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Our Skillcrush: Tara Rhymes

Tara Rhymes is a native Austinite who recently made the move to Portland, OR with her husband. The artistic duo, along with writer R.J Ryan just released The Joyners in 3D, a graphic novel produced in anaglyph 3D, a process Rhymes co-created.

I spoke with Tara about how she developed the incredibly laborious, painstaking 3D process used in the book, how she goes about learning new skills, her advice for overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and finally, her recommendations of favorite graphic novels written by or featuring strong women.

Tara is one of the most brilliant and inspiring women I’ve ever met. After this interview, you’ll think so too.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Tara Rhymes. I am a native Austinite (Texan) who recently move to Portland, OR with my husband to escape the heat and to immerse myself in a creative comics community. In college, I went to the University of Texas at Austin and made lots of art—graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art with a concentration in transmedia. After that I worked in graphic design and event planning for 5 years. The Joyners in 3D, which came out in February of 2014 through Archiaia/BOOM! is my first published comics work.

Tell us about The Joyners in 3-D.

The Joyners in 3D is a full-length (128 page) graphic novel in anaglyph (red-blue) 3-D co-created by R. J. Ryan (writer) and David Marquez (artist). It’s a story of hubris: the family of the future falling apart, backdropped with neo-futuristic idealism. Think “The Jetsons” meets “American Beauty.” This graphic novel was conceptualized to be in 3-D from its inception both because it posed a creative challenge and because at the time no one else was doing it.

This was a very collaborative project that everyone who was involved poured their hearts and sweat into. R.J. (Josh) Ryan wrote The Joyners in 3D. David Marquez illustrated it. Stephen Christy at Archaia/BOOM! edited it. Jon Adams, a designer based out of San Francisco, did the book design and all the lettering/lettering 3-D. With David Marquez I ultimately helped co-develop the 3-D process we implemented to create the red-blue 3-D effect on all of the art.

Tell us about your role in bringing The Joyners to life.

I feel like both a midwife and surrogate mother to this project. If I hadn’t stepped in, it still wouldn’t be out.

My role in the project changed over time. In the beginning, I supported this project from the sidelines. My husband, David Marquez, is the illustrator so originally I just helped him time manage his end of it. It was a long haul. He and Josh began working on developing The Joyners in 3D in 2010 and the goal was to get it out by New York Comic Con of 2013, but David has a full-time job drawing at Marvel(e.g., Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, All New X-Men) so could only really work on this project at night and on weekends.

As time went on it became increasingly evident that the book was not going to make the deadline goal so I volunteered to help with part of the 3-D process. As I got involved and David taught me the process he essentially created, and I helped both systematize and refine that process. Before I knew it, I was doing the 3D for half the book. It was an intense and laborious project, but I think the end-product is a beautiful art object.

Describe the 3-d process used in The Joyners in 3-D.

David spear-headed the project: initially doing a lot of research on how red-blue anaglyph 3-D was done in the past in comics(great artists like Joe Kubert). We wanted to take that “classic red-blue 3-D” look and improve upon it: mainly having our end-product create less eyestrain than classic red-blue 3-D products. Based on what little details he could find about the classic 3-D anaglyph processes, he finagled his own process hacking Photoshop to achieve it. It’s basically a three step process: draw 2-D art, paint grayscale depth maps for the art, use depth maps to create red-blue 3-D line work.

Sounds easy enough, right? The only thing is there is no “create depth maps” button in Photoshop. To make them essentially involves digitally painting in grayscale, but instead of using light and dark to create the illusion of depth like most paintings you see, you have to use shades of gray to topographically create depth. This posed a huge challenge in and of itself because we don’t normally look at the world in terms of literal depth but rather usually use light and shadow to create the illusion of depth.

In our grayscale depth maps 100% K (Black) gets pushed back the furthest in space whereas no K (white) comes towards you the most. When David first started experimenting with the 3-D his depth maps were fairly intuitive in their rendering—cherry picking shades of grey that “looked right.” But the thing is you can’t tell if it actually looks right until you get to the final step when you use the depth maps the create the red-blue 3-D on the original 2-D art so he had to do a lot of tedious altering and recreation of depth maps in the final stage of the 3-D creation.

This seemed very inefficient to me so when came on board the first thing I did was systematize the process. This meant both stream-lining the process of getting the 2-D art files ready for 3-D work and also defining which shades of gray would constitute foreground, middle ground, and background. Because it was really important to both of us that the 3-D in the book serve a purpose beyond the gimmick of being 3-D, being able to consciously control how we pushed and pulled the 3-D at the depth-maps stage was critical. It enabled us to be deliberate in how we pushed or pulled the 3-D so we could use this effect to enhance storytelling. Every panel was hand-crafted in 3-D for what we thought that panel needed for that point in the story. In quieter moments often the depth recedes to draw you in whereas bigger moments may be more dramatic in their 3-D rendering. At other places we consciously use the 3-D to create psychological dissonance.

What were your biggest challenges when working with the 3-d process?

I had two things taped above my drawing desk during this project:

1) “Think topographically.” (It’s really hard to wrap your head around this when you are used to using light/dark to create the illusion of depth rather than literally painting topographically.)

2) “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Neither David nor I had ever done anything like this prior to this project, and I think it’s really easy to feel like “who I am to do this?”—whatever this may be in life. We had to learn and develop a new process on the job which can kind of feel like flying by the seat of your pants. But after coming out of this project I firmly believe the best way to learn anything is just to do it, and often that means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, and confronting your own fear of failure (which can be so uncomfortable!).

