Update & Addendum to My Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot Deck Review

This is an update and addendum to the review I did of Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot back in December of 2014.

A friend of mine alerted me to a fascinating thread going on over at Aeclectic, “‘Recycled’ art in Dame Darcy deck.” Worth reading through. It seems there are allegations of copying or at the very least hostile reactions toward the striking similarity between some of the imagery in Dame Darcy’s mermaids deck and the Tarot of Mermaids by Lo Scarabeo published back in 2003. So I took a look for myself. I’ve created easy side by side comparisons of selected cards from both decks so you can be the judge for yourself. I didn’t discover any of these similarities on my own. They all came from the discoveries noted on the Aeclectic thread, which again, definitely read.

DD Empress v ToM Fool
DD Empress vs ToM Fool

So this is the Empress versus the Fool from the two decks and there are clear differences, of course. But… fishy? Hmm…

On the left side of each image will be a cut from the Dame Darcy (DD) deck and on the right side will be the Tarot of Mermaids (ToM) deck, photos taken from various sources online, namely Lo Scarabeo’s site, Aeclectic, and Pinterest, because I don’t own the ToM myself. My knowledge of ToM’s existence is, at this point, only a couple hours old! Anyway, let’s continue.

Dame Darcy v Mermaid Tarot - Hierophant
DD Hierophant vs ToM Hierophant

It’s a tough call, the above, isn’t it? Both use iconic tarot-Hierophant-y imagery and it’s not a far stretch to say that that would be what even I might come up with if I had to draw a mermaid-inspired Hierophant card, right? So again. You get some bad vibes but you’re also not sure what’s going on exactly.

DD Hermit v ToM Hermit
DD Hermit vs ToM Hermit

Different, yes. But… oh boy. ::shifting uncomfortably in seat::

DD Temperance v ToM Temperance
DD Temperance vs ToM Temperance

Either the psychic connection through the collective unconscious, Akashic Records, anima mundi, or the Odin Force is strong in these two deck artists or…

DD Moon vs ToM Moon
DD Moon vs ToM Moon

Aw, come on! These are totally different! One features a full moon and the other a waxing! ::smirks glibly::

Again, I did not discover any of these on my own. These similarities between the two decks are all noted one by one by the good people of Aeclectic. I’m just consolidating their findings into one place for easy, direct comparison so that you can judge for yourself.

DD Sun vs ToM Sun
DD Sun vs ToM Sun

Again, different. One is a seahorse splashing along the surface of the ocean and the other is a horse with a fishtail splashing along the surface of the ocean. Like, seahorse not the same as horse-with-fishtail, okay?

DD Ten of Wands v ToM Ten of Wands
DD Ten of Wands vs ToM Ten of Wands

At this point I feel like I’m playing one of those childhood games of can-you-spot-the-differences on the backs of cereal boxes while I ate breakfast before school. The arrangement of oars that the mermaids in both card images is what gets me. Sure, if you asked me to draw a mermaid holding oars a la RWS Ten of Wands imagery, you know what? That is probably exactly what I would have drawn, too, and all my own without references (other than what I know of the RWS Ten of Wands). However, I’m not so sure I would have gotten the positioning of those oars that… um… precise with another person’s work of art. So yeah, like one of the commentators on that Aeclectic thread noted, it’s the positioning of the oars that gets me, too.

Dame Darcy v Mermaid Tarot - Ace of Cups
DD Ace of Cups vs ToM Ace of Cups

I might just give this one, the Ace of Cups a pass. Again, I see myself independently coming up with this idea for depicting a mermaid-seafolk-inspired tarot deck, too. It’s lovely, but not the most original idea ever. A hand holding a seashell up out from the waters with water spilling forth from said seashell to express the Ace of Cups. Yep. No one could have thought of that on their own.

Dame Darcy v Mermaid Tarot - Knight of Swords
DD Knight of Swords vs ToM Knight of Swords

Another tough call, but as you see one “tough call” after another, you certainly do start to get a sick, knotty feeling in the tummy.

DD Queen of Swords vs Unknown
DD Queen of Swords vs Unknown

An Aeclectic commentator shared the above. I couldn’t source the photograph on the right.

DD Nine of Swords v ToM Nine of Swords
DD Nine of Swords vs ToM Nine of Swords

Sigh. Yep. That about sums up how I feel right now.

Now, as familiar as I am with IP law, I am not in the practice of peddling legal opinions on blogs and forums, so let’s just talk about art and tarot deck creating ethics.

