WWI pilots introduces a certain amount of swagger with the jacket, gloves, and boots. It was important to me that we draw on the Sam Wilson Falcon/Captain America mechanical wings because so many pulp magazines from the WWI period featured the daring exploits of a relatively new aspect of warfare— fighter pilots. I love how Luis subtly references the American bald eagle in the flight helmet and goggles detail.
Turns out, writing a patriotic American hero is a trick in 2023. I didn’t want to go too bleak (a la Homelander from The Boys), too precious or nostalgic (e.g. Uncle Sam— the comics hero not the personification of American paternalism), or stay too close to a familiar archetype (Captain America).
So from a narrative perspective, I’m became interested in the CLONE of it all! I was thinking very specifically about the replicants in the 1982 film Blade Runner when I first sketched out Thomas Bale’s story. My initial ideas have also been influenced by Moira X from the Krakoan age of X-Men stories and other, more recent, reflections on the personhood of clones. Luis created such rich visual for this character that I’m very excited to tell some stories with The American Spirit.
As for the production design for this card, I drew a lot of my inspiration from the— quite frankly ODD— number of trading cards based around warfare in the 20th century. I remembered the “Desert Storm” cards from childhood. My research turned up the 1938 “Horrors of War” created by Gum, Inc. The initial “Horrors of War” series featured 240 illustrated cards that gave brief historical sketches from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936), and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). These cards were so popular that Gum, Inc. added an additional 48 cards depicting violence in Germany at the start of World War II. My mind was blown— and I just barely scratched the surface in researching this genre of trading card!
But truthfully, my biggest inspirations for the layouts were the WWI-era pulp magazines that I mentioned earlier— and this set of Evel Knievel cards produced by Topps in 1974! Inspiration comes from the strangest places so don’t block the blessings!
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