Written by: Chloe McCracken / Inner Whispers
This week, I’d like to thank Christine Aguilar and James Battersby, the co creators of Twisted Tarot Tales and Cultural Revolution Propaganda Tarot, for agreeing to an interview. James is also known for having illustrated A King’s Journey Tarot and the Simply Deep Tarot (Schiffer). I asked them both to answer a few questions on their inspiration and decks… 🙂
CA: I became interested in divination early. My grandfather was a superstitious person who believed in spirit communication using various mediums: automatic writing, Ouija and cards. I always assumed he picked up the interest during the war. He was stationed overseas in Japan and saw a lot of devastation. He also had a lifelong interest in Edgar Cayce the sleeping prophet. He was an eccentric individual who loved to tell stories especially about his OBE’s and communication with the spirit world. I was curious about him and his odd ideas. Card reading was one of the things he believed in one hundred percent. So on my 16th birthday, I purchased my first deck of cards , a University Books edition of the Rider Waite at the now defunct College Hill Bookstore in Providence, R.I.
JB: I became involved with the tarot through my partnership with Chanel Bayless.
2) What pushed you to want to create a deck/decks of your own?
CA: Well, James had the talent. I also had a long standing interest in collecting tarot decks and various paper ephemera. I didn’t initially start out with the idea of making a tarot . At the time, I actually had another interest in propaganda art. I always liked graphic art, advertisements , movie posters, Warhol and comic books. As I started researching Chinese Communist propaganda in particular, I noticed some of the posters reminded me of tarot cards so I approached James with the idea of combining the two visual concepts. Later on I would approach him with another idea – “Twisted Tarot Tales” a comic style tarot with a horror theme. I like art that is colourful, bold and edgy.
JB: My partner Christine is an avid collector of Tarot decks, especially very original, unique kinds of Tarot themes, and out of print, rare decks. She liked my previous Tarot illustrations, and wanted to create a Tarot deck of her own based on her interests. The Chinese Propaganda Art Tarot was based on her interest in the old Chinese communist posters of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, quite an unusual genre of art, which opened my eyes to a new world of culturally different art. I really enjoyed depicting these propaganda style heroic archetypes.
We began the deck in the winter of 2013 when I met Christine for the first time in the United States and we completed the deck in early to mid 2015. While creating the Chinese Propaganda Art Tarot, in the winter of 2014 we created the first handful of images of what would become Twisted Tarot Tales, based on Christine’s love of horror comics as a kid.
3) How did the two of you meet?
CA: We met on Facebook. I friended him after looking for a copy of “A King’s Journey”. We gradually struck up a friendship. .Eventually he came over to meet me in New England. It was during the winter. He wanted to experience a New England Christmas. The snow that year was very heavy with street bans and etc. We ended up snowed in at the hotel, so we started work on “The Cultural Revolution Propaganda Art Tarot”
JB: Christine first knew of my work through my illustrations on the Simply Deep Tarot, published by Schiffer Publishing. Through our love of art and design, Christine helped me work on a few freelance art projects giving her design input, helping me with ideas etc over Skype, and from there we formed a very natural relationship. We met in the winter of 2014, when I flew out to the U.S and while together, worked on the first few images of the Chinese Propaganda Art Tarot. I remember it was one of the worst winters to hit the Eastern Seaboard of America, so a lot of time was spent indoors laying the foundation of what was to become, though purely unintentional, one of our more controversial decks.
4) What are the best and worst things about working together?
CA: lol James is very tempremental. I tend to be very exacting. So it’s a partnership that requires a lot of patience. I think the best thing about our work is we understand each other’s ideas and visual style. He knows where I’m going with certain images and vice versa. I’m a Libra with Aquarius rising and he’s Aquarius. I think being air signs there’s a natural understanding between us.
JB: One of the best things about working together is that there are more ideas brought to the table when two people are involved.
Also, working with a co-creator means there are two people to impress. Generally if an artist can impress him or herself, then the artwork is a “go”, but if you work with someone else, it means that it has to pass the test twice, before it is released to the world. Thankfully, everyone I’ve worked alongside has been very vocal in regards to whether they like the work or not. Having a few opinions can’t hurt before the work is released!
So far I’ve created two decks long distance (King’s Journey and Simply Deep), and two with my co creator, for the most part on the same patch of land (Chinese Propaganda Art Tarot and Twisted Tarot Tales). While I have my own ideas, I’ve been happy envisioning the visual ideas of others. Working with a co creator through long distance online communication is very hard as the co-creator is not there to see if you are envisioning their vision correctly. I guess that is one of the main down sides to working together on something at a distance but over the years I’ve grown comfortable with that too.
5) Please, tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your various decks…
CA: “The Cultural Revolution Propganda Art tarot” is based on the visual style of Communist propaganda posters. The colours they used, bold and striking. Some of the absurd visual concepts, children riding rockets, cats and dogs on the moon, etc. I like combining two opposite and contrary visual concepts to form an original visual composition. The inspiration for Twisted Tarot Tales comes from a lifelong love affair with horror comics and illustration. When I was a child, I lived for the weekends and the flea market – any opportunity to buy horror comics cheap. I loved “Black Magic”, “The House of Mystery” and the many cheap Charlton comic series that were popular at the time. I was also intrigued by Golden age radio broadcasts and the pulps they were based on; characters like “The Shadow”, who used the power of invisibility to solve cases, or “The Whisperer” with his unique voice, they don’t make superheroes and suspense stories like that anymore.
6) What is your favourite deck/card and why?
CA: Surprisngly, I don’t have any favourite cards . There’s cards I like to see in spreads like the two of cups, lovers , and six of wands . Speaking artistically I think all cards are capable of making a strong visual statement and maybe even an awe inspiring “gasp” if the artwork is done well.
JB: I think Twisted Tarot Tales has probably been the most exciting deck I’ve worked on up until now. Ever since I was about 13, I wanted to draw comic books for a living. That’s all I could see myself doing. One of the things that appealed to me was how each artist had his or her own unique style, all the while drawing the same characters. It sounds bizarre but as a teen I used to wonder what was going through artist Chris Bachalo’s mind while drawing very cartoony characters of big name comic book characters, at a time when the traditional comic book superhero look was a cross between a Jim Lee or Andy Kubert style of work. Why was Bachalo’s look so different? It was a very unique style which I didn’t like at first, but later, he became one of my favourite artists. In my own art I try to find my own style. I would one day like someone to come up and say “That’s a Battersby artwork” without any indication of who actually drew it. I was able to do this with dozens of comic book artists as a teenager. Nowadays when I look at mainstream comic books, it’s much harder to pinpoint individual artistic styles because there seems to be a high percentage of comic art that looks like its solely been traced from photos. Even the traditional perspective linework has disappeared. T-squares, compasses, rulers etc seem to be going the way of the dinosaur!
While the colouring techniques in Twisted Tarot Tales are modernised compared to the old horror comic works we based our deck on, we drew the main imagery in the same way that comic book artists back in the day created it. Real pencils, Real inks etc. Occasionally I draw straight onto a screen (I have an old LE1700 Motion Computing model, based on the Wacom Cintiq) but I’ve never been able to recreate the drawing style I want using tablets. Real paper and pens still do it for me
It’s a difficult decision, but I think my favourite card in the Twisted Tarot Tales deck is ultimately the Ten of Cups. This one took me the longest time to produce due to all the details in the doll’s house.
7) What is currently on your creative table?
CA: I am currently working on our first mixed media oracle deck. We are calling it “The Felonious Felines Oracle”. It’s a work in progress. Lots of things can change. Basically, it’s a cat themed oracle, placing the cats in different exotic settings and fairy tale backgrounds. I haven’t worked it all out yet, but that’s the direction I’m going with it.
JB: I’m currently finishing up work on the Twisted Tarot Tales companion book, while Christine is working on her feline themed Fantasy Felines Lenormand (working title).
8) Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
CA: I would like to thank everyone who supported us through the creative process of both decks. A special thanks goes out to all the people who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign. It’s people like you who keep independent tarot artists going. Last but not least, thanks to all our customers for liking and supporting our work.
JB: I would like to thank all our fans who have supported our work. Without their support our decks wouldn’t be possible.