Feature Friday #019 — Mario Zucca

Illustrator of athletes, self-made thousandaire, and most importantly, long-time CB designer, Mario Zucca joins the program. We talk about Pittsburgh being the best city in the world and how the industry is changing. Check out his impressive work at mariozucca.com and his CB collection here.

Usually we start off easy and work our way up to the tough questions, but not this time. Let's get right down to business. Better city, Philly or Pittsburgh?

Haha, oh man, hardball question right off the bat. I'm gonna be political and say that Philly's great, but I miss Pittsburgh a lot and try to get back as often as I can. How's that for a non-answer?

I was hoping for some more shade thrown at Philly, but I guess this will do. Now that we got the important one out of the way, we can move on to other locations.

We're suckers for your hand-drawn maps. And the Greetings series is just so fun. How did you pick the locations for each of them? Are they your favorites places, destinations you've always wanted to visit, areas with great art communities?

I started off the map series with places I've lived (Philly, Pittsburgh, and Portland, OR). The reception to Portland was kind of lukewarm though, and that's when I realized Midwest/Rust Belt cities are sort of my sweet spot.

I like underdog cities that tend to get overlooked or dumped on a bit. They're the places where you find people who have the most rabid city pride, and, not coincidentally, they seem to be the most receptive and excited about my maps.

Mario Zucca Buffalo map wall mural on Hertel Ave

Well now I know you're a Pittsburgher at heart. You had us at 'underdog city.'

I am interested in the difference between these cities in terms of the art community though. Have you noticed any major contrasts between them? Maybe more support in certain areas or collaboration in others? Or are they all pretty tight knit due to the nature of the business.

It's tough to speak to the art communities in the cities where I haven't spent much time, but based solely on the reception my illustrated maps have received, it definitely seems like some cities have a more welcoming mentality.

In Buffalo, for example, their main newspaper, The Buffalo News, ran a feature on my work, and a local printer up there secured funding to turn it into a mural on one of their main art corridors, Hertel Ave.

That's incredible! Hertel Ave is beautiful. That's gotta feel good to be featured among other impressive artists.

You've partnered with a bunch of awesome brands like Crayola, Dr. Pepper, ESPN, and about a million others. Have there been any real 'pinch me' moments getting to collab with so many high profile companies? I'm a huge sports fan, so having work featured in an NHL arena is just incredibly cool to me.

Any chance I've had to work for a sports team has been incredible, but the Sheetz truck graphic I designed a few years back was probably my all-time favorite project. It's the project that people have commented on the most, and it's never not surreal seeing my artwork driving down the highway.

Mario Zucca's illustration on the Sheetz fleet

Sheetz is the best answer here. Clearly superior to Wawa. Assuming you're a one-truck-and-done guy, what's up next for you? Anything really outside the box? Expansion of old concepts or collabs? Selfishly I hope it's a continuation of your sports work.

I definitely want to keep making sports work, and I plan to build out more Burgh-specific stuff in the months ahead. I'm actually working on a board game right now, which has been a fun departure. I don't want to give out too many details just yet, but it's a resource-management game centered around food truck culture.

Speaking of trucks...Sheetz all the way.

Now we're talking. From what I understand, you and Dan Levy are very close friends. At least that's what it seems like in Happiest Season. On a scale from 1 to fries-on-a-sandwich, can you tell me how awesome it was to see your work in an actual movie? 

Haha, that was definitely fries-on-a-sandwich! I've had artwork in the background of a couple other film sets, but never up front and center like that.

Mario Zucca Pittsburgh print in Happiest Season

Your art has such a natural flow to it. The theme and consistency really stands out. Do you feel like these types of details will disappear with the introduction of AI? Designers we've chatted with have used AI as a tool, but could it become more than that for opportunists who want to get ahead without putting in the time and effort?

Oh man, that's the million dollar question.

For all the advancements AI has made, it's still just a derivative tool with a lot of limitations, and it's still very easy to spot AI-generated art. That may change in the years ahead, but for now it seems like there's still no replacement for well-researched and conceptualized, hand-drawn art made by a human being.

