The allure of fortune-telling is apparent in the growing number of crowdfunded projects dedicated to it, especially when it comes to the various kinds of card decks that exist in that realm. Divination decks are worlds unto their own, from tarot cards for those looking for the classic approach to fortune telling, to oracle decks that allow for more freedom of interpretation. Comic creator, card creator, and all-around Kickstarter master John Jennison is acutely aware of this as he takes to Kickstarter for his second deck of fortune-telling cards, aptly named This Deck is Haunted: An Oracle Deck of Ghosts and Spirits.
Jennison is no stranger to success when it comes to crowdfunding. His first successful foray into it came in the form of a queer horror comic titled The Closet of Horrors, a horror anthology that finds inspiration in EC Horror comics of old but with an added dose of hope injected into each story. The project revolved around a fortune telling deck called The Mystic Male Tarot, which injects queer male representation into its cards with an interest in carefully balancing mysticism and eroticism in each card.
The current This Deck is Haunted Kickstarter has met its projected goal with some 10 days left on its runtime. The deck, as its name states, is an oracle deck containing 32 cards (2.25” x 3.5”) with black and white illustrations drenched in supernatural and horror imagery, but with a hint of playfulness that keeps it within the realm of interpretation. As the project’s page states, the cards are still grounded in the happenings of the earthly plane and the horror tropes present in them keep a clear line of communication with the core elements that characterize an oracle deck.
The illustrations themselves have an Edward Gorey-like quality to them. They have a playful sense of horror to them, up to a point, but there’s a disquieting sense of the macabre underneath it all that invites exploration. It makes the cards feel truly haunted, alive even. Jennison showcases complete control over inks and shadows and goes lengths to make sure his compositions bring out the magic imbedded in them.
The Beat had the opportunity to get an email interview with Jennison to talk all manner of haunted and fortune telling things. It follows below.
Ricardo Serrano: I think it’s safe to say that you and horror are more than just well acquainted. Your comic book horror anthology The Closet of Secrets is a smart and deep look into classic horror filtered through queerness. Now that you’ve shifted mediums, how does illustrating horror for comics compare to creating a deck of cards based on it?
John Jennison: They are the same and they are very different! I look at each card like I would look at the panel on a comic. With comics, you get multiple panels to tell a full story. There is room to weave and spin and pace with comics. With THIS DECK IS HAUNTED you have to give a full story with just one panel, like a splash page in a comic. Those cards become panels and will all have to fit together to create and form a story for the person reading them. You want to make sure the imagery and iconography are broad enough for interpretation. Essentially, in this deck of cards, a reader has the potential of hundreds if not thousands of ways to interpret. You could even look at it as each reading is making a new comic story.
Serrano: You’re in the realm of oracle decks with your This Deck is Haunted project. Having previously worked on a Tarot deck of your own, what does an oracle deck bring to the table and which do you enjoy most between the two?
Jennison: Creating the MYSTIC MALE TAROT was such a fun project and something that I felt was missing in the Tarot community. There are a few masculine divine tarot decks (that number is quickly growing!) but a lot of the decks that do exist are geared towards more stereotypical sexualized male gender ideals. These decks are awesome but not right in every situation. I wanted something in-between overtly sexual or spiritual. With that said there are a lot of rules and traditions I felt I had to uphold when creating this deck to make sure the cards matched historic meanings so it would be usable for seasoned Tarot readers.
With THIS DECK IS HAUNTED I got to explore my inner ghoul loving child! I don’t know if anyone else did or felt this as a kid but I remember being in the school library at a young age and finding books on hauntings and ghosts and hiding them because I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have them. I had this idea of a hidden power that I was going to unlock or that the books would show me the answers to what happens after you die. By making this an oracle deck I had the leeway to push the boundaries more than a traditional tarot deck and this project morphed into a new way for me to better express my storytelling aesthetic.
