There's much more than meets the eye in Twisted Tarot Tales. In the form of a tarot deck we originally set out to create the greatest tribute to Horror Comics we could possibly make. When we started the deck we were focusing specifically on generic horror characters like mutants, werewolves, witches and other iconic figures of that nature, and over the course of the past few months we've been integrating both popular and cult horror movies into our tarot to give something to those who love 70's 80's horror movies too. This was my partner Christine's vision from the very beginning; among our very first card ideas was Stephen King's "Christine" as our Chariot card and the Queen Xenomorph from the movie "Aliens" for our Empress. Considering that many of the iconic movie characters we've included also have found their way into the comics over the years; through Topps , Dark Horse, Marvel or DC, and others, we feel that we're still staying true to our vision. As for themes, my partner has always had a love affair with old radio programs like Escape and Suspense among others. I think combined, this makes a perfect blend of exciting imagery, nostalgia, and something very different that you're unlikely to find anywhere else in the "Tarot-verse".
So without further ado, here are the 3 radio plays (so far) you may have missed in our Twisted Tarot Tales...
1, Three Skeleton Key: a short story by the French author George G. Toudouze and first published in January 1937, it made its way to being a radio program. Vincent Price is the actor most associated with the play, performing it in 1950 for Escape and in 1956 and 1958 for Suspense, although it was first was adapted for radio in 1949 for Escape by James Poe.
This can be seen in our Three of Wands card. The ship in the background has crashed and the horde of salivating hungry rats have with surrounded the lighthouse. In this case, our guy in the lighthouse gets a bit of a surprise while waiting for his "ship to come in".
2, The Hitch - Hiker: A radio play written by Lucille Fletcher. It was first presented on the November 17, 1941, broadcast of the Orson Welles Show on CBS Radio. The play was adapted for a notable 1960 episode of the tv series The Twilight Zone. Our hitch-hiker is an escaped convict in our Hermit card, walking along a desert road outside a gas station.
3, Leiningen Versus the Ants: A classic short story published in the December 1938 edition of Esquire. It is a
translation, probably by Stephenson himself, of "Leiningens Kampf mit den Ameisen" which was originally published in German in 1937. In 1948, the story was adapted into a radio play as part of the CBS Radio series,Escape with William Conrad providing the voice of Leiningen for the January 14th debut broadcast.
Our depiction of Leiningen Versus the Ants can be seen in our 5 of Wands card where our plantation workers battle giant ants. The original story doesn't indicate giant ants but we'd tried smaller ants and it just wasn't conveying the horror aspect visually. Giants ants seemed more of a threat visually so we went with that.
Initially I was opposed to using an existing collections of artistic works, but over time I've accepted that it's a viable option of creating artwork, tarot or otherwise. Public domain work which is free for everyone to use is more a means to an end, a way of visually bringing to life the ideas of those who perhaps don't feel confident enough to create their own work. Why not have one of the masters work on your behalf? A bonus which comes out of this, or, in some cases, maybe the real reason this practice is undertaken, is that an existing collection of art from a famous name has instant recognition. The fame has been created over the years long before you came along, and in many ways it makes sense to model a work of art on these famous works for that reason.
Recreating/digitally manipulating an-existing collection of artworks, usually from an already established but deceased artist, differs from that of taking random photos and digitally manipulating them into a digitally created photo montage or mixed media type of work, the process which I talked about above. Even though neither usually employ new illustrations, they are still quite different in the sense that one deals with manipulating photographs, perhaps creating a collage or mixed media work, while the other uses artwork, usually from the aforementioned usually well known, much loved "deceased artist". Anything in the public domain can essentially be used to create an oracle, lenormand, kipper or tarot deck if one were so inclined.
I feel that recreating/digitally manipulating a pre-existing collection of works (i.e that of a famous named artist) has its pros and cons, in the same way traditional art does, mainly because the "digital manipulator" must rely solely on the pre-existing works from the (usually) now deceased artist. In other words don't hold your breath for that chosen artist to bring about a new piece that you may be able to make use of.
