Paul Michael Kane on the Foto Grafis Kickstarter campaign

Pocket art for the masses

By , Columnist

I’ve known Paul Michael Kane for well over a decade now, ever since a rather boisterous party during an east coast comic convention in the late '90s. I’d just begun reporting on comics, and he was an ex-newspaper editor turned full-time graphic artist with a growing side business as a webmaster for comic artists. We met through our mutual friend, Matt Busch, and we’ve been tight ever since. In fact, I’m honored to say that not only does he serve as my own site’s webmaster…and not only is he my book designer of choice…but most importantly, I consider him one of my closest of friends.

I share all of the above not only to provide some context, as well as in the interest of full disclosure, but also to underscore the fact that PMK is one very accomplished and multi-talented guy. However, even knowing him and having some idea of his abilities didn’t really prepare me for his rapid growth as a photographer. In just a short period, around five or six years, I’ve watched him transform from an incredibly promising newcomer with a unique eye and a penchant for winning awards into one of the most talented, perceptive and engaging photographers on the scene today, as evidenced by his recent work for Weird New Jersey.

And now he’s created a project that effectively unites three of his abiding passions—a love of design, evocative photography, and the playing cards so integral to his experience as an amateur magician—to create a gorgeous and unique set of illustrated playing cards. But, as he’ll explain below, Paul needs a little help from his friends and acquaintances, both old and new, if he’s going to make this dream a reality.

PMKane on steps pic.jpg

What, exactly, is Foto Grafis?

Foto Grafis is my custom deck of poker-sized playing cards.

The term Foto Grafis is wonderfully shrouded in mystery, and has been batted around photography circles since before my time. Some say it's Greek—others, Latin. Foto is said to mean "light" and grafis means "to draw" or "to control." And that's how we make a photograph, by controlling light.

Each of the deck's 52 cards will feature my photographic work—converted to black and white to give the deck a visual continuity. The deck also features a new system of card recognition that makes reading the cards clear and easy to do, but also optimizes the image space available on the face of the card.

Foto Grafis wolf card.jpg

You’ve successfully published a number of portfolios, comics, scripts and other original pieces, as well as a beautifully illustrated collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, in the past. So why go the Kickstarter route this time? What kind of factors helped sway your opinion that way?

Kickstarter is the perfect way for creative professionals to reach out to potential backers and secure funding by offering a one-of-a-kind product. Part of the challenge of self-publishing is finding your audience. Kickstarter brings those buyers to you in the form of backers. You offer different tiers of pledges and each pledge has its own reward. So not only do you get funding for the project, but you also have an outlet for your product. Backers aren't simply donating; they are getting rewarded for their funding.

Foto Grafis suits -- Spades full.jpg

And why such a low buy-in? Seriously, even your highest level of support is equal to other Kickstarter campaigns’ lowest contribution levels, and your cards and the boxes they come in are all pretty elaborate. So, what influenced your decision to go so affordable?

I want to give this project every possible chance to succeed. By lowering my funding goal, and kicking in my own personal funding, I am trying to ensure we hit our goal and these cards get made.

With traditional self-published projects, you are typically paying for the entire project on your own. With the Foto Grafis campaign, my goal isn’t focused on profit, but rather marketing my work to a brand new audience.

Foto Grafis suits -- Hearts full.jpg

Where’d this project come from? What do you remember of that initial moment of inspiration, and how much has it changed as you reworked and refined it?

My first big professional gig as a photographer was for this deck of cards called Konxari—a sort of tarot card deck—with 88 cards that featured my images. I've always had a love for playing cards and it's been kicking around in the back of my head to do a traditional deck of cards—a poker deck.

When I started looking into designing a custom deck of cards, I saw that Bicycle was running a "Design-a-Deck" contest. I had discovered the contest with only three days left in the deadline. So I whipped up a camera-themed card back and submitted it. Three days later, I got the notification that my design had won—this was huge. It really gave me the confidence I needed to begin the Foto Grafis journey.

Bicycle Cards award image.jpg

As you’ve noted above, this campaign unites three of your prevailing passions: graphic design, photography, and a life-long interest in magic, here manifested as playing cards and the inherent concept of artistic or even literal transformation. So what about each of those particular arts first grabbed your attention, and what aspect of those disciplines continues to fuel your interest to this day?

As far as photography, I am always looking for new ways to showcase my work. I've done images on slate, aluminum, glass and wood. And while my work has already been featured on cards, I was curious—as a designer—to see if I could make them work on a functional deck of playing cards—in other words, cards you can play poker with…or solitaire. The challenge was to come up with a system of card recognition that would allow as much real estate on the card face as possible. It was a challenge, but I love a good challenge. I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

As for the magic/cardistry aspect of it—while I’ve long since retired my magic wand and top hat, I’ll be thrilled to do a few card tricks with my own deck of cards!

Foto Grafis suits -- Diamonds Ful.jpg

What other unique challenges did Foto Grafis represent for you as a creative mind, along with those you faced as a graphic designer, a photographer and a small publisher?

I think the biggest challenge to me as a designer was the card recognition system, and coming up with a striking design for the tuck box—that’s the cardboard box the cards come in.

I wanted a leather-looking case that mimicked the feel of an older camera—but as soon as I had one designed, I saw another deck of cards released on Kickstarter that had a very similar look. I added the brushed aluminum top portion with the lens and it all started coming together.

As a photographer, the biggest challenge was coming up with 52 images that not only look good in portrait orientation, but also converted well to monotone. I decided early on to go all black and white to give the deck a visual continuity.

It's funny, but as I am going through my existing body of work, I see that I skew more towards shooting in landscape orientation. One thing this project will have left me with is the reminder to, every once in a while, turn the camera on its side and see what kind of shot I might get.

Foto Grafis suits -- Clubs full.jpg

Well, aside from that kind of insight into your work, what do you get from doing this kind of project that you might not have gotten from your work as a book, graphic and web designer, an occasional prestidigitator, or as comics scripter or prose author?

I classify this project as personal, rather than commercial…and each personal project has its own rewards. For this it’s showcasing over 50 pieces of my photography in a portable, familiar medium. Pocket-sized fine art!

Foto Grafis Kickstarter add ons pg.jpg

What do you hope that your contributors get for their support of Foto Grafis?

For their support of Foto Grafis, I hope my backers get a sense of pride. Supporting a project like this makes one a true patron of the arts. But I’m not sure if backers realize just how important a role that is.

I not only want them to feel like they got a nice product for their backing, but also enabled an 'artist' to achieve a particular vision they had for a project. They are also getting some pretty sweet rewards in addition to their decks!

Foto Grafis Kickstarter add ons -- Wolf framed for wal.jpg

Let’s say that there’s someone out there reading this that’s undecided whether these cards will be worth the investment. What might you say to them to sway their opinion in favor of supporting Foto Grafis?

How often do you get to spend nine bucks and help turn a dream into a reality—see the above mention of being a patron of the arts. I’ve backed more than a few Kickstarter projects and really enjoy the feeling it gives to me contribute to someone’s creative outlet. I look at the investment as its own reward!

Foto Grafis Kickstarter add ons -- Proud Supporter of FG image.jpg

Anything else to add before I let you get back to work?

Just to thank you, Bill, for helping spread the word about Foto Grafis. The Internet, and sites like the ones you write for—and social media as a whole—has given birth to a brand new artistic Renaissance. It's an exciting time and I am glad to be a part of it in some small way.

As always, it’s my pleasure entirely, Paul!

PMKane photog logo.jpg

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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