P(Hi)lly Cheesesteak by Mario Zucca

Fair enough. AI art might not be a sincere form of flattery, but it's sort of an imitation so let's roll with it. Have you molded your work off of anyone? Folks that have been an inspiration to you or that you aspire to be like?

Learning how successful designers get to where they're at is so important for the next generation. Your style is unique but I'm assuming it was based on specific pieces somewhere along the way. 

Definitely. I've been inspired by a pretty eclectic mix of art, but mostly by the art of Martin Handford (Where's Waldo), R. Crumb's crosshatch style, the amazing portraits of Philip Burke, and fellow map illustrators like John Roman and Aaron Meshon.

I'm also constantly inspired by other PA-based illustrators/designers like Mark Bender, Martha Rich, Tim Gough, Hawk Krall...the list could go on and on, but I'll stop there.

You're definitely in great company with those names.

Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with us, Mario. We love to joke about Philly, but just to make it clear, it's a great city… that's just not quite as great as ours 😉.

P.S. Use code FeatureFriday15 for 15% off all Mario Zucca products now through 4/28!

Hand-Picked Links — July 1, 2024

Talking video games, national parks, smart writing, and happy birthdays today.

Factorio: Space Age

The folks at Wube Software made possibly my favorite PC game ever with the original Factorio (which you can and should buy right now if you haven’t already). They also write what may be the best game development blog on the internet.

The most recent Friday Facts is just a quick overview of the last few years, but it’s a good place to jump in to the more technical posts if you are so inclined.

Launch date to be revealed Friday!


Get to Know Ted Gioia (The Honest Broker)

Sure, the amount of content out there is overwhelming. All the more reason to follow Ted Gioia and purge a few energy vampires in your life. Interesting, thoughtful, direct. Easily one of my favorite writers.

Good places to start:

College Football 25

For people of a certain age, no game was bigger than NCAA Football, and for the first time in over 10 years, it’s back. It’s been so long since the last game that the biggest names from the class of 2013 (Travis Kelce, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen) are at the tail end of their careers. We’re talking two entire console generations!

Almost everything about college football has changed in the meantime. Players can move freely between schools and earn money for their names, images, and likenesses. Deion Sanders is the most famous coach in America. Conferences are unrecognizable.

My only question: can players in the game earn NIL money in the game? Does College Football 25 exist in the College Football 25 universe?

More Than Just Parks

Whether you’re planning a trip or just vibing out, let brothers Will and Jim Pattiz take you on a guided tour of America the beautiful.

Twenty two parks and counting. You’re next, Saguaro!

Cotton Bureau Turns 11 Years Old

Excuse the sentimentality (and shamelessness), but we can’t let you go without reminding you that it’s our birthday.

We’re celebrating with dozens of beautiful hand-printed tees from some of the best designers on Cotton Bureau, including a special Cotton Burro birthday tee for just $11.

Get free shipping on all Cotton Bureau products using code HBDCB11 at checkout. The party ends July 11, so don’t wait.

Cotton Bureau is 11 Years Old!

We’re a little late to the party this year, but we’re not going to apologize because we have three huge announcements that are more than worth the wait.

Free Shipping On Everything

To celebrate our 11th birthday, we’re offering completely free shipping for everything on the entire site from now until the end of the day July 11 (see what we did there). Whether you order a t-shirt, a phone case, a hat, an insulated can sleeve, a tote bag, or anything else, shipping is on us.

Just use code HBDCB11 at checkout. (If you live in a country not named the United States of America, we’ll still cover 50% of your shipping. We’re just that nice.)

Campaigns Are Back

Second big announcement, if you missed the news last week, we’ve got a brand new tool that makes it a snap to set up pre-order campaigns for genuine screen printed tees. From 2013–2017, screen printed campaigns were the exclusive way to buy and sell on Cotton Bureau. We eventually added on demand (along with all the other improvements we’ve made to the catalog), but our heart still bleeds glorious (usually water-based) ink.

