Babs Tarr rose to comic book stardom in part for her ability to draw women who are badasses. After helping redesign classic DC Comics character Batgirl, Tarr knew right away that Barbara Gordon wouldn’t be the last tough heroine she’d draw — she just wasn’t sure when she’d be able to dust off her pencils to create something of her own.
Tarr, 28, broke into the world of superhero comics in 2014, collaborating with writers Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart and turning “Batgirl” into one of DC Comics’ hottest series during the publisher’s New 52 era. They gave the series an authentically younger, hipster vibe full of mystery, coffee shops, texting and quick hookups.
Tarr’s younger, more stylish, but still just as dangerous Batgirl — who previously worked more in the shadows — was like nothing the comic book industry had seen before visually. Brightness and fun weren’t things normally associated with comic books based out of Gotham City (Tarr’s run on “Batgirl” took place in a corner of the Batman universe called Burnside). The response from fans was overwhelmingly positive — a relief to Tarr, who was new to drawing comics professionally.
“All I knew about the [comic book reading] community was that when stuff changed, people rioted,” Tarr told Comic Riffs with a laugh from her home in Charleston, S.C.
While drawing issue No. 36 of “Batgirl,” Fletcher and Stewart asked Tarr about working on an independently owned comic book with them. Tarr told Comic Riffs back during her comic book pro debut that her art style before comics was mostly images of “tough chicks and leather jackets and motorcycles.” As fate would have it, that was exactly the kind of world Fletcher and Stewart were trying to bring to life in their next comic book.
Born out of those conversations was “Motor Crush,” a story starring Domino Swift, a professional motorcycle racer by day. At night, she’s competing in illegal motorcycle races where knocking people off their bikes is just as important as crossing the finish line. The prize? A secret and illegal fuel called “crush” that makes riders’ bikes go faster. Swift has her own personal reasons for needing the prize waiting by the checkered flags.
Though they had this new idea in place, Tarr says there was only one thing holding them back from getting started: “Batgirl” had become more popular than the trio could have imagined. They thought their run would last only six issues, but it instead went from her hipster rebirth in issue No. 36 to issue No. 52, with Tarr relieving herself of art duties after issue No. 50, which was published in April.
As a comic book free agent with an art style that is instantly recognizable, Tarr says she’s confident she could have continued at DC Comics drawing “Batgirl” and was flattered when Marvel Comics reached out with an open-ended “what do you want to do” question.
But she knew “Motor Crush” would be her next project. The chance to once again work with Fletcher and Stewart, this time on a project they would own the rights to, was too much for Tarr to pass up.
“Motor Crush” will debut digitally and in print from Image Comics on Dec. 7 and will be published monthly.
Tarr is grateful to be working at Image Comics, a publisher founded by artists like herself who wanted more creative rights back in the ’90s. It’s now the place where the industry’s top talent go when they want to bring original ideas to life.
“Hero comics is fun, but it’s also very taxing. You never really own the character. You can only guide them and fight for this journey that you want to take them on, and it’s not always the road you set out because you’re not really steering the ship, someone else is,” Tarr said of working for major comic book publishers. “You’re second-in-command. [Independent comics] are hard in a whole different way. Everything is a choice. Every path you can take, and you have to choose the right one.”
Tarr doesn’t rule out drawing superheroes again for DC Comics or Marvel, but she says there’s only one type of situation that would work for her.
“It would have to be something that really fit my aesthetic,” Tarr said. “I feel like a badass girl book basically is the only thing I would be interested in.”
Or in other words, the type of heroine Tarr now helps create on her own.