Interview with Tarraxahum creator of “Phototaxis of a Fighter” – All Ages of Geek Tapas Reviews
Hey there, All Ages of Geek family! It’s Ryder, here with another insightful episode of our Tapas Creator Interview series! Today, we’re fortunate to have a very talented guest with us, Tarraxahum, or Tarr for short. They are the creator of the thought-provoking and impactful comic, Phototaxis of a Fighter. We’ll be exploring the world of Moth and her underground fighting team, discussing the LGBTQ+ themes, derealization-depersonalization disorder and learning more about the incredible story Tarr has developed. So get comfortable, and let’s start this engaging conversation!
A note from Tarraxahum Creator of “Phototaxis of a Fighter”
Hi! I’m Tarraxahum, Tarr for short, and I single-handedly write, draw and publish a comic called Phototaxis of a Fighter.
It follows a young homeless woman, nicknamed Moth, who gets herself into brutal street fights in an attempt to feel something and counter her severe derealization-depersonalization disorder. To keep this unhealthy coping mechanism under control, she joins an underground fighting team of queer women (and aligned non-binary people) who just happen to be in need of a new fighter.
It’s a story about self-destruction and healing, wrapped into a sport tournament disguise. It’s also heavily LGBTQ+, with everyone in the cast being somewhere on the rainbow (or questioning if they are). The protagonist, for example, is asexual, and one of the pre-established couples on the team is a lesbian couple with a he/him butch involved. You get the gist of it.
What initially sparked your passion for creating comics, and how did that desire evolve into the work you produce today?
I’ve always had a passion for creating stories. Originally, it was just writing. You know, dozens of notebooks with some grand and pompous cover page and a brief first chapter promising an epic adventure…and then just empty pages after that? That was pretty much my whole childhood. I think my first exposure to action comics was a Speed Racer comic book by Tommy Yune. That’s when I was first inspired to draw in addition to what I was writing. The biggest way that reflects in my work today, I think, is my insistence on drawing classic spreads and pages instead of moving to a vertical format or short humorous strips. Multipage issues all the way, baby.
Can you walk us through your journey as a comic creator, starting from the moment you first decided to explore this medium?
So, fun story, actually, I used to work for a comic book publisher. The name of the company shall stay undisclosed for my own privacy, since it’s fairly local, but I wasn’t working for it as an artist. I was a social media intern. That, however, didn’t stop me from constantly being in presence of both professionals and talented amateurs, working with them, a lot of them actually becoming my friends. So my fascination with comic creation grew at an alarming speed. And when I quit that job and suddenly had time on my hands AND a lot of frustration with lack of certain things in mainstream media, I had this thought, like… Well, why not? I know the process, I can write, I can draw. So I tried, and here I am, finalizing my fourth issue.
Your work touches on various themes and subjects. How do you choose which stories to tell, and what do you hope your readers take away from them?
My story largely spawned from some personal itches that weren’t being scratched by media I consumed. I wanted more stuff where female characters are allowed to go rough and brutal in a fight (see Arcane, Atomic Blonde, Kate), so I created a character like that.
I was frustrated with lack of non-sanitized, messy and ‘weird’ queer representation (genderqueers who might seem confusing, trans women who don’t strive to be feminine and aren’t a butt of the joke for that, loving polyamorous relationships that aren’t a cause for a drama, an asexual protagonist who doesn’t need to be fixed, and so on), so that’s the direction I’m going with the cast.
I struggle with depersonalization and derealization a lot, and many of my mental issues result in a desire to punch a wall, so I hyperbolized that aspect of my life and gave it to a character. I love found families, especially queer ones, so I wanted to create one. Etc, etc, etc.
Most of all, however, I am fed up with this stigma against anger in media. Unless we’re talking, like, horror movies or John Wick, anger and spite often become this thing to be overcome, to grow out of, ‘to be a bigger person’. And I’m not going to argue, anger is destructive, but sometimes it’s also healing. Sometimes I don’t want to see a character forgiving their abuser for the fluffy moral of ‘not falling to the same level’, I want them to bash their face in. And then, maybe, forgive and let go. Anger can be healing, spite can be a driving force of survival, and love can be selfish.
My story is just beginning, but once it goes into full swing, I want my readers to take away this: it doesn’t matter if your way of surviving and healing is messy, angry and bitter. As long as you come out victorious on the other end of the fog. Kick and bite and struggle, and then laugh when you are victorious.
