It’s been a long time since 3D was omnipresent in comics. Recently, there have been outliers like “Superman Beyond 3D” during “Final Crisis” and “Crossed 3D,” but for the most part, comics haven’t delved into 3D since the big boom in the 1950s. However, writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez are set to bring the effect back in a big way for the full-length graphic novel “The Joyners in 3D” on sale next year from Archaia Entertainment. Presented entirely in traditional red-and-blue 3D and packaged with 3D glasses, “The Joyners in 3D” seeks to elevate 3D to enhance the presentation of the story, rather than simply existing for its own sake.
CBR News spoke to David Marquez at Comic-Con International in San Diego about working in anaglyph 3D, the history of the art form in comics, how the artistic effect enhances the project, his collaborative history with writer R.J. Ryan and how he altered his style for “The Joyners.”
David, tell us about “The Joyners in 3D” and how the plot of the graphic novel relates to the 3D aspect of the book.
David Marquez: We’re doing it in anaglyph 3D, which is that original red-and-blue lens stereoscopic thing. Without hitting it too on the nose, the title has a double entendre to the name. One thing R.J. Ryan and I talked about a lot during the development of the book is that we haven’t seen a lot of well-done, well thought out, in-depth story in 3D. A lot of times it’s been used for the flash and bang. You can also see this in the way 3D is used in other media, movies being the most obvious. Most people have used it as a way to produce eye candy for an otherwise fairly empty story. That isn’t to say that every single 3D story is bad, but we can’t think of a time we’ve seen a really in-depth, for lack of a better term, 3D character study. First and foremost, we’re trying to tell a really good story with “The Joyners in 3D.” 3D is one more storytelling tool in our toolbox. Part of that is that we’re trying to take a really rounded look at the characters themselves. They’re very, very subtle, very complex characters. At a very basic level, that’s the storytelling motivation. It’s trying to use 3D as a storytelling tool in order to give as deep of a look into the characters as possible.
Traditional red-and-blue 3D isn’t something you see very much anymore, especially in comics. What’s the process for working in that particular style?
That was one of the motivations for wanting to do it — the fact that no one is doing it that much. There’s been some recent dabbling in it. You’ve got “Crossed 3D” from Avatar, and you had the “Superman Beyond 3D” “Final Crisis” tie-in that Grant Morrison wrote. Other than that, there hasn’t been a whole lot of 3D explored in comics recently. That said, there’s a huge boom of 3D and a rich history of 3D in comics especially back during the ’50s during the original 3D craze. It happened in film and comics and all kinds of places. You saw guys like Joe Kubert and Jack Kirby dive head-over-heels into doing 3D for about a year or two. Joe Kubert helped pioneer the original techniques that were used for 3D. What they would do is they would actually draw on separate transparent layers on whatever paper-like surface they were using. Sometimes it’d be glass, other times, it’d be cellophane or a similar transparent plastic sheet. They would use those different layers and they’d photograph them by shifting the layers in order to get that 3D stereoscopic effect.
I work digitally and it’s actually been easy for me to replicate a similar process, although different, in order to create the same depth effect. When I work in Photoshop — and I work primarily digitally for my “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” work — but since I work in layers anyway, my foreground, my middleground, my background is already separated. It’s fairly easy, then, to go through a process I’ve developed to take those layers and create some depth. In doing that, I’m trying to avoid the 3D cardboard cutout effect where it’s flat middleground/flat background/flat foreground and actually create a gradient of depth within the foreground, the medium ground and the background. It’s something they played around a little bit with but was really difficult based on the technological limitations they had back during the ’50s.
How has modern technology and your work in the digital space helped you to better achieve this effect?
Because of the process I use being digital, that’s made working in 3D a lot simpler — not to say it’s been simple. We’ve been working on this for two-ish years. Just researching it, developing the style I’ve been using and it’s also developing the process, which even now is a work in progress. I’m still fine-tuning exactly how I’m converting to 3D, how much to use the 3D, how much to push the depth, stuff like that. There are all kinds of technological limitations even now on a screen versus on print, 3D works very, very differently. Even trying to find the fine balance between me working digitally and then getting a product that looks good in print is still a work in progress.
