“When you like something passionately enough, though the subject may be challenging, every piece feels like an accomplishment and it only increases your drive to do more and get better!” – Alex Tarca on the challenge of drawing robots.
Alex Tarca is an artist who has been working on the Transformers TCG as early as Bumblebee vs Megatron, providing colour art for a variety of character cards – but quite noticeably a lot of the recent Starscream cards! She’s also been known to do a lot of artwork in the fantasy genre.
I managed to snag some time from her to talk about Transformers and her work on the game.
Can you remember your first exposure to the Transformers, and how you felt at the time?
My first exposure to Transformers was actually Beast Machines! They would air an episode or two every Sunday, and I remember being absolutely glued to the TV. I thought the 3D graphics were the coolest thing I’d ever seen in a show at that point! It helped that it had sentient animal robots and a story that would turn rather serious at times. It felt very different from other shows that were on at the time.
What sucked you into the Transformers in the long term? Comics, toys, cartoons, movies?
I discovered Transformers Prime through a series of gif sets, back when I made a Tumblr profile around 2015 or so. That was my first serious contact with the franchise, loved it, it made me go look for more. I discovered the IDW comics – the stories and art took me by surprise, they were not what I expected, and that’s when I knew I had found something rather unique.
Were there any particular characters that stood out to you? What made them appealing to you?
My love for Starscream is an endearing joke in my circle of friends at this point! There’s just something fascinating about characters who act like feral goblins all the time, and of course, I am very weak to villain redemption arcs *laughs*. I’ve also really enjoyed Rodimus’ character development throughout MTMTE and LL (More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light – Ed), there were a lot of story moments that felt familiar to me (like his performance anxiety), it made the reading experience very engaging. Another character I found myself surprised by was Nautica, it was interesting to see a story of loss, and coping with that, in a world of transforming robots where dying a real death isn’t all that common.
I honestly think it would be almost a little unfair to pick favorites, as most characters have been engaging and quite memorable. They’re all important little cogs in a bigger story!
Do you remember your first experiences with the fandom? How engaged with the fandom are you? How does it differ from other fandoms you’ve been involved in?
I think I’m a little different than a lot of my friends when it comes to fandom, because with the exception of spending some time on anime forums as a teen, I haven’t been a fandom person much at all.
I’ve made the occasional fanart, yes, but I never truly got involved in a fandom until Transformers came along – it could have also been the change of platform, true, but suddenly, I found myself actually getting reactions over my art. It was all a bit brand new to me, but a very welcome change! I found myself entering a lot of fan discussions, meeting a lot of wonderful people (and making lasting friendships), and I was very motivated to put out a lot of content.
I may not be as active in the fandom nowadays, but the Transformers fandom has always felt very welcoming and diverse, and I am happy and fortunate to have had this experience.
When did you first start drawing? What do you enjoy drawing other than Transformers?
I started drawing at about 15 years old – I was a huge anime fan at the time, and it became my favorite past time at home AND at school. There were many an anime person with hands hidden behind their backs in almost every notebook *laughs*.
It wasn’t until finishing my first university, however, when I realized that art is actually what I wanted to do in life, so I started practicing seriously with a mentor, and eventually going to – and finishing – art school (a long story for another time). At that point I was very much into the idea of concept art, and I loved video games, so a lot of art was either original or video game fanart.
I was leaning more towards fantasy, because sci-fi/technical stuff like robots felt very imposing and a little scary. So I guess it is a bit ironic that I ended up drawing exactly the kind of content I was afraid of, but life is funny like that.
When you like something passionately enough, though the subject may be challenging, every piece feels like an accomplishment and it only increases your drive to do more and get better! So I actually owe a lot to Transformers coming into my life when it did.
So these days I actually draw both sci-fi and fantasy themes – the difficulty is in deciding which of the tons of ideas to pick and draw!
What’s been the hardest part about being a freelance artist and illustrator?
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but my country doesn’t have a huge entertainment industry, so one of the most challenging parts is finding work I can do remotely. Thanks to the internet; however, things aren’t as difficult as they could have been.
Working from home can be a bit challenging because I tend to sink into work focus mode, and I have to remember to take breaks and stretch – but with a bit of care it can be quite comfortable.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to put their own art out on the internet?
There is much conflicting advice on this topic on the internet, but something that I found to be true again and again, is to first love the work you do – work for yourself, on topics you enjoy, and that will show through your art, making it more engaging for the right public. I think it is very easy to be caught up in chasing the algorithms, making work about the latest hot topic, trying to churn out content daily – ultimately I think this only leads to a lack of satisfaction and even burnout.
It’s up to every individual to decide what works for them, but building an audience takes time, and in my honest opinion, it’s more worth it to build it doing what you love.
Back to Transformers, how did you get involved with the card game? Was this the first time you’ve been involved in an official Transformers project?
It definitely is the first Transformers project I’ve worked on in an official capacity! All thanks to Sara Pitre-Durocher, who not only gave me a chance, but has been amazingly patient and helpful throughout the whole process.
You were brought on quite early in the game’s life, had you even heard of the game by the time you were working on it? Had you a chance to play it?
