A Major Arcana bringing age-old archetypes into the modern, queer light, powered by independent artists (and Kickstarter).
Maybe you’re familiar with the term ‘tabula rasa’.
This is the concept that we are all born into this world with a ‘blank slate’, and over the years carve into it an identity that we take root and refuge in.
To LGBTQIA+ peoples, there is sometimes no greater strength than in identity and community, two things that tarot draws strength from as well. It’s a divination of reflection, of asking and carving your own path, guided by images and posing questions we sometimes aren’t willing to ask ourselves.
Comics, meanwhile, have entered a new renaissance. Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier than ever for independent creators and publishers to connect with audiences seeking new and personally relatable perspectives.
So what happens when you mash those two forms of media into one big queer tarot project?
TABULA IDEM is a queer/LGBTQIA+ tarot comic anthology with 22 stories and 27 direct contributors, paired with a full-color Major Arcana tarot deck.
The centerpiece of the project is a black and white anthology featuring 22 short queer-centric comic stories structured around the cycle of the tarot. Each story is accompanied by a full-color illustrated Major Arcana card that we’re collecting in a companion deck; these illustrations act both as a summation of the story to which they relate, and to the cards’ traditional symbols and meanings.
For those newer to tarot, the book will offer step by steps on how to perform spreads and offer small facts about the cards before each story (i.e. their archaic/Hermetic names, zodiacal and planetary rulers, etc). We want this work to be familiar enough to seasoned tarot sojourners and spiced with new twists, but to also welcome tarot newbies in with open arms! (Metaphorical arms. The book won’t have real arms dangling off of it. That’d be weird.)
The full-color deck itself is as much of a collaboration as the anthology; while there are many different artistic styles playing off the cards, they all blend into a cohesive metaphysical journey. Older hegemonic renditions of the Arcana archetypes are given striking and meaningful revisions; whereas the usual image of the fool is a lone young man standing on the edge of a barren cliff with a traveling bag, TABULA’s Fool begins the Arcana with two married women having just migrated to an unknown land, standing on the edge of an observance railing with the bustling nature of a city framing their new journey.
More of the popular and widely circulated tarots will have entire books, volumes published examining their symbolism, origination, and context behind the cards. Tarot is, in a sense, a story told in a picture. Comics are stories told through pictures as well, and while their creators decide where the story leads rather than the whims of the universe, the thread of imagination that readers string between them is, in both cases, far more powerful than words alone.
These comics are the context behind those cards; background comic elements can play symbolistic roles in the card, and you see the journey that undeniably queer characters made in order to inherit the title of their card. You’re able to see why The Star’s usual feminine figure has dropped her water jug in shock, how The Moon’s modern cafe latte art is more brilliant than the moon itself, how Temperance’s timely elemental dynamics dance and shock, and why the Wheel of Fortune is more abstract and populated with people than its typical beasts.
The art of tarot is its own form of personal reflection and interpretation, and TABULA IDEM’s Major Arcana are all intended to offer an LGBTQIA+ mirror. While editors can talk about what we believe the project to be, there are no better people to talk about it than the contributors; when we asked artists certain questions for our Kickstarter updates like ‘how do you and your identity relate to tarot as a whole, contributor Andi Santagata (artist behind The Hermit story) had a great example:
I like that tarot reflects aspects of yourself in a non-gendered way! As a trans person, thinking of yourself in terms like “The Star” or “The Fool” is a super freeing experience compared to the commonly gendered terms we often encounter in daily life. Of course, that’s not to say that the traditional tarot doesn’t have its soft spots when it comes to gender – the common image of The Lovers always being a heterosexual cis couple, or the frequent usage of the court cards in minor arcana as being gendered – but that’s what’s so exciting about working on Tabula Idem, I think – real representation!
To another question asking ‘why did you choose this card to tell a story about it, our Emperor artist Van Weasel explained:
I chose The Emperor, a traditionally patriarchal card, because I wanted to re-examine the role of the father figure. I wanted to tell a story about a father-son relationship that involves tenderness, honesty, acceptance, and understanding- qualities that aren’t always encouraged or embraced in masculine roles.
From baking a cake to celebrating solstice to shooting lightning out of your hands at a rival bootlegging gang’s hideout, TABULA IDEM’s cards are just as diverse, beautiful, and queer as its creators and audience are. We wanted TABULA IDEM to happen because those identities deserve to be shared, to be supported, and to be seen as divine. We are The Fools meeting other pillars of Strength, pulling ourselves from the wreckage of The Tower, cleansing ourselves in the fires of The Aeon, and we are The World, for our identities have been (and always will be) here.
Mia/Hye M. (@explodinghye, they/she) is a queer 23 year old west coaster who attended Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and for whom graphic design is truly their passion. You can usually find them buried in an InDesign file, engrossed in a new comic book, or an Illustrator canvas plotting their next project.
Iris Jay (she/they) has been putting comics online since 2005. A Sequential Arts SCAD grad and three-time self-publisher, she currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington with her husband Nero O’Reilly and two perfect cat children. Check out her home ON THE GRID at irisjay.net.