The Babe or Batman. The Iron Horse or Ironman. The Hammer or the Hulk.
Take your pick. Whether the conversation centers on baseball or comic books, Daniel Jacob Horine is prepared to provide an in-depth analysis.
The Southern California artist is well versed regarding both worlds, combining his love of the two to create an impressive and unique artform, one that allows him to express his love for the game while paying homage to his passion for comics. Horine introduced the art and baseball worlds to Pop Fly Pop Shop midway through 2020 and in the last 18 months his work has become the talk of both communities.
Horine’s creations depict comic book covers featuring current and former baseball players, ranging from Hall-of-Famers to some guys from your childhood about whom you may have forgotten. Included among those covers are some of the game’s most memorable moments such as Chicago’s Rick Monday swiping an American flag from two misguided protestors attempting to burn it at Dodger Stadium in 1976.
“I started on June 12, 2020,” said Horine, 42, who up until this fall had spent a large portion of his career in the corporate world. “I remember the day I released it [the first cover]. A year or two earlier, I did a couple of illustrations comic style. My first comic baseball mashup was for Dale Murphy. I developed a lot of merchandise for his website. It wasn’t Pop Fly proper but I guess Dale Murphy was a prototype for Pop Fly that got the wheels turning for me.”
Those wheels have continued to turn as Horine released his 63rd on Nov. 29, a tribute to Hall-of-Famer and two-time MVP Robin Yount, who spent the length of his 20-year career with the Brewers. Each piece measures 7.5 by 10 inches, the same as a comic book. He even puts the covers in a comic book sleeve when shipping them out, which he says is a ‘dorky little thing that gets me excited’.
“I go through my mental rolodex of players and moments. By the time I am ready to execute it, it is already laid out in my head.”
Additionally, Horine places the cover in a brown, comic book-sized bag, reminiscent of the bags in which comics were sold in the 1980s. He also includes his business card, which is designed to look like an old baseball ticket, and an old wax-pack of baseball cards, complete with the horrible rectangular piece of gum. The base model retails for $50 but if a player autographs the covers then it will be a bit more.
“You get to open the box and you pull out a comic, my card and baseball cards,” Horine said. “I wanted to evoke that feeling of getting a treasure from the local store. I just hope people are not eating the gum. I know people try but please don’t do that.”
Horine can joke about decades-old stale gum now that his creations have attained a foothold in not only the worlds of baseball and comics but also in the art community. It’s been a long-time coming for the former associate creative director at LinkedIn.
“It’s funny, I have been an artist for a long time, trying this and trying that,” Horine said. “I went to a convention with another idea about He-Man and baseball and that didn’t work out. I came back with everything I arrived with. It was another in a decade and a half of artistic bummers.
“Around that time a buddy of mine was a Will Clark super collector. He said if I could do the art for him of Clark ‘Murphy-style’ then he’d give me some of his Murphy pieces. I got 90-percent finished with that piece. Then in 2020 my dad passed away and the world is outside in and there was a lot of despair and disappointment. That’s when I had found that old file [of Clark] I had started. I had no memory of it until I unearthed it; I had kind of forgotten about it. So, I had to finish it and give it to my buddy and do the art trade.”
That he was able to trade for Murphy-related items meant a great deal to Horine, who grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of West Covina. He was a big baseball fan, thanks in large part to his father’s influence. Horine, however, also had his interest stoked in other sports because a family friend had season tickets to not only the Dodgers but to the Clippers and Lakers as well.
It was part of a childhood that included the summer of 1989, which Horine called “magical”. He had Murphy on [cable station] TBS almost every day and the first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was released. That, combined with the plethora of baseball card/comic shops that dominated strip malls across the country in the late 80s and early 90s had Horine in heaven.
“My entire world, two spheres [baseball and comics], and it captured my attention in a big way,” said Horine, who added that he had a “natural bent” toward art while he was growing up. “We [also] had these awesome seats gifted to us whenever he [the owner] couldn’t go. We were spoiled. We went to a lot of Dodger games sitting on field level behind home plate. I’ll never sit there again. I also played for the West Covina Dodgers in little league. It was their West Covina affiliate.
“Murphy was my favorite player, though. Early on I gravitated toward him. I had one of his cards and a figurine then another card so I guess that makes a collection. He was on the Braves at the time and I’d see him every now and then at Dodger games. I couldn’t put a finger on what drew me to him initially but he is certainly a worthy hero for sure. He’s a great human being and ended up becoming friends later as adults. I’ve loved him since I was a kid.”
