Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Family dramas don’t typically demand a pair of red/cyan anaglyphic glasses, but Archaia’s “The Joyners in 3D” comes packaged with two. When writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez realized George, Sonya and the rest of the troubled Joyner brood required a visual depth to match their plight, Marquez taught himself how to render his art in a third dimension. Three years and countless sleepless night later, the first full-length graphic novel is ready for publication later this month.
CBR News talked with Marquez about mastering 3D with his wife and partner, and exploring further creative heights.
CBR News: You’ve been living with “The Joyners in 3D” for some time now. How does it feel knowing people will finally be sitting down to gawk at it with the supplied 3D glasses?
David Marquez: Ah, it’s been three years in the works, so it’ll be nice to finally have it out there for people to buy/enjoy/hate/whatever.
Is that the longest you’ve ever worked at the production of one self-contained project?
Yeah, definitely. Well, it depends on the perspective, I suppose. I’ve been working on “Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man” for two years, on and off. Before that, I spent about a year on “Fantastic Four: Season One” and about a year on “Syndrome,” the first book Josh [R.J. Ryan] and I worked on together. But this has been the longest single project as well as effort I’ve had to do.
Were the Joyner always “in 3D?” Did the story itself and the concept of that 3D presentation come about simultaneously? Who sat up from their chair to find that egg, is what I suppose I’m asking, and not necessarily whether that person was already a chicken or not.
Initially it was Josh. As soon as we finished work on “Syndrome” together, we started talking about doing a creator-owned project, whether at Archaia or somewhere else. In addition to having a really good creative collaboration, we became really good friends. We tossed around two or three ideas, and initially the art and 3D hadn’t come into play. It was really just story pitches. One that stood out centered on this scientific family coming into contact with E.T.s. The name Joyners, I think, was already attached to that. That changed pretty dramatically the more we talked about what we were interested in doing and where the story could go. As far as the 3D specifically, Josh is friends with Spike Jonze and a lot of the “Jackass” folks, and “Jackass 3D” was coming out about the time we were talking about doing this project together. I think that put the seed in his head of how there is so little in the way of 3D comics being done now, and serious effort 3D comics in general. There are things here and there like the end of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier” when Ray Zone came in with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill to do that one 3D issue. In general, it’s been used as a gimmick more than anything else. There hasn’t been a whole lot of “serious fare” using 3D as part of the narrative technique. So, he came to me with the idea and I was really intrigued.
Were you at all skeptical?
No, I was intrigued by the idea. The only way I was skeptical was wanting to avoid it being a gimmick. That’s the easiest, knee-jerk reaction someone could have to 3D. 3D is used so seldom in comics that when it is used, it seems to dominate any discussion of what the project is. We did want the 3D, because it is so rare, to be a big talking point and push for the book, but for much more than just, “We’re telling a story and it just so happens to be in 3D in order to get more sales.” The big thing for me, right off the bat, was that I wanted to do the 3D myself. In addition to just being a big control freak in general, I thought about it in the way creators do when one of their properties is being developed for other media. The fear is, if entrusted to just whomever, the creative integrity could be lost. That was my view of the 3D. Not that others couldn’t do a good job, but if I handled it personally, I would feel the pressure to make sure it’s used with the most artful validity. That’s up to interpretation, but it was an artistic and technical challenge to make sure it was more than a cheap money grab.
I imagine you learned quite a bit doing it on your own.
Oh, fuck yeah. The first thing we wanted to do was delve into the history of 3D, and this was something Josh did a great deal more than I did, as far as grabbing every single example of 3D in comics. The initial process in this huge learning curve we had to go through was figuring out what 3D has been done that’s good and interesting, and how did they do it? Joe Kubert was essentially the pioneer of 3D comics. Through researching his process, I ended up developing — along with my wife and creative partner Tara Rhymes, who did about half the 3D on the book — a new technique based on Kubert’s own. Without getting way too technical, he would draw the individual layers of depth on different sheets of acetate. He’d then photograph them with one degree of separation for the left image and another degree for the right image. We did something similar, but much more time consuming and elaborate. In addition to depth and layers of foreground, middle-ground, background, there’s also roundness and volume. Figuring out that took around a year and a half, trying different techniques. We ended up corrupting Photoshop, bending it to our will to get it to do the things we wanted. So there was a learning curve in figuring out how those before us did it, and then finding ways to handle it efficiently to get the specific results we were looking for.
