There are many, many paths to spiritual enlightenment, and one of the purposes of this deck is to demonstrate that the principles of the Tarot, and of RWS, transcend style. There is divinity everywhere, from the cathedral to the gutter. As Leonard Cohen put it, “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” It may be helpful to think of this deck as 78 broken Hallelujahs.
Why pulp? For me, it has to do with gut impact. Pulp illustrations, and the other midcentury American illustrations I’ve drawn from when creating this deck, were designed to grab the viewer’s attention. Pulp illustrations had to compete with hundreds of other illustrations on magazine and book covers at the corner magazine stand. That means that they tended towards hyperbole and sensationalism, with dynamic compositions, saturated colors and overstated emotions. Everything is bigger in pulp illustration, juicier, spicier, more dramatic. A pulp illustration had to punch through the noise of an ocean of printed matter, and the best pulp artists learned to get to the point as fast and as dramatically as possible. Their illustration style was so effective, it’s impossible to think of stories from the pulp era without seeing it through the eyes of those artists.
One thing to keep in mind when perusing my interpretations of the cards is that my interpretations are not authoritative. If you see something in a card that I don’t mention, that thing is real and true; yours is the only interpretation that matters. Also, don’t get hung up on gender. The figures on the cards are presented as male and female, but each can be either, including the kings and queens. We all have masculine and feminine parts of ourselves.
The Pulp Tarot would not exist without Rider-Waite-Smith. Pamela Smith’s illustrations, for me, pack so much more emotional and symbolic punch than any booklet describing Tarot traditions could. The simple goal of The Pulp Tarot is to reframe RWS for a more current time, with illustrations that are a little more grounded, more practical, perhaps, or more profane, more colloquial, more worldly and human, while retaining the bulk of RWS’s allegories.