I am not going to spoil the planned ending, but, since this is the story about healing at it’s core, I also want to give my characters a lesson I, myself, am trying to learn: at some point you have to stop hurting yourself just because the world told you that your pain is all that you’re worth. People who love you don’t benefit from your suffering and don’t enjoy it as a grand gesture. Self-destruction might save you in the moment, but eventually you’ll be able to break free from it. Like discarding a cast after healing a broken leg.
And the main thing, the logline of the whole story: Life is worth a little hurting.
What led you to choose Tapas as the platform for sharing your comics, and what aspects of the site do you find most appealing for your work?
Well, it’s where the people are. As the things stand currently, Tapas is one of the most widespread and mentioned platforms of self-publishing comics. Heck, this is where Hearstopper made its debut, is it not? The main competitor, Webtoon, although I do habitually mirror my comic there, is far less friendly for creators and is already showing to be much less effective at getting the story out. And that’s all that I care about, really. Monetization sounds nice, but if I ever make it a priority, consider me dead. Tapas is a good balance between being popular, more creator-friendly, and more tolerant towards moreserious and violent stories.
I also post my comic on my personal website and on ComicFury which functions the same way.
Website in question: https://tarraxahum.neocities.org
Tapas has its own unique features and community. Are there any aspects of the platform that you feel could be improved, or perhaps have been challenging to navigate?
Less of a gap between paid comics and free community ones would be nice. It’s no secret that Tapas is very focused on a very specific genre with a very specific art style – just look at the front page. And you have to scroll through all of that to get to other comics – and even then you’re lucky if you catch something you like out there. Regardless of my own work, just based on other things I’ve read, the most interesting and original stories are often out there in the community section. Can’t really blame a business for giving people what sells, I guess, but there’s always this feeling that you’re going to miss a perfect comic for you just because the creator isn’t promoting it all over forums and social media.
Ah, and the official Discord server took me way too long to hear about. Should definitely be somewhere more accessible on the front page or dashboard.
In your opinion, what distinguishes independent comics from mainstream comics, and why do you think the indie scene is important for the overall comic industry?
Oh hey, I guess I already started answering this, didn’t I?
Mainstream comics get streamlined very easily, all mainstream things do. I guess it’s in the name, literally. One thing becomes popular and everyone, both publishers and creators, wants to jump on the bandwagon while it’s profitable. Can I judge them for that? Not really. Maybe a little. But the problem is, if suddenly all the media you are offered to consume looks the same, it’s not good. There’s no variety. No enrichment in your enclosure, as they say. Sure, you may choose to focus on a certain genre or artstyle, but it’s a whole other thing if that’s all you see unless you purposefully look. And not everyone’s gonna go looking and digging when they just want a quick read!
In this sence, the industry is sort of like nature. Sure, the pretty anime styles and love triangles (or buff superheroes, if we remember the industry giants) are nice to look at and thrilling to read, but will the craft survive long enough if it won’t be able to fall back on genuine, weird, perhaps uncomfortable indie comics which are often made out of love for the art instead of trying to score a paycheck? Nothing wrong with paychecks, of course, but I think you know what I mean. Sometimes you have to read something created out of pure drive to create, with no regard to proftability.
Also different people need different things from their media, comics included. And if mainstream stuff isn’t for you, you’re left drowning. That’s where the indie scene comes in! And where I personally hope to come in for those like me, too.
As a comic creator, what are some unique storytelling techniques you’ve developed to set your work apart from others in the genre?
I am really enjoying the way I incorporated Moth’s disorder into visuals. Depersonalization makes her body – especially her hands – twisted and alien in her mind, derealization drowns the world around her in static, dissociation throws her out of her own body… And every hit of pain she can take sparks that body part in red, tying it back to her and regaining it’s shape.
I take pride in being able to portray my own, 100% inner experiences as a visual representation that will, hopefully, be impactful towards the audience who never felt that way, and recognisable to those who did.
Apart from your comics, what other avenues do you explore to engage with your audience, such as social media, live events, or merchandise?
Would love to dabble in merchandise one day, but for now I’m sticking to social media to grow my audience. Surprisingly, or perhaps not really, considering the way so many of wider networks are ruined by algorithms by now, forums and old-school webrings seem to be the most effective way of engaging thus far. Twitter and Instagram just swallow my post up whole, but I’m prepared to move to video content soon. We’ll see if TikTok will treat me any better.
Creating comics can be both rewarding and challenging. Can you share some of the struggles you’ve faced along the way, and how you’ve overcome them?
First: Starting. It’s really, really easy to get caught in a loop of constant preparation. How can I possibly start a comic without a full character sheet for everyone, a script figured out and finalized to the last letter, and a pre-existing audience? The answer is simple – you say “screw it” and you start. Otherwise you may not take the leap at all.