One of the other things that’s been helping a whole lot is it’s a pretty divergent style from what I do in my mainstream work. I’m pretty heavily detailed, heavily realistic work. For “Joyners,” I’ve gone with a much more simplified style and there are a couple reasons for it. First and foremost, I think based on my experimentation that a simpler black and white with a greyscale shading style really compliments 3D treatment whereas my traditional style may still work, but is a lot more complicated when trying to make sure that all the 3D effects play out. That simple practical reason was one huge motivation for the style change. Additionally, I just wanted to stretch a different artistic muscle. As much as 3D itself is a chance to stretch myself and supplement my mainstream work with something that’s new and invigorating and different, stylistically working in a different style does the same thing. This is me diving a little bit into the art that I really appreciate, but haven’t made the choice to pursue in my mainstream work. There’s a pretty strong Bruce Timm/Darwyn Cooke influence in there, but also I was looking a whole lot at Daniel Clowes, reading books like “Wilson” and “David Boring” and all his “8-Ball” stuff as well, obviously. “David Boring,” itself, is actually a very strong stylistic influence on this book and that’s where the idea of doing the greyscale shading over black and white linework came from.
How does 3D enhance “The Joyners” to make the three-dimensional effect more than a gimmick?
We’re actually doing the lettering in 3D as well, which is something that hopefully will be used as another way to enhance the inherent storytelling of the comics page. As far as going beyond the gimmick of it, the setting we’re using is medium-near-future — 26 years from now. One of the huge design aesthetics that we’re drawing on is a 1960s “Jetsons”-esque sky city. One of the thing that we’re really trying to sell throughout the book is the openness of the world in which the characters interact and are having their adventures. The 3D allows us to drop the sense of vastness of space into all the exterior shots. There are a ton of exterior shots in the book.
This is something that some people will agree with and some people won’t agree with. I just saw “The Amazing Spider-Man” in 3D and I’m kind of on the fence about whether 3D is always a good thing or not. Something I really appreciated about it and other movies that are actually shot in 3D is the very, very subtle sense of volume and space you have in everyday scenes. A lot of people are complaining about this movie in particular about how 3D oftentimes doesn’t seem like it’s adding a whole lot. It may be that during their experience, that very subtle of spatial effect isn’t enough for them. I find it incredibly engrossing and it really involves me. In terms of volume during all the talking scenes, during all the subtle scenes in a laboratory, an apartment, a classroom, to have these characters interact in what is very viscerally and tangibly a 3D space is the sense I want to convey in every single page of “The Joyners.” Even if every single panel isn’t blowing your mind through the wild and pretty use of 3D, the fact that there’s a level of depth to everything adds more weight and volume to what’s there. I want to supplement that as well with — this book’s in 3D, you want to see that big money shot and you’re going to see those as well, but as a whole we want the 3D to be something that pulls the reader in, even if it’s just a little bit, into the actual 3D space the character’s occupying. It’s a bit conceptual and the proof will be in the pudding in the final product, but that’s the thought process behind at least one motivation for using the 3D.
We’ve talked a lot about 3D and the 3D aspects of the book, but is it possible for “The Joyners” to be enjoyed without wearing the 3D glasses?
This is something we’re still debating. The seed and genesis of this comic was doing [it] in 3D, for 3D as much as possible and surpassing the gimmick as much as possible. I was very skeptical at first wanting to do it in 3D. Josh [the J in R.J. Ryan] is also kind of a skeptic but together we’ve hashed out how we can make this an inspiring and hopefully successful utilization of the technology to tell a really engrossing story. We are very hesitant to pursue options not using the 3D since that was the seed of the idea to begin with. You could flatten every single page and put it out, but the way in which we’ve from the very beginning, from the sketches I did for the book, in the script itself every discussion between Josh and I has been, “How do you like 3D for this page in particular?” I think if this book is read only in 2D, something’s going to be lost, even if that’s only the sense of absolute depth in the open spaces in the book. The degree to which a reader will notice that depth or appreciate that difference — an individual’s miles may vary. We’re really designing the book to read in 3D as its optimal version. We aren’t ruling that out, but we’re really hesitant to do that because we think something will be lost in the translation.