The traditional artist in this case has the upper hand in that he can draw, right on the spot, a pose, a background or a facial expression into existence while the "digital manipulator" cannot. Another downside to being a "digital manipulator" is that you cannot truly "own" the work, or be credited with the work. Mucha will always be Mucha, and Rossetti will always be Rossetti. At best you are an editor of sorts, but if that's good enough for you, then all power to you, and we wish you every success.
My personal view is that while the works of the masters will always remain loved, the imagery was never explicitly created with tarot in mind and often it is very evident. Such images demand a lot of manipulation i imagine. That's not to say that pre-existing works of art from the likes of Rossetti, Mucha, Schulz or Rackham and many others, cannot be recreated to "become" tarot imagery if the tarot creator knows what he or she is doing. It's certainly a good option if you cannot illustrate your own tarot deck, collaborate with, or afford to hire an illustrator to work on your deck for the best part of a year. I believe picking up a public domain collection of artwork and reworking it has grown in popularity due to its accessibility. Almost anyone with a digital graphics package can find public domain work and, with a little tarot knowledge, put something together.
Yet one cannot discount the accomplished feeling to having their own work of art finally in print. Perhaps it doesn't really matter in the end if one cannot be fully credited with the artistic work in their tarot deck should they choose to create a deck around an already established, yet deceased, artist. I must admit though that there is something satisfying about creating an artwork that you built from the ground up and seeing it finally in print. This is why i would encourage everyone to at least attempt hand drawn illustration, not because recreating pre existing work makes a deck lesser in nature, but because with a few reference photos on standby, a pencil, an ink pen a few colouring pencils and a scanner, one does not need to rely on the artists of yesteryear to convey their magnificent concepts.
While all the early and popular tarots (Thoth, Waite Smith, Tarot de Marseille etc) are either hand painted or illustrated, with the advent of computers, in particular photoshop, it has brought about a whole new generation of tarot decks based on photo montages/photo manipulated art. In other words it’s easier than ever for people to create tarot decks...or so I thought!
This is a touchy subject for some fellow creators and its very easy to alienate people if you have adverse views. I do not intend to create animosity by suggesting one creative technique is more superior to another. Instead I've decided to discuss my thoughts on it in regards to the pros and cons, both in traditional art and digital art and inform the reader as to the different options one may wish to take if they want to create their own work.
For the most part I draw on real paper, i erase with a real eraser, i ink with real ink, i draw perspective with real rulers and compasses. Nowadays many artists draw straight onto a computer screen type tablet (a Wacom Cintiq is popular), but if I can avoid it I choose not to. I am not necessarily opposed to it, but there’s something nice about sitting at a drawing board with real pens, pencils and inks and doing it “old school” like so many of my childhood artistic heroes did in the world of comics like Todd McFarlane, Joe Quesada (or at least he used to lol), the Kubert brothers and Chris Bachalo among many others. It saves electric too! (Though you have to stock up on pencils/paper/pens etc so how much you save is hard to say!)
While there have been many beautifully created tarot decks using the aid of photo manipulation in Photoshop or other computer graphic packages, I’ve made a point to keep my work as organic as possible which is why i work in the same manner as, say, a comic artist from the “pen and pencil” era.
That is not to say that photo manipulated art is inferior to hand drawn traditional art, not at all, for beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That’s just my own personal taste. I’ll take hand drawn illustrations over photo manipulated ones any day, but as a traditional artist that's probably to be expected. It just looks more "human" to me I guess, it's organic. The trend in big name comics nowadays is that the art is becoming more photo-realistic and i feel that the art suffers if it’s too real. The art is supposed to engage you, not make you feel you’re flipping through a photo album!
That being said, one advantage to photo manipulation (which as a traditional illustrator is off limits to me) is that you never need worry if you can actually draw a bird or a horse or whatever is called for. When you use photo manipulation, you’re assured that the muscles are correct, the facial features are correct etc. There is no extensive knowledge of illustration needed. In other words it has its obvious positive points; photo realism. Photos tell the truth.
