Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 21 January 2011

fortes fortuna adiuvat

H - In this week's post, we're going to look at some of the characters in our graphic novel through the tarot pack used by one of those characters, a fortune teller named Glady. But first, I just want to say: Wow, Rex! At the end of last month we talked about creating a tarot deck, and you have just arrived with a complete set of John Barleycorn Major Arcana! And they look amazing, they really do. 
R - Thank you.
H - No, thank you. Let’s begin by talking a little about the tarot pack that you modeled our tarot on. It’s a little different than the conventional tarot, isn’t it?
R - It’s the Vandenborre Bacchus Tarot, which was first published in the 18th century. The original cards were wood block prints and coloured stencils. The cards are in a different sequence and have some different characters than other tarot; for example, card number 5 is Bacchus, the Roman god of grape-growling and wine.
H - That’s interesting.
R - There’s even a Commedia dell'Arte character in this deck, Captain Fracasse. Do you recognise that character?
H - No, because there are lots of Capitanos in Commedia...but it’s fantastic that we have a Commedia character in our deck! 
R - Well actually, Howard, we don’t. In the Bacchus deck, Captain Fracasse was a replacement for the Hierophant, and I decided that the Hierophant was a more appropriate archetype for our John Barleycorn deck.
H - Oh....

John Barleycorn - The Magician.
H - The first card is Le Bateleux, which is the magician. Why did you decide that John Barleycorn should be represented by this card?
R – It was the obvious choice since John is a magician in our story, and our principle character, hence he is number one.
H - Yes, the character correlates rather well with the traditional magician archetype: clever, witty, inventive, and in control of the elements. Like Mercury in Roman myth, he is a traveller between the world of the material and the mundus imaginalis, the realm of the imagination.

The Thirteenth Conjurer - The Hierophant.
H - The Thirteenth Conjurer, another character in our book, is also a magician, in a way. He is 180 years old, and the head of the Kingdom. Readers of this blog will have seen him in our first post as the old man in the Prologue. You have given him the attributes of the Hierophant archetype, rather than using the Captain card! Why?
R - Well, the Thirteenth Conjurer is a very old man, and hardly Captain material. He has gained his power by intellectual means. He dwells at the seat of learning and is the reader of books.
H - Fair enough! In representing the Kingdom, the Thirteenth Conjurer represents old dogma, old ways of doing things, too.
R - That’s right.
H - He is also a rather nasty piece of work!
Sophia - The Empress.
H - Sophia is a mysterious character who comes into John’s office to charge him with the discovery of an ancient artifact. You've made her the Empress.
R - She would have been the High Priestess in another deck, but there wasn't one in the deck I've based ours on, so the Empress was the closest equivalent.
H - But actually that makes sense, since this character also becomes a love interest in the story, doesn’t she? So she embodies the archetype of Venus, which relates to the Empress.
R – Yes.
        H -  If you recall, we had the notion that the deck the fortune teller, Glady, uses in the story is actually a magical one. The images change, transforming for each individual reading, each individual client. Glady's deck not only gives information about people who affect the client in the material world, but also in the realm of the mundus imaginalis.
 R - That's going to be quite tough to illustrate, Howard!
H – Well, at this stage it's just an idea, and it may not turn out to be a practical one. But what I am imagining is each card being laid down, and then a spinning sequence of images--kind of like a fruit machine--which then settles down into the correct image for the reading. 
The Toll Keeper - The Emperor.
H – Here we have the Toll Keeper, who is equivalent to the Emperor.
R - I gave this beggar-like figure the role of the Emperor because I thought it would be fun to subvert the tarot a little. I was being ironic. 
H – The character is a beggar John meets in the mundus, but he is also the gatekeeper whom John needs to pay in order to cross into a different realm. 
R - So he is a character with a lot of power, really.
H - Yes. And since our tarot deck is specific to John’s story, I quite like the fact that our Emperor is a beggar. It makes me think of stories like The Prince and the Pauper.
R - Exactly what I had in mind.
H - Really?
R - YES!
H - Really?
R - What are you, the Thought Police now?
Reeve - Bacchus.
H – Here we see Reeve as Bacchus. Reeve is a martial arts expert, and a good friend of John's. They go back a long way. John employs him on occasion as a body guard when the action starts to hot up. For the character of Reeve, the archetype of Bacchus is great, as he, like the Roman god, is a bit of a hedonist, a bit of a scoundrel. 
R - Yes, Reeve has devoted his life to the pursuit of the ecstatic.
H - He reminds me of the tales of Taoist masters, some of whom go to the mountains to sit, meditate, and pray, while others are more likely to be found slumped in a drunken stupor in the corner of a bar, and yet are still revered by their followers.
R - Give me the latter any time!
H - When we started to create Reeve’s back story, we enjoyed the character so much that we had ideas for a spin-off comic where he would be the central character: a rather subversive globe-trotting anarchist!
R - I really like this character.
H – Hmmm, Rex, I wonder why? 
R - Since I’ve finished drawing all the Major Arcana of our deck, perhaps we could post two cards a week down the side of our blog?
H - Maybe.
R - Maybe? That’s very noncommittal. Surely you’re not still annoyed about me replacing the Captain, are you?
H - Don’t call me Shirley....

Don't miss next week's post:
Around the Table with...David Wyatt.


  1. "Grape-growling," what a great word.

  2. So I'm guessing Capitano Fracasse likes to get involved in the odd...fracas?! I have fond memories of studying Commedia (just touched on it as part of a theatre course) at uni, lots of fun! This is really looking amazing, I love this tarot idea.