It has been said that I occasionally take my ribbing of Bicycle Playing Cards too far in my capacity as “card guy,” here at Genii Online. Indeed, there has been some suggestion that I relish opportunities to rubbish the brand and its propensity for ugly skeleton decks. This is of course absolutely true, and my disdain is supported by none other John Northern Hilliard, newspaper man, amateur magician, and author of the well regarded treatise on the art, Greater Magic. As discovered by magician and scholar, Lee Asher:
Take 3 minutes to read this passage from our beloved text 'Greater Magic' (1938). While the topic is about secrets of fan-making, its really Hilliard's thoughts & opinions on the quality of #Playingcards for #cardistry #flourishing. Dude dislikes slovenliness & Tally Ho's! ??? pic.twitter.com/OqlQSdc3NQ
— Lee Asher (@LeeAsherMagic) June 26, 2018
Hilliard had little time for what is now the most ubiquitous brand of playing cards in the world, simply stating that they, “vary in quality.” In fact, he seems to be a bit of a downer on cards in general. He apparently wasn’t a fan of two other well regarded brands, Bee and Tally Ho. I imagine he might find it funny that all three of those brands are now manufactured by the same company, The United States Playing Card Company. Hilliard’s opinions on Tally Ho’s might not have aged well – a small army of professional prestidigitators swear by the brand – but we can perhaps all agree on one thing: That I am right about Bicycles.
But Greater Magic was published in 1938, surely Bicycles have changed since then? That’s true, they have. They feature a lot more skeletons these days.
Finally, a product that combines my first love, sequential art (comics to you plebeians), with my latest infatuation, playing card decks.
Launched off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011, Magicians Must Die is series of decks that serve as short comic books. Created by card manipulator De’vo Vom Schattenreich and artist Jay Peteranetz the decks follow the story of card manipulator, D, as he tries to rescue his sister from evil, child-kidnapping magicians. The comic itself looks like one of those exploitative, Euro books that toes the line between outright stupidity and tongue-in-cheek goofiness. I don’t think it’ll be winning any Eisners any time soon, but it’s the medium rather than the message that caught my eye here.
While the decks clearly don’t work as playing cards – the comic is printed on the back, making them useless for most tricks and games – they do make surprisingly good comic books. The cards are printed by USPCC, and while I occasionally find myself at odds with the company’s apparent love for garish skeleton decks, their printing process is great at producing the bright colors and deep blacks good comic art needs.
While Peteranetz’s art style translated well, he did have to reconsider his approach to page layouts, given that the audience would be reading the comic card by card rather than page by page. As he told CBR back in 2016:
Unlike turning the page of a comic, and getting that entire “thought” in a quick glance, with “Magicians Must Die” you slowly reveal each beat of the story as you lay the cards out. When laying out the cards, you may only get to see the top half of a panel before the panel is completed when the next row of cards is laid out. So I needed to carefully consider the necessary information on the top row of a “thought,” then complete and enhance that with the bottom row. I think I really figured that out with issue #2. You can read the comic by laying out every other row, but the secondary rows really fill out the story and give context to the action.
The first Magicians Must Die #1 was launched in 2012, and its initial 2500 unit printing sold out in just days. The deck, and all subsequent “issues,” have since been reprinted and can be picked up from some select magic supply sites; check the last issue’s Kickstarter for more information.
If, like me, you always feel a pang of guilt whenever you spend your hard-earned money on something as frivolous as a fancy deck of playing cards (I love them, but it’s true), then Theory11 has just the thing for you: a deck that looks good, handles well, and makes you feel like a better person.
It could also save lives. If you’re into that kind of thing.
ALL of the proceeds from sales of the charity: water deck go to a non-profit charity that, conveniently, is also called charity: water. The charity partners up with local companies and communities to provide access to clean water to people in need around the world. One in ten people today lacks access to clean water, and thousands of people, nearly half of them children, die every day from waterborne diseases. charity: water works to prevent that. The charity has a four star rating on Charity Navigator, with a perfect score on accountability and transparency.
