An Interview With Lisa Sterle
If you’ve been paying attention, then you’ve probably seen us shouting about the very exciting news that we’ll be publishing Lisa Sterle’s truly fabulous Modern Witch Tarot in autumn 2019. Thanks to Lisa’s incredible fans and their overwhelmingly positive response to her work, we saw a few snippets of the deck (one of our favourites is the Ten of Swords, shown above) and just had to jump on the chance to publish it.
2019 is a ways away still, but we wanted to give you the chance to get to know Lisa a bit better. A comic artist and illustrator “on a mission to create narratives of women discovering their own magic and strength from within”, Lisa Sterle is the visionary behind comics Long Lost (with writer Matthew Erman) and the new Submerged (with an all-star lineup that includes Vita Ayala, Stelladia, Rachel Deering and Jen Bartel). She has also illustrated work for a number of other clients, so we highly recommend you have a look at Lisa’s website.
Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions for us – we hope you enjoy her responses as much as we did!
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you briefly sum up your background?
I’m an illustrator and comic artist, hailing from Columbus Ohio. I studied at Columbus College of Art and Design, figure and portrait oil painting to be exact. Since then my work has evolved more towards digital art, though I’m very keen to replicate and suggest traditional methods through those digital means. Currently I’m working as a freelance comic artist on two different series, Long Lost and Submerged. In my spare time I’m studying tarot in preparation for the deck illustrations.
Long Lost, the horror comic series you create with writer Matthew Erman, has received some fantastic praise so far. What’s it like working on a comic series compared to your other illustration work?
To be honest it was difficult at first! When you’re doing one-off illustrations, it’s like, a couple days and then you’re done and you usually get to show the world soon after that and hopefully connect with people pretty immediately. Comic art requires patience, and also a different kind of thinking. I often feel like I’m directing a movie when I’m laying out my comic panels, so it’s more labor-intensive but ultimately very rewarding. Being a co-creator with Matt has been fantastic as we’re both very communicative collaborators, we love bouncing ideas of one another and debating the best way to portray a scene. Comics, both in Long Lost and in general, really have made me appreciate the value of a good creative team.
Some of your illustrations in Long Lost are rather … grotesque! From where do you find such haunting inspiration? Does it ever give you nightmares?
I love horror and I like to think that I’m a pretty bold person so nightmares…not so much luckily! Oddly enough one of my few true fears is getting caught in the path of a tornado…which isn’t incorporated in Long Lost. Maybe for another horror series one day, haha. My horror inspiration comes from a lot of different places, film, video games, comics. Silent Hill, Dark Souls, Junji Ito’s work, Guillermo Del Toro’s films, Charles Burns comics, the Negaverse in Sailor Moon…to name a few.
Tell us about how you first got into tarot… how has it benefited your life?
Sometime in college I think, I had a few friends that were learning tarot, and came across both the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and the Thoth deck, and the symbology of it just immediately spoke to me. The compositions and archetypes of tarot are things I really connect with, and I think what I love most about it is the aspect of interpretation and story-telling. It’s such a great creative process of self-reflection and looking inward, which I think is something we can often forget to do in our busy lives. I pull out my deck and do a reading whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed out, creatively blocked or indecisive, and it helps so much to be able to frame my feelings and put them into words.
What inspired you to create your own tarot deck?
I created my Ten of Swords design back in 2015. It was one of those ideas that just popped into my head, and I was like, ‘dang this would make a powerful image’. I was definitely feeling pretty low that day, so it was a way to release that negative feeling. But the image seemed to really resonate with people, and so after a while, I made a few more cards and the direction of the deck naturally started to take shape. I wanted to make something that young women of all kinds could see themselves reflected in and feel understood, so that’s really what has driven the process.
And why ‘Modern Witch’? Do you identify with witchcraft, or is this more a reference to the outspoken feminist reclamation of terms like ‘witch’, ‘nasty’ and so on?
A little bit of both I think! Ever since I was young I was drawn to media that depicted powerful women and girls, whether as witches in Buffy or The Craft, or magical girl anime like Sailor Moon, or in YA fantasy novels. I remember making a little Book of Shadows when I was, like, 12, and conspiring to find a way to sneak out of the house during a full moon so I could begin my new life as a witch. The idea that there’s this wealth of power within you, that you just need to trust yourself to tap into, is an inspiring thought that also definitely ties into feminism for me.
The imagery in your deck is really modern and funky, but it heavily references the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. How did you decide which elements to keep and which to modernise?
Those decisions are mostly made card by card. I really enjoy drawing fashion, so I knew at the very least I wanted the figures in each card wearing modern clothing. Whenever it makes sense, I also like squeezing in some aspect of technology when I can, whether it’s a cell phone or a laptop, as it helps support the modern theme. But other times, keeping the traditional symbols helps to retain the story of the cards. For instance, it didn’t make much sense to me to transform the wands, cups, swords and pentacles/disks too much, as I felt they needed to remain more archetypal in order to still make sense through their respective journeys. I also love the compositions of the Rider-Waite-Smith so much. It’s so classical and iconic.
Finally, a spiritual question to tie things up! If you were reincarnated after this life, what would you hope to return as, and why?
Maybe a cat or a sloth! I am a pretty anxious person generally, I always have to be constantly creating, planning or organizing something in order to not get stressed out and feel in control. So another life where I can just sleep all day and eat sounds like a fantastic way to be. Haha!
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to follow Lisa on twitter and tumblr. And remember you can always talk to us on any of our social media, or here in the comments. Finally, if you want to stay in the loop about Lisa’s Modern Witch Tarot, you can sign up for our newsletter.