A few days ago, I discovered a deck on Kickstarter that made me jump in joy! From all the wonderful decks being created out there, Business Class Tarot fulfils the need for more career-oriented Tarot decks and for a reader like me, specialized in relationship and career questions, this came as an invaluable tool to have!
I took probably ten seconds in deciding to back the project, and when I was done, I wanted to know more, so I contacted Anthony Dobranski, hoping for an interview and he very kindly agreed to it!
So, without any more paraphernalia, let me introduce this very interesting conversation between Anthony Dobranski, creator of Business Class Tarot and author of “The Demon in Business Class” and I!
Q – Welcome, Anthony! Your Business Class Tarot has been in my mind since I discovered the project! Such an ambitious and brilliant deck! As far as I know, the idea of the deck came from your novel “The Demon in Business Class” so I guess my first question is: How did you end up writing a novel featuring Tarot? Especially, a Tarot deck that doesn’t – or better, didn’t – even exist?
A – Thank you so much, Mia, for inviting me to talk about Business Class Tarot! I really appreciate your interest and enthusiasm!
You’re correct, Business Class Tarot started as a device in my novel! “The Demon in Business Class” is a modern-day fantasy novel in the style of a corporate thriller, with international settings across Europe, Asia and North America. The setting is a homage to my previous career, opening international offices in Europe and Asia-Pacific for the internet service AOL.
Glimpses of the future are a fantasy tradition going back to myths, but it would have been hard to have my characters visit a mountain-top oracle or a witch’s cave en route to the next airport. A Tarot deck goes in your carry-on bag! It also let me play with the idea of divination not as some special prophecy that begins a quest, but in the way most modern people use it, as regular guidance, the way we look up weather reports and horoscopes.
My main character Zarabeth never took to the traditional Tarot — which of course means, I couldn’t make her using a traditional Tarot believable. Zarabeth isn’t a scholar; history bores her. As a woman in a modern corporate workplace, she’s already dealing with a high level of sexism and masculine nonsense. A conceptual framework where ultimate power always belongs to men would just make her angry.
Luckily, Tarot was accommodating. Tarot is a fantastic series of essays about power: potential and actual; appointed, gifted, or earned; social, legal, spiritual and cultural. Finances, shipping, and wealth inequality are already there — translating them into modern corporate language came naturally to me. And, wonderfully, I had less to explain. You may not know what a Hierophant does relative to an Emperor, but most readers will understand the complex relationship of a Board of Directors to a CEO!
It was fans who made the deck real! Readers repeatedly asked me what deck she used, where they could get one. It turns out, a lot of real people are curious about Tarot’s lessons, but found the symbols and history as daunting as Zarabeth had. So I set about trying to make the deck they wanted.
In the novel, of course, the deck is a handful of sentences over the course of a big rich story. Writing the concepts and images for 78 cards for an artist to draw is a vastly larger effort! Some cards described in the novel just don’t look that way in the deck. It was much more important that people using the deck felt it was a good deck, so if the book’s idea didn’t work out when it came to developing a good card, we did what was best for the card. If Zarabeth asks, tell her it’s an upgrade!
Q – I’m particularly thrilled by the changes you’ve made to the traditional suits. Instead of Wands, Cups, Pentacles and Swords we have, if I remember correctly, Product, Brand, Money, and Data. I have my own ideas about the correspondences of each of the suits with the traditional ones, but I would like to know: Are they intended to match the traditional suits? What’s the essence of each suit?
A – I’d say they are the traditional suits, just updated. Products are the foundation of any company; you make them well or poorly, you get them to customers on time or late. These are classic Wands issues, the stubbornness of the physical world, the need to decide quickly — and sometimes, you get it wrong, or you go too fast. Brand inherits Cups’ emotional appeal and celebratory quality, but also its manipulative power, telling you what you want to hear. Money is the most obvious evolution from Pentacles, but the stories in these cards are not solely about material wealth. There’s also job satisfaction, status, and inequality. Data is the modern version of Swords’ aggression — look at the nasty games high-tech companies play — but also its limited vision, making everything reductive and combative.
Q – For what I’ve been able to read in your campaign, the Court Cards are just brilliant and in my opinion, this new naming or approach could even make them easier to understand for those who have difficulties working with the Tarot court. I wonder if I will feel the same about the Major Arcana. Can you tell us something about your approach to them? What sort of Major Arcana A.K.A Executives, are waiting for us?
A – The Executives were a bigger challenge than the Staff, absolutely. In traditional Tarot, they’re personalized, either as real power figures like Emperors, or as mythical symbols. In Business Class Tarot, I had to work with corporate structures, but also more modern symbols and abstractions. Sometimes these were easy equivalents: for The Fool, Intern; for The World, The Market; for The Tower, Merger, a sign a company has reached the end of its natural growth. (Trust me, our imagery for Merger will keep the fear!)
