The creative drive in us humans is a mysterious thing. Not everyone has it and of those of us who do not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to indulge it. I have a strong creative drive and do get to express it but it can still be a mystery to me. What I mean by that is often the hardest questions to answer as a creative person is “What should I do and why should I do it?”

Often people are stumped by that question. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a creative job where the answer to why is “because I get paid to” and the answer to what is “Whatever the bosses need me to create” then you have to find your own answers. A lot of people can’t do that as life often gets in the way. They end up doing nothing creative even though they want to.

There are creative things that are more important to me than others. I like painting better than making sculpture. I like photography better than film. I like drawing better than making music. These are usually what drive my choices in what art I should make with my free time but occasionally I get into some sort of project that fascinates me for a while but then seems pointless. I’m compelled to express my creativity through it for a brief period but I can’t see any long term value to it.

This week that project was making what I have named Paste-Up Mash-Ups. I’ve been making altered art Magic the Gathering cards for years. I would take a MTG card, strip off the ink of the illustration, prep the card ground, print a new illustration on the card with my inkjet printer, then varnish the card. I’d sell my altered art cards on eBay for about ten bucks a piece. I did that for about five years until I gave it up this past summer (2021).

I wrote last month “Art Writing ‘Magic the Gathering Comic Book Cards’” and those are the cards that I’ve renamed Paste-Up Mash-Ups (PUMUs). A week ago I only had made fifteen of them but now I have 75 finished cards. That’s a lot of cards. Why did I make so many? I’m not sure except that it seemed to make me happy to make them.

I’ve actually gotten better at making them since last month. That makes sense since I’ve made a lot more of them. Them being easier to make makes it easier to make them. There is more frustration involved as I’m trying to figure out how to make something new and failing from time to time than in making the tried and true. Once I’ve got things down the frustration disappears. I think that’s a big factor in learning anything new.

Nostalgia has a lot to do with why I like these PUMU cards. Even though I haven’t played MTG much since the 1990s I had a good time with the game back then so I look at it with fondness. Plus I love and still actively buy and read comic books so looking at these images from 1970s comics brings me back. The nostalgia is easy to see there.

The first comic book I was using is Conan #40 from 1974. I made about 40 cards from its panels and I’m still not done with it. Though I got bored with it and switched over to Star Wars #12 from 1978. I made another 35 cards from that comic. Those are both comics from my childhood (not these exact copies) so of course there is a bit of nostalgia there too. But there was one unexpected are of nostalgia. The tools.

Back when I was working at Marvel Comics in the early 1990s we did everything the old fashioned way. They era of desktop publishing had not yet taken hold so we had to do paste-ups to get stuff ready to print. Paste-ups are just what they sound like. We used paste (really rubber cement) to glue pieces of paper in place so they could be made into a comic book or magazine. What is now done on the computer had to be done in the physical world.

Our main tools were an X-Acto knife for cutting, a metal ruler to cut straight lines against, a pair of tweezers to hold little bits of paper so we could place them, and some sort of glue. These are the exact tools I used to make these PUMU cards. As a matter of fact the tweezers and metal ruler are the exact ones I used at Marvel. After they went digital I took my old tools home. My X-Acto knife actually predates my Marvel days so it’s even older.

The glue I was using, which I learned about at Marvel, is what we used to call “3M” paper. It’s named Repositioning Mounting Adhesive on the box but 3M makes it so that’s how it got it’s name for us. It’s a roll of plastic paper 12 inches wide that has sticky stuff on one side of it. You cut off a piece of it, place it on the back of what you want to glue down, and burnish (rub) the back of it to transfer the sticky stuff onto the paper to be glued. It’s a little tricky to work with since that sticky stuff can get everywhere but it’s not too bad.

Besides using my old paste-up tools and skills to make these cards there was also an unexpected area of nostalgic contemplation. I started thinking to myself, “Who, besides me, even has the basic skills to make these cards?” I’ve seen other people make altered art MTG cards by printing stickers and sticking them on the MTG cards but this is a different beast. I’m pasting actual paper from 1970s comic books onto cards. That has a feel all of its own

Unless you work with it you’ll have no idea how delicate newsprint from the 1970s is. It is really thin and tears easily. If you don’t cut it with a sharp blade it tears easily along the edge you’re trying to cut. That’s one specific paste-up skill you’ll need. Working with glue is another.

I don’t think a person can use just any glue to do this. Especially if the glue is wet. The dry 3M paper is the perfect glue to be using but how many people even know that stuff exists? I’m the only artist I know who still uses the stuff. Plus I only know about it because of my Marvel days. If you were to try this with Elmers Glue, Rubber cement, or a glue stick it wouldn’t work at all.

So there I was making all these cards for no reason I can comprehend as I contemplate my drive to be creative, the nostalgia of the cards I was making, the nostalgia of the process I was making them with, and wondering if anything like these even exist beyond my drawing table. Paste-up Mash-ups have kept my hands and mind busy. At least for a short while.