By SHAWN MACOMBER
June 2012: At the invitation of a friendly ex, Sam Richard headed out to an art and music festival celebrated around the head of the Stone Arch Bridge, a granite-and-limestone colossus built during the 19th century. Somewhere there, amidst the churn of people and drinks and music and art, the Weirdpunk Books https://www.facebook.com/weirdpunkbooks/ owner and dark fiction author was introduced to a young tattoo artist named Maureen, who preferred to be called Mo. The pair vibed almost immediately, the world shrinking and fading until it was Population: Two.
“We were both pretty drunk, so neither of us could really remember the details of our conversation that night, but it ended with her giving me her card,” Richard tells RUE MORGUE. “As a tattoo artist, this was fairly common for her when her job came up in conversation. Only, we hadn’t talked about tattoos—I remember that clearly.”
A couple of days later, Richard asked her out. “She didn’t know if it was a friends thing or a date, so she brought like five people,” he recalls. “We ended up hanging out three times in four nights—all with her bringing people before we decided we needed to go on a real date [laughs]. And then we just never stopped hanging out.”
It’s a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl. Boy discovers girl owns THE EVIL DEAD on VHS, loves Dadaism almost as much as dogs, shares similar sociopolitical opinions and is plugged into the occult and “mystical stuff.” Boy falls in love. Girl does, too. Eventually there are wedding bells, and the couple embarks on whatever wondrous adventures are sure to occur when happily-ever-after meets THE EVIL DEAD by way of Dada. Mystical stuff, indeed!
And then, with sudden, unforgiving finality, it was over.
On August 13, 2017, Mo collapsed while working a shift at Jackalope Tattoo and never regained consciousness. An aortic aneurysm, the Medical Examiner’s office would later say. She was only 31 years old. All at once, the mystical side of mysticism seemed very distant and cold.
“It’s funny, because I’m basically an agnostic who thinks that spooky occult stuff is you connecting with your own mind rather than external forces,” Richard says. “I mean, ultimately, I have no idea whether or not anything truly exists beyond us; I think it’s an unknowable question. What comfort I have found within myself regarding her death is more of an affirmation of kind of the existentialist-nihilist dilemma. Nothing has any inherent meaning, and there is no puppet pulling the strings of the universe. If everything is chaos, and patterns can be found but don’t indicate anything other than patterns existing, and the universe is uncaring, then the meaning I have found in my life—and in her death—is that love and kindness are the only ways forward.”
To survive the onslaught of grief, Richard threw himself into his art(s). He edited two wild, boundary-pushing fiction anthologies—ZOMBIE PUNKS F*CK OFF and the forthcoming THE NEW FLESH: A LITERARY TRIBUTE TO DAVID CRONENBERG. He launched a sludge-metal band called Ash Eater. His harrowing and beautiful debut short story collection TO WALLOW IN ASH & OTHER SORROWS arrives October 11. A sly, smart shocker entitled “We Have Always Lived in the Jiffy-Lube” appears in BREAKING BIZARRO.
“It’s almost not even a choice,” Richard says. “It’s literally what I have to do to keep moving. Otherwise, I’ll just crumble into nothing and let my entire life fall apart. Even before widowerhood, writing always served as a form of therapy for me. I already had severe depression, and writing was a way of helping me channel that darkness and despair. But [at this point] it has literally saved my fucking life, so really, I owe art/writing a debt I can never repay.”
Now, two years on, comes perhaps his most transcendent, bittersweet and emotionally taxing act of love: A push—alongside former Jackalope owner and close Mo compatriot Bambi Wendt—to complete the breathtaking “Multistabber Tarot,” a fantastical, gorgeous “animal-themed deck with influences in its design from the Mythic Tarot as well as the standard Rider-Waite” that Mo was working on at the time of her death. (Multistabber was Mo’s longtime Internet forum handle, a wry, condensed description of her career as a tattooist.)
“It was Mo’s vision for the Minor Arcana to show the journey of the tarot through the life cycles of different animals,” the project’s Kickstarter page explains. “In the ace cards, you’ll find each creature in its embryonic state. As each suit progresses, the animal grows, and finds its ultimate evolution in the court cards.”
“When we first started dating, Mo and her best friend lived together, and sometimes I would show up and they would be reading tarot for each other,” Richard adds. “So from day one, basically, it was a passion of hers. She always described her natural art style as ‘creepy-cute,’ and her tarot cards are a perfect example of that. Some veer solely into the cute, others the creepy, and others a perfect blend of the two.”
As for the decision to refract that “creepy-cute” through an animal kingdom prism…well, that was intrinsically Mo as well. “She loved—and loved to draw—animals and nature,” Richard says. “Being in the woods or out in her garden was the closest place she felt to having some kind of divinity. I thought it was so cool how she integrated their life cycles into the cards.
The project—which offers perks ranging from digital and physical copies of the deck to “I Hope They Serve Tacos in Hell” T-shirts—has attracted an incredible amount of support: More than 40 collaborating artists, massive community enthusiasm and over 200 backers who have contributed nearly $20,000 so far. “I’m just blown away,” Richard says. “And she would be, too.”
Could there be any greater testament to a life and a life’s work than to watch it continue to reverberate and positively affect the world and those of us who still populate the corporeal end of it? Even beyond this tarot deck—which is being actualized and powered by pure love—there is her work as a tattooist. These are realities of which Richard is acutely aware.
“All of her art that is walking around—people carrying a piece of her wherever they go,” he marvels. “That means something so important to me. And to them. I can’t tell you the number of strangers who have come up to me in random situations or reached out via social media or e-mail to tell me how much she meant to them because they were clients of hers—how proud they are to walk around with her art on them for the rest of their lives. They get to carry her with them.”
Richard carries her with him as well. Some days it is less difficult than others, but it is never easy. This suggests it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say the Multistabber Tarot and all his work will bring Richard solace—or not as those who haven’t suffered a similar trauma would understand it. He prefers, instead, to focus on the way we as human beings can instill meaning in one another’s lives.
“I find meaning in what Mo and I shared together—truly a kind of love that I didn’t know was possible,” Richard says. “And though she’s gone now, I still find meaning in it. And I find a strange comfort in the fact that nothing happens for a reason, that this was just a random thing where her heart blew out because she had an undiagnosed tissue disorder. I find comfort in the chaos of possibilities—even though it can be terrible and cruel—because, to me at least, everything else feels like a safety net that won’t actually work.”