Second: Life balance. Drawing comics is a time-consuming thing and I didn’t give myself any buffer ’cause I wanted people to read my story right here, right now, while it’s fresh and I haven’t suddenly chickened out. I’ve also given myself a schedule that usually takes at least three people to uphold – a full issue (that’s 24 – 50 full colored pages) a month. And that’s on top of having actual work, too, since comics are my hobby for now (unless someone wants to pick PoF up for publishing and change that, of course). I’m still in the process of figuring this one out. But just saying – if you’re not working from home and prone to hyperfixating as is, then don’t be like me.
And third: Finding an audience. Two ways to solve that: talk about your comic everywhere you can, or ‘promote’, if you know how to do that… and also do not measure yourself and your work in likes and comments, because you will burn out very quickly. Having readers just means that I got my story out to my kind of people. It has nothing to do with my worth as an author or an artist.
Are there any comic creators, artists, or writers who have been particularly influential or inspiring to you? How have they shaped your creative journey?
The aforementioned Tommy Yune definitely sparked my initial interest and stated my whole artistic journey. One day I was just an 11 y.o. with no artistic skills trying to copy frames of his work. Poorly.
All the artists who worked on the W.I.T.C.H. comic series. There were many on that team. Those were the first comics which I consistently followed, and me trying to do fanart for them definitely moved my skill along. Not far, but it did!
Alina Erofeeva, who recently drew a story for Marvel’s “Women of Marvel”. I used to follow her on social media for a long time and her art style was always a big inspiration.
Also Dzuban, author of The Silence of Words, which is also on Tapas. Her approach to her comic and characters, the slow pacing and the care she puts into every page is certainly an inspiration. I aspire to be as much of a fan of my own characters as she is.
For aspiring comic creators, what are some practical tips and advice you would give to help them find their own voice and style?
It’s somehow simultaneously both “Don’t be afraid to learn from others” and “Don’t look at anyone else, be yourself”.
It’s okay to look at someone else’s art and notice some stuff you like and then try to implement it into your art. As long as you don’t try to make your style a one-to-one copy of someone else’s, your skill and experience will shape that thing you picked up and it’ll become your own. For example, I’m not even sure where I picked up the habit of drawing noses the way I do (some people compare it to JoJo, but… I never even watched or read JoJo!). And I learned how to draw side profile from a classmate in school, like, ages ago. I took inspiration from many, many styles over the years, but I never became a parody of one of them. That’s how artists grow, besides the obvious.
But also, if you see a popular artist whose style you like, it’s easy to think “ah, if I draw like they do, I will also be popular”. Don’t. Ethics aside (although, definitely consider those, too), you have to let yourself be yourself. Autenticity will always go a further way than imitation.
I realize that this is more of a general art advice, but it applies to everything. Type of the story you want to tell, page layout, hell, even speech bubbles. Pick up cool stuff if you want, but don’t latch onto someone else’s work. You, the authentic you, are worth it. I promise.
Can you tell us about your creative process, from brainstorming ideas to the final execution of your comics? How do you stay motivated and consistent throughout?
Sure, put me on blast like this, why not! 😀 My creative process is a mess, to be honest. I brainstorm ideas constantly in the background, while working, washing dishes, especially when listening to music. And they are never a complete and neat script, no, they are this mental mess of frames and animatics and voicelines. And then, since I’m my own artist, I sit down and I sketch the pages following the way I’m seeing the scene in my head. I skip thumbnailing straight to the detailed sketching (not advised, just something that works for me). I pencil the whole issue from start to finish, then I line everything from start to finish, then flat colors, then rendering, then lettering. Then publish, because, as already mentioned, I don’t have a buffer and live dangerously.
As far as motivation and consistency goes… Hyperfixation, what can I say. It will probably be very different once I run out of focus a bit. But that’s a problem for future me – let’s just hope it’ll last me a few years till I wrap up the story.
How do you balance the creative and business aspects of being an independent comic creator, such as promoting your work and managing finances?
Easy: I’m the anecdotal struggling artist who doesn’t earn a penny from my work. Not yet, anyway.
Promotion is harder – I am trying to save time in the evenings to handle that part of the process, especially straight after publishing a new issue or an episode. I think I will double down on that in the upcoming chapter break.
Funding creative projects can be challenging for many artists. What strategies have you employed to fund your comics, and are there any resources you’d recommend to other creators?
