Much like 3D movies, 3D comic books enjoyed a period of widespread popularity in the 1950s. But while decades later it's now nearly obligatory for a major movie to be filmed in or converted to 3D — just this summer saw Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and even The Great Gatsby released in the format — 3D comic books have been mostly absent from the market in recent years.
Archaia's The Joyners in 3D, scheduled for release in November, is changing that. From the publisher's Syndrome team of writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez, the sci-fi drama tells the story of a mid-21st century technological innovator named George Joyner, whose family life crumbles around him as his business life soars.
Compared to the bombastic action of most current 3D movies, it's a surprising choice of story for the 3D format. According to the creative team, that's kind of the point.
"3D can be used in ways to emphasize or enhance what's on the page. You get an amazing sense of volume and space," Marquez told Newsarama of what he's looking to help make the book look and feel unique. "Western comics don't really linger on moments."
The Joyners has been something of a labor of love project for Marquez, who's been working on the project while drawing full-time on Marvel books like Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (he's the current ongoing series artist) and All-New X-Men (he filled-in for three issues earlier this year). Not only is Marquez illustrating all 100-plus pages of the original graphic novel, he's also converting the images into 3D himself, which was a learning process for the artist.
"There are definitely easier ways to make a living in comics than the way I'm doing it right now," Marquez said, describing himself as a "control freak." "There's no way I would do this project and not have my hand in every aspect of it."
Given the work inherent in producing The Joyners, it's a book that's been in development for a while, with the first promotion of the project surfacing more than a year ago.
"This has been a long-in-production book, and not just because Dave has had so much success at Marvel and is an in-demand monthly artist," Ryan said to Newsarama. "The entire team — including our book designer Jon Adams and our editor Stephen Christy — has been absolutely painstaking in putting this book together, and that process started with our 3D testing that began a little more than two years ago and continues now as we get ready to send it to the printer."
The process has also involved both Ryan and Marquez extensively researching the history of 3D comics ranging from 1950s Mighty Mouse issues to 2009's Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, and the work of pioneers like Joe Kubert and Ray Zone, who both passed away last year.
During a panel devoted to The Joyners this past April at Chicago's C2E2 convention, Ryan and Marquez shared lessons learned from past releases like Blackthorne's 1980s 3D Star Wars comic books and John Byrne's 1990 Batman 3D graphic novel, which helped inform what they wanted to avoid with their book. Two of the major things Marquez said he's looking to avoid were eye strain — visual comfort is key — and "ghosting," where a "faint ghosty image" results from an imperfect 3D conversion.
Story-wise, Ryan has made it known that he's not trying to build a franchise with The Joyners, and is up-front that the story has an unhappy ending.
"More important than whatever effort or work that went into Joyners in 3D is what we hope to deliver with the finished product — something that goes past the 'gimmick' of the stereography and stakes out some new territory for comics," Ryan said. "I've promised a genuinely sad story from the vey beginning, yes, we also are trying to craft something that you'll want to share with a friend, that will look nice in your home and that will stir a deeper emotional reaction than anything you've seen in 3D before."
Beyond the added dimension, the art style of Joyners is a departure from Marquez's visuals on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, more closely influenced, in his words, by Disney animation, manga, Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke and alternative comics.
"I wanted to be Travis Charest for years and years and years," Marquez said, referencing the noted artist whose WildC.A.T.s/X-Men: The Golden Age was released in 3D in 1997. "That said, I also really like guys like Daniel Clowes. I love Chris Ware. I love David Mazzucchelli more art comics stuff."
Archaia, who announced their acquisition by fellow Los Angeles-based publisher BOOM! Studios last month, has an impressive record with the original graphic novel format, with 2010's The Return of the Dapper Men and 2011's Jim Henson's Tale of Sand each picking up multiple industry awards. When talking to those involved, it's apparent that they're hoping for a similar type of success with The Joyners.
"In the pantheon of Archaia books this is really a follow up to the work we started with Return of the Dapper Men and continued with Tale of Sand," Archaia editor-in-chief Stephen Christy said to Newsarama. "It’s taking a creator who’s done most of his work for Marvel and giving him a canvas to do something that I don’t think any other publisher would have produced. I live for projects like this, and with no hype I can say that there’s going to be nothing else like it on the stands this year."
While expectations are high for Joyners, Marquez said he's still planning on working in mainstream shared universe comic books, the material that made him a fan growing up.
"I'm absolutely interested in continuing to do mainstream superhero comics," Marquez said. "I hope for many, many years, if not decades to come, I'll continue to be able to do that. But it's not necessarily now the end-all and be-all of what I'm interested in doing in comics. It's a big part of what I'm interesting in doing, but I'm also interesting in pushing myself creatively and aesthetically and technically. The Joyners is definitely an example of that."