Carnivale Tarot - Published by Home Box Office (HBO); Designed by Orange Velvet Design Studio 

Review by Kimberly Fordham 


Hurry, hurry, step right up! You won’t believe your very eyes! That’s right folks, I’m about to show you an unremarkable tarot deck that sells for astronomical prices ($50-$350) on eBay.  The deck is a limited edition item issued to promote HBO’s mini-series, “Carnivale”.  It was briefly available in HBO’s online store for $14.95, which was, thankfully, the maximum amount of my investment.


Some background on the show is appropriate here.  The mini-series consists of twelve weekly episodes, and is set in 1934. “Carnivale” follows a traveling carnival as it winds its way across the heartland of America. The two main protagonists are a young man with the talent to heal through touch and an evangelist who faces a crisis of faith. They represent, naturally, Light and Darkness, and they will play out their ultimate battle against the backdrop of the Great Depression.  Although the conflict between Good and Evil is not a new theme, the show itself is well staged and original, and the casting is excellent. I thoroughly enjoy the show, which is what motivated me to purchase the Carnivale Tarot in the first place.


The letdown was swift and hard.  The Carnivale Tarot bears no resemblance or relation to either the characters or the story itself. The Majors are an uninspired rendering of carnival masks, mostly white on a black background. The Minors are equally disappointing pip cards with more token masks. To be fair, I’m not normally a fan of pip cards, particularly in modern decks, because I often find that all the creative energy went into the Majors, and the Minors were just slapped together as an afterthought…, why not just do a Majors-only deck?  In Carnivale’s case, the entire deck seems to be an afterthought. 


When I tuned in to the first episode, I was delighted to see the opening montage of what appear to be tarot cards collaged out of classic art…now that, I thought, is an interesting tarot deck! However, the cards appear nowhere in the story, with the exception of the opening credits. Here’s where it gets quirky.  The deck that is used in the show is the standard Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), with French titles.  The Carnivale Tarot itself never makes an appearance.  Never one to sit quietly in the audience, this “mark” (carny lingo for “victim”) decided to get to the bottom of the matter, and contacted HBO Customer Support.  I received a very genial, if unenlightening, response:


“Alas, the Carnivale Tarot Cards are not the ones from the series, they were designed to have the Carnivale logo on the back and the images were designed just for this deck…..We really don’t know why they didn’t make the deck from the show available for retail sale, but now that you’ve asked, we’re all curious and looking into it.”


I’m not holding my breath for an update, but you can be certain I’ll pass on whatever information may chance my way.


The deck comes packaged in the standard flip top box.  There’s a little white booklet (LWB), but it was apparently cut just slightly too large to fit in the box and is therefore provided separately. It, too, is unremarkable. Think “fortune teller” meanings, and you’ve got the gist.


My suggestion is, if you should happen across the Carnivale Tarot at a bargain basement price, go ahead and snap it up. It is a limited edition, and therefore of some value to collectors, despite the unprepossessing design. But don’t be a “rube” (carny lingo for an unsophisticated, gullible person) and even consider paying the outrageous asking prices on eBay!


See more Carnivale card samples here.


Endnote: The reviewer was contacted by Orange Velvet Design Studios, who created the Carnivale Tarot. She has added the following as a supplement to her review--DW


Supplement to the Review of Carnivale Tarot


This supplement is being provided as a result of my recent contact with the owners of Orange Velvet Design Studios (OVDS), the company hired by HBO to put together the Carnivale Tarot.  OVDS was able to provide clarification and insight into the events that led to the creation of the Carnivale Tarot, which, in all fairness, deserves to be shared.


OVDS was tasked with creating the artwork and getting all 78 cards to the printer within 48 hours. They were told that the decks would be given away as promotional items and would not be offered for sale.


“You were correct when you said it seemed like an afterthought, because it was on HBO’s part! We had no information about the show, not even the logo.  So that may explain why the cards don’t “match” the show. The “uninspired” cards as you say came as a result of a 20 minute brainstorming session and then a day and a half of computer illustration. If we had more time, we would have loved to actually put thought and care into the project, but when you have no time to solve a problem, you get what you get!”


To add insult to injury, OVDS informs me that they were never paid for their effort.  


My review of the Carnivale Tarot was based on the deck’s appeal to tarot enthusiasts and collectors, and should in no way be taken as a reflection of the capabilities of OVDS.  I applaud them for taking on an ambitious project with an impossible deadline, and I encourage you to visit their website.  -- Kimberly Fordham


Kimberly Gibbs Fordham (also known as Kimber) has been fascinated with the tarot for the past 30 years. She has done readings and taught classes on Tarot, Wicca, and Astrology at Escape into Reality in South Windsor, CT. She also has a lifelong passion for Tudor and Stuart British history and renaissance faires (check out Kimberly now resides in Dallas, TX and is currently working on her second tarot deck.

Review © 2003 Kimberly Fordham
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes