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Gang, I am so excited about this one that I don’t even know how to start. I’ve been waiting for this project to come to fruition since its launch in June 2021; my justification for the somewhat upmarket Kickstarter tier I pledged at was that it would be my graduation present to myself when I finally got my degree, which I did, a year and a half ago.
Naturally, the Pandemic was a factor; this is no one’s fault except the honorless cowards whose greed and contempt for human life prolonged and exacerbated it, and seeing that ripple through the crowdfunding over the past few years has been odd and frustrating on all ends, and I got to see this on a larger scale than many people, being a pretty active crowdfunding participant until my accountant told me my options were Eat, Pay Student Loans, and Fund Things, and I could only choose two. It’s not my fault people are doing amazing stuff and deserve all the support in the world! As my friend and sometime podcast cohost once said:
RICKY REGARDLO, my rewards finally arrived and citizens, I was truly unprepared for what lay inside. Let’s take a look! A book-look!
Sidenote, if ever I manage to figure out time travel, one of the first non-critical things I’m going to do is tell my past self “Hey, all these things you’re funding, they’re going to arrive in the middle of the longest unemployment spell you’ve ever had.” My wife understands these things have long production timelines (and has an impractical, expensive hobby of her own; at least mine doesn’t meow), but receiving large packages filled with luxurious goods isn’t a great look right now. THANKS FOR THAT, THE ‘CONOMY.
The Box & Deck
As far as I’m concerned, any creative crowdfunding project is “a good cause”, helping someone who has something inside them get it out in front of us, for all to be amazed, horrified, or made hungry by. But it would appear that the Brink Literacy Project intends to put my ill-gotten dollars to an even more noble use: LEARNIN’ THE WEE SPOFFS THEIR LETTERS, and as a man being caught red-typered using letters when he couldn’t cover his tracks, I’m thrilled to see it.
As you can see, right from jump this is an incredibly high-quality product; a booklet big enough to actually read, cards cushioned in an inset-nest that allows the booklet to be that big without the cards being oversized or rattling around in an oversized hole, back-pull ribbon that you lay the cards on top of so next time you can just pull the ribbon and pop the whole deck out, the works. That box-lid’s clasp? Oh you know that bitch is magnetic. Look at these cardbacks!
So this deck’s whole deal, as one might reasonably intuit, is books: The Major Arcana are their usual selves but the typical Minor Arcana suits of Wands, Coins (Disks/Pentacles), Cups, and Swords (corresponding to the playing-card suits of Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades) have been replaced with Ink, Parchment, Light, and Quills, respectively. Four artists created one suit each, collaborating with dozens of authors to pair every card with a work of literature:
As is evident, the artists involved are incredibly talented, some of the hardest-working and most thoughtful creatives in their field, and don’t give a HABERDASHER’S HOOT about “traditional” representation, deciding instead to create a deck that actually reflects more than just one of the groups who have enjoyed these works over the years; as a result this deck is hella diverse and gay as all whatnot! If that wrinkles your nose, maybe just examine where those feelings are coming from; e.g., if you can relate to Peter Pan–a flying immortal trickster-faerie-pirate-imp–but only if he’s white and as into Tinker Bell as you are, that might be worth unpacking.
The Booster Pack
One of the trends in the modern Tarot marketplace is a lesson taken from trading cards and collectible card games: the booster pack. For those lucky few who managed to miss the tidal waves of the Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card games, one usually constructs one’s own personal deck from a wide and ever-growing pool and uses that deck to play with and compete against others; one means of obtaining more cards with which to do so are randomized packets of usually around 10 cards, often advertised as guaranteeing at least one card of the highest rarity-rating.
But wait, I hear you cry, those decks are supposed to be modular; isn’t a Tarot deck always the same 78 cards? Correct! Also, I have to look that number up every time, which is pretty embarrassing for a guy who reads and writes about it as much as I do! But yes of course you’re right; being the cousin and possible origin of our familiar standard deck of playing cards, Tarot decks are usually the same every time, but there’s a lot of wiggle-room in that ‘usually’ and that’s where things have gotten bananas.
While I can’t be 100% sure that it was the first to do so, certainly the highest-profile deck offering booster packs of additional cards was the Alleyman’s Tarot which, like a trading-card game deck, is designed to be modular; indeed the accompanying guidebook explicitly states that the Alleyman/Seven The Publishing Goblin expects you to add, remove, and alter cards, and would be very disappointed to find a deck whose user hadn’t personalized it. The cards in those packs (and many in the regular deck itself) were non-Tarot-standard, like Lightning In A Bottle, The Alleyman, Weird-Ass Mystical shit, and The Allbright, and I suppose by that token one could make an argument that it’s no longer technically a Tarot deck at all but an oracle deck, a term which can mean pretty much anything but lacks the structure and imprimatur of Tarot even though Tarot is just an oracle deck that gelled and became the default. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Literary Tarot has taken the opposite strategy by having the standard Major Arcana but including alternate versions, each featuring different artwork and collaboration with a different author:
Fun fact, the Literary Tarot actually lent its Judgment (XX) card to the Alleyman’s Tarot despite the latter coming out literally a friggin’ year ago, which is a testament to both Seven the Publishing Goblin’s planning, scheduling, and networking abilities and the time that Brink was willing to dedicate to the Literary Tarot to make sure it was everything it possibly could be, and mama mia did that pay off. It is heartening beyond words to see that there are people out there doing things they care this much about.
The Mountain Of Swag
Seems like every dang one of these projects in the last few years has had to include postcards as a bonus; I cast the dang upon them only because I can never bring myself to mail them, and as a result I have a bunch hangin’ around, propped up on shelves and nestled into the corners of picture frames, and papering the ribcage of Pennywhistle Thistleburden, my Gentleman Display Skeleton.
As you can see, they’ve all got a quote from their respective literary counterparts, and I mean no disrespect when I say that’s about all there is to…WRITE HOME ABOUT???
‘Cause it–the–’cause you mail postca–you get it, youuuuuu get it.
This enamel pin (pins, actually, two were included) is just unbelievably gorgeous and pulls off the rare trick of being recognizable to Those In The Know but also cool and self-evident enough to be generally meaningful on its own; books, squeezing a fresh squid into your inkwells, forsooth, etc. Also, sidenote, how cool is it that our phones can take pictures of this quality? Like don’t mis-get me, we definitely live in a nightmare techno-dystopic hellscape, but having countless highly high-quality images of my wedding day and pets I badly miss and similar is a pretty good trade-off.
As a self-appointed but authoritative internet jerk, I have sworn an unsolicited oath of honesty; if I did not like a book, you’re gonna hear about it, if I think my kitten is cute, by jingo are you gonna be clear on why. (Answer: he is fuzzy and frequently becomes a Rawr-Rawr Get-Me Bear, then falls over.) The Way of Absolute Candor is a heavy, annoying burden, or so everyone around me says, often and repeatedly.
IN THAT SPIRIT I must say: this cloth is obviously a lovely and high-quality product, but at some point either the ink or the cloth itself became adhesive, and to even unfold the thing I had to pull the folded layers apart so hard that I sincerely feared ripping it in the process. (Flex-flex, accidentally crush a full can of tomatoes, etc.) Maybe it’s a result of having traveled into Arizona’s godless blast-oven to get to me, but the weirdest part is that the design and cloth are both completely fine, not a patchy, stretchy, rippy, or smeary bit to be seen, which kinda scuttles the glued-by-heat idea.
Since the cloth and design are both totally unharmed I don’t have to deduct any points, but it’s worth mentioning; there are any number of reasons a person might have trouble opening something glued so steadfast.
Other than that, zero complaints! It is beautiful and it is HUGE! End of cloth description!
The Oracle’s Atlas Companion
Gang, listen: ya Bageler is an excitable bitch prone to hyperbole and feats of strength, but I need you to understand that I physically gasped when I unwrapped this book, it is such a thing of beauty and quality and so luxe, which things are not necessarily synonymous. My shelf of divinatory texts only grows, and while appearance isn’t everything (I still swear by my bent, tattered copy of Josephine Ellershaw’s Gilded Tarot guidebook) it is nice to have a coupla quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore between the pallid bust of Pallas and the one of Ron Swanson.
Now, as one might expect, the first chunk of the book is filled with the meanings, interpretations, and relationships of the cards (and, in this case, their relation to their respective books), giving a ton of information, context, and outsized versions of all that stunning art:
But additionally, in an absolute first in my experience, there is an extensive section detailing the process of designing and developing all of the art:
If it hadn’t been clear up to this point (and it had), it would now be inescapable that this is not simply a deck of cards, but a fully collaborative, interactive piece of art that cannot be separated from the process of its creation and the people who made it. And when you think about it, as I am now doing for you, that describes almost all art and we need to recalibrate the way we think about creators and fucking pay them accordingly.
Two Issues Of F(r)iction,
A Two-Year Subscription (Four Additional Issues),
And Access To The Entire Digital Archive
I dunno from F(r)iction, but I know that I love essays, short stories, and poetry, and that these and their subsequent siblings will be right at home on the shelf next to my Believers and McSweeny’s. Like anthologies, fiction journals are a great way to discover new creators or even new genres, and to keep current with all the cool shit going on instead of reading yourself into a time-corner and accidentally spend a year reading only 70’s mysteries about a rabbi who solves murders, or 70’s short stories about a royal wizard who solves murders with a sorcerous scientific method for the court of an alternate-history Richard the Lionhearted, or Fletch, which is from a decade and about a reporter doing something that are none of your goddamn business.
The Whole Damn Sandwich
All in all, I would be hard-pressed to name a higher-quality, higher-effort, higher-value-for-investment product, much less one that highlighted and acknowledged so belligerently that it couldn’t exist without the efforts of everyone involved; there’s a reason the creators’ page on the website features not just the authors and artists but the editors, producers, advisors, and more. For these reasons alone it’s well worth your dollar as either a collector of divinatoria, a big ol’ book-nerd, a patron of the arts, or some fourth thing; personally, I barely need one reason, but your mileage–or leagueage, in the case of the Hierophant–may vary.
No matter what, we can all agree on one thing: ending posts is hard.