Even so, the nature of corporations is that they are groups of groups. Often what are single persons in standard Tarot, like High Priestess, are collectives in mine, like Human Resources and Marketing. I didn’t pluralize Intern — we’re all alone, or feel we are, when we’re starting out — but I couldn’t let it be solely individual. So, instead of a clear sky and a cliff for the Fool, Intern is one person among many, rushing to work, in a giant city.
Sometimes I had to work out what exactly the old symbols were meant to mean. My 6 Executive is “The Experience, and it shows two people both being transformed, in a superhero way, by a storm of energy — in the distance behind them, others are either being killed by this storm, or, completely ignored by it. This is an easy card for a modern reader to understand — but a huge leap from The Lovers!
I don’t want to argue with Waite, but historically, Lovers are not a card of solace, but of disruption. Lovers cause changes — just look at our era, where gay people pursue marriage equality, and, in a reversed sense, #MeToo, where the sexual power games of men have created a huge angry backlash!
I wanted the same destabilization, the same power to disrupt or change, in good and bad ways. “The Experience” came from the language people now use to talk about these transformative moments. It could mean you’ve seen a way to make something new and powerful; it could also mean you’ve realized the cost of your own personal success is to enable a corrupt person or company.
My 12 Executive is Bankruptcy, which expresses the Hanged Man’s energy of being in a place where one can do no more without help. As an image, it will be the starkest card, with just a black background, and a defiant but overwhelmed man in a pile of bills and debts.
One other thing. Major Arcana are a later, transformative addition to the Tarot, in much the same way that an executive structure is a later, transformative addition to a successful business as it grows. When there’s three of you in the garage, you don’t need a Board of Directors or Human Resources! This led to us working on the suits first, and building the iconography from the ground up. I liken the Executives to the climax of a movie — the deck has to REACH them.
Q – What is it like to bring to life a Tarot deck that you envision but you are not capable of creating yourself? Tell us a bit about the team that is making Business Class Tarot possible.
A – It’s like being a film director who got to work with the perfect actors for the roles! Honestly, I’m surprised how many Tarots are done by solo creators. Even comic books have a writer, an artist, a colorist and a letterer — and a Tarot is like a 78-page comic book with only covers and no dialogue! It’s a lot of work. I don’t think it’s an accident that the greatest modern Tarot, Rider Waite, is a collaboration, between writer Arthur Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith.
Jamin Hoyle, the Business Class Tarot artist, has been a successful freelance professional in art, art direction, and advertising, for two decades. He’s incredibly talented, and knows the professional world we’re depicting, both as a person paying bills with work, and as an artist and art historian who can look at that world with strangeness and humor.
And yet he still surprises me and astonishes me! His own iconography, his playful nods to traditional Tarot — he got Intern to unwisely step out of his image in a Fool-like way — and his classical artistic references. Go back to that Bankruptcy / Hanged Man. There’s a lot of Joan of Arc and St. Sebastian in there, beauty, misery and defiance. I hoped for that, but I can’t say I wrote it!
It wasn’t originally meant to be a team — but Tarots are fractal hydras, they keep sprouting new details. If we were going to print this year, we needed help.
I would like to tell you more about Allison Carl, our colorist, and Studio Juli-ette, our production designer, but other than the incredible work they’re doing — just look at the detail in Data Ace — I honestly don’t even talk to them directly.
This is deliberate. Ignoring all the other things I am doing for this project — Kickstarter, talking with printers, building e-commerce for presales — I’m the writer. The writer does writing, so my concepts, and my guidebook. The art is Jamin’s, and I want him managing the other people who are working on what is now his art. I get to make comments, obviously, but I make them to Jamin. I don’t want Allison and Juliette to feel they have too many bosses!
Q – As far as I know, launching a Kickstarter project is worse than having a newborn. How has your experience been? What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in order to make this possible?
A – The day after Business Class Tarot launched on Kickstarter I could barely speak from lack of sleep! Even the initial setup is hard — but if you’re going to ask a bunch of strangers for real money, it should be hard!
That said, I’ve been lucky. First, I had Jamin’s art. I’m willing to bet half our backers didn’t read a word I wrote — they saw Jamin’s art, and that was that!
I also had a sensibility and style. No flutes and lutes and calligraphy for my Kickstarter video — mine looks more like an airline ad, and if it’s the Business Class Tarot, that’s both distinctive and completely natural. People kill for branding like that!
I’m also lucky to have in-house expertise in my wife, Jacqueline Dobranski. Last year she developed and successfully Kickstarted a board game called Brixiples. A lot of the promotional efforts I’m using were ones she researched for her use. I’m drafting all her hard-earned experience!
There’s a lot of work, but I think the “biggest challenge” is to make even this big effort part of a bigger process, of making something and putting it into people’s hands. The day after my Kickstarter ends, I will be at Bard’s Tower Author Experience at DragonCon, one of the United States’ largest comic conventions — and I hope to bring some just-backed energy along with some pre-sale coupons! That’s no accident, and we all worked hard to make that possible by making a Kickstarter possible a month before.
Backers like to know that! Their participation is more than just money, it’s momentum.
