Art was the one subject Babs Tarr could always "kick everybody's butts in."
Now, Tarr's art is "kicking butt" in a new way: The Mount Pleasant native is the illustrator of the new volume of Batgirl comic books from DC Entertainment, due out in October.
Tarr's take on Batgirl will be "more fun and flirty" than in past comic books. The character trades her traditional body-hugging Spandex costume for a black leather jacket and bright yellow combat boots and moves to Burnside, a trendy neighborhood in Gotham reminiscent of Brooklyn, N.Y., after losing all her belongings in a fire.
"She's been through so much and had some hard times," Tarr, 24, said. "We want her to have some fun."
After tracking down villains and recovering from paralysis, Batgirl's story gets a little lighter, Tarr said. Batgirl's crime fighting takes a "Sherlock Holmes" path, Tarr said, and she focuses on graduate school as her alter-ego, Barbara Gordon.
Tarr grew up in Mount Pleasant and graduated from Bishop England High School in 2006. She read and drew manga - Japanese comics - and learned oil painting and "the business side of things" from Mount Pleasant artist Paul Silva.
Silva and his wife saw Tarr at a Barnes & Noble store and approached her to be a model, but once Silva saw Tarr's drawings, he wanted to help her expand her artistic talents.
Tarr took painting lessons from Silva and worked as his assistant selling art at the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square. Learning the business aspects gave Tarr the self-assurance she needed to become a professional artist, Silva said.
"It gave her the confidence that she could go to art school, that she could do anything she really wanted," he said. "I didn't know where it was going to go, but I always knew she was more an illustrator than a painter - and she is an excellent painter."
Tarr studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but the school offered only one class in comic book-style art.
"I never really thought of pursuing comics because it was never on the table," Tarr said. "I never thought I had enough experience."
After a few years of working in game design and doing freelance jobs in San Francisco, where she now lives, Tarr got a message from Batgirl writer Cameron Stewart asking her if she'd be interested in drawing Batgirl.
"I didn't know if it would work," Tarr said. "My style is not like DC's."
While mostly drawing manga-style comics in high school, Tarr said she found her own individual style still influenced by manga while in college.
Batgirl, like many of the women Tarr draws, has large eyes and a lanky yet feminine body.
Tarr said yes to Stewart and sent some illustrations to DC along with Stewart's story, and the comic book giant selected her.
Stewart, also an illustrator, already had a "base" of the new Batgirl, so he and Tarr finished the final product as a team.
Since this is Tarr's first comic book, Stewart will help her with the sequencing.
"It's great to have someone like a comic guru to help," Tarr said.
This is the first time that Tarr has been able to do a major project with all her own art and design instead of working off guidelines of others, as she had in game design.
"For so many years, I've been drawing for other people and it was great. It paid the bills, and I learned a lot about collaborating ... but I was working on art that was not mine," Tarr said. "DC saw my work and said 'Yes, we like that.' It's my style. It's beyond what I've ever imagined. ... It's cool that DC has embraced the funkier side of comics."
Reach Amanda Coyne at 937-5592 or on Twitter at @AmandaCCoyne
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