first_img Wesley Snipes Says ‘It’s All Good’ With Marvel Studios’ ‘Blade’ Reboot FilmHideo Kojima Rejects Battle Royale Games at SDCC One of the more exciting moments of last year’s San Diego Comic-Con for Dungeons & Dragons fans was the debut of a dope, new clothing line called Death Saves. Founded by actor Joe Manganiello and designer Damian Higgins, the brand brings an approach to fantasy and roleplaying fandom gear that draws heavily from streetwear and heavy metal. Their first drop was full of instant sellouts and the brand has spent the last year steadily building both its fanbase and inventory.While the brand’s “birthday” was technically back in May, their reappearance at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con feels like an apt anniversary marker. To commemorate a year of Death Saves, Geek.com sat down with head designer Damian Higgins to talk about the influence of streetwear on Death Saves, the company’s origins, and what the future holds in store for it.Geek.com: Let’s start from the beginning: tell us the story of how Death Saves came to be.DAMIAN HIGGINS: Death Saves came to fruition back in February 2018. I was walking down the street in Brooklyn in the rain and got a text from Joe. He told me he’d just acquired the official license from Wizards to create and sell D&D merch and wanted to know if I wanted to work on a design with him. So my brain started going and I started googling what’s out here in this D&D fantasy market. Turns out most of it is kinda Facebook algorithm-generated garbage, just super poorly designed and made. The coolest shirts that were available featured scans of old books and modules but nothing original. So I thought man, we should really go hard on this and blow it up. I developed a 50 page deck and reviewed it with Joe in an effort to help visualize what a brand like Death Saves could look like. Geek.com: Yeah, it’s very noticeable. There’s a lot of palpable intent behind a lot of the designs, from placement of type and logos to easter eggs.DH: Yeah, totally. I don’t wanna phone in designs or just commission a piece of art. There has to be a little more going on there. I love design and I want to take all of my inspirations and filter it into Death Saves so it looks thoughtful and appealing to people who are into graphic design. I think it helps separate us from anything that might be similar. We apply different perspectives to what we do.Geek.com: A definite highlight from the first year of Death Saves has been the Frazetta collab. How did you guys go about making that happen?DH: Joe and I are huge Frazetta fans from way back when we were adolescents. We follow Frazetta Girls on social media and I think Joe and her chatted online a bit. Joe had the idea early on that it would be pretty cool to do something with them, so then we had to brainstorm and find a unique way to represent Frazetta’s artwork on merch. You can’t really modify his art – we wanted to something cool that wasn’t just putting his painting on a shirt. I had this idea based on an old ‘70s paperback to put this little text block, almost like a card in a museum underneath a painting, and that was one of the elements we brought in and applied across the collection. From there it was cutting out images or background, just whichever we wanted to focus on – like, the werewolf one is from the first issue of CREEPY #1 so we wrote “Death Saves” in the CREEPY font so it’s like we’re representing the original use of that image from that story.Geek.com: Because of how successful the collaboration has been can we expect further collaborations with other brands, artists, whatever, in the future?DH: Definitely. We have a lot of irons in the fire right now that I can’t talk about at length but yeah, there’s definitely more on the horizon. We would work with anyone whose work that we like. There’s this company called ARDUIN – back in the ‘80s they made a lot of supplements you could use with D&D and other gaming systems. Their aesthetic is really raw, old school stuff and I really want to do something with them, but the guy who ran it passed away. I’ve been trying to get in touch with them via letters in the mail because it looks like that’s the only way to contact them, but yeah, I’d love to do a collection of their stuff. It looks like a bunch of old never-before-seen D&D illustrations.Geek.com: It sounds like it’s already totally up your alley.DH: Yeah, it’s like how I run our Instagram. I love referencing and finding all of these obscure, weird things that I maybe haven’t even heard of. I love digging up those references.Geek.com: The Death Saves Instagram is actually pretty