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Under the banner of his Black Ink Playing Cards and his website The Art of Jody Eklund (, illustrator Jody Eklund has created a series of playing card projects that now numbers around half a dozen. What makes his work unique, and has created a real demand for playing cards and contributed to his success, is especially a combination of two things:
1. History: Jody shares some kind of historical story or historical personages via the illustrations and information in each deck of playing cards. For some projects he even creates a companion booklet that tells a small story about each of the people featured as characters in the deck!
2. Style: Jody combines this with a unique style that reflects a real eye for clean artistic design, and an attractive look. Even though he primarily does everything digitally, his work looks like it was done with pen and ink - hence the name "Black Ink Playing Cards" which he uses as his deck publishing brand.


After a successful Kickstarter project for "The Golden Spike" in July 2014, Jody has produced several other hits: Innovation, Devastation, Inception, Titans, and his current project, Iron Horse. All of these commemorate the great minds and individuals whose creativity was responsible for some of the greatest inventions and industries of our time. How did he get inspired to create these playing cards that are saturated with historical interest, and capture something of the most important men and women in history, especially creators and inventors? Here's how Jody himself described the origin of the first two decks of his Inventors series:

"A few months ago I watched a documentary on the History channel called, "The Men Who Built America". In that documentary the stories of John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan were told. I was glued to the TV ... I was hooked. Their stories were inspiring and I was struck by the spirit and ingenuity they showed. I decided that I should do a series of playing cards that celebrated the spirit that these kind of men demonstrated. The Inventors series was born."

And so today we can look back at a number of similarly themed and styled projects that Jody has created. In this review, I'll cover the first two sets of decks from the Inventors series.



As mentioned already, it was a History Channel documentary that inspired Jody to come up with his "inventors" series. This plays tribute to the brilliant minds of creators and inventors, and the Innovation deck is his first in that series.

In Jody's own words, "The last half of the 18th century was littered with minds that immeasurably stood out from the rest, inventors and innovators that supercharged society to new heights launching mankind into the new century. Represented here are the royalty of Innovation, categorized into four suits: Illumination, Transportation, Communication, and Aviation. "


Pictured here is the Standard edition. I especially love the attention to detail, such as the line "Necessity is the mother of invention" on the tuck box lid.


The court cards, Aces, and Jokers, all have original illustrations with a style that is true to the era they depict. The Aces all depict key inventions, with the Ace of Spades and the Aces of Clubs seen here depicting the Model T Ford (Tin Lizzie) and the Light Bulb respectively. The other Aces picture the Wright's Flying Machine and Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone.


The King of Spades pictures the Model T's creator, Henry Ford, while the King of Clubs pictures American inventor Thomas Alva Edison.


Women are also represented, such as Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician often credited as the world's first computer programmer, and aviation pioneer Amelia Mary Earhart, who was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic.


Here's a complete list of all the Aces and court cards (A/K/Q/J).

Spades: Model T Ford, Henry Ford, Mary Anderson, Karl Benz
Diamonds: Wright Flyer 1, Wilbur Wright, Amelia Mary Earhart , Orville Wright
Clubs: Light Bulb, Thomas Alva Edison, Ida Henrietta Hyde, Nicola Tesla
Hearts: Telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, Ada Lovelace, Samuel Morse
Jokers: Henry Ford, The Wright Bros

Pictured below are inventor Samuel Morse and flyer Orville Wright.


Also created at the same time were a Black edition (with gold foil embossing and metallic inks), and a beautiful white Signature edition.


Once again, Jody has created a book to go along with this deck, which gives historical information about all the characters featured.


Some of the cards are also profiled in Jody Eklund's blog, such as his spotlight article on Nikola Tesla here.

The most recent addition to the Innovation series is the special "Innovation Blue" edition of this deck, which comes in a special custom deck case and cards printed with gold metallic ink for the black suits. This deck was produced to make this popular deck more available again, and has just recently completed funding on Kickstarter, and will undoubtedly be available from Jody's website in due course.



First we build up, and then we tear down! Isn't that the story of much of mankind's history? This led to Jody's next idea for his inventor's series - those who created weapons. Introducing: the Devastation deck.

The tuck box for this is a stunning black and red. Wow, does it ever look classy and stylish, and due to the colour combination, it has to be one of my favourites.


Here's how Jody describes the thematic concept behind the Devastation deck, in his own words:

Since the beginning of time, man has sought protection through the creation of weapons. Weapons molded and changed the course of history, destroying civilizations and creating new ones. As enemies became more sophisticated, the weapons of choice became more crafty, cruel and deadly. The Macedonians became a great civilization due to the introduction of siege weapons. The Romans capitalized on their creations and crafted war as a strategic art ruled by precision. The Chinese introduced gunpowder in the Middle Ages, which lead to a military strategy of propellent-based ordnances. The art of war and death was screaming forward changing the scope of conquest and World power. The crown jewel which would open the door to the threat of mass slaughter as a form of deterrent and change the tide of war.... the Atomic Bomb. World wars, dictators, rank and file soldiers would rise and fall on the creation of weapons of devastation. So, after all the bombs have been dropped and the ashes have settled the question there any hope?"

On the tuck box flap it says "Man's Best to do Man's Worst", which sums up the idea well.

