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Interview in Silver Bullet Comics
Silver Bullet Comics
Published on 3/09/2004

Interview by Tim O'Shea.  Silver Bullet Comics is now called Comics Bulletin.  You can check out the interview at Comics Bulletin or read the transcript below!

Tara McPherson: Q&A
Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Silver Bullet Comics
Posted By: Tim O'Shea

Tara McPherson first came to my attention early in 2004 thanks to pop culture blogger extraordinaire, Johnny Bacardi. McPherson is an artist who has been busy the past few years, establishing a name for herself in several artistic/pop culture mediums. Most recently, however, her profile’s been elevated by her paintings for DC’s Vertigo covers—such as The Sandman Presents: Thessaly, Witch For Hire miniseries. SBC caught up with McPherson to find out the path that got her where she is at present.

How did the Vertigo covers start? Did you seek Vertigo out or did they seek you out?

I was contacted by Mariah Huehner, an editor at Vertigo, after she saw an interview of mine printed in International Tattoo Art magazine (they feature artists in every issue). She requested a press kit, and once that arrived they offered me my first cover which was Lucifer #45. In a strange way, I’d say it was fate that I began doing covers for Vertigo because I have always been so enthralled with cover art. When I first started buying comics when I was younger, it was the covers that drew me in. I’d sit and stare at them and analyze the artists work for hours hoping someday I could do something as cool as that. Some artists that really inspired me at that time were Kent Williams, Teddy Kristiansen, Dave McKean, Alex Ross and Glenn Fabry just to name a few. So when they approached me to paint covers for them, I was like...”perfect." It all kind of clicked into place.

How much editorial input is there, or are you pretty much given free reign? For example, could you break down the development process for your recent Thessaly cover?

I would have to say that I’m given a lot of freedom to create, which is how I work best. When there’s too many guidelines spelled out it takes away from my creative thought process. I like to feel I can try anything and with the Thessaly series there was such a great story to begin with, thanks to Bill Willingham, that the options on how to approach it were vast. Once I’m given the available material for the issue, I begin by writing notes and ideas down. I try to start with a strong concept before I even start sketching. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea I have to write it down before I forget or I’ll have an epiphany while driving down the street. You never know when that right idea is going to hit you, so I always carry a pencil and paper with me and have them stashed all over the house and studio. Once I’ve narrowed my ideas down to 3 good ones, I start with loose thumbnail sketches. Those get sent in for viewing, and the editors get back a day or so later on which one they like best. Sometimes all it takes is one round and you nail it. Other times, the editor will push you to keep working out more concepts. After the sketch gets approved, I start on the final drawing and work out all the details. That also gets sent in for a final approval. Also the first cover in a series is a more crucial one due to the emphasis placed on it as #1; it sets the precedence for the rest of the covers. It can seem a daunting task, but for me it’s fuel for the fire.

Has Vertigo expressed interest in you doing interiors as well as covers or do you have no interest in the demand of sequential art of that nature?

That hasn’t come up and personally, I really don’t have a desire right now to do interior art. I’m really passionate about covers being the initial image that draws people’s attention and it parallels some of the art that really inspires me. Take for instance Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque portraiture; I love how powerful those images are. Artists like Bronzino and Rembrandt suck you into their art when you see them. In a way, what I try to create with my covers mimics that of the gallery painting. The presentation of a bold and beautiful image meant for the viewer's pleasure and intellect. But, as they say, never say never. I would like to paint a whole book someday...

How long have you been doing the alternative band posters?

I’ve been doing rock posters for a couple years now. It falls into the same category as my covers, as in it was just a logical thing for me to start doing because I had collected them for so long and had such interest in them. Following your dreams one could say. It’s like I wrote my path in life before I even knew I was writing it.

You've done an astounding number of music pieces. I was wondering if there are some that are your favorite, from either the perspective that you enjoy the person's music or are pleased how the piece turned out, or both?

Well, it’s icing on the cake when it’s for a band that I love. It makes it that much more exciting to do. The Shins, PJ Harvey, Modest Mouse, Interpol, Built To Spill and Catpower all fall into that category. I’m really proud of The Strokes, Shonen Knife, Beck, Rilo Kiley and the Bangs posters also. And I like their music too. It’s rare that I don’t like a band that I do a poster for; I just like some better than others, but that’s not really a factor when I’m creating a poster. It’s about how I can represent the band successfully to their audience and create a cool piece of art for someone to own. After the actual event is said and done, the only tangible items left to remember the night are posters, shirts, CDs and a ticket stub. For those who buy the posters at the show, there is much more sentiment involved with it also. Their experiences of the evening, good or bad, become part of that poster they look at everyday; that visceral experience gets transformed. Generally, I tend to like my newer posters better because it gives me the opportunity to work out new ideas of mine and, also, I’ve looked at the older ones so much. The notion of new and fresh is exciting to me. But I like them all, they are like my little babies.

To date, do you know of any folks that have attended your gallery shows after discovering your work through your Vertigo exposure?

I think right now it’s working the opposite way. I’ve been showing paintings in galleries and doing posters longer, so I think fans of that work are recognizing the cover art and buying the comics. I’ve gotten emails from people who have seen the comics in shops, review books and websites, or have asked me where they can buy them, all based on my prior work. The worlds of comics, gallery art and posters have many crossovers though, so it’s all still in the same vein of interest. A person who likes one of those is more than likely to enjoy the others.

As the artist for the month over at the blah blah gallery, it mentions that one quality of your work is the ability to "create a sort of strange morph of a child and adult traits in a drawn face." Would you agree with this description, and if so, what is the motivation for pursuing such a "look?"

Yes I would agree with that. It mainly comes from my love of painting -- portraiture specifically -- where the subject traditionally was painted in an idealized manner. A moment of perfection captured forever on canvas displaying the epitome of beauty in that time period. I have the instinctual nature to idealize who and what I paint, even if it’s bloody and gory, there’s beauty that I see in it. Our society views youth as an ideal stage in life that many try too hard to hold on to. I seek to explore that in my art, but also from another perspective, I try to never forget what it was like to be a child, to hold on to that innocence we all had at that point in time. But as any person would, I do try to vary my art with a variety of characters.

Where do you envision your career taking you, either in the near or long term?

Ultimately, I want to keep painting and creating. Wherever that may lead me I’ll find out in the future. The path my art career has taken me so far has really mimicked what my interests were when I was younger, so I guess whatever may pique my interest nowadays might be a good omen for what is to come. I have some possible toy deals in the works with a Japanese company and a lot of merchandising ideas that will soon come to fruition, so keep a look out for that stuff. I will be releasing a series of fine art serigraphs published by Diesel Fuel Prints this year and am currently working on painted covers for a new Vertigo series called The Witching written by Jonathan Vankin and edited by Shelly Bond that will be on stands in the summer. I’m also showing paintings in some group art exhibitions at La Luz de Jesus and OX-OP Gallery in March and April. I guess for the rest, we will soon find out!