Interview: Once Upon A Time Playing Cards. These fairy tales are not for children…

Following the success of the beautiful and haunting Olde Bones, Toronto Playing Card Company brings us one of the most blatant and wild deck in recent years: ONCE UPON A TIME.

Inspired by popular tales, it has been illustrated by Marilen Adrover, a Spanish designer who has her own tattoo studio in Mallorca, Miskatonic, and who has lived a stimulating experience for this card project.



I admit that I love this style and as soon as I knew the designer was Spanish, I hurried to talk to her to ask everything about the deck. Here you have what she was so kind to answer (not only in English but also in Spanish, to help me a little bit … thanks Marilen). I also waned to talk to Kevin Ali (Toronto Playing Cards) for this interview.

  • Max Playing Cards – Hello Marilen, hello Kevin, thank you so much for traveling around with Max Playing Cards’ friends answering a few questions.
  • Marilen Adrover – First of all, I want to thank you for your support of this project. Without people like you this would be impossible. Your dedication of a portion of your website and your time promoting projects like ours is another reason to be thankful.
  • Max – Where does the inspiration for the designs come from?
  • Marilen – It all started with some illustrations I created in 2011 that became popular in the net in 2013 (which ended up being the 4 queens in the deck). Someone shared them on Reddit and in a few hours they were frontpage. People embraced them very well and the wheel became to run after that stroke of luck. I create them for a national amateur webzine of illustration wich is no longer published. The theme was ” popular fairy tales ” and I wanted to show these stories with a ‘realistic’ perspective. I mean, what would you think if someone enters a house and begins to touch everything while the owners are away? Probably that she’s a thief .. so, with a more adult view, I created my own stories where the ‘good’ are only good depending on who tells the story. I have always liked the duality between good and bad, between the beautiful and the macabre, and I think that this is something that is always present in everything I do.



  • Max – Any anecdote about your “reinterpretation”?
  • Marilen – One of the main topics that have been discussed and the most comments I received (and still receive) is regarding the surname of Alice. I know that in real life his name was Alice Lidell but, after all, I would not represent the real Alice, so I wanted to call her Carroll as a wink to his creator. As she was his ” daughter ” (not his real daughter, but as the creator and father of the character). A simple decision that will haunt me until the end of days :D.
  • Max – I always ask this in the very first deck of an artist. Why playing cards?
  • Marilen – Thanks to appearing in so many websites (Reddit, Tumblr, Huffington Post, among others) I did some more projects and also opened an online store (adroverart on Society6 and Redbubble) and then, at the end of 2014 came Kevin from TPC to transform these illustrations into a deck of cards. I was really surprised because I had never though that I was going to create a deck of cards, in fact, my knowledge of this world were rather null but I must admit that the project piqued my curiosity and I decided it would be a challenge to think of a different format for my artwork. Also, Kevin gave me all the facilities and I felt very comfortable with him and with the conditions. Now that the project is almost ready I can say that he has been the perfect partner, without any doubt. He is very professional and, above all, very human.
  • Max – Kevin, After Olde Bones, which things you learnt you should change for this new campaign?
  • Kevin Ali – Olde Bones was a fantastic experience.  We learned a lot about the logistics of everything: from production to shipping to marketing.  I can go into exhaustive detail on all of these elements and likely bore your readers.  What I will say though is the number one lesson learned from Olde Bones is that playing card collectors have an appetite for non-traditional decks.  Although Olde Bones and Once Upon A Time are aesthetically very different, they were both built from the ground up.  They are more than simply a standard deck of cards redesigned — they both contain beautiful artwork that can hold its own outside of the deck and they both contain a compelling narrative.  This, I believe, is the strength of each deck and will be what the Toronto Playing Card Co continues to strive for.
  • Max – How about working with Marilen?
  • Kevin – When I first stumbled upon Marilen’s work online I was immediately impressed.  She is a highly talented and creative artist with a unique and refreshing style.  At the time that I reached out to her, she had completed four of the core illustrations that we are now using in this deck:  Alice, Snow White, Goldilocks, and Little Red Riding Hood.  The illustrations struck me as being dark but whimsical and I thought they would make a great foundation to build an entire deck.  I was thrilled when she agreed to take on this project and have loved working with her ever since.  Marilen is a creative powerhouse who is hard working, conscientious and thoughtful.  I am so happy with the final result and am excited to be now sharing this with Kickstarter.
  • Max – How did the original artwork used in the deck change?
  • Marilen – We started brainstorming earlier this year. I wanted to preserve the essence of the four main illustrations and I kept only the first four stories; one for each suit in the deck. So, Alice has her two companions, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. Little Red Ridding Hood shares suit with the hunter and the wolf, while Snow White has her abused, the prince and the dwarfs, and Goldilocks has her traumatized Three Bears. I faced the Aces as if they were the covers for each story, with its typical catchphrase and adding the little twist that is present in the whole project … but I will not reveal all the surprises :D. For the tuck case I thought it would be a good idea to do as an old book of a stories collection, inviting the player to discover what’s inside … the good thing about this tuck case, and that was my intention, is that it gives no clues; you can guess what is inside and perhaps you expect a deck of cards with the typical fairy tales but when you open it, you discover the reality. Maybe the hardest design was the back of the cards, as they are usually more symmetrical and use repeating patterns. I’m more figurative, or call it chaotic if you want haha. I’m used to work with many textures, with many colors and with very plain compositions; Almost always with a central figure with no background, so it was a challenge for me to design that part.


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  • Max – Well, and how was the experience?
  • Marilen – I have to admit that at first I thought it would be easier, that I will just have to add a suit and value to my artwork, but nothing further from reality. Luckily Kevin guided me through the process, always with the utmost respect for my work, and in the end, I learned that it is not at all an easy task to give unity to all the cards, each card has to be unique but at the same time doesn’t have to clash with the rest. I hope all those details and intentions I put on them are transmitted when the player holds the cards in his hands and can see an alternative view of a truth that has been told for generations.
  • Max – Do you have any future projects in mind?
  • Marilen – More projects? The immediate future is now my tattoo studio, which requires almost 24 hours, but I always find time for interesting projects like this, in the end, those are the things that make me grow as an artist and as a professional.
  • Max – You are going to print with USPCC. Will the deck be a limited print run? Any extra feature for the cards or tuck case?
  • Kevin – Yes, we will be printing with the USPC.  We were pleased with our experience last time and have a good working relationship with them.  This will be a limited run likely to 2,500 decks — but this is also dependent on what happens throughout the Kickstarter campaign.  Whether we limit the run to 2,500 decks or 25,000 decks, once they are gone they will be gone.  As for extra features, this will also be released as our campaign evolves.  I like the idea of adding some metallic ink to the tuck case or printing on the Bee card stock, however, this will entirely depend if we are able to hit our stretch goals (soon to be released).  Stay tuned!.
  • Max – Thank you so much to both of you for your answers. I wish you the very best, not oinly in this project but also in your professional future.



The deck is really special and you cannot miss it. If you like it, visit the project website and raise your pledge.

Good luck!



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