Like the water it namesake looks to provide, the charity: water deck is clean and minimalist. The backs feature a dense arrangement of the charity’s water can logo in white and a beautiful light blue. The fronts are standard, and the tuck box is a very regal affair, decked as it is in royal blue. The decks are also environmentally friendly, as they’re produced using recycled paper in presses powered by hydroelectric power or other renewable energy sources.
Chris Ramsay may no longer be doing straight-up magic tutorials, but he’s still putting out some very useful guides to promoting oneself in the age of social media. His guide to getting good promotional photographs should be mandatory viewing for everyone in the industry (and I mean everyone; you cannot imagine how many top tier magicians hit us up with promo shots that look like they’re extracts from an FBI watchlist). In his latest video, he and magician and photographer Alex Pandrea wander around yet another island paradise, doling out solid advice on how to take good shots of playing cards.
This guide contains far more practical advice than his promo shot one, and while it’s likely nothing new to anyone who’s taken a photography class at some point in their life, the quick summaries of composition, lighting, and colour-theory will definitely improve your card snaps. Considering every magician and their mum has their own branded cardistry decks vying for cash on Kickstarter these days, it’s very useful guide indeed.
Today’s dose of magical voyeurism is the latest installment of the Card Gear column from Kardify. The feature profiles some playing card professional from around the world and asks them what tools and gadgets comprise their daily work kit.
The feature’s subject for the month of April is Sherman Tsao. He’s the founder of Carat Case Creations, a company specializing in storing and displaying card collections. He currently lives in Shanghai, China and is still an avid playing card obsessive.
On the mobile side, Tsao is packing an iPad Pro 9.7 inch and an iPhone 5S. But not all of his creative work happens digitally; he’s also got a notepad of graph paper and a few swank-looking writing utensils in his daily kit.
Right now, he’s also carrying two decks: the Gold Monarch Planks by Ben Kolozsi and the Draconian Spitfire deck. “The Draconian backs are so mesmerizing and has been one of my favorites ever since I started collecting,” he told Kardify. The Alstad Goods wallet from Dan & Dave that’s holding the other deck looks pretty mesmerizing in its own leather-bound way.
Finally, for a touch of the piratical, Tsao has Chris Odvijenko’s Davey Jones’ Locker Hobo Coin. “This has replaced Chris’ Morgan Dollar Hobo Coin as my favorite fiddle coin,” he said.
Read the whole column here.
NDO’s Broken Borders is one of those weird cardistry decks that makes perfect sense once you see it in motion.
The backs are striking, featuring a garish, black and yellow “physical danger” stripe motif. The black stripes occasionally run right to the bleed, overriding the white borders and visually dissecting the cards in the right light. The same design is carried over to the fronts. The top right and bottom left borders of each card has the same striped pattern, giving the impression of an unbroken line running through the standard royals and pips.
It’s clear from the Ace of Spades, the only card in the deck I’d say is traditionally aesthetically pleasing, that Broken Borders could have been a far more coherent deck with a few design tweaks, but that contrast is kind of the point. The traditional royals clash with the industrial design of the stripes, as does the negative space between the pips.
The deck was apparently inspired by the “industrial motifs of modern urban life,” and Broken Borders actually carries that theme very well. Just look at the kings. What’s more thoroughly urban than a man in his finery flanked by the colors and shapes of industry?
In motion, the deck is vivid and powerful. The stripes turn into sharp diamonds as the cards are fanned and the contrast between the fronts and the backs makes flips look great.
A deck of Broken Borders will run you $13 plus shipping.
There are some very talented webcomic artists out there, folks, and I’d really like to work with one someday. Perhaps an artist like Scott Johnson, who has been plugging away at his comic Extra Life since 2001. He’s also responsible for, like, a billion podcasts, and he runs his own illustration and audio production company, Frogpants Studios.
