What inspired you to make this type of deck?
"Nearly 20 years ago, during my role-playing game days, I discovered the concept of steampunk (does anyone remember Castle Falkenstein?), although I don’t think most of us regular folk called it that; literary types most certainly were, though. For anyone who loves sci fi, from Star Trek to Firefly to Dr. Who and anything in Victorian period clothing, steampunk is a very happy world, indeed.
"Sometime in 2005, during a discussion about man and machine, the past and the future, nature and technology, and, of course, fashion, a colleague suggested that I make a steampunk-themed tarot. Knowing it was a very niche, sub-genre, I filed the idea away, thinking I had plenty of time before developing the idea and presenting it to my publisher.
"Shortly thereafter, in 2006, I started collecting links to websites and portfolios of artists that might be a good match for the deck.
"And then, in 2009, a great publisher of fantasy and science fiction, Tor, proclaimed October to be Steampunk Month. That’s the day I began writing the card descriptions that had been taking shape in my mind for nearly four years. They must have been ready to manifest, because once I began, they flowed almost effortlessly, as if channeled from somewhere other than myself, as if from another time and place that never was.
"In January 2010, after two months of intense searching for an artist, I found Aly Fell’s website…in particular, his image called Judith (which later was modified and is now our Queen of Cups). I knew the moment I saw that picture that I wanted Aly on this project. What did I do? I wrote a long email to a perfect stranger asking him if he would be interested in taking on the task of giving line, color, and composition to my words, bringing them to life. As luck would have it, he was interested. In addition, he did know a little something about tarot.
"Prior to illustrating, UK-based Aly was an animator on TV shows such as Dangermouse and Count Duckula, eventually working for a spell in computer games. He now illustrates, particularly enjoying creating strong female characters, and his work has been published in Spectrum, Exotique, and Expose. He is also the co-editor of two fantasy art collections, and his art has been featured on the cover of magazines such as ImagineFX. He and his wife like to travel to as many places as they can and enjoy the dark side of culture, being fairly active on the Goth scene.
"Aly is a bit shy, but do visit his wesite, Dark http://www.darkrising.co.uk/ and his blog, Port Out Starboard Home http://alyfell.blogspot.com/
Did you submit detailed briefs to the artist for the Court images you wanted?
"I submitted detailed briefs on every card except the courts. For the courts, I had a more like schema…I wanted certain cards to be certain genders and certain suits to be in certain locations. It as all beautifully worked out and perfectly balanced. Then Aly kind of threw all my beautiful organization out the window and sent me individuals rather than representations of the stiff the flow chart of whatever that I sent him.
"So our courts were, out of all the cards, more of a journey together than the others. He would send ideas, I would say “yes, but” or “no, but this…” In the end, we have peopled our deck with some fascinating and unforgettable characters."
Is The Steampunk Tarot an RWS style deck?
"Yes, deliberately so".
I luff this Page of Swords, there's an air balloon behind her - is that common to all the Pages or to the Swords as a symbol?
"I’m glad you like her. I think she is incredibly adorable and sassy. One thing I’ve learned doing this deck is that the very nature of steampunk is that of individuality rather than consistency. Consequently, except for the suit designators, there are no consistent symbols in the courts. The Knight of Swords has dirigibles in the background (and if I remember correctly, I had to beg Aly to put them in, but I cannot remember why he didn’t want them)."
I love her sharp haircut - very Swords! - was that deliberate?
"Not in that I had the cleverness to say “give her a sharp haircut” (I wish!), but in that the description, the type of person we wanted to show would be sharp and clear in every way. So, let’s say that it is deliberate although it may not have been conscious."
What's the story with this Page? Why is she on the seashore for example?
"Of all the Pages, the Page of Swords is the least patient and the most prepared, at least in her own opinion, to face her new adventure, whatever it is. She reminds me of the young men from landed families who went to WWI as officers. They were raised on the ideals of Britain and completely certain of their own immortality and destiny. They were smart (I imagine most of them were well educated). They believed in themselves and were believed in by others. So much was placed on them. But as it turns out, they were not really prepared for what they had to face and afterwards returned damaged and no one knew how to help them. If this Page reaches out to you, try to scratch below the bravado and see if she really is ready for what she is about to take on. Maybe stick close to her and lend a hand whenever she lands.
"In terms of symbolism here, the military outfit represents a logical and regimented attitude. It is freshly pressed, clean, and shiny. It is still theoretical and she has not been able to apply it “in real life” yet. The hot air balloon…well, obviously it represents air. And being a balloon rather than a plane or even a dirigible, it seems younger, more childish in a way. Also, something that I think someone with less experience would start with. Plus, there would be less people in it, so less responsibility, which is only right at this stage in her career. Why is she on the shore? It’s a good way to represent starting out on a long journey to new places. Plus water, especially large bodies of water, represent the soul, so it is a nod to the idea that she’ll be learning about herself as she learns about the world. That in fact, what she know about life, herself, and her ideas of how life is supposed to work will all be affected by her experiences “out there.”
Have you joogled around the Court sexes a little?!
"Not sure. In some ways, but not as much as you’d think. The pages are all female except on looks androgynous (I call her female, but he could be a pretty male). The knights are also all female save the Knight of Pentacles. The queens are all female and kings are all male (how dull of me, right?)."
Do you have the LWB definition for the Page of Swords that you could share with me for the blog?
"Well, nothing so pithy as that. I see the courts a bit different than other people, but without explaining the whole system, I see the pages as having the least sphere of influence but being the easiest to manage. If you need a warm body or an assistant, look for a page. For this page in particular, I say:
"When the Page of Swords is involved in your situation, you may either have your hands full or have a helpful ally…or both! She will bring clarity and insight that you may not expect from one with her lack of experience. Of course, she will question everything and demand clear and complete explanations and then explain to you all the weaknesses therein. If you are looking for someone to help you analyze a plan of any sort, proof read any communication, or test an organizational system, this Page will be invaluable. She is ready to see how she can apply her natural talents to world at large."
Many thanks to Barbara for talking with me about this new and beautiful deck!
Many thanks to Barbara for talking with me about this new and beautiful deck!
The Steampunk Tarot will be available in May 2012, but you can pre-book on Amazon here: