X-Men: Grand Design 12 - One Fateful Day

Ed Piskor's offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Catch up here. — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

This post concludes our director’s commentary feature for X-Men: Grand Design. Putting actual words to many of the creative choices that went into making these strips has proven really valuable to my process personally, and it’s inspired an artillery of questions that I have in regards to the way my favorite cartoonists operate.

Lots of seemingly random cartooning influences have affected me while putting this page together but I realize that a common thread they all share is that they were covered in the ‘80s documentary, Comic Book Confidential. I’ve gone on at length about the effect this film had on me but I’ll leave it up to you to google that if you’re curious. I guess another common thread these cartoonists possess is that they’re just some of the best the medium has to offer.

The mud on Xavier’s boots is a detail that Jack Davis would incorporate in his EC war books. The third panel is a riff on a Jaime Hernandez back cover to a fairly recent issue of Love and rockets. The stark red and black panel 4 is inspired by an iconic Jaime Hernandez front cover to an older issue of Love and Rockets. In panel 5 the first image of the helmeted Cain Mariko looks like a Harvey Kurtzman soldier from his Two-Fisted Tales series from EC comics in the 1950s. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design 11 - Ungodly Creature

Ed Piskor's offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Catch up here. — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

This is one of the few strips that carries directly over from the previous page. One of the loose guidelines I put upon myself was to try and make each page work as it’s own bit. Early on, I floated the possibility of serializing the entire comic online for free so I wanted the pages to feel like the substantial Sunday funnies of yore. Marvel and I came to a compromise and here we are today.

One of the things I never thought possible in my younger life was that I’d ever get much opportunity to work in color as a cartoonist. It was so prohibitively expensive for so long that entire careers of many of my favorite cartoonists were built almost solely on black and white comics. It was a rare treat to see a couple color Dan Clowes pages here and there and usually those were made possible by some trickery of the publisher who would splurge and add a single signature of pages into a book making it possible for say, the first 4 and the last 4 pages of an issue to get the color treatment, with the rest of the book’s guts in stark black and white.

All that was to say, that it’s only been a few years since I’ve been really able to use color and I’m learning things in leaps and bounds, while taking small chances along the way. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design 10 - A Tolerable Life

Ed Piskor's offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Catch up here. — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

I can’t explain why exactly, but for some reason this strip is one of my favorites from this early part in the series. It’s fairly pedestrian. It’s not the sequence that I was dying to tell when I began the project. I think it simply has a nice flow and reads pretty well. The entire unit works.

This is the kind of trial-by-fire project that forces a cartoonist to stretch their comfort zone. One day I’m drawing WWII Germany, the next day I’m drawing a Carpathian village. All I knew about Carpathian-anything I learned from Ghostbusters 2. Bless the internet for making the accumulation of visual reference much easier. When I was a boy I literally kept a file cabinet full of folders with clipped images from magazines of all sorts of things I thought I might need to draw in the future.

Panel 3: Back to the trial-by-fire aspect to the illustration. Not only have I never drawn hay and/or straw before, but I can’t think of a single good example where I’ve seen the stuff illustrated. Maybe Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein? I opted to go iconic rather than realistic for the hay here. It works fine, I guess. Bless the opportunity to use color so that I can use it as a crutch to convey that those wonky lines are hay/straw/whatever. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design 9 - Psychic battle

Ed Piskor's offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Catch up here. — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

Editing, especially the subtle art of reduction, is probably one of the most important skills for good storytelling. A silent page or sequence is rarely a bad thing in my POV. Less is more and it’s something I’m slowly adopting as practice. It takes confidence to rely solely on images to get one’s story across.

So here we have a psychic battle sequence between Charles Xavier and Amahl Farouk. For those of you who didn’t see last week’s commentary, I strongly urge you to give issue 117 of Uncanny X-Men a read as it supplies the source material for this strip and is probably the finest comic that came out that month in December of ‘77.

It should go without saying that I want to capture the spirit of my source material but I also have other influences at play. For this page, Cronenberg came to mind. I also had Katsuhiro Otomo in mind, not because of Akira really, but because of Domu, an earlier manga where he gave a test-run to explore some similar themes, including psychic warfare. I drew this page about a month before season 1 of Stranger Things came out and when I saw the program I immediately thought, “These Duffer Brothers are sharing my exact wavelength at this given moment.”

Wisely and respectfully, Marvel has given me plenty of rope to do what I need to for this project. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design 8 - In Cairo

Ed Piskor's offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Catch up here. — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

The source material for this strip primarily comes from issue #117 of Uncanny X-Men and I absolutely recommend you check out this issue. It’s one of my favorites.

My ultimate goal for X-Men: Grand Design is to make a complete 240 page chronicle using the first 280 issues, or so, of the classic X-Men comics as my source material. Consider my series to be a remix or adaptation rather than a strict retelling. Usually there’s an abundance of great source material to draw from that the translation into my comic leaves a lot on the cutting room floor (the reason why you should read or reread issue 117). The hope is to capture as much of the spirit of the original work in as few panels as possible, but also to add my own freshness to it. It’s an exercise in editing. It’s an exercise in summarization. It’s an exercise in picking my spots when it comes to adding to, or changing, the lore.

The broad strokes are all here. Xavier nomadically ends up in Cairo. Baby Storm picks his pockets. It’s revealed that an outside force is manipulating our future weather queen into performing petty larceny. Enter Amahl Farouk.

The structure of my pages here in X-Men: Grand Design is largely inspired by a mix of European comic albums and broadsheet Sunday funnies from the golden age of comic strips. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design 7 - Wake up, Mom

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Here's page 7 — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

I wanted to cover lots of ground on this page, for better or worse, in an effort to get to the good stuff ASAP. I estimate several years of Charles’s early academic life transpire in the first three panels. The incessant dialogue in the background was probably something I cribbed from an old issue of Daredevil by Frank Miller when DD’s sense of hearing gets reactivated and becomes even more sensitive than before. For my use here I imagined that Chuck’s mutant senses kicked-in with the fury of the hormonal surges we all felt when going through puberty.

Panel 4: I actually stole this line from a guy I know who said it so casually when fondly recalling his shady past. He’s dead now.

Panel 7: Mimicking the old style of comics coloring places limits on my palette. I often like to work with as few colors as possible. I’m not always clever enough to keep the palette to just a couple colors, but it sure works fine in this panel.

Panel 8: The way my art on X-Men has grown lately I would never use black lines around fire anymore, but something about this blaze at the X-Mansion really conveys a sense of licking-movement to me. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design - Magnus and Magda

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Here's page 6; read the rest first — Eds.

Director’s commentary…

One of Chris Claremont’s greatest contributions to X-Men was fleshing out Magneto’s back-story to make him less of a mustache-twirling arch-villain and to imbue the character with some real motivation for his cause.

I knew a sequence involving Magneto and a concentration camp needed to be in this comic pretty early, but I was dreading the moment. I thought Claremont and John Bolton did a fantastic job on the backup stories in Classic X-Men when they first told this story and they handled this harrowing subject matter with great sensitivity and grace. That gave me a much-needed blueprint worth following.

As a creator, I opt to suspend my own disbelief in many ways for the fun of the story. This would be one of those cases. I know how old Magneto would be if he was a boy in the camps and there are very few older people who the X-Men would be worried about fighting. Readers, thankfully, enjoy going on the same ride and don’t trip too hard on such details. Alfred Hitchcock called the other kinds of audience members “The plausibles”. You’ll meet a few when visiting any given comments section on the internet regarding some pop culture subject matter. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design - A Well-Adjusted Boy

Director’s commentary…

Every comics page is just an accumulation of many, many drawing choices and once a cartoonist puts pencil to paper, the world of that strip begins to solidify more and more. I think the idea of someone being able to read another’s thoughts is just about as creepy as can be and keeping Charles Xavier bald as a boy adds to sell his idea. He looks like a little humanoid alien from Outer Limits something. I suppose I also liked the idea that the Peanuts character, Charlie Brown, was a bald-headed boy so that created a precedent for my youthful Charlie X.

Panel 3: I knew what I was getting into when I endeavored to begin making an X-Men comic. For one thing, I knew I was going to have to draw lots and lots of victorian mansion interiors thanks to the Xavier School of Gifted Youngsters. I made sure to get plenty of practice in before drawing the actual comic. The color scheme of this panel is noteworthy as an example of a Kubert School assignment that we first year art students had to do when studying color-theory: create an illustration using predominant cool colors or warm ones and accentuate the image with one color from the opposite side of the color wheel. I thought it was a lame, gimmick assignment as a student but rejoiced to find it applied well to this image.

Panel 4: The diss from the red-headed step brother is a classic schoolyard snap. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design: Busting up the Nazis

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Here's page 4; read the rest first — Eds.

Director’s commentary

If this were an Avengers comic, Captain America wouldn't worry about protocol or mission objectives in order to save the kid being menaced by nazis. This is an X-Men book so Wolverine gets to be the antsy guy ready to pounce. It’s immaterial regardless because Magneto handles his own business.

This page is inspired by the classic standalone issue 268 of Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee set in 1941 with a young Captain America meeting Wolvie for the first time. There was also a great episode of the classic ‘90s X-Men cartoon called Old Soldiers (written by Wolverine co-creator Len Wein) that featured this dynamic duo. Both, the comic and the cartoon are equally awesome and you should check them out at any cost.

The splash panel with Cap’s shield busting up the nazis is a good formal use of comics which couldn’t exactly translate into other media. I don’t often include sound effects but I wanted to slow the reader down enough to communicate that each smack from the shield was its own unit of time. When you look at that image as a whole, time is traveling at the speed of that star-spangled shield.

When I do use sound effects I like them to look the way Wally Wood drew them (for those keeping score at home). Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design: The Xaviers

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Here's page 3; read page 1 first — Eds.

Director’s commentary

Long before the X-Men publisher was called Marvel it was known as Timely. The heroes (The Fin, Original Human Torch, Blonde Phantom, Blazing Skull, Angel, The Destroy, The Witness, and Vision) in the first panels represent the more popular creations from Timely's "Golden-Age". Because this comic is a veiled world-building exercise, I will take the opportunity to include characters from the extended Marvel pantheon into X-Men: Grand Design whenever possible.

The Sub-Mariner tidal wave that engulfed New York City in the last strip provided me the opportunity to come up with some sort of explanation for how Charles came to have a giant estate and an even bigger disposable income (Danger Rooms and Blackbird Jets aren't cheap). As far as I know this has never been covered in a major way before, though we do know early on that his father is a scientist.

Panel 4: The battleship floating over the submerged city, absorbing solar energy to then evaporate the water was a fun challenge to compose and I can live with the resulting illustration. As an artist, the beauty of such a project is that it really stretches one’s drawing chops with all that’s required. One page is World War II imagery. Read the rest

X-Men: Grand Design: Mutant History

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. Here's page 2; read page 1 first — Eds.

Director's Commentary

My goal with X-Men: Grand Design is to take the thousands of pages that make up Uncanny X-Men issues 1-281 and try to make a complete, concise, and satisfying 240 page story which includes all the most important elements, but none of the fat, redundancy, or deus ex machina from the series .

The X-Men and mutants, in general, are the quintessential marginalized underdogs of the Marvel Universe.I wanted to use this page to give readers the scoop on how mutants work in my version X-Men because it is slightly divorced from what's been established in the classic run.

The Marvel comics of the early ‘60s grew out of the Atlas comics of the ‘50s which were the product of a post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki ‘40s. The Atlas magazines used nuclear, atomic energy and mad-science as a McGuffin to explain the creation of many of their monsters. It’s no stretch to imagine these ideas seemed to factor into the X-Men origin. The two best-known X-Men writers, Stan Lee and, Chris Claremont suggest that mutants were the 20th century product of nuclear testing, fallout, etc. I like the idea that mutation has always been a part of our world. Where would evolution be without it? Read the rest

The first page of X-Men: Grand Design, with author and artist Ed Piskor's commentary

Welcome Ed Piskor back to Boing Boing (previously), where he'll be offering an annotated page-by-page look at the first part of X-Men: Grand Design, his epic retelling of how Marvel comics' pantheon of heroes came to be. — Eds.

My work on X-Men would never have been possible without the popularity my work has achieved thanks to Boing Boing publishing Hip Hop Family Tree for four and a half years. It's a pleasure to bring the Marvel mutants to the Happy Mutants for this limited serialization of X-Men: Grand Design. I created each page to function as its own unique and complete episode/strip that, when read in total, would tell a bigger story. Over the course of the next few weeks I'll be posting a page at a time, and providing a director’s commentary with every strip, to give you some insight into where my mind was when while creating the whole tale.

Strip 1

One of my cardinal rules for purchasing comics as a lad was never to buy a story that was halfway through being told. If I saw “Part 3” on the cover or splash page I was out. This left few options, but one consistent purchase was Marvel’s What If… volume 2 (early 1990s). The conceit was that Uatu The Watch would stand-in as defacto EC horror host, a la The Crypt Keeper, and give us an alternative-reality tale of a famous Marvel story (Example: What if...The Fantastic Four fought Dr. Doom without their powers?). Read the rest

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KRS-One discovers Scott La Rock is a DJ

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