This 78 card tarot deck
features the artwork of Dave McKean
, and, since its initial release in 1995
, been one of the more sought-after decks ever printed, with a second-hand asking price of usually over $100 US. In August of 2001
, a second edition was released with an SRP
of $29.95 US ($49.95 CAN), available at comic, occult
, and specialty bookstores.
The Vertigo Tarot is, of course, published by DC Comics, the owner of the Vertigo imprint. It comes in a box that holds the cards and a book of readings by Rachel Pollack, award-winning sci-fi author and creator of the Shining Woman Tarot, with an introduction by international man of mystery, Neil Gaiman. My only problem with the packaging is that the cards don't have a smaller box to keep themselves in, which means you'll either have to carry around a big, clunky, slightly hard to open box, or find something to put them in (a velvet bag or tin, perhaps).
Each of the 78 cards, which share the same names as the Rider-Waite Tarot, features rich and evocative art in the digitally manipulated, heavily Photoshopped style that was oh-so neuvaux-chic in the mid-90's. Most of the major arcana are represented by characters from Vertigo comics including, among others, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, and, of course The Sandman. The major arcana also feature the astrological symbol that corresponds to the card, which is a nice touch. The minor arcana, which are all uniquely rendered, are not based on comicbook characters, but are still quite beautiful. The cards feel long and narrow, and just slightly thin, even for cards. On the one hand, this makes them easier to shuffle, especially considering that their length makes them tricky to get a grip on, but be gentle so as not to warp them too much. My only real complaint with the cards is that the backs of the cards have "THE VERTIGO TAROT" written vertically down the design on the back, meaning that a person can tell whether the card is reversed before turning it over. If your readings take card reversals into account, you'll have to find a way to, excuse the pun, deal with this.
Make no mistake, however, this is a dark deck. Card borders are black, and many cards, especially those of the minor arcana, are shadowy. More importantly, the imagery of the cards reflects the cynicism of the Grunge Era: The Fool's flower is wilted, The Emperor is a rag doll, &c. Not to say that questions of love or enterprise shouldn't be posed to this deck. There are darker decks (The H.R. Giger Tarot comes to mind) just remember that your mileage may vary.
Because so many of the cards have their imagery twisted and re-examined, the book of readings will probably be a valuable resource for most readers, especially those who haven't read a lot of Vertigo comics. Thankfully, there are themes that run throughout the cards' symbolism, so a reader or tarotmancer who spends the time to familiarize themselves with the cards should be able to perform off-book (of course, this is true for all but the most convoluted art decks).
For reading purposes, I recommend this deck for fans of comicbook-cum-graphic novels, and, I'll just come out and say it: goths. The goth-industrial movement was just starting to inch into the limelight around the time this deck came out, and I can see it working well for these cultural inheritors of the flapper movement. For people who just like tarot art, this deck is beautiful, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not at least consider it.
Finally, because some of you care about this kind of thing, here's the who's who for the major arcana.
0 The Fool - John Constantine from Hellblazer
1 The Magician - Tim Hunter from The Books of Magic
2 The High Priestess - Mad Hettie from Death: The High Cost of Living
3 The Empress - Titania, Queen of the Fairies from The Books of Magic
4 The Emperor - The Geek
5 The Hierophant - Morpheus from The Sandman
6 The Lovers - Chantinelle and Tani from Hellblazer
7 The Chariot - The Enigma
8 Strength - Black Orchid
9 The Hermit - The Phantom Stranger
10 The Wheel of Fortune - Destiny from The Sandman
11 Justice - Golden Age Sandman from Sandman Mystery Theater
12 The Hanged Man - Shade, the Changing Man
13 Death - Death from The Sandman
14 Temperance - Delirium from The Sandman
15 The Devil - Lucifer from The Sandman
16 The Tower - The Tower of Babel from Doom Patrol
21 The World - Swamp Thing