Belfast-based designer Michael Eaton had been a fan of King Khan’s for years before sending an email offering his design services. From time to time, Eaton would send messages to bands he admired hoping to design their album artwork–but the response he received from the Canadian rock musician was unexpected. “He wrote back saying he had a project he’d wanted to do for years and he thought I could try it,” Eaton writes in an email.
That project turned out to be designing the Black Power tarot cards, a joint project between King Khan and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the avant-garde filmmaker best known for films El Topo and The Holy Mountain (not to mention a fantastical, over-the-top version of Dune that unfortunately never made it to screen). Based on the standard Tarot De Marseille cards, the black power deck subs in black activists, comedians, musicians and other important public figures for the twenty-two “trump” cards in the deck.
Under King Khan’s art direction and Eaton’s hand, “The Fool,” for example, transforms into a forlorn looking Richard Pryor lugging a standing microphone, “The Force” becomes Tina Turner (and Ike the lion she’s taming) and Sun Ra is–what else–“The Sun” card.
“[King Khan] does [tarot] readings quite regularly so he was really into it and specific about what everything should look like,” Eaton says. “Which was good as I had no idea about the tarot, I just sort of knew it was a thing. He sent me some info and a really great list of musicians and activists he’d compiled, and I started making them.” Khan–who takes tarot cards on tour with him and does readings for everyone from The Black Lips to Lindsay Lohan–wanted to sell the cards at his shows. As Khan’s friends and tarot teacher, Jodorosky came onto the project to oversee the production of the deck, giving the final approval for the design and the list of people featured.
Eaton’s version of the tarot cards are more brightly-colored and have bolder lines, but otherwise the designer followed the traditional cards almost down to a tee. “I used the Tarot de Marseille as reference, so I would kind of roughly draw a human doing whatever pose is on the real card,” Eaton says. “I didn’t realize but it’s really specific, even down to what way their eyes are looking. So it was matched quite close [to the original cards]. Then I would look at images of the person in question and try and adapt an iconic version of them into the medieval woodcut style of the card.”
By highlighting various notable black figures throughout history, but not titling the cards with their names, the black power deck aims to get people to discover–or re-discover–these musicians and public figures themselves. The notable figures featured are recognizable only by their features and their trademarks, like Richard Pryor’s red suit or Little Richard’s piano keys. “We deliberately haven’t released the names, so it’s good theres a mystery about some of the cards and you don’t know who they are,” says Eaton, who also learned some new names in the process of creating the deck. “It’s also a good way to make your record collection better.”
The Black Power Tarot cards are available for $40.04 on Eaton’s Etsy shop.