We are so happy to have a super easy way for everyone to offer pre-order campaigns again. In addition to easy setup, we also have a wider array of garment colors and styles. Plus we’ve lowered the minimum from 25 to 12, so more wins for everyone.

To kick things off, we invited some of the most talented designers from the past 11 years on Cotton Bureau to join us in releasing (or re-releasing) some amazing shirts.

We are immensely grateful to Mikey BurtonGerren LamsonMike MonteiroRyan HamrickLouie MantiaMax DuchaineNeven MrganMary DurantBen StaffordJames Victore, and the many others who were kind enough to participate.

Shop all pre-order campaigns right here.

A Very Special $11 Cotton Burro Tee

Finally, if you are a man or woman of taste, we trust you will appreciate this limited edition Cotton Burro design from our friend Steve Habersang in his inimitable stippled style.

Available for two weeks only, we’re practically giving them away. Just $11 (!) for a t-shirt, plus free shipping if you use the code (HBDCB11). Available in natural, white, light grey, grey, mauve, light pink, and banana cream, you’re sure to find a color you love. Also available in tank tops for the summer plus long-sleeves and sweatshirts for the cooler months.

That’s it for the announcements. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating 11 years and counting. Thank you!

Get back to where we once belonged.

For the first few years of Cotton Bureau, the only way to get a shirt printed was with a two week screen printed pre-order campaign. That changed in 2015 when we dipped our toes in the on demand pool with direct-to-garment kids tees, and it really changed in 2018 when we converted a big chunk of the back catalog and 2019 when we released the on demand product creator.

Our transition from smug skeptics to begrudging believers didn’t happen over night. Years of watching, testing, and debating eventually convinced us that the benefits (full color, on demand, always available products) more than made up for the disadvantages (slightly ill-defined edges, the occasional streaky or misregistered print).

Frankly, the technology has also come a long way since the early days. For most shirts and most people, the differences were simply aren’t perceptible. With tens of thousands of new shirts created and hundreds of thousands of shirts printed since making the switch, it’s clear that on demand is the right model under most circumstances…

…as incorrigible t-shirt romantics, however, we can’t help having a soft spot for the razor-sharp lines, crisp colors, and astonishing durability screen printing provides.

Which is why we’re thrilled to say that pre-order campaigns are back, and they’re better than ever.

Do you find words boring? Skip the rest of this post and send us a new pre-order campaign design now.

Truthfully, pre-order campaigns never went away completely. Neither a secular shift in the industry to always available products nor a global pandemic that wreaked havoc with supply chains was able to completely sever our attachment to the old ways. Given our continued commitment to screen printing and pre-order campaigns, we made the difficult decision earlier this year to carve out time to modernize our campaign setup workflow.

Since the first shirt was launched in June 2013, every pre-order campaign has involved a tedious-but-necessary back-and-forth with a Cotton Bureau design coordinator. Many people have admirably filled (and continue to fill) that role. Under the best circumstances, there is tremendous value in being able to work through a design concept, discuss ink properties, and review fabric options with a real person. Realistically, however, much of the prep work is something that can and should be automated, and many campaigns do not require more than a quick stamp of approval. It’s time to take the handcuffs off.

Moving from full service to self service.

All pre-order screen printing campaigns need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the design?
  • How big should it be?
  • On what shirts will it be available to purchase?
  • How much should it cost?
  • How many ink colors will it require?
  • What kind of ink should it use?
  • When will the campaign begin and end?

Until today, answering those questions happened in a disjointed series of emails between the designer and the design coordinator. With the newly updated product creator, pre-order campaigns can be completely and independently configured and launched in a single convenient place.

Everything works just like on demand, plus a few extra settings to make sure we have all the information we need to produce and fulfill the campaign. As with on demand embroidery, we do include a manual review process to ensure that the artwork is printable (color separated vector or high-resolution bitmap images) and correctly prepped. Provided everything looks good, campaigns launch automatically and on schedule.