I had played a bit of Transformers Legends before, but I had no idea there were plans to make it into a physical, actual TCG after it shut down. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet because I don’t have a lot of friends who are into TCG, but I wouldn’t say no if there was an occasion. I like trying out games.
What was the first card you worked on? How did you find working on it, how were you feeling during the process?
In a funny turn of events, the first card I ever worked on was Starscream Decepticon Lieutenant from the Bumblebee vs Megatron deck. The realistic coloring style wasn’t new to me, but of course, projects have tighter deadlines than you’d usually have on personal work. So at first it caused a bit of anxiety, knowing I have a lot more responsibility, but thankfully I was treated with lots of patience and got used to it in no time.
Some of the cards you’ve worked on in the more recent waves have been particularly obscure – Raider Sights, for example. How was colouring a character that so few had any knowledge of?
I think that’s really quite fun, actually. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while being in Transformers fandom, is that every character, no matter how small or unknown, has some fans somewhere. When I work on them, even if they’re characters I’m not familiar with, I think, that if I were a fan of this character, I’d be happy to see some HD, upgraded art of them. So it’s fun to see them get new life as I work on coloring them.
Did you have much in the way of creative freedom when it came to how you went about colouring each card?
That’s both a yes and no I suppose – naturally, all cards must keep the general look and theme of their respective waves. But there is a degree of freedom in choosing the right overall look for a card, making sure all of them stand out properly as a finished piece.
How about the Kickback card? Had you been warned ahead of time that you’d have to colour a image full of hundreds of creepy Kickback clones? How was that one to colour?
We don’t really have “warnings”, we just get a brief and stick to it. Kickback was a bit more challenging because of that, but, since I usually just do the coloring part, it was nice to flex the drawing muscles a little bit. Besides, the cards have a relatively small format, and no background elements are going to be AS detailed as the main character of a card.
Later on you worked on the Slipstream card for the Energon Edition; how did the approach change to doing colours for that card? Were you aware it would be for a different material when you worked on it? Were you aware of the original’s high monetary value at the time?
Well, I had done work in that same style before, so I can’t say it was anything new, but it was indeed very fun to color. The cards skew toward a more subtle, realistic vibe as opposed to the more hard contrast style of Siege. I assumed it was probably for something a little different based on that fact alone. As for monetary value, that’s not really the kind of info that pertains to our job.
Beyond Transformers you also seem to do a lot of fantasy art. Have fantasy and roleplaying been a major part of your life as well?
I’ve always been a huge fan of both scifi and fantasy things! Growing up I’ve only had contact with the D&D world through games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. They were very fun, and I really enjoyed the stories. After getting into Critical Role around early 2018 though, I was lucky enough to get to play an actual D&D game with a friend group, and it’s been immensely fun. It’s a bit magical to be able to create a character and then have a chance to actually act them out! Definitely an activity I’d recommend to anyone who has the possibility to try it out!
Do you get to do much illustrations for actual roleplay publications?
So far no, but it’s definitely something I want to build into my portfolio. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll get that chance!
Do you get to play RPGs much? Do you have regular game?
RPGs (especially story oriented ones) are my favorite game genre honestly! So I tend to play as many of them as I can, as often as I have the chance / they appear on the market. Pen&Paper games also feel a bit like a video game, except you play with friends, and the story just comes alive, you get to laugh all the time, things take weird turns – it’s wonderful and unpredictable. I’m newer to pen&paper, but I do hope to get to experience a lot more of this in the coming years.
My aforementioned friend group is the one that meets as regularly as possible. We’ve been playing for about a year now and our first campaign is slowly reaching its end. My character is basically a robot so I guess I’m mixing up two of my favorite things, and it’s awesome!
How does drawing fantasy art differ from drawing transformers (both officially and unofficially)
I mean, at the core of it, nothing is really different. The process is usually the same, it’s only the subject matter that differs. But I really do thank the years of Transformers fanart I’ve done for pushing me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to learn better perspective and lineart skills *laughs*.
As for the official part, it’s really something when you can see the image of a product, and the thing you’ve colored is right there, and you can point and say “I contributed to that!”. It’s pretty darn great.
What do you hope to be working on in the new year?
This year I’m hoping to focus a lot on my portfolio. I want to take my skills further, do a lot of practice, and really push myself out of my comfort zone.
Are you happy to do card signings, and if so where can people find you? (conventions, etc.)
Gladly! I’m hoping to be attending TFNation 2020, barring any issues. After all, it sounds like it’s going to be Transformers Prime themed this year, so how could I miss that?
Finally, is there anything else you want to add or say to the Transformers TCG community?
I want to thank them for the warm reception of the art! It’s an awesome feeling! 😀
Alex Tarca Cardography (5/2/20)
Bumblebee vs Megatron:
Character Cards (Colours): Starscream (bot)
Character Cards (Colours): Captain Starscream (alt), Duo-Charge Electrostatic Photon Cannon, Private Sideswipe (alt), Sergeant Cog (alt)
Character Cards (Colours): Private Hot Rod, Full-Tilt, Raider Apeface (alts), Raider Sights, Raider Kickback, Private Powertrain (bot)
Character Cards (Colours): Slipstream