Cristy C Road’s brash, colourful artwork will be familiar to many Autostraddle readers. As a well-known fixture on the queer DIY scene, both as a punk musician and as a visual artist, Road cut her illustrator’s teeth as a teenager with her fanzine, Greenzine. Since then, she’s contributed tons of illustrations to countless record album covers, book covers, political organizations, web and print publications, and has published three illustrated novels: Indestructible (Microcosm) an illustrated novel about high school, mental health, sexuality, and Miami; Bad Habits (Soft Skull), an illustrated love story about healing, drugs, gay nightlife, and her telepathic connections to the destruction of New York City; and her latest novel, Spit and Passion (Feminist Press), a coming out memoir about staying in the closet in order to cultivate her newfound punk rock identity and navigate her Catholic Cuban community.
Well, praise the goddess of all that is good in the world, Road is now working on a tarot deck! We all know the world needs more queer tarot decks, and that the world needs more POC-representative tarot decks. The Next World Tarot will be both of these things, filled with radical characters of diverse cultures, colours and sexualities, illustrated in Road’s trademark raw and colourful style. The Next World Tarot Kickstarter campaign launched yesterday and needs your help to become a reality, so get yourselves over there to support an amazing artist’s awesome project!
The project began life last year as a collaboration between Road and Sister Spit’s Michelle Tea, but is now a solo mission. Prints of completed cards are available in Road’s store (another way to support her art!), each one adding tender, dirty brilliance to this much-needed body of work. In the interview below, Road spills the beans on how the project is going and the process and materials she’s using. She also shares the stories of how her spirituality emerged from her Cuban-Catholic roots, the intersections of her QPOC identity with a reclamation of witchcraft, and what it’s like to get a tarot reading from Michelle Tea.
Hey Cristy! Can you tell us a little about how you got into tarot?
I first heard about it from watching Walter Mercado on TV when I was a kid. I was also always into spirituality, but as a complicated thing that included the human connection to nature and outer space and death. I was always into learning about the science of ether and sort of reclaiming the magic in what humans call “paranormal.” I really believe in maintaining ties with the dead.
I started getting Tarot readings around 2002, when I was about 20. I eventually realized they were these magical things that helped me differentiate anxiety from intuition. Grasping my intuition is a big deal. Tarot also helped me connect to the spirit world. I think my favorite tarot readings have been from amazing strong witches who have known the names of my deceased relatives. I think divination has offered a lot of healing and closure, and understanding, or acceptance, of life changes that seem like “curses” and “miracles” and “coincidences.” I grew up Catholic and my family is Cuban, so as isolating as certain aspects of Catholicism felt, I found it super important to maintain deep ties with my ancestors and my culture through spiritual practices and rituals.
I think a lot of time has passed since first discovering the Tarot, and I’ve definitely grown up and connected with the spiritual parts of my culture in a deeper way, so Tarot has this new sculpted significance in my life. I love reading people’s Tarot — its healing in this rad unsuspected mutual way. I used to read my own a lot and it was horrifying and really unhealthy (lol). If I do that now, its usually really rare and sacred. I think the truth that has been exchanged between me and so many people through Tarot has really solidified my interpretation of it as a powerful tool.
You’ve mentioned Michelle Tea giving you some great readings whilst you were touring with Sister Spit — I’d love to hear a bit more about that experience if you’re happy to share?
Michelle Tea did get me deeply into Tarot, both because she was a reader herself, and also because she urged me to pursue my artwork in a totally different way than I ever had. I always took it seriously, but I also built a lot of walls (for valid reasons about patriarchy and racism in media and publishing). She kind of taught me to take down those walls and allow myself to grow, while also knowing that I always have a choice, because its my vision and my artistic goals and mine alone. Pairing that life revelation with a tour full of Tarot readings, queer witches (for the first time), and beautiful scenery, I was really inspired and pushed to illustrate a deck of my own.
Michelle’s style of reading Tarot is super chill and welcoming, like friendship and therapy mixed into a monologue. She definitely inspired my way of reading, where I don’t describe it card by card; I just give this giant diagnosis and the cards appear and reappear in mention throughout the reading. Before that, all the Tarot readings I had received were definitely awesome, some were more casual than others, but I was definitely intimidated, like this higher being carried a spiritual connection that I could not understand. I think it took a lot of my own growing up/bettering my mental health, to really give a crap about my higher self.
Creating a tarot deck is such a great project for someone who is already an artist or illustrator — you get to depict your own ideas about each card and contribute to an incredible body of artistic work with a rich history. What was the main reason you personally wanted to create a tarot deck?
