Award-winning fine artist Craig Coss, who lives in Petaluma, had hopes of illustrating tarot cards for years. Yet, nowhere in his wildest dreams did he imagine his first deck would be the official set for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” TV series.
It all started with a phone call from Michael Morris, art director for the publishing company Chronicle Books, who asked Coss if he was interested. He had taken notice of Coss’ “The Goddess Coloring Book: Traditional Images to Contemplate & Color” from his website.
A storyteller with a master’s degree in visual narrative, Coss, 47, remembers at age 10 when his dad bought him a tarot card deck for a buck at a garage sale. He thought his son would like them, but neither of them knew what they were.
“I felt like I was looking into little mirrors that reflect different parts of myself,” recalled Coss. “I appreciated them before I even knew what they were used for.”
Originally from the mid-15th century in parts of Europe, the tarot is traditionally a pack of 78 playing cards for games, and later on, fortune telling. Coss combined the use of hand water-coloring and digital editing to depict striking imagery captured from the series.
Anybody who illustrates a deck is taking on at least a year’s worth of work. For Coss, it also meant watching the first six seasons of “Game of Thrones” at least three times. He searched for the perfect “Easter eggs” — hidden messages — to hide in each card, so only a few could notice them.
“It may take people years to figure out all the nuances and allusions in these cards,” said Coss. “They’re going to have to understand the series like I’m seeing it.”
Along with author Liz Dean, who lives in England, the two spent many hours on Skype hashing out the “pairings” of each traditional card with key elements of the show. Coss told Chronicle Books there were five audiences he’s making the deck for.
First, those who don’t know either medium, but can appreciate the art. Second, for tarot card readers who haven’t seen the series. Third, “Thrones” fans who don’t know anything about tarot cards. Fourth, those who only had small impressions of the show.
“The hardest audience, the toughest critics,” said Coss, “are the ones who know both the tarot and ‘Game of Thrones,’ inside and out. I needed to ring a bell with that audience.”
Each card has to have all kind of symbols because there might be a primary meaning, but what if a card reader gets stuck trying to understand it? Coss reiterated the necessity to have little backup meanings for them to draw from, and one card, in particular, this works well.
Conveying someone like fan favorite Tyrion Lannister, being surrounded by a dragon in his interpretation of “The Fool” card, invokes a wealth of meanings, character arc, transformation and flaws, that only those truly invested in the series will understand.
“When a task appears to be impossible,” said Coss, “but I have an intuitive hunch that — with enough work and inspiration — it might be possible to pull off, I get really excited.”
He had to comb through the series. Coss wasn’t sure if this idea could be done, but he loved the challenge and puzzle of it. Before presenting the art direction, he decided to watch the entire series in a week and a half, to determine whether it could work or not.