The timeline was also pretty daunting for a project of this scope. I got actively involved in January of 2013 while planning my wedding (that would be in April) and also planning a move across the country (that would be in May). The art and 3-D for The Joyners in 3D needed to be complete by August so Jon could do the lettering, and we could launch at New York Comic Con in October. This meant once David and I landed in our new home in Portland, Oregon life was pretty much nose to grindstone for several months. Waking up, eating, breathing, living 3-D. The sheer exhaustion that came out of working 12-18 hour days for months was also a big challenge.

What was the most rewarding & fun part of developing the 3-d process?

Seeing the final red-blue 3D versions of the 2D artwork for The Joyners in 3D was very rewarding! It’s the very last step in our 3D process so actually seeing all the hard work making cool effects was kind of like magic. Of course sometimes at this stage we would have to go back to the depth maps and re-work a panel or tweak an area, but when we got to this stage the book started to feel real.

Overall, however, I’d say the most rewarding part of this project was taking on something that seemed insurmountable and overcoming it. I feel proud of the work we did.

Describe the collaborative process between you and the artist Dave Marquez and the writer RJ Ryan on the Joyners in 3D. How did you work together? What was a typical day like?

When I started actively working on this project in January of 2013 David and I were still in Austin, Texas. R.J. Ryan (Josh), who lives in L.A., was very supportive of me coming on board and gave lots of positive, constructive feedback on the 3-D art he saw I helped with. Josh is a great guy and will champion you if he believes in your skills.

David and I worked back to back (literally). He used a Cintiq, and I used an Wacom Intuous for much of the project. Once we got to Portland our schedule was pretty intense. We woke up around 7:30 or 8 a.m., made coffee, fed and walked our two dogs, ate a quick breakfast at our drawing desks, then dove into drawing/digital painting. I listened to a lot of The xx. We would take a 15 minute break for lunch at our desks in the afternoon, and keep working until about 5 p.m. when we would take a break to feed and walk our dogs. If I needed feedback I’d upload my art to our dropbox and let him know. When he’d get to a stopping place in the 2D art he was pumping out he’d check out my work and give feedback. In the evenings while working I drank a lot of Portland Sangria, we ate a lot of Straight From New York Pizza. We usually worked until at least midnight, often later. Then we’d start all over again the next day. There were no weekends. We did this routine for about 3 months straight but would try to take a few hours off on Fridays to see our friends and recharge.

Marques & Rhymes at a book signing for The Joyners in 3D

Marquez & Rhymes at a book signing for The Joyners in 3D

You organize a monthly meet-up called “Art Club”. Can you tell us a bit about that? How did it get started? What skills do you learn?

ArtClub is a skill-building monthly social event I organize. I’m a lifelong learner, crave learning new creative things, and love organizing events so this came about fairly organically. We have a lot of creative friends in Portland with different knowledge bases who also wanted to expand their skills so we get together and co-teach each other on a Sunday afternoon every month. Last year was a little crazy with finishing up The Joyners in 3D so we just started hosting this regularly this year. So far we have covered SketchUp basics, done a couple of approaches to writing comics workshops, and a lettering for comics workshop (in Manga Studio and Illustrator). We are planning on doing more comics-related workshops (e.g., coloring comics, creating custom Photoshop brushes, other Photoshop skills, etc.) as well as delving into more techy stuff like WordPress and HTML5.

Several Skillcrush alumni have expressed an interest in graphic novels. What’s a good place to start? What are some of your recommendations with female leads?

Comics are a male-dominated industry and can be at times and in places (like many industries) quite a boy’s club. Whatever your interest in graphic novels/comics may be (drawing, inking, writing, coloring, lettering, editing, or the whole shebang) just do it. Perhaps start on the small scale. Practice whatever it is you want to do and put it out there for people to critique. Go to conventions and talk to people who do it professionally. There are also lots of free places to put your stuff out there online and get feedback: forums like like penciljack and social media sites like Tumblr, instagram, deviant art, etc.

Practice whatever it is you want to do. If you want to draw comics, practice drawing sequential art. If you want to be a writer, write! If you feel like you’re not knowledgable enough to dive into whatever your dream is and want to buff up your skills first, take a class at a community college or check out some resources at your local library. I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (all his books are great), and Robert McKee’s STORY. Don’t let the fear of failure or perceived obstacles prevent you from even trying if it’s something you really want to do. And be compassionate with yourself because all skills take time to develop. Persist!

Some prolific females in comics who I really adore and you should too are:

Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer) @kellysue
Lauren Sankovitch (editor) @pancakelady
Jordi Bellaire (colorist) @whoajordie

A gif from Rhymes showing an example of taking the 2d art (first image) and making it into 3D (final image).

A gif from Rhymes showing an example of taking the 2D art (first image) and making it into 3D (final image).

Deepina Kapila

Dee is a fun-loving instructor with diverse tech experience across Fortune 500 companies, early-stage start-ups, government agencies & non-profits. Dee works at mobile product design studio Funsize, in Austin Texas where she lives with her husband, 2 border collie mixes, & 2 cats.

In her spare time she enjoys playing video games, reading on her Kindle & scuba diving in her hometown (Curaçao - an island in the Caribbean!).

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