As if that isn’t enough, he’s now muscling into the playing cards scene with his first deck, “Custom Playing Cards.“
So he’ll have to work on the name, obviously, but the designs and samples he’s shown thus far make it look like the deck is going to be a nice little collector’s item for fans of his expressive cartoon style.
This is Johnson’s take on a traditional deck, with custom, hand-drawn artwork across the board, from the jaunty off-kilter pips to the goofy royals and bulging aces. There’s not a lot of tertiary design to muddle the art work, just simple backgrounds and indices that let Johnson’s expressive characters take center stage. The card backs are similarly custom.
A veteran of the Kickstarting process, Johnson has thrown a lot of stretch goal and extras into the mix to entice backers. Some reward tiers offer custom character artwork, a customized joker, a pint glass, a T-shirt, uncut sheets, and alternate face cards. The stretch goals include completely new variants of the deck, extra cards, and the like.
Johnson’s campaign is looking for $10,000 and ends on May 16th. Decks start at $15 plus shipping. As always, remember that backing a Kickstarter project is not a pre-order, and may not be indicative of the final product.
Chris Ramsay’s 1st playing cards are finally finished and will be making their way into punters’ hands in the coming month, but is the deck worth the wait? Yes, according to Chris Ramsay, who, I am reliably informed, is completely trustworthy and unbiased.
It’s quite amazing that Ramsay has managed to create a deck that is completely without flaws* and manages to be bold, subtle and boldly subtle*. It looks great, fans incredibly well, and has at least three different parts that Ramsay refers to as his “favourite.”
In fact, Chris Ramsay’s 1st Playing Cards appear to be Chris Ramsay’s favourite playing cards, an amazing feat given that this is Chris Ramsay’s first solo foray into deck design.
For what my non-Ramsayian opinion is worth. I think 1st looks great. There’s contrast between the muted back design and the splash of gold foil. The comparison to Louis Vuitton’s famous monogram pattern is spot on, and there’s been just enough work done on those royals to assuage my usual give-me-custom-or-give-me-death orneriness. It’s a shame there’s only one run of these beauties, though Ramsay did imply a marked version might be in the cards, so to speak.
* One out of one Chris Ramsays agree.
Daniel Madison really owns his dark and stormy punk persona, which is probably why so many of his fans were amused when he shared an image of his Madison Rounders cards in a bright, Pepto-Bismol pink. While the photo was meant as an April Fool’s joke, apparently it struck a chord with the magic creator. Now the Pink Madison Rounders are real and you can buy them at Ellusionist.
“In a black-and-white world, every now and then, it’s good to have a little splash of pink,” Madison said.
The cards are printed on crushed stock from the United States Playing Card Co. The tuck case is pink with the old Madison logo, and the card backs sport the same design. The only card face Ellusionist shows in the photos is of the Joker, featuring a pink raven, but it seems like a safe bet that the look will be similar to the Madison Rounders in black. Just…pinker.
Now’s the time to move if you’re a fan of this particular desk. The Pink Madison Rounders will be the last addition to this line of playing cards. The deck is available at Ellusionist for $10.
The sound of a freshly-shuffled deck of cards is already music to my ears, but Sean Oulashin does us one better by turning that hypnotic sound into a whole song. Not only is Sean a cardist and magician (whose work you can catch over on his Instagram page @notseano), but he also fancies himself as a music producer. Recently, he combined his two loves in a new hip hop single he calls The Sound of Cards II, which was recently brought to our attention thanks to a post from Art of Play:
Sean took the shuffling, slapping, and flicking sounds from manipulating a deck of cards, recorded them, then hooked them up to a sequencer where he turned them into a catchy new rhythm. I’m not going to lie, I’ve already listened to the sample video above at least a half-dozen times. That sound of shuffling cards is already intoxicating; throw in a synthesizer and some room-throbbing bass and I’m hooked.
If you want to support Sean and pick up the full track, you can download an mp3 over at his website Idlehands for $1. You can check out his Instagram page here. And you can follow Art of Play over on Instagram too, for more curated videos like the one above.