Mark Chiarello is an award-winning artist whose work can be found across popular culture, from Batman: Black & White to Hellboy to Heroes of the Negro Leagues. He answered a few questions via email.
BBC Blog: What is your background as an artist?
MC: I trained as an illustrator at Pratt Institute in NY and have been fortunate enough to have made a living as an artist ever since. I somehow get to do what I love for a living, painting pictures of baseball heroes, comic book heroes and movie heroes.
BBC Blog: When did you know you were a fan of the Negro Leagues? Was it a particular experience or epiphany?
MC: I’m a hardcore baseball fan (Yankees), and since my best friend, Jack Morelli lives up near the Baseball Hall of Fame, we go to the ‘Hall’ a few times a year. Years and years ago, Jack and I were walking around, looking at all of the inductee plaques and we both noticed there was a guy named Judy Johnson alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Well, our curiosity got the best of us, so we started looking into the Negro Leagues. It’s continued to be a passion of ours for the past 25 years.
BBC Blog: How did you get involved in the "Heroes of the Negro Leagues" trading card set and book?
MC: When Jack and I initially got interested in the Negro Leagues, we realized that there were very few books or information about them. We were pretty astounded that at that point there were no color trading cards dedicated to the League or it’s players, so we took it upon ourselves to create a set, which came out in 1990.
Years later, we were approached by Abrams Publishing and asked if we we’d be interested in collecting all of the cards in book form, which ultimately became “Heroes of the Negro Leagues.” We had a great time expanding the number of players, which required doing forty new paintings for the book.
BBC Blog: Did you get any feedback from the players and/or their families?
MC: We’ve gotten to meet a bunch of the players over the years, including Leon Day, Ray Dandridge, Double Duty Radcliffe and Monte Irvin. And, I have to say, it was pretty darn cool when Monte told me he really liked my painting of him a lot.
BBC Blog: You've become involved with the Josh Gibson Foundation and just recently produced a limited edition print to help them fundraise. Can you tell me more about how you became involved?
MC: I was invited to the unveiling of the Josh Gibson statue at Nationals Stadium last year, by Josh’s great grandson, Sean Gibson. After the ceremony, we got to talking, and we came up with the idea of doing a limited edition print. I’m very honored to be able to contribute to that great foundation, but honestly, I really just wanted to do another painting of Josh, he had such a great face.
BBC Blog: Was this a one-off collaboration, or will there be more projects down the road?
I’m hoping to do some more Negro League player prints, plus I’m looking into the possibility of doing something with the legendary Gale Sayers. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
BBC Blog: Are you a collector?
MC: Yes, I collect any and every card that features a Negro Leaguer. And, although I’m trying to complete my 55’ topps set, my real mania when it comes to collecting is 3D cards, especially the Kelloggs sets that came in cereal boxes when we were kids. The 1970 Kelloggs baseball and football sets are just gorgeous!
Mark Chiarello's limited edition Josh Gibson print can be found at ArtInsights.com (scroll down for ordering info). Remarqued edition prints include a small pencil drawing by the artist (see image above for example). Also, be sure to visit Mark Chiarello's site to view tons of his work.