On the other hand the advantage that hand drawn illustrations have over photo manipulation is when you have a good well rounded education on illustration and how the anatomy works (self taught like myself, or otherwise) it means you don’t have to spend hours looking for that perfect pose on a stock photo website…you just draw it from memory. Generally speaking It also looks better in the long run when it’s hand drawn. It must be noted however that I am not at all opposed to reference and in fact reference photos are vital to any artist wanting to create half decent animals, facial expressions etc, or real world machinery.
I'll let you into my personal feeling in regards to reference photos. It's a bit embarrassing thinking back on it now, but up until a few years I believed that using reference was "cheating". I guess our art teacher way back in primary/secondary school had a real grudge against it. Little did I know at the time, but in reality every artist has pretty much used reference, unless you're Mark Rothko, or Picasso trying to paint the fourth dimension or Pollack splattering paint on the page. Think about it though, with every still life you need reference. Monet's water lillies, i presume, were painted while viewing the lillies, and Mucha took photo reference of his models. A hand painted replica of John Constable's "The Hay Wain" hangs in my parent's home, and presumably Constable painted what he saw in front of him.
Thinking back now, I think some of my teachers just hated kids not using their imagination, because for children, there is an inclination to trace an image without adding any of "themselves" into the work. The King's Journey Tarot and the Simply Deep Tarot were virtually reference free and you can tell. It is more cartoony than that of Twisted Tarot Tales for example, because I "thought it up" using the descriptions given to me as reference. The artwork is great, but it is different. I am not going to speak negatively of the deck as I think all of my illustrations are good (hey, whaddaya want? lol) but I openly admit that I embraced the use of reference photos for Twisted Tarot Tales. That being said, a big part of the visuals for the horror deck has come "from my mind" without any reference photos, but there are obvious reference photos brought out for the likes of the 10 of Wands' Grizzly Bear as it weighs down on the hunter in his cabin, or to get the look of Elvira just right in the High Priestess card which required a combination of photo references, yet the important thing, especially if you're doing traditional illustration, is to use it as a guide only. Don't trace your reference photos verbatim because they WILL end up looking like a poor attempt at photograph. You still want to have your artistic style intact and the only way you can do that is seek out good reference photos, especially for likes of drawing animals, machinery etc, but I wouldn't go crazy with it.
Some may know of us through our artwork and concepts and the controversy we seem to court, but we've learned to hold our own and our work is enjoyed by many throughout the world. Not everyone has what it takes to keep going in the face of adversity but I thought I'd answer the initial question as best as I could. While I am convinced that school yard bullies can only be dealt with with physical violence (been there done that), in the big bad world of internet bullies and trolls we have to handle things differently. Here's 5 things to remember when dealing with attacks and negativity towards your work.
The single greatest weapon you have at your disposal is your steely resolve. No, seriously. Wait it out. Over time you will get to where you're wanting to go because you've told everyone that you're not going away any time soon. Study successful people who have suffered controversy and study how they have dealt with it. What was the result after they've tackled the problem head on? Look past the controversial remarks they may have had and see what makes these people tick. A good subject is Donald Trump. yes, i know i know, even mentioning "The Donald" nowadays without an insult following it, might seem like a reckless move but please stick with me because I really feel that Trump has become a classic example of a person dealing with huge amounts of controversy, yet is still going strong. Today (at least the media would have us believe) Trump is up there for one of the most hated men, even compared to Hitler. How's THAT for a comparison? Imagine trying to deal with that? Yet if name calling were as bad as you think it is, based on your own feelings, do you not think that Trump would have disappeared long long before he ever decided to run for president, and most certainly after the huge media effort to wipe him out? Yet there he is, bold as brass, big smug grin on his face. Trump took their insults like a farmer takes cowshit, made it into compost and grew tomatoes to throw at his enemies.
and then find out they are from the same family, would you blame the whole town? Of course not. That's actually how i put up with some of these "misconceptions". I recognized it for what it was and tried to make peace with it. All you can do is defend yourself with the truth and counter these people.