I love the combination of red and black on these cards, which looks super classy!


All the cards have elaborate borders, and the person's name in the middle. Seen here are Alfred Nobel and William Mills.


Lancelot Mole, pictured below, was the inventor of the Tank. The Joker on the right pictures the Atomic Bomb.


But it's not all doom and gloom. Some of the characters featured are those who worked hard to defend human life, like Clara Mole, founder of the Red Cross. Meanwhile, Anton Fokker, pictured on the right, is most famous for the fighter aircraft he produced in Germany during the First World War.


Here's a complete list of all the individuals featured on the court cards (in order of K/Q/J):

Clubs: Lancelot de Mole, Florence Nightingale, Richard J. Gatling
Hearts: Alfred Nobel, Clara Barton, Sr William Mills
Clubs: Helge Palmcrantz, Mary Lincoln, Samuel Colt
Diamonds: John Ericsson, Mary Mahoney, Anton Fokker

The number cards also have intricate designs along the borders.


In addition to the Standard edition, there's also a Limited edition and a Collector's edition, which feature beautiful red foil, printed on red and black stock respectively.



What do I think?

There's a lot to like about Jody Eklund's decks of playing cards, and here are some notable elements:

History: Firstly, it is clear that Jody enjoys history. He's found a way to keep his own nose in the pages of history, as part of the research that goes into the creation of each project. But with his playing cards, we also get the opportunity to take a look at the movers and shakers that have helped make today's world what it is. His accompanying booklets that are available are a good way to learn more about these things. Certainly I found it rewarding to study the historical figures that he has featured on his decks, and it motivated me to find out more about their lives and achievements.

Inventors: Not all aspects of history are equally interesting, but I do share Jody's fascination with innovation and invention - in fact it's probably true for most of us. As a result, the Innovation and Devastation decks are of special interest, in how they document some of the men and women who changed the way people lived, or who changed the way people died.

Trains: There are a lot of people who have a real interest in railroads and trains. In the game industry, there "train" theme is a very common one, and "train games" make up a much larger component of games than what would otherwise be representative for a single theme. This interest should mean that the Golden Spike deck and the Iron Horse deck will have a broad appeal to a lot of people. The Iron Horse deck also has somewhat of a Western setting, which is another common theme in the game industry, and will also be a point of attraction for many.

Style: After looking at some of Jody's decks, it's very clear that he has a style of his own, especially with his black ink type images. It's this style that many appreciate about his work, accompanied with his attention to historical detail. At the same time it is evident that his style has evolved over time, and I especially love the look of his later decks.

Experience: While Jody has quite a bit of experience under his belt, with several successful campaigns so far, it's clear that he wants to keep challenging himself with new territory to explore, and also to continue to refine his style. With the current Iron Horse project, this is evident in the fact that the theme is tied to a fiction story which is made available as part of the project. Coming up with an idea that people are going to support is never easy, but he's managed to find somewhat of a formula that has attracted a solid support base, while at the same time he's prepared to make changes and adapt where necessary. His experience is only going to hold him in good stead going forward.

Refinement: Not only does Jody's style become more refined over time, but he's also exploring new ideas, as is evident for example in the Inception series, where he chose to make a trilogy of decks that differed only in the Ace and King of Spades as well as the card backs. He's also explored a range of different and unique add ons that many backers might enjoy. Even though I've not had opportunity to read the story that accompanies the Iron Horse project, I appreciate the fact that this does bring something new and interesting to the table, and offers an additional element that takes this project beyond the ordinary.

Quality Cards: From the cards and decks I've seen, the quality of the cards is great. Jody only uses reputable big name companies, so we are guaranteed of a good product. The decks I have are all produced by Legends Playing Card Company, which I have previously reviewed here. The Classic Finish that Jody has opted for is a high quality product that consider to be at least the equal of USPCC produced decks, and in some respects even surpasses it.

Signature Series: I especially like the Signature series of decks, which come in their own special stylish case.



I'm pleased to have discovered Jody's decks, and come across his website. If you're interested in picking up some of his playing cards for yourself, the first place to look is his webshop here or the Iron Horse Kickstarter here. Supporting his efforts directly via his website is the best thing, but the selection there is somewhat limited, so another place you can look is over at Rare Playing Cards.

There's a wealth of historical background that goes into the creation of these decks, and I can see them having educational benefits for families with children. This is particular the case for decks that are accompanied with the historical booklet that Jody often creates for his decks. But besides that, they also look very attractive; I'm especially partial to the limited Black Ink versions, which look particularly stunning and classy. But the reality is with all these decks you get Jody's signature `black ink' style, which is his distinctive and unique contribution to the world of custom playing cards.

Jody has acquired somewhat of a loyal following as a result of his dedication and contributions to the world of custom playing cards, and the decks shown above are all excellent examples of his work. They should appeal to anyone who enjoys playing cards, but also to anyone who has an interest in history or in science, and they could also make an excellent gift for the historian or scientist in your life. I enjoy using his decks when playing Cribbage and other traditional games with my family - beautiful decks like these can add to the enjoyment of a great game!

Want to learn more?
The Art of Jody Eklund:
Iron Horse Playing Cards:

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