Of course we’re still here to help if you have questions. Every new campaign spawns an email conversation with Cotton Bureau with ample opportunity for assistance.

We’re eager to see what happens next. Constraints fuel creativity. With limited colors (and limited time to order), will we see a renaissance in pre-order campaigns, or has the world moved on?

In either case, the new self-serve campaign tool is live now and available to all Cotton Bureau sellers.

But wait, there’s more.

Once we got to work, we couldn’t help imagining ways campaigns could be better. Some ideas we were able to work into this release, others will be arriving in the near future.

Additional styles.

Just like on demand, pre-order works by using our high tech color bundle system. And by high tech, I mean that our team manually reviews the available colors in a style and sorts them into buckets with other like colors.

For example, if you choose “Black”, you get a few black men’s t-shirts in assorted blends (100% cotton, tri-blend) and fits (standard, heavyweight), a few women’s t-shirts in the same blends and relevant fits (junior, true to size), a tank top, a long sleeve tee, a crewneck fleece, and a hoodie.

With the new tool, we’re exposing more colors and fabrics. These alternate styles will not be enabled by default, but it will be possible to selectively toggle them on and off. (Be reasonable! Too much choice can be a bad thing.)

While we’re talking styles, we’d like to note that we are actively reviewing more brands and fits with the expectation that the catalog of Cotton Bureau shirts will continue to expand in 2024. Is there a particular style you have always wanted to use that isn’t available? Let us know.

Lowering the magic number.

Oh, one more thing. We know how hard it is to sell 25 shirts in two weeks. You’ve probably gotten the lecture at least once from us about how you need to pester your friends, family, neighbors, and followers or else your shirt will fail. Every time a campaign doesn’t go to print — or, worse, makes it to print but doesn’t sell enough to get paid — it pokes our heart. On demand has solved that particular problem for most people, but if you’re the type of person who accepts no substitutes for the buttery smooth look and feel of screen printing, we have good news for you.

Effective immediately, pre-order campaigns only need to reach 12 sales to print and 12 sales to get paid. That’s right. The same number. Will it cost us an arm and a leg to print 12 shirts? Yes, yes it will. But you’re worth it.

That’s it. If you are inclined to send us something, now would be a great time. You might remember that we traditionally celebrate our birthday June 12 of each year. We’re a little behind, but we haven’t forgotten. We would love it if you gave us the gift of a beautiful new design. Next week is going to be a good time to be on Cotton Bureau, if you know what we mean.

Hand-Picked Links — June 10, 2024

Cotton Bureau’s Hand-Picked Links is back with a post-WWDC look at our favorite links from the past week, which just happen to be mostly videos.

Ugmonk Discbound Heirloom Journal

Almost out of stock — and really pushing your luck for Father’s Day — these olive leather journals with refillable paper inserts and gorgeous brass binding discs from our friend Jeff at Ugmonk look incredible.

Clever Road Resurfacing

Mesmerizing, narration-free video of fresh asphalt being laid down. Even more impressive: no disruption to traffic thanks to what can only be described as an enormous, portable, hydraulic bridge.

Have to hand it to the Germans, again.

The Fried Egg on Pinehurst #2

After 10 years away, golf returns to North Carolina and Pinehurst #2 this week for the men’s U.S. Open. Conditions are expected to be… challenging.

The Fried Egg sits down with one of the greatest living golf course architects — and the man responsible for the recent restoration — Bill Coore to discuss.

Every Hole at Pinehurst #2

Do you need even more hypnotizing aerial video of stunning golf scenery? Of course you do. The entire Every Hole At video playlist from Golf Digest is required viewing for golf architecture admirers.

WWDC 2024

Whether you’re excited or terrified by AImageddon, it’s impossible to look away. Apple boldly threw down the sensible + private gauntlet yesterday with dozens of new built-in features, and even poked a tiny hole in the Great Wall of On Device Security to talk directly with servers.

Genmoji shrug this is fine dog flames.