Keep this in mind when you feel that it's going to get to you. Chances are you're creating something very unique, and even something that is gaining a genuine fan base. This can really annoy those who are struggling with their own ideas and projects but stick with it, and with the facts, with the truth, confront those who are concerned about false rumors about you.
But let's say these are genuine misconceptions. Ask the person to look at your work and have them write to you if they still feel it stands for what they've heard it does and still feel offended. Genuine misconceptions should be taken to private messages, email etc. Anyone who has the courtesy of emailing you privately with a concern should be shown gentleness and should be treated kindly.(at your discretion of course, you are not a punching bag). Concern over your work stated publicly, without consulting you first in private, should be seen as an open attack. Calls to boycott your work is a call for nuclear war. In the past I have made a habit of shutting down one fool after the other in open debate if they publicly state their negative assumptions on our art. You should too. It's not pretty, but neither is slander. Do I feel bad about it? Yes. Truth be told I hate arguing but I am not weak and I will take down anyone who publicly challenges me. You must too. How else will others know where the boundaries are if you've not drawn them up? Most people know where general boundaries are, based on their observation of society. You don't walk up to stranger in real life and slander them unprovoked and expect to get away with it. Neither should we do it in the online world.
3, View Things in Context
This is probably the main point you'll need to remember. Let's be brutally honest. If you're reading this so far, maybe you're interested in views on dealing with this kind of thing. I'm being honest with you but in return I want you to be honest with yourself. We live in an increasingly politically correct, culturally sensitive, easily triggered society who not only get offended by pretty much everything, but want to make damn sure that anyone who triggers them will pay the price as a social pariah. Do you want to draw a horror tarot with blood, guts and gore? Good luck friend. I sincerely mean that because the more people do think outside the box, the more acceptable all new and challenging ideas will start to become. Most intelligent people can keep things in context. In the case of a horror deck It's fictional cartoon horror (or whichever style of art you choose). It doesn't mean you endorse cannibalism or endorse murder or any of that nonsense. If so then everyone from Tarantino to Alfred Hitchcock endorses murder too, and if so, what about those that watch Bruce Willis shoot bad guys in Die Hard? We need to be reasonable. Always keep things in context.
That is not to say that your critics are capable of keeping things in context, but that's not as important as you yourself keeping in mind that you're not the person they are saying you are. You don't endorse murder, cannibalism or any of that stuff....unless you actually do, in which case skip Step 3 lol.
You got your following, you have excited lovers of your art/writing/project etc, but you've invoked the wrath of one of these "leaders". Now what? Well, I advise you to try and make friends with those whose egos you've bruised. Grab Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and try to come up with a solution lol. That's if you're a genuinely nice person and don't want to get on anyone's bad side. Near as I can tell Carnegie advises to make friends with your "enemies" at all costs and I highly advise this. Yet let's get real here. Sometimes it is not possible to make friends with your enemies. There's a great line in the song "Lost for Words" by Pink Floyd where it says
"So I open my door to my enemies
And I ask could we wipe the slate clean
But they tell me to please go f**k myself
You know you just can't win "
Sometimes making friends is out of the question through no fault of your own. Hey, life isn't perfect. So what do you do? You follow the previous steps and watch your guard around such people. It's usually not possible to be friends with everyone if one wants to do better, be better, to excel, because you are going to cause a lot of jealousy. That's life. Look at all the greats, the people who have achieved success, wealth and fame. One thing that many of them have in common is that they've challenged the status quo, made enemies, been told they would never make it, became formidable and began dominating the communities they found themselves in.
Would they have rather gotten to where they are by being friendly and nice to everyone? probably. Would it be possible? Depends on what you call nice. Certainly you can be friendly even to those who want to do you and your business harm, but obviously there must be a cut off point otherwise they will walk over you. You're not going to be nice to them while they screw you over otherwise you're encouraging their bad behavior. I used to see this playing out all too often in the online tarot community which I am part of. It's probably still happening but I've been far too busy to notice it nowadays. By rising up in power, you must incur the wrath of those who came before. Name me one person who has been happy to concede power? Can their almighty ego take it?. Never under estimate the power of your competitor's ego.