Don’t quit working your main job until you’re sure your comic is profitable in some way. Till then, your work is what’s funding your art. I’ve seen a lot of artists funding their projects through Kickstarter, but as far as I can tell, that’s the thing you can only successfully attempt when you have lots of followers already.
Doing commissions on the side also seems to be a good strategy, once you have people interested.
How do you stay updated on the latest trends and developments in the comic industry, and how do you integrate this knowledge into your work?
I follow comic creators of different caliber on social media, as well as comic-related subreddits, so that’s my general source of info. I don’t integrate it in my work though, since I am more of a “bulldoze your own trail” kind of a creator.
In what ways do you believe the comic industry is evolving, and what opportunities do you see for independent creators in the future?
The ways it has been always evolving – towards money. However, since the market is largely American, and America more or less tries to be progressive for now (compared to the worst of us at least), this might just be a golden age for LGBTQ and otherwise minority-focused stories. There’s still a long way to improve though, so let’s hope it will keep improving. The good news is, with various self-publishing platforms on the rise, perhaps it’s a little easier for indie comics to be seen, too. I say, however, it can always be better. Let’s make personal sites and whacky indie comics something cool to read and easy to look for. Maybe we need an AO3 for comics (although those do somewhat exist, just look at ComicFury).
Collaboration can be an essential part of the creative process. Have you worked with other creators or artists on projects, and if so, how have those experiences shaped your work?
Not with this project, but I have taken part in collaborations as an artist among artists back in the day, and I had a brief shtick as a writer for short comics. I must say, that’s fascinating, and bouncing your ideas off of each other, never knowing how the other person will handle the idea until you see the result, it really sparks your creativity in a whole new way. It’s also a unforgettable feeling, once you see your idea implemented in someone else’s artstyle and done well. I’d love to make a guest comic for some of my favorite indie creators on Tapas and other sites eventually, we’ll see what I can do!
What are some personal or professional goals you have for your comic career, and how do you plan to achieve them in the coming years?
Main goal: Do not drop the project till you finish it.
Extra goal: Find your readers.
Extra-extra goal: Maybe start earning some small buck solely to be able to focus on the comic more.
A dream: Do this for a living somehow? While not losing the spark either?
We’ll see where this goes, for starters just a nice amount of readers would be great. And as always, I shall get there by not ever giving up (and maybe a bit of spite).
As a creator, how do you measure success, and what achievements are you most proud of so far?
I’ve started. I’m doing it. I love the result and I love my characters and I feel proud of my work. That’s all there is for me.
Lastly, could you share an anecdote or experience from your comic-creating journey that has had a profound impact on you, and what did you learn from it?
I think so far the most impactful moment of my journey was when a friend of mine didn’t just read my comic and support me like, you know, a friend would by default, but instead they clocked the small metaphors and meanings I put in certain parts of the story, and commented on that, as we usually do when we read some else’s work. And another person immediately went to create a fan playlist after reading the first issue. I think that was the moment it felt real for the first time. Because yeah, sure, I knew from the start that people close to me would support this, but seeing my characters being treated the same way characters from other, “legit” stories do, is what drove it home to me: they exist. I gave life to them. I made it.
But if you want a learning experience, then heed my sad tale of that one time I sacrificed sleep for drawing and it came to the point where it hurt to move my eyes. The lesson here is DON’T
Thanks a lot for this opportunity.
Some links to check out to support Phototaxis of a Fighter: https://phototaxisofafighter.the-comic.org/about/
Thank you, Tarr, for joining us and sharing your thoughts, enthusiasm, and the inspiration behind your engaging comic. To our All Ages of Geek family, be sure to check out Phototaxis of a Fighter on Tapas and support Tarr’s remarkable work! Here at All Ages of Geek, we celebrate the diverse stories and creators that make the comic world such a rich and inspiring place. This is Ryder signing off from another enlightening Tapas Creator Interview. Stay geeky, and see you next time!
About Stec Studio, All Ages of Geek and “I Married a Monster on a Hill”
Stec Studio is a New Jersey-based company founded and run by by the Stec Sisters. We specialize in producing interactive comics and novels based on All Ages of Geek media, as well as creating a fully open world Boys Love Universe called BLU Media. This universe is being built from various media forms, including readable media, games, and animations.
Our main series, I Married a Monster on a Hill, is a WEBTOON that tells the story of a retired knight who falls in love with a half-monster. We are also developing an in-production visual novel called I Married a Monster on a Hill: Dates, along with an upcoming Wattpad Exclusive set in the same Universe. At Stec Studio, our goal is to create content that gives people hope and light, and we hope our stories can provide joy and entertainment to all who experience them.