I started the deck around the time MYSTIC MALE TAROT was at the printer but put it aside for a while. One night I was working on a project about zombies and I was blocked. I needed a break from the project, so I picked up the list of cards I had been using for THIS DECK IS HAUNTED (I had made a prototype deck that was stick figures and names of cards) and when I put my iPencel to iPad, 3 cards flowed out of me. It came out so easily that it felt like I was channeling something. I won’t say I was possessed but there were times that I didn’t feel I was fully in control of the work. Over the next few weeks, I drew the whole deck, outlined the book, and realized that it was something 13-year-old me would have loved to have had access to.
Serrano: The cards featured in your deck have an interesting Edward Gorey feel to them, fun and unsettling at the same time. What are some of the inspirations operating behind the scenes in your deck?
Jennison: The list of inspiration is long but Edward Gorey is at the top of that list. His funny macabre drawing always inspired me. They are simple yet emotive. I’m glad that shows in this deck! I also really loved “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” The artwork of Stephen Gammell captivated me. His flowing watercolors of eerie hands rising out of the dirt or the hollow eyes of a young girl staring into you from a page were what made those books scary. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Bernie Wrightson and Alex Toth. Their comics keep me up many nights with a flashlight.
Serrano: By the look of things–be it through Kickstarters and even big company announcements–themed card decks seem to have a steady audience and it’s growing. What do you think is it about these cards that’s sparking such an interest?
The endless possibilities of what a deck can tell you! You can arrange the cards any way you wish. You can use them to tell your fortune. You can just stare at the art. Cards like these are a great way to get awesome art from creators you want to support but maybe don’t have the budget for. I know I love having decks because I then have many small pieces of art from creators I love. I can take them out and look at them or I can use them in my divination. They are so multi-functional!
I loved X-Men trading cards. They would have the stats of each character on the back and as a kid, my friends and I would have “fights” based on those stats. It was just another fun way to use something that was a collectible item. Cards open up the imagination and give us a little control over someone else’s creation.
The other great thing about theme decks is that there is room to expand. THIS DECK IS HAUNTED is 32 cards but down the line maybe it may have an Oracle Expansion. I have some ideas that I would like to explore revolving around other aspects of the occult. These could be great additions for the future. With open-ended decks like these, there are endless possibilities.
Serrano: You already have several fully-funded Kickstarter projects under your belt, with your Mystic Male Tarot Deck being the most recent. What’ve been your keys to success in that arena? Any tips for aspiring crowd-funding creators?
Promotion before the launch of your Kickstarter is KEY! Give yourself at least a month to announce to friends, family, and fans on your social media. Create your campaign page at this time and submit it for Kickstarter approval cause that takes time. Kickstarter doesn’t launch your page when your project is accepted so you can go back and edit or add things well before the launch. Once it’s approved, release your announcement page so that people can follow your project. That way when you launch it sends fans an email reminder. If people are following your page they are probably going to back your project!
My second big piece of advice is to plan BIG and launch small! Have tangible backer levels and rewards! The rewards that do the best are the ones $25 and below. Just make sure you are accounting for the creation of those rewards when you do your budget for the Kickstarter goal. You may want to have 6 different stickers, 3 different sized decks, different boxes for the decks, a shirt, a sweatshirt, an original art backer level, etc… but what does that accomplish for your overall goal and budget?
If you are making a comic book figure out how much it will cost you to print that comic and ship it to your backers. That’s your base and what you need to make your dream happen. Think about things you can give first that won’t cost you a lot – digital downloads, postcards, handwritten notes to backers. The worst thing you can do is over promise and under deliver. It’s better to under-promise and OVER DELIVER!
Kickstarter has a great team and I recommend reaching out to them for your first time. They want you and your project to succeed almost as much as you do! They get paid when you are successful. It’s a win-win!
Serrano: Truly amazing work with this deck, John. Thanks for the time!
Jennison: Thank you!
Click here to access the project’s Kickstarter page.