Well, I’ve been writing and illustrating a big project (zine or novel) since 1997, and this has definitely progressed into my next big focus. The project took a lot of stages, but now its definitely my big scary baby. I’m just proud and excited to bring these into the world. I think these are magical rare tools that people can easily learn how to use and share (readings and knowledge). Sure, it involves a lot of study, self learning or receiving readings, learning multiple card definitions, giving readings without embarrassment for referencing your favorite guide… Hell, there are decks I strictly learn the definitions for because they are so unique, and I never reference other decks! Specifically The Collective Tarot, and The Tarot of The Cat People.
But even then, since the Tarot does have such an overlapping history, it can be safe to intuitively know what outside information to include when you give a reading; information that comes from other sources and other decks – not just the deck you’re reading from. Aside from bringing another deck to the world, I’m excited to create a deck that illustrates a blend of mind and body outcasts. The deck originated as a “Queer Deck,” so being generally non-normative as far as gender representation is a huge part of it; but its definitely grown since that. I want to focus on people’s cultural and subcultural backgrounds, I want to blur fundamentalist spirituality, but maintain a lot of the traditional concepts behind the images.
I’m about to complete the last 60 cards, and I think they will each take individual turns. I’m always inspired by the people who model for me, and they influence the outcome of the card as much as the traditional meaning does.
It must also be kinda overwhelming to begin the project of creating 78 works of art based on a specific tradition. Can you tell us about the challenges you’re facing and how you’re getting through?
To be honest, the only challenge has been sustaining the project, as far as resources and time: How would this be printed? Are publishers interested in a Tarot deck that is about defying the race, gender, and image representation of white, heteronormative mainstream media? And not because it’s a selling angle, but because this is my life and my spirituality and this is my art? AND are publishers even interested in printing card decks? Do I just not know how to write grant proposals or are arts foundations just not interested in something as common as a Tarot Deck? I wasn’t going to change my project, I was just going to figure out other avenues. When I first decided to take this on around 2009-2010, I was working a bit with Michelle Tea, but even then, publishers just weren’t looking for this. As time has passed and we’ve parted ways on this project, I’ve seen SO MUCH horrible things happen in publishing. This is my sacred divination tool, you know? I don’t want it to get wrapped up in careless marketing schemes. I want to do whatever I want.
On that note, however, I LOVE contributing to this historical tradition! I don’t find many painful constraints as far as art, at all. I can represent each card with my vision and meaning, and each cards intention doesn’t have be as harsh or, say, gendered, as it appears in a lot of decks. The intense ambiguous past of the Tarot is amazing. There is undeclared origins all over the world, and its one of the few universal tools that has both been cherished and re-written to accommodate so many spiritualities. I love tradition (Moon in Cancer), and it even shows through how I write punk music and how I nurture classical themes in my art, whether or not my characters look like Normal Rockwell’s.
How do the tarot card illustrations tie in with your other work in the punk/DIY/queer scenes, social justice activism – and your own experiences as a QPOC?
I think that Tarot (and other kinds of magic) have been a powerful tool for a lot of marginalized communities; even ones who reject religion growing up. There is a deep complicated (and under-documented) history of sexism and racism affecting ALL religion and spirituality — so much ranging between to the ban of Yoruba spirituality in Caribbean slave communities; to the Salem witch trials, to the general ban in queerness in right-wing Christianity. People have been fighting to access and protect their connections to magic for CENTURIES!
I think that angry queer punks have been fighting too, whether or not we grew up wearing “no gods/no masters” back patches; some of us want to claim the earth we walk on, and the celestial bodies that affect us; we want to feel protected from the spirits of our dead. And that doesn’t have to do anything with fundamentalist Christianity. It has to do with traditions and ideologies that we deserve to uphold, that were often created by women or extinct indigenous societies. I think a lot of punks and queers and activists KNOW what capitalism and colonialism did — it clouded the raw, clear human connection to the universe with oppressive religious values that centered around white supremacy and class war. I definitely understand that not all punks are going to believe that Malachite and Rose Quartz have special healing powers, or even that astrology has validity; but I do understand that there is a large number of people who have connected to their culture and their gender and their mental health through accessing magic. Plus, I never deny anyone a Tarot reading, so all the haters are welcome to try me :)
Your cards are so punk and grotesque with slimy organs and guts, piles of litter, all the dirt and decay of everyday life — the same stuff that characterises your other illustrative work. It’s beautiful, sexy, sometimes violent, often deeply loving, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Can you tell us a bit about why you choose that style for your work, what it all represents to you?