What I’ll say is this. In grade school and junior high art classes, art teachers always taught us to take images and photographs we liked from magazine pages, and then let that inspire our own art. That’s basically how most of us are taught art in school. To be inspired by what you see around you and capture it with your own free hand onto paper, whether that source of inspiration is 2-D or 3-D, has always been considered creative.

But to create a mermaid tarot deck inspired directly from a pre-existing mermaid tarot deck carries the scent of bad faith, and I think that’s where people start to shift uncomfortably in their seats. It’s.. oh gawd, I can’t help myself— it’s fishy. So in that sense, what this is really about is tarot deck creation ethics. There are a lot of things that the law allows that my mama taught me was morally wrong.

There is a difference, for me at least– and this goes back to ethics– between (1) being inspired by a fashion photo I see in a glossy and letting that inspire my own freehand sketch that I then repackage into a totally different context, like a tarot card image, which I then piecemeal with other symbols and ornamentation and (2) creating a tarot card image by tracing the outline of another tarot card image from a deck of similar if not exact themes and then filling it out with my own ornamentation, but then calling that my own original work, unabashedly doodling a copyright notice across my art.

This is where free thinking comes in handy, isn’t it? You have to decide for yourself where you draw the line, and what you’ll support and not support. You don’t need the legal opinion of some random goofball girl on the Internets who writes a tarot blog to tell you what is right and what is wrong.

32 thoughts on “Update & Addendum to My Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot Deck Review

  1. I read that chain of posts on Aeclectic and thought it was very unfair that one of the posters was bringing your name in to it specifically when plenty of people have reviewed and blogged about the deck and none of them spotted the similarities. I think your blog and reviews are great and I make my own mind up about what I want to buy 🙂

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    1. The forum moderator agreed and removed those posts with a slap on the wrist 😉

      Thankyou for the update and the side by sides Benebell. I had really wanted this deck but can’t bring myself to support it now. Here’s hoping the creator cottons on to the problem and creates a revised edition that’s a little more, ahem… original.

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    2. Hey Hels!

      Aw, I didn’t think it was unfair. In fact it’s a compliment that anyone even thought of me. But the reality is, I don’t think I had that much of an impact on the DD deck’s success. I myself heard of it from way-bigger-name folk singing the deck’s praises and I simply echoed those sentiments. It still is a really beautifully done tarot deck. DD’s art is lovely.

      Of course, I did not spot the similarities before. Not being a dolphins-and-mermaids fan by default, I didn’t know about the Tarot of Mermaids until that Aeclectic post, and what incredible sleuthing work on their part for shedding light on all this. (Actually, to be super precise and truthful, I probably knew about its existence but just never paid any attention to it and certainly didn’t come anywhere close to thinking about comparing the two decks with each other.)

      Thank you for your kind praise. ❤

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  2. Who can keep up??? Obviously the Aeclectic folks review decks all the time and therefore notice these uncomfortable similarities. Copying another’s artwork is not ok in my book but then I’m an artist! My instructors tell us to take our own photos for ‘reference’ if we are not working directly from a landscape/still life/figure. This very subject came up with another Tarot deck, which was copying/way to similar to Ciro Marchetti’s style/work. IMHO the artist should love the Tarot and be inspired by the meanings of the cards adding symbolism from Kabbalah or RWS or Thoth. That’s my 2 cents and I’m stickin’ to it. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have this deck as well, and I love the art. However, “borrowing” another persons work just isn’t cool. I am in no way an artist, but I do get the ethics. Thanks for your blog Benebell, again, fantastic work.

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  4. While DD does recreate the images with her own drawing style seeing how very similar the images are is quite disappointing. I agree with Scarlet’s comment above, it would be nice to see a revised edition that isn’t directly copying the layout of another deck’s imagery. For the queen of swords image above – based on some Google searches – it appears to be a cropped photo of the model Zuleika, © Pierre and Gilles, circa 1986. Thanks for the very thorough side by side comparison above. I’m a big fan of your work – totes love your Holistic Tarot book.

