The Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck by Bruce Pelz

A Brief History of the Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck

Artists have always been a prominent feature of the science fiction and fantasy milieu. In the early days-from the 1930's through the 1950's-the professionals exhibited their works on the covers of the magazines and paperback books, while the nonprofessionals had to make do with being published in the amateur journals/fanzines. A number of artists who began in the latter group eventually graduated to the former group, and there were frequent instances of fanzine art being better than that found on the professional publications. Multicolor spirit duplication and hand-drawn fine line mimeography art easily outshone hackwork in four-color process litho.

In 1960, the World Science Fiction Convention added an art show to its features, following a suggestion by the late Seth Johnson and considerable work by Bjo Trimble. The West Coast Science Fantasy Conference followed suit three years later, and other regional conventions in the field were not many years behind. At last there was a means for showing what the amateur artists could do when freed from the limitations of inexpensive reproduction methods. And as the 1960's progressed, more and more artists came to display their works at convention art shows.

The art was in every conceivable style, medium, and format, and of every degree of quality from the great to the utterly worthless. (Which was which was, of course, a variable dependent upon the viewer.) But almost all of it sold if the artists wished it sold - cartoons, portraits, horror scenes, spacescapes, fantasy scenes, and even the untold hundreds of "Star Trek" art that infested the shows of 1968 and 1969. Besides there being large number of artists in the science fiction and fantasy field, there were obviously large numbers of art appreciators, also.

The Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck idea came about as a result of the availability of those two groups - and as a result of the lack of availability of Steubenware on the West Coast in 1969.

Steubenware was available in one location in the early 1960's Los Angeles. Don Simpson, an artist whose versatility includes glass engraving, talked me into purchasing one goblet in October 1963, and promised to engrave it. I couldn't really afford the thing, but I bought it. Then I tried to think of something worth engraving on a Steuben goblet. It took five years for me to come up with the idea of having the Great Trumps done on a set of such goblets, starting with The Tower. And by then there was no longer a Los Angeles outlet for Steubenware - or any other outside of New York.

So I had one engraved goblet and an aborted idea of a pictorial set of the Great Trumps. A collector finds it difficult to abandon the idea of having a set of something he or she has already deemed collectible. Perhaps the set could be done, instead, as mere twodimensional artwork. Moreover, perhaps other artists would like to get in on the project ... surely I knew at least 22 artists? I began asking artists in the Los Angeles area in August of 1969, and by the time I got to the World Science Fiction Convention in St. Louis over the Labor Day weekend of that year, I had expanded the project to the complete Tarot Deck of 78 cards. The first card-Doug Lovenstein's Knight of Swords-came in by the end of September, 1969.

Over the months and years, there were changes - not only in the roster of artists, but in the attitudes behind the project. What had started as an amusing idea became a Grand Project, involving publishing plans for the deck, acquisition agreements regarding the original cards, and finally the necessity of replacing those artists who had signed up to do a card but, as months and then years had passed, had done nothing. Fortunately, there have always been new artists available to replace the ones dropped.

As a nonartist, I have always found it difficult to tell artists that their work was bad-or even "not good enough." Halfway through the 1970's I realized that I had not done so in as many instances as I should have, and I went back to some of the artists and asked them to redo their cards. (In a few instances, the artists realized the need for redoing the cards before I did, and took it upon themselves.)

Some cards I rejected outright: the female nude, surrounded by the four Signs of the Apostles, submitted as The Hierophant; the crownless very young man, submitted as a King; two or three others, perhaps.

There were also cards I happily accepted that may well scandalize, affront, or otherwise put off the serious reader of the Tarot. Cartoons have been viewed as tantamount to sacrilege by one or two viewers of the deck-in-progress; offbeat viewpoints of standard Tarot card characters have been frowned upon as inappropriate, invalid, inaccurate, or some combination of these; and then there are six extra cards, found in this deck but not in the standard Tarot.

The first non-standard card was Gordon Monson's Great Trump XXII: Separation, which he gave to me almost as a joke, after he had done The Emperor. I he new card was better art. I got Helmut Pesch to take The Emperor, and kept the Monson invention. If one requires a justification for including Separation among the Major Arcana, when there are cards in the Minor Arcana whose meanings may include those of Separation, consider the much greater importance given to sharing of emotions and such today as compared to that given to it in the last century or even the early part of this century. Or consider the traumatic force assigned by psychologists to loss of someone close.

The other non-standard Great Trump, The Farrier, is a logical extension of the force-flow of the Major Arcana, which ordinarily stops with the World, not taking into consideration the fact that the World is no longer an appropriate final boundary. It quite properly comes as the final Trump. (Separation should probably be something like Trump XIII, with Death and all those that follow advanced by one number, but I decided against changing any of the original Trump numbers.)

The remaining four inventions are long-overdue additions to the Tarot court cards, and I admit that I invented them myself. In selecting court cards to signify persons, the Page has long stood for a child of either sex. The Knight stands for a young man, the Queen for a woman, and the King for a man. Obviously - to me, at least - there was something missing. So there is now the Lady, to represent a young woman. The card ranks above the Knight and below the Queen, as the Knight would defer to the Lady and the Lady defer to the Queen. The meanings of the cards follow naturally from their relationships to the other court cards in their respective suits.

The additional cards and the variety of interpretations of the standard cards may well daunt someone who is used to reading the standard deck. I offer only two suggestions: First, consider the possibility that a Tarot deck designed by one person has that person's imprint firmly established upon it, and the reader's need to attune the deck to him- or herself requires that the designer's imprint be overcome. In contrast, a deck with 85 designers - 86 including the editor - would perhaps have the designers' imprints cancelling each other out, and thus allowing an easier attunement.

Second, one can always pare the deck down to the standard 78 cards before reading it ....

The only really important thing about the deck is that it should be enjoyed - whether as artwork, as a tool for divination, as a party game, or as some combination of the three.

It has been an interesting eleven years....

Bruce Pelz
June 1980

Compiled and edited 1969-1980 by Bruce Pelz.
Copyright © 1980 by Bruce Pelz.
Reproduced on by kind permission of Elayne Pelz.

Return to home page