Most rational people can be handled, but you are eventually going to meet that one persistent person who is out to ruin you. Who knows why? I've even heard of people's families being threatened online over arguments. Completely insane if you ask me. What is so important that you have to bring innocent people into an argument? Yet it happens. Nothing so drastic has happened to me, but I know people who have suffered this. Nowadays such attackers are called Trolls.
If this happens you there might be a few steps to take, and which I advise (at least in the online world) is if it is possible to block them (for example on Facebook), then do so. This prevents them spreading lies on your own page and trying to derail your project right in front of your eyes. Believe me, I've seen it happen before to others. If it is in my power I would never allow this. Other people either don't know how to use the block feature on social media etc, or simply do not care enough. Blocking them, of course, is not going to stop them spreading lies and negativity about you elsewhere. Generally this is ok, you don't have to fight every battle, but there is the possibility of them completely derailing you elsewhere. This is why it is an excellent idea to have scouts, especially if your attacker belongs to a group. If you're going to fight fire with fire friend, make sure you're not trying to fight against a flamethrower with a little cigarette lighter. Create a network of friends who will inform you if your detractor is trying to derail your project elsewhere. Failing that, you need to improvise.
Normally I would not advise the use of sock accounts, but these are special circumstances. You are not naive enough to believe that most of these kinds of jerks haven't sock puppet accounts of their own? It's the big secret that no one talks about it, yes, even your favourite authors have them. Love it or loathe it, with the amount of backstabbing that goes on on social media, sock puppets are used to be kept in the loop without being officially in the loop. I don't use one personally as I would have trouble pretending to be someone else successfully, but this is one way of making sure these people aren't getting the upper hand. It really depends on which community you belong to but many people are affected continually by malicious slander and vicious rumors that it makes no sense to sit there and be defenseless when there are ways of being proactive. Sign up to Google alerts and type in your project and your attackers name and get alerts when your project and their name show up in the same place. If they are going to slander you elsewhere, follow them and shut their asses down. If you're gaining a name for yourself and have enough followers where being slandered is not a big deal to you as far as the tide of popular opinion turning against you, then you may not have to take these extra measures. It really depends on how you wish to handle the situtation.
the pharisees. Moses offended Pharaoh. From east to west, from north to south, since the dawn of humankind, people have offended each other. I repeat; being offended is not a crime. Being offended is perfectly natural in a multi cultural multi faith world. How could it not be? Offense is not something we can simply remove from society, it will never happen. Rather, it's what you do with the feelings that come with being offended that truly matter. We can try to ban the thing that offends us but all that is achieved is a small victory for yourself, but a huge erosion of freedom of speech over a period of time. Through this act, not only is this a voluntary erosion of law, it's a voluntary erosion of freedom in terms of day to day speech, creativity and so on. This stifles creativity, demonizes difference, and disrupts individual communities of people.
Yet we hear tarot collectors and readers cry for more diverse decks. Which is it? If you really believe this, you must get behind those who stand for and celebrate diversity on a daily basis. You don't have to purchase their decks if it's not to your artistic style or isn't visually pleasing to you, but stand by these creators and share their work because it's not the easiest thing to deal with when these jealous /small minded/ fault finding /pseudo social justice warriors/ intolerant small minded groups of people try to slander you, accuse you, blatantly lie to you and about you, and try to have your work banned, not just on Facebook, but other places. Suggesting publicly that as a community all members should get behind boycotting our artwork, removing every trace it from certain groups, or even "sanitizing" our work is hugely selfish because again, this consists of a few disgruntled (and often jealous) people who want to use an entire community to remove a work that they themselves don't like or are jealous of. How selfish is that? I mean, did someone just invite Tipper Gore to the party?
This was long winded, but I like to think thorough, and I hope that it was helpful, or, if not helpful, at least amusing!
James is the artist behind the illustrations on this site, maintains the website, writes the blogs and puts together the newsletter.