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  5. I’m actually in the process of creating a mermaid-themed Tarot deck myself at the moment, and have to say I am as completely flabbergasted and face-palmy as the next person over the similarities between these two decks! I’ve honestly worked extra-hard NOT to produce images that are similar to any other decks out there (apart from the symbolism that absolutely *has* to be there, and I’ve tried to take even that in completely unique directions wherever possible). When one is married to RW symbolism, it does become easy to fall into the pit of everything looking the same. (Not knocking Rider-Waite, mind you….it has a legacy that speaks for itself.) My first draft of this deck was heavily married to RW, and felt way too cookie cutter, which is how I wound up with the second draft that I’m working on now (and falling in love with, on the daily!). I had no idea there was another brand new mermaid deck coming out right now–shout out to the collective unconscious!–but mine is so drastically different from either of these that I can’t wait to unveil it to the world!

    Benebell: slightly unrelated gushing, but just want you to know: your little ebook business planner? Totally saving my business life! Thank you for that! You’re a ray of light in the world, my dear, and a brilliant one, to boot!

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  6. First, thanks for the updated review, Benebell.

    In a world filled with Waite/Smith inspired decks, not sure what the issue is here. The artwork style is completely different than the Lo Scarabeo work. As you reported, Dame Darcy’s style is more comic book like.

    No controversy here!

    Best regards,
    Katrina Wynne

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    1. I completely agree with you, Katrina. How many decks “borrowed” from Waite/Smith but in a different style and nobody is talking about that. Dame Darcy’s deck stands on it’s own because her unique style isn’t an imitation of anyone. It’s her own look and feel that comes through.

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  7. While I love Katrina Wynne and her work, I have to respectfully disagree. Yes, when you stick with RW, you limit your options, but oars in the exact same places, beards parted in the same way, robes flowing in the same directions, bodies in the same positions, same shape lantern, “crab” legs that look like spider legs, so many others…..and then of course the QofS, which is clearly traced exactly, down to the shadows (oh, she did change the bangs a bit). Benebell was very measured in her response, as was quite appropriate, but I think the “fishiness” of it speaks for itself. It’s sad, as DD is clearly very talented in her own right.
    I hope those wanting to hurry up and buy one before they’re gone will reconsider.

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    1. Louise…I am touched by your respect….thank you.

      I equally respect you and your point of view. I deeply appreciate this forum for expressing our varying values and opinions! It raises the bar for all of us with consideration, insight, and education.

      Cheers,
      Katrina

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  8. I am not personally aghast by the similarities of the Dame Darcy deck, or by the fact that it does not voice homage/attribute the Lo Scarabeo as say the followers of the Rider-Waite/Smith-Waite do. Dame Darcy is a fabulous cartoon artist and has produced one of my favorite decks, which has coincidentally been done in a different medium/style, though it is obviously inspired by said deck, but is not in my opinion exactly the same.

    let face folk all art is copying in some way or other, there is nothing new under the Sun do we have to reference the original source of our inspiration every time? but I appreciate others may feel differently and are taken it from an ethical consideration angle and legalistic principles.

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  9. To me, what really makes me uneasy is the posturing of all the mermaids. They are all in the same position as the ToM, with the same mannerisms and looking in the same direction. Whilst I understand that some cards need to face a certain direction (related to meaning), it does feel like DD worked from an outline. The lines on the mermaid tail in the Moon, the hair of temperance, and the folds in the cloak of the hermit … Urg. You’d expect these free flowing elements to go in different directions.

    It’s just an odd practice from an established artist. I am not a big fan of the style and imagery, but I feel that now I will cringe whenever I see this deck on instagram : (

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  10. Bah. This is so disappointing. If you search for photographs by Pierre & Gilles (where the Queen of Swords came from) she used obvious references for The Magician, Queen of Pentacles and probably more. As an artist I use reference photos as a part of a larger painting and for postures and poses…but this is just like…she didn’t change any of it. I guess DD isn’t as creative as I thought she was…so disappointing.

    queen of pentacles:https://www.flickr.com/photos/69017136@N04/15540770860/in/photostream/
    the magician: https://lucycoxhead.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pierre-et-gilles-2.jpg

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  11. It seems that Dame Darcy has released a new version that has most of the cards in question redrawn. This is not my video but shows a wonderful side by side comparison of the old and new version:

    I have to admit that while I was never really a fan of this deck, I was forever turned off after the tracing allegations. I would have forgiven the mistake had she come clean or even discussed the allegations, however she simply stated that she changed some cards because she is a perfectionist:

    http://damedarcy9.blogspot.com/2016/04/mermaid-tarot-edition-3-has-set-sail.html

    While, I will not be supporting this artist in the future I understand that it’s still a beloved deck to many so I would love to hear what you think of this new version and her changing most of the cards in question.

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    1. The newer cards look very out of place. The styles are very inconsistent.
      I recently purchased the deck in February and was disappointed with the print quality on some of the cards. I was unable to get past that in readings, it just bothered me too much. When I heard she was making a 3rd version I was excited but turned off to the updated ones (except the moon, I like the new moon card). THEN I saw that she had copied several cards from various sources. This turned me off completely and I sold the deck on ebay. The inconsistency with the artwork is too much for me to want to buy the 3rd deck as well as the bad taste in my mouth from the fact that so many cards were originally copied.

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  12. I just got the newest edition of this deck and she has changed most of the cards posted on here. but I do not like the new art. I am thinking of selling mine on ebay too. I am disappointed in this deck quite honestly. I like the card stock, and the cards do not stick together, the back design is pretty. the deck looks cartoonish. not really my style.

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    1. ok, now that I actually did a reading with these cards, and have looked at them deeper, I am falling in love with this deck. The imagery is delightfully quirky. this deck has wonderful balance between light and dark. the laughing/crying face of the clown. I live in beautiful town in OR, not close to the ocean, but somehow in this deck, the artist has captured the essence of the ocean. it is like taking a vacation to the ocean for healing, recuperation. It is a wonderful deck. and the artist is scrambling to improve it every edition she puts out. This deck shows me the challenge to really develop a tarot deck, one has to have connection to every single card, and that is not easy to do. This is an artist that is learning and growing, and has developed a deck that has genuinely broken the so-white code of tarot. What a wonderful metaphor for Tarot, esp. partnered with Ben Wen’s wonderful book on Tarot. Is no surprise that Ben Wen fell in love with this deck, it dovetails with her intention behind her book. Geez, the tarot world can be so catty. lol. Give the artist a chance, people. and perhaps explore what really makes you uncomfortable with the deck? a fair number of the male figures look gay. and it is lovely to see all shades of skin color and multi ethnic groups, etc. etc. how about we focus on the strengths of this deck, of this artist? who is bringing diversity, much needed into tarot. while attempting to honor the RW school. Which quite honestly need to be more humble. RW is simply one approach to tarot, it is not the standard that every other deck has to live up to. My hat is off to this artist. I adore this deck. After initially being put off by all the catty remarks. now I am glad I really gave this deck a chance. Really all it took was two 3 card spreads to make me fall in love with this deck. Wow, i can take a trip to the ocean whenever I want. How beautiful! and profound. How on earth did she capture the real essence of the Ocean?

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  13. If anyone would like to get rid of their second edition set of this deck, I would be willing to trade or buy for reasonable cost. L. S. produces knock-offs of popular decks all the time. And no one bats an eye. I don’t know how many times I have searched amazon for a particular deck and a L.S. version shows up as alternative. More and more I am drawn to the ones crafted by independent artists. I see that this artist took a weak deck, possibly one she had purchased and was disappointed in it and reworked it to make a beautiful enlivened deck. bring it to life. and that her mistakes were more due to inexperience. than malice.

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  14. Wow! I’ve been wanting both decks. As an artist who also creating my own decks, I am a bit disappointed that the images are so obviously copied. I would never copy another mermaid tarot deck. That is as obvious as you can get. I would use other humans as inspiration, maybe other mermaid art or movies, cartoons etc (for their positions). with that said….Here is the link I found online of the Queen of Swords “woman” That is a totally random inspiration lol. http://www.adistantsoil.com/2010/07/12/scary-gorgeous-lady-channels-sere/

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  15. I personally think all the revised cards look so much better than the ones DD copied, I think she (she??) should just stick to being original because it looks so much better than the copied cards. I still kind of want both decks but I think I’ll just create my own because I’ve always been obsessed with mermaids and now Tarot ;p I really don’t see myself buying something that was not only copied but revised without admitting any fault in the beginning (unless she gave credit somewhere in the booklet, i have no idea) but I’ve never liked copycats and I’ve worked with tons of people in my graphic design industry who would straight up google images and trace them and it used to piss me off because I put a lot of effort into creating original art, and they called themselves artists, when in fact they were not, and still are not, they are tracers lol. I love reading all the comments on here. Great post!

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  16. Ok this is my last comment I PROMISE. lol. the DD deck has been sitting in my Etsy cart for months now…and I am going to remove it due to this post. 😡 sorry DD…

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