You’ve worked with R.J. Ryan before on the graphic novel “Syndrome.” How did you two meet and how has your collaborative style developed since “Syndrome?”
Josh and I met — actually, he found me when I was hunting my first paying gigs — he found me online. I’d done a Batman drawing and something caught his eye. He recommended me to Archaia and the guys who were putting together the book “Syndrome.” Over the course of the better part of a year working on it, we had become really close friends and the friendship continued after the project. It was pretty clear to both of us that our working relationship was so automatic and natural that we wanted to work together again after “Syndrome.” The only question was what. I was pursuing other work for hire at the time, which eventually led to my current work at Marvel. We had three or four story ideas after “Syndrome” wrapped and this was the one that piqued our interest the most.
My excitement to work with him on this project in particular was that it was so drastically different than anything else I’d done. “Syndrome” was taking a mainstream look, but mapping it over an indie sensibility for the story itself. It was that off-kilter, non mainstream thing that Josh and I really thought we could do good things with. That was the seed of the idea: how different can we go with another project? “The Joyners” is a dramatic graphic novel where I’m working in a very different style than I normally am. I wouldn’t be working with Josh if I didn’t think he wasn’t an incredibly underrated and unnoticed talent in comics. The script for “Syndrome” which he wrote in conjunction with Dan Quantz was incredible and the script for “Joyners” is just fantastic. Like with “Syndrome,” there are layers to everything — the characters, the plot itself, all the different degrees of story in a character are incredible. It’s just a very, very moving and emotionally engrossing story as well. It’s something that I’ve seen in Josh’s work on “Syndrome” and on other things as well — TV scripts and other stuff — it’s just a strong grasp of emotional vibrancy and amazing character portraits. It’s something that will hopefully be on display in “Joyners.”
What are you most excited about for the release of “The Joyners in 3D?”
I think that it’s the first time to my knowledge that an in-depth serious story is being told in 3D. As much as possible, we’re targeting this book at the skeptics and I want to hear what the skeptics have to say. We want this to be a book that people who think they hate 3D enjoy. It’s a combination of art that I poured my heart into, a script that Josh poured his heart into, a story that we came up with together that we poured our hearts into and hopefully a very tasteful and well-thought-through application of 3D [that] all comes together for a really engrossing, enjoyable and inspiring story, incorporating the 3D as part of the overall storytelling experience.
Anything else you’d like to add?
A huge shout out and thanks goes to [Editor-in-Chief] Stephen Christy at Archaia for taking a chance on a book like this. Like with so many projects they’ve had over the last few years like “Return of the Dapper Men” and “A Tale of Sand,” this is a book that’s well outside of the norm for most readers in comics or otherwise are used to seeing. Archaia has a track record of taking chances on inspired but off-kilter projects. I think it’s a testament to the fact that Stephen Christy has a great eye for interesting and exciting new projects. The fact that they would take a risk on that says a lot about their faith in us and it’s something we’re incredibly grateful for. I’m excited to be working with them in partnership on this.
The other member of the team that hasn’t spoken out a lot about this is Jon Adams, who is a designer and artist out of San Francisco. He has a website and is a designer and a cartoonist that Josh and I have been friends with for a long time and we were able to convince him to come on and do all the designing for the book itself from the cover work and the lettering, the overall package design and the 3D glasses themselves. His involvement is integral to the look and the feel of the physical object itself and we’re really excited to have him onboard.
“The Joyners in 3D” by R.J. Ryan, David Marquez and Jon Adams goes on sale in 3D comic shops everywhere in 2013.