Growing up as an avid baseball card collector in Seattle, film director Marq Evans loved the colorful portraits of the Donruss Diamond Kings inserts. The red border 1990 Bo Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. always held a special place in his collection. The inserts, reproductions of watercolor paintings by Dick Perez, debuted in 1982 and became the most recognizable subset of baseball cards of the 1980s.
The Diamond Kings were unlike anything else before it. The cards featured the portrait of a player from each baseball team and a smaller in-set painting of the player in action. Perez’s subset enjoyed a 15-year run while defining an era of card collecting that saw the hobby mature into a big business.
More than 30 years later, Evans found inspiration for his next film while going through his childhood collection with his son. Who, he wondered, was the man responsible for creating one of the hobby’s iconic designs?
While planning a trip to New York City, Evans emailed the Brooklyn-based Perez about collaborating on a documentary. Evans thought he would get a reply in a few days, but Perez wrote back just a few hours later.
“We hit it off on that first phone call, and it’s been a really wonderful relationship ever since,” Evans told SC Daily.
Evans did preliminary filming in Perez’s studio to see if they would get along. A creative collaboration was forged when The Diamond King, a documentary about Perez’s life and career, was born in those first few days.
Marq Evans, Independent Documentary Maker
The Diamond King seeks to capture the joy of card collecting, one of Evans’ favorite childhood activities. It isn’t the first time Evans used childhood nostalgia to inspire his films. He gained critical praise for the documentaries Claydream and The Glamour & The Squalor.
Claydream centered around the obsessive nature and failed relationships of the creators of the California Raisins. The Glamour & The Squalor is about Seattle-based disc jockey Marco Collins’s rise, fall, and influence in the grunge rock scene.
The Diamond King strikes a different tune by celebrating Perez’s unique style and work.
“My previous biographical films were oozing with conflict, but that’s not this story,” Evans says. “Dick’s story is inspiring and almost a fairytale. I hope audiences fall in love with his work. I’m not looking to manufacture any drama or conflict.”
A Kickstarter site to raise money for the film says, “The Diamond King hits on big themes, immigration, the intersection of art and baseball, and eternity.”
While Perez is the film’s focus, it will also include interviews with athletes, celebrities, and players in the card industry on the impact that Perez had on the hobby. The fundraiser has also teased a “well-known actor” as the ‘voice of baseball’s past’ throughout the film.
Dick Perez, Baseball Artist
As a six-year-old, Perez arrived in New York City from Puerto Rico, with baseball helping him assimilate to the mainland.
When he was 16, Perez moved to Philadelphia, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. Perez’s entry into baseball started in 1972 as a team artist for the Philadelphia Phillies. His paintings of all the Hall of Famers with ties to Philadelphia reside in a permanent collection at Citizens Bank Park.
While working with the Phillies, he also became the official artist for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Perez has painted every Hall of Famer’s official portrait.
In 1980, the popular Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcards were released and updated every year with every new induction until 2002. By the end of the project’s run, there were 270 postcards. The larger postcards have become favorites among autograph collectors.
Evans is no stranger to the budgetary constraints of independent filmmaking. With Perez’s help, a Kickstarter campaign was initiated to raise $30,000 within two months. To date, the campaign has raised more than $40,000.
Funding opportunities for the film appear at different levels. For $100, a campaign backer will receive a new set created by Perez, limited to 499. The set, titled ‘Diamond Immortals,’ is the first release by Perez since his inserts appeared in 2008 Topps Chrome and Topps Heritage.
“My favorite thing about this card set is how much fun Dick is having to put it together,” Evans said. “I didn’t know how he would respond, but from the moment I brought it up, he was totally in.”
Diamond Immortals, originally slated as a 22-card set, has gradually expanded as the campaign gathered steam. When the campaign hit $35,000, Nolan Ryan was added. Steve Carlton was added when the campaign raised $40,000. The next goal of $50,000 will unlock the final card – a new painting of Tom Seaver.
“I thought the hobby would find this project interesting and want to get involved, but you never know,” Evans said. “I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the response. I figured that if I made something authentic as a baseball lover, it would find an audience of other people who love baseball and baseball cards.”
Other supporter options include a $249 pledge for a Perez-signed print of Aaron Judge numbered to 99. Also available for $5,000 is an original oil on canvas painting of Shohei Ohtani that Perez used for the Diamond Immortals set.
When the campaign hit $40,000, all supporters will be eligible for a random drawing of an original oil on canvas painting of Aaron Judge. With two weeks left in the campaign, $41,000 have been raised.
The Diamond King Release
According to Evans, filming for The Diamond King is scheduled to finish at the end of the year and be released sometime in 2024, primarily through film festivals across the country first.
The film is in the early stages of production. Evans hopes to include footage of this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, where Perez will be at the Robert Edward Auctions booth. He also hopes to have footage of this year’s National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony weekend.
All Kickstarter campaign supporters will get their names in the end credits. Backers that give $25 or more will get access to an early online film screening.