Tara and I are both detail oriented, so given our druthers, we’d probably still be tweaking the process. One of the big frustrations for me was that by the time I had enough confidence in my understanding of what we were doing, two of the major pioneers in 3D comics — Joe Kubert, who developed a lot of the technique, and Ray Zone, who’s been Mr. 3D for the past 30-some years — both died in 2012. Before they died I was way too chicken-shit to try and approach them about it. By the time I was confident enough about it — however you want to measure confidence — they were no longer there to talk to. And there’s not a whole lot of literature out there on the process. So even beyond gathering the tools to use, figuring out the theory and methodology was mostly starting from ground-up. That’s where Tara became invaluable. Just having someone to bounce ideas off of and who could contribute new ways of looking at 3D. She made it more efficient and brought a lot of artistic vision that I hadn’t even considered. I couldn’t have done it by myself.
After an uphill battle like that, do you see yourself eager to get back to basics or intent on trying something just as challenging?
I think I’m split between the two.
There’s merit in both.
Put it this way: Even if it’s not right away, are there challenges of this nature that you’d like to explore beyond this, or do you feel like 3D was — or continues to be — your white whale?
The easy answer is that, yes, I’m constantly trying to challenge myself. Growing complacent with my art is something that I fear more than anything else, creatively. After finishing this project, there was definitely a period where I wanted to step back and breathe a while and have some weekends again; Recovery time. For me and Tara. That had more to do with physical exhaustion than creative exhaustion. I think it’s equally important to innovate and to reinforce and build expertise in the basics. Without any sense of your foundations, it’s very hard to tastefully explore things that are new.
Does that mean that it’s dangerous to innovate for the sheer sake of innovation?
I’m not sure I’m saying don’t innovate just to innovate. I think there’s a place for provocateurs. I may not always like what they put out or the image that they present. Without an understanding of the rules that you’re breaking, breaking those rules means something different. It’s not that it’s always going to be less. Some people without any sense of boundaries whatsoever will innovate, and that informs everybody else’s exploration of that art or technology or writing. For myself, there’s benefit to be drawn from building off those that have come before. If they always worked within certain strictures, when I choose to deviate from that, what is the effect? Is that something I can use consistently? I guess that’s more analytical than intuitive. I can’t help but approach my art analytically. My understanding what I’m doing requires that I understand what others have done. Is what I’m doing different? If so, how? Is the effect something I like or don’t like? That’s the way I’ve always approached art, and I’m very happy with where it’s brought me. I wish I had a more child-like, intuitive sense of exploration of my craft.
There’s quite a bit of conversation at the moment about the comic artist’s role in the authorship of a comic. Many simply assume that a writer writes and an artist illustrates. If we delineate between plotting and storytelling, for sake of clarity, what kind of role do you pursue in collaborative storytelling?
I really like the distinction you draw between plot and story. I think that’s the separation I’ve felt and have been OK with in all the work I’ve done thus far. To some degree. For the majority of the projects I’ve done — though there have been some exceptions — the plot, the pacing, dialogue, the narrative direction is all something that the writer has handled, and I’ve taken it from there along with the colorists and letterers. It varies from case to case. There have been instances where I’ve been invited to take a greater part in developing plot, like when I worked with Ron Marz on “Magdalena.” I was working on half of the pages while Nelson Blake II did the other half. [Marz] and I had a couple phone chats where we discussed the things I’d be interested in drawing, and that, to some degree, informed the scripts he was writing.
With “Syndrome,” the first published book I worked on with R.J. Ryan and Dan Quantz, I was very involved with the script from a very early stage. I was given the initial treatment and I had certain concerns over the format and the structure. That led to a very close collaboration between myself and the writers, where I served maybe a very tiny editorial role as opposed to an active writing role. But I was actively involved in the creation of the plot and story. They had all the bare bones in place and I gave my reaction to various drafts that culminated in the final script. Since then, especially with my Marvel work, it’s been much more — when you’re working with Brian Bendis, I’m not gonna tell him, “Well, why don’t we do this instead?” As our collaboration has gotten tighter and we’ve become friends, I do feel very involved in the storytelling.