Q – Do you think that this is a deck aimed to a specific audience? What kind of reader would, from your perspective, benefit the most from the new views that Business Class Tarot is trying to introduce?
A – I really wanted it to be specific. You don’t go clubbing in a business suit! I really want it to focus on the concerns and energies of work, of career, of risks that can literally change the level of money and power in your life. Frankly, this will get my Tarot in places most Tarot doesn’t easily go — like, a promotional event in a cigar bar.
It’s still a Tarot, and you can ask it any question — but some will get very stilted answers! If you have a burning romance question that’s forced you to go clubbing in your tie, prepare to hear a lot about partnerships.
Also — Business Class is a distinctive thing. It’s a level that implies a certain success, but it’s not First Class, and certainly not the Inherited Wealth Tarot. That gives it a desperate edge underneath the gloss. If you look at Designers, not only are they reinterpreting the human heart, but that heart is floating above a nasty spike of rock.
Q – We’ve made it this far and I still haven’t asked the golden question. Are you a reader yourself? Could you share a bit about your personal Tarot journey?
A – I can read Tarot, though I’m not really a medium — or if I am, it’s through the creativity that makes the deck for other mediums. If you’ve ever heard a composer play and sing the songs they wrote for others, that’s a good analogy. I can hit most notes!
My first deck was the Aquarian Tarot, which has a lovely Art Nouveau sensibility, including Wands that look like asparagus stalks. I know Rider Waite, of course, but I can’t say it was ever a big part of my Tarot use — for all that my novel started this process, something started the novel’s uneasy perspective. It was a need I felt long before I could express it, much less hire an artist to help me satisfy it!
I have several modern decks, including the 1990s PoMo Tarot and a fantastic black&white collage deck from Portugal, Tarot Poetico, with giant cards that all look like ransom notes and tattoos. In terms of presentation quality and packaging, I really admire the production design of Zombie Tarot.
One negative on my Tarot journey — the cheap, vague and limiting “little white booklet.” I understand the commercial pressure that keeps many LWBs short — but, however it came to be, a short LWB feels like contempt for the needs of the reader. Imagine you bought a beautiful chess set, but the rules read, “Move the pieces. Taller ones strong, mostly. Buy a chess book.” You wouldn’t be much of a chess player! When all you get are twenty words for upright and reversed, without even a mention of the different energies and meanings of the suits — that’s a poor deck, no matter how good the art is. Business Class Tarot from the start includes a color 120-page booklet with details and explanations. I even invented a new reading — Poker style, for competitive energies! It’s the first reading that ONLY uses Staff / Minor Arcana cards.
Q – Now, another one of my favourites: How do you think Tarot works?
A – If you’re asking, woo or no woo, count me as woo. Of course, I am a novelist! There is a magic, and people feel it.
I myself am what Harry Potter would call a muggle, and to my knowledge no other Tarot designers are wizards. The magic doesn’t come from us.
We humans are of course the best animals at pattern recognition, and a good Tarot is designed to be dreamlike and disruptive of one’s own thought. There may be a science there, the way alchemy led to chemistry. Still, the one problem with science is that it only works to describe consistent things. Right now, quantum mechanics is consistent, and classical mechanics is consistent — just, not with each other. I’ll worry about science and magic just as soon as science joins quantum and classical physics.
Q – We can’t talk Tarot without talking about the future, right? What do you have in mind for Business Class Tarot? Could we be seeing more of you Tarot-wise, in the future?
A – I’ll know more about the future once my deck is finished… Seriously, I don’t have plans to make another Tarot deck. I’m a novelist. This deck is a dream that my novel made real enough for its readers that I felt compelled to bring it to greater life — for the deck, for myself, and for my fans now and in future. Plus, as I joke with my fellow writers, there are people who DON’T read books — which is to say, who take their stories in a different way. So now I have beautiful inspiring art for them too, and as a creative, this is intensely gratifying!
But it’s a one-off. I have a wild science-fiction novel that’s been waiting its turn behind this big deck!
That said, you honor your creativity by doing as much as you can to get it out there. One could even view this entire project as part of the bigger creative intention that started out as The Demon in Business Class, the novel. But we don’t need to put things in boxes. We need to unbox!
So you’ll keep hearing about Business Class Tarot. What that will mean, is as much up to fans like you as it is up to me. That’s the final truth of “putting something out there.” It’s out!
Q – Wrapping-up the interview, is there anything in particular that you would like to share with the audience?
A – I’ve said plenty, and you’ve been patient to read and listen. I’ll end by thanking you, Mia, for this great opportunity, and for your readers for their time and interest.
And, readers – only a couple days left for the best deal on Business Class Tarot!
And, now it’s time for the goodbyes! Thank you very much, Anthony, for kindly agreeing to be interviewed and featured at The Sibyl’s Tarot. It’s been a pleasure to have you here and I wish you the very best for Business Class Tarot.
If you are half as amazed as I am by this astounding creation, please, consider backing this project and getting yourself a copy!
Are you a deck creator or Tarot author? Would you like to be interviewed about your project? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!