interesting, now that you mention it. Aside from talking about merch drops and sales, it almost seems to function more as a mood board.DH: Oh yeah, a hundred percent. It’s a mood board. I follow different streetwear companies who will post like, an image that references something they’re into but that’s it. Half the time it’s posted without explanation. I kinda wanted to do that but in a way that wasn’t just like hey, check out the cover of Player’s Handbook. So we were just like hey, let’s have everything say “Death Saves.” And on one hand I can flex my semi-mediocre photoshop skills but on the other, we’re referencing it in a way that’s clever and funny. I thought it’d be a more interesting way to post our inspirations and things we think are cool. Plus it gives me the opportunity to keep digging through references and uncovering things, discovering thinks I didn’t even know about. Geek.com: Was the brand called Death Saves at this point?DH: Actually the original name for it was gonna be INVENTORY, but we decided it was too bland of a name. We thought we needed a spicier name, so I probably came up with like, 200 different ideas for names. Some of them were 1981 RPG Club, Death Wizards, and right before we decided on Death Saves we were gonna go with Vision Of Doom. But like, right at high noon Joe decided we should go with something else. We ended up with Death Saves, which has grown on me a ton and I think is ultimately perfect for the brand but I’ve used Vision Of Doom as a tag on like, tee shirts, and Instagram captions a ton.So this is all back in February of 2018. We started realizing that we’d stumbled on a concept that hadn’t been tapped in the market. Nobody was doing fantasy metal streetwear with good graphic design. With Joe’s background as a hardcore fantasy nerd and me being so nerdy about this stuff too, I knew our stuff would come from a pure place rather than some bandwagon-jumping aesthetic. Joe and I try to have an interesting backstory for every design — a lot of thought goes into everything we do and there are a ton of easter eggs throughout the designs. There’s always a story going on in the design. We don’t want to phone anything in.We did a sort of soft-launch at D&D Live: Stream of Many Eyes in May of 2018, just getting the gear seen and getting people to post about it on Instagram, get some hype built. That’s kinda how it started and we’ve been running it for a year. The doors are really starting to open. Geek.com: The streetwear angle this brand has taken has always been super interesting. What aspects of streetwear and sneaker culture did you guys make an effort to bring into Death Saves?DH: Joe’s huge into streetwear and sneakers and I follow it pretty decently. What I noticed is that any time anyone tried to do something with a fantasy or heavy metal angle it always came off as pretty phoned-in and not particularly “designed.” It always felt like a wasted opportunity but regardless any time I saw it I was like, “I need to have that.” because it didn’t really exist. So when I work on designs for Death Saves I’m never just trying to make it look like a metal band tee shirt. I’m thinking about placement of graphics and unique type, the things that I really value in streetwear. Graphic design perspectives aren’t always really applied to metal tee shirts or anything and that’s the kind of thing that I like in streetwear — the graphic design is always cool, the typography is always really cool. Stay on target Geek.com: What are you most proud of after a year of Death Saves?DH: I really love our Death Knight design. I feel that that design with the text at the bottom, the design itself, really hits all the notes for me, for what I want every design to look like. It’s kind of a metal thing, there’s design stuff, cool typography. All the notes are being hit. But I do also really love our Death Knight ring. The guy who did it, Geoff Thomas, he did an incredible job. I’m a big rock jewelry collector and I’m obsessive about anything I’m into. If I’m into it I go all the way down the rabbit hole and I did just that with skull ring manufacturers. And I gotta say, as someone who’s seen pretty much all of it, our Death Knight ring is as good as it gets. It’s better than 99% of anything out there. The fact that I was involved in it is a source of pride for me.More on Geek.com:What Makes a Great Dungeon Master, According to Players at D&D Live 2019Why ‘Dungeons & Dragons Live: The Descent’ Is the Future of ConventionsAll SDCC 2019 Coveragelast_img

‘Death Saves’ D&D Streetwear: Interview With Designer Damian Higgins

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