I think he does a good job of facilitating that, teeing up moments where you can express a lot of incidental storytelling through posture, gestures. Though I suppose that’s direction more than plot. A director is a storyteller though.
These are characters and a book he’s worked on for years. It’s his baby. I’m happy to follow his lead as far as which direction the story takes. But it’s gotten to the point that I get to see the story before it ever gets typed. We live in the same city. We hang out. He’ll talk about the ideas he’s having. That’s certainly more than the experience I had before working on a Marvel book where my first exposure to the story is just getting the script from my editor. Whether I grimace or smile at whatever he says might influence the way that he writes the story. Depending on the closeness of the collaboration between the artist and the writer, the artist can have a very large impact on the direction the plot takes before the script is written and in their hands. When a reader first sees a page of a comic, information is more directly mainlined to them through the art than the words. It takes more time to start reading and to comprehend for that translation to happen than for them to look at a page and get information from it.
This goes back to the conversation about 3D. When their job is done you shouldn’t notice that it’s done. I think a huge aspect is true for the art in a comic. I’ve seen that said often about color, and I think it’s absolutely true. A good colorist will elevate a comic. A bad coloring job will ruin the feel, the narrative of a comic. There’s a certain invisible aspect to the rest of the art. People might read a shitty comic and love it if the art is great. They can also read a great comic that is made greater by the art. One thing that I think is great about working with Brian on “Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man” is that we both have a very strong interest in the emotions of the characters. It’s something I love drawing. It’s something he invests deeply in the script. Just reading a script, I’ll get a little teary every once in a while. When a reader reacts to that, all of it starts with Brian’s script, but their mirror neurons are getting kicked on largely because of the art as well. It’s those two things paired together. Both of them are half and both of them are everything. The art and the writing equally share in the responsibility of delivering the message.
I think the 3D in “Joyners” adds to that experience as well. It feels like part of that confluence as opposed to a distracting addition, which is something I’d worried about until I actually sat down with it. It’s part of the whole. So, I’m wondering how you would feel if another team announced in a week or a month that they’re doing a 3D graphic novel? Are you at all territorial about it?
Oh, I’m very ambivalent. If it’s good? Awesome. If it’s shitty? Awesome?
We’ll only look better because of it. There’s a certain amount of competitiveness that comes out of it initially, but–
Would you recommend people try it? I’d imagine a lot of the emotional investment you have with it has to do with all the blood, sweat and tears. More so than the landmark status. Though that’s a pretty fly feather to have in your cap.
I think it’s always good to stretch your wings and try something different. This was a huge technical challenge. In terms of dollars, come back to me in a year and we’ll see where things are. I came out of it grateful for the experience even if it wasn’t all roses and puppies and stuff. Nothing worth doing is easy. It built character.
Having survived 3D with this project, would you ever want to explore the other dimensions along the sensual spectrum, say a book with snobberies that taste like snozberries? Would you do a Smell-O-Vision comic?
[Laughs] Would I do a Smell-O-Vision comic? My initial reaction is, “Is there a tasteful application for that technique?” Imagine a flashback sequence to someone’s childhood. Smell is so related to memory. Imagine them remembering a sunny afternoon in the summer, in a meadow, looking at clouds, and having the smell of fresh cut grass.
Have you thought about this before? You came to that quickly.
No, no, no. That was off the cuff.
Nostalgia seems like the natural theme to pursue with scent.
There are other things. Like a murder scene with the scent of blood.
There are ways for it to augment the story, absolutely. Can things that are gimmicky be used artfully and tastefully? Absolutely. it’s a matter of skill and vision and technique and application.
But you’d probably leave that to someone else to mess around with.
Yeah, fuck that. No way.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “The Joyners in 3D.” For more on David Marquez follow him on twitter at @DaveMarquez.