The Cynical-Literalist's Tarot

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The Fool The Magician The High Priestess The Empress
The Emporer The Hierophant The Lovers The Chariot
Strength The Hermit Wheel of Fortune Justice
The Hanged Man Death Temperance The Devil
The Tower The Star The Moon The Sun
Judgement The World


My ostensible reason for creating these cards was that I had this box of business cards that were no longer useful, as our company had changed its name and I now had a new box full of business cards. (Of course, neither box was particularly useful to me, but the first box was definitely less so.) I thought to myself, "What can I do with a whole bunch of cards that are blank on one side and have an identical pattern on the other?" I realized that the answer was to draw my own cards. Playing cards would be too boring to draw, however, so I soon hit upon the idea of drawing some tarot cards.

(A more basic reason for creating these cards was that I was in a brief period of deep depression at the time, and I was looking for a distraction. I thought that a creative activity might be a way to focus my thoughts on something outside of myself, and break me out of my pattern of obsessive worrying.)

I know next to nothing about the symbolism of the tarot, so I consciously chose not to draw upon that aspect. Instead I just rendered what the names of the cards suggested. There were only two themes I consciously set out to pursue. The first was the use of contemporary images and objects -- i.e., draw upon the 20th century instead of the Renaissance era. And the second was cynicism. My archetypes would be pathetic, repulsive, unhappy, and inchoate. Thus, the Fool is in fact an idiot, but with a uniform suggesting that someone takes him seriously. The Magician is a con man, hoping to dazzle your senses long enough to rob you blind. The High Priestess is a hippie chick on a bad acid trip -- a spiritual traveller with her astral lifeline tangled around her neck. And so on. Thus, I came to refer to my cards as The Cynical-Literalist's Tarot.

(Part of me hoped that, by drawing these cards, I would be taking my own mounting cynicism and putting it into something outside of myself, and in that way rid myself of it. Or, perhaps, that after wallowing in my own cynicism long enough, I would be ready to set it aside. I don't know if the cards truly helped, or if it was coincidence, but that is more or less what finally happened.)

My meager drawing skills improved markedly as I went, as you can see by comparing the first few cards with the later ones. Never before had I been able to draw human faces above a purely cartoonish level, for example. As a result, I came to feel a little proud of these drawings, as silly as they ultimately are.

Seven or eight years later, I finally had a friend scan them. I cleaned up the scanned images as follows. After making a histogram of the shades of gray present in all the cards, I set 90% of the pixel colors to pure white or pure black. The remaining 10% were then scaled to cover the complete range of gray. After that, I edited out the shadows around some of the edges of the cards that the scanner captured, and then added more white pixels around the edges so that all the images were the same size. Finally, I created a set of JPGs at one-fifth original size, and a set of PNGs at one-third original size. All this was done using The GIMP, ImageMagick command-line tools, plus two or three short C programs written for the occasion.



Brian Raiter
Muppetlabs