I think for this project (and maybe my last book, Spit and Passion) I’ve been able to mix a lot of my more serious portrait or decorative work (like my work for Incite! National and The Icarus Project) with my more grimy punk work (like my slimy pizza for Lipstick Homicide). I’m starting a series of Queer Punks of Color called “Sobrevivir” that has that same vibe of decorative floral aspects, slimy weird aspects, but the focus is on a detailed figure in a classical pose. As much as I know I want to grow with this project in that direction (because I want to pay respect to the people Im drawing); I think including my personal artistic style and interests is really important in such a big project like this.
I know some of my personal vision (and worldview) ends up looking slimy and jarring to some; but it’s more about truth for me, rather than shock. I think when the goal is shock, stuff ends up being offensive towards a certain demographic of people. I’m just punk and find beauty in all the slime everywhere..… It’s all over the sidewalk! Sometimes it’s not even grime, its ocean slime or dirt. Sometimes it’s just ketchup dripping off your sandwich because you’re imperfect and it makes you look wonderful. I think drawing that kind of stuff “empowers” me in a unique way. I adapted the TMI sense of surfaces and bodily expressions when I was way young. I loved work by John Kricfalusi and Coop — disturbed, sexual, bathroom humor. I think as a 9 year old girl, I felt really empowered owning this love, and it’s hardly waned. I just wanted to mix the slimy boogers with feminism and witch craft to see what happens. (I’m a Gemini/Gemini Rising if that means anything to anyone).
So how is the project coming along — where are you up to and do you have any idea when the deck might be complete?
I hope to be done in a year! This project has been such a long journey, I’ve probably tossed about 10 cards and am re-drawing them for a bunch of different reasons. Right now, I have 15 completed cards (some need a few additions).
During this process I’ve gotten into so many new aesthetic things: creating detailed backgrounds, being less conservative about non-traditional accents, and my discovery of GELLY ROLL PENS, which happened a few years ago. They really work awesome with my micron pens, various brand art markers (some of them don’t get along), and white out/acrylic paint for backgrounds. White out (and planning) is what I used for highlights for a long time; but ever since the discovery of GELLY ROLLS, I’ve been able to create the fine lines of my dreams. I could do this digitally, just not quite exactly how I wanted.
Materials aren’t all that’s changed however; I think my mental stability changed due to healing from a difficult time period. Now, my eagerness to educate through art and complete this project could finally happen WHILE taking care of myself (as opposed to being a sad burnt out activist witch). I really don’t want to put negative energy into creating this. I’ve pressured a lot of projects in the past — I finished Spit and Passion by a certain date I set for myself and that date coincided with a lot of difficult surprises. There’s been plenty of difficult surprises in the last two years; but I’ve had a different hold of myself and my work. I’ve been able to use this project as an outlet for the difficult things that pop up — death of friends and family, police violence, members of our communities causing harm to one another, and more. I’ve also been able to use this project to archive different people’s personal triumphs and healing, through their individual cards that are partly based on their own lives.
Like I said earlier, finding a publisher, or any other kind of funding, has been incredibly difficult. So, after becoming more educated on the state of publishing (and their needs), I realized that I should attempt my first Kickstarter campaign for Next World Tarot. It will double as a general campaign with rewards, but I’m offering pre-orders of the Tarot Deck as well. If I reach the goal, I will be able to fund and self-publish the first run of either 500 or 1000 decks (campaign permitting). I will also be able to fund printing reward posters, and shipping cost. I’ll also be able to afford time from my other jobs, and lastly, materials – to finish the remaining 60 within the next year.
Last question: do you have a favourite card so far?
I can’t really say as far as my illustrations! It changes every week. I have had either friendships or powerful encounters with most of the people I’ve drawn (and will be drawing). There are a few I’m planning that I hope to memorialize a few friends who left us this year, that I’m really excited to work on. But as far as the Tarot itself, I guess I love The Knight of Swords and The High Priestess. The High Priestess is so powerful and able to contain her magic without self-destructing. I admire that. I’m more like The Knight of Swords — so stoked to fuck shit up in the name of justice.
Cristy C. Road is a Cuban-American Artist and Writer. Blending her political principles, sexual and cultural identity, queer counterculture, and social inadequacies – Road strives to testify the beauty of the imperfect. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY with her cat Miss Chippy. Visit her website and shop at croadcore.org, and support the creation of the Next World Tarot over on Kickstarter!