Murphy was also instrumental in the early stages of Pop Fly. The former slugger worked with Horine to complete a comic cover for one of the first issues he released. The whole venture gained traction quickly. Horine, who had previously left his artwork on sale for an indefinite period of time, decided to make his pieces available to the public for a limited time only and once they were sold, that was it, they were officially retired.
“I thought I could pull off one a week in this style,” he said. “It was very much on a whim. I told my wife, honey this is what I have decided to do. It wasn’t intentional starting a business. I said we’ll see what happens. Maybe we will sell five or 10 a day but it slowly got traction by release #3, which I worked on with Murphy himself.
“In the beginning, my wife [Areni] held her breath a little when I came downstairs and told her. I had come off a very uneventful convention experience selling a bunch of nothing for another project. She wasn’t jumping for joy for the next thing. She held her breath and didn’t get too invested but over time she saw the traction and the reaction it was getting and how it turned into a bigger and bigger project. Now she is very much involved in the business side [she has a business degree] and she is the engine that helps push this forward. She is great at propelling and elevating it; it’s her wheelhouse. So, it’s truly a mom-and-pop operation.”
All of Horine’s work is digital. He says that sometimes ‘lightning strikes’ and he can do a cover in one sitting in a day but that is rare. More often, he’ll be working on five or six at a time tinkering with them until they are perfect.
Horine also doesn’t sit down and specifically plan out what a cover will look like each week. Rather, because he is a full-time dad, husband and a homeschooler for his son, Dan Jr., he doesn’t have ‘a lot of time to doodle’. He goes over designs in his head as he is going through his day, thinking about players and nicknames who have been part of his baseball journey for nearly four decades.
“I go through my mental rolodex of players and moments,” he said. “By the time I am ready to execute it, it is already laid out in my head.”
Horine tries to work with as many of the players as he can when creating a cover. He adds that he doesn’t have a favorite cover but certain ones do standout such as the one of Al Hrabosky, the former closer known as The Mad Hungarian. The cover depicts Hrabosky as a shirtless warrior.
“I like to take risks as an artist and it would be safe to have a baseball artist draw someone swinging a bat,” Horine said. “To do a baseball image that’s not very baseball-y is a risk and Al Hrabosky stands out in my mind. It’s the first toe in the water of telling a baseball story that doesn’t have a lot of baseball in it. He has a flaming baseball, shirtless with torn pants, rising above werewolves and zombies to hurl the ball down at them.
“It looks like a horror comic from the Seventies. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t think it was baseball at all. I take those chances and dig into stories that are a lot of fun for me. It’s a challenge and I like it. Al Hrabosky was my first foray into doing that.”
Horine said his cover of Keith Hernandez playing himself in the iconic story arc on Seinfeld is his best seller. He said that working with Hernandez was a wonderful experience but his biggest thrill came during the week of the cover’s release when Hernandez, who is a New York Mets broadcaster, spoke about the cover on air with his partners Ron Darling and Gary Cohen during a series at Fenway Park.
“The print came up while they were talking, it wasn’t direct,” Horine said. “Someone saw something online and said, ‘What’s going on with this?’ They talked about it vaguely on air and it was such a cool thing to have that going on, experience Keith Hernandez talk about my artwork while a ball is hit off The Green Monster.
“That’s what led to it being a great seller. It led people to dig a little and see what he was talking about. There was a huge spike in sales during that game.”
Though Horine has created a successful operation he is still aiming higher. He has two holy grail covers he’d like to do of Bo Jackson and Willie Mays but won’t create them until he has the opportunity to work with them personally.
“If I could do those two,” he said. “That puts me at 10 in 1989, just the era of Bo Knows and being on the Raiders and the Royals. There was no better athlete in the world. He’s just very hard to find. If I could work with him and Mays then that would be my white whale and then some.”
There is also a charitable aspect to Horine’s work. He has donated a portion of the proceeds he makes on certain covers to organizations such as The Roberto Clemente Foundation, Dave Parker’s 39 Foundation, Dock Ellis’ foundation and Hank Aaron’s Chasing the Dream Foundation.
“If I can’t get a hold of a player or they are no longer with us and they have a foundation, I will donate to that,” Horine said.
Horine doesn’t know where he will take his current project. He says he may do other sports because there are people, particularly children, who are just as passionate about the NBA and the NFL as he is about baseball.
“This is a sweet spot, in and around this area is where I find joy and creativity,” he said. “I don’t want to be a comic-book guy forever. Right now, though, I’m just enjoying the process and I’m looking to add to it rather than change directions.”