Supplemental Links of comics from the video:
Supplemental Links of comics from the video:
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. That giant hand in the second to last panel is unapologetically Jack Kirby-inspired. Frank Miller and his mentor Will Eisner would often use an all-black panel to create a beat or pause in the action.
If there's anything to learn from the commentaries that I've been posting these past 12 weeks, it's that I steal from the best. In comics it's often called "swiping". In Hip Hop it's called "sampling". I'm like a DJ, my comics collection acts my records, and the books I make are my albums.
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. My tendency is to keep things extremely basic and naturalistic but this page is an example where I took a few chances.
I needed to sell the intensity of the blaze. I discovered that giving these deep blue shadows up against the strong orange glow created the effect that I needed. Panel two is the shining example of that.
The juxtaposition of the white in panel 4 amongst all that orange illustrates an even more intense energy than fire on display.
If I remember correctly, I think in one of the X-Men movies Magneto pulled off a similar gimmick of siphoning all the iron out of a dude. That must be where I got it from.
Anyway, I made some good personal discoveries about the use of color on this page.
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.
Panel 4-7: This sequence was a ball to draw. Curved lines imply motion, straight lines imply rigidity. The curved pitchfork in panel 6 was drawn that way to try and suggest the swooping trajectory that it's traveling along.
Panel 8: I've been drawing comics for a long time, but I haven't drawn a comic with some honest-to-goodness violence since I was a boy. I've drawn lots of fights since this panel and have learned a lot.
Last panel: The "continue screens" from the Street Fighter II and Final Fight arcade games served as the inspiration for this panel.
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. I've received very few notes from the editors regarding my approach. One effort to stave off ever having to waste time redrawing things is that I basically draw a quick and dirty version of every page to show the editors so that they can see what I'm thinking. I remember when I submitted this page, my editor at the time, Daniel Ketchum, specifically told me to make sure I didn't draw Xavier's genitals when his limbs are akimbo. I wasn't gonna draw his junk anyhow.
Probably one of the things I hear most from readers, and the editors liked it to, is the fez breaking the panel border in the last panel.
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. 4 tiers of panels on one page with as many as 12 panels per page equals lots of opportunity to convey lots of story, an important necessity for what I'm trying to do.
When I set to work on this page I felt a big surge of inspiration from Herge's Tintin comics series. I think the inspiration is most evident in panel 2 and 3 in terms of line quality, subject matter, and color choices. Herge never left my thoughts during this whole sequence, though. After you read X-Men issue 117 give a Tintin comic a shot. Any of them will do.
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.
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. Especially when I see it on a screen.
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.
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. They're usually not fun people to talk to at parties.
Panel 5: I establish this pink color as essentially being associated with Magneto and his powers. I may use it elsewhere at times but only sparingly. Generally speaking, if you see this color in the comic, Magneto isn't far behind.
Panel 7: The image of the Nazi getting buck-shotted with nuts and bolts via Magneto was the first idea that came to mind for this page. Everything else was created around this image and the final panel. As I build every page I draw a fairly detailed rough to submit to Marvel so that they know everything I have planned. My rough for this page is very similar to this final printed strip and I remember wondering if this panel was pushing things editorially. I guess it's not really gory but I certainly remember the days of yore when the comics code was in full effect.
Last panel: Some people see the dead Nazis in the watchtowers on their first pass. Some people see them later. I wonder if you noticed them on first read? They're harder to see when printed at standard Floppy-size.
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. The true version contains a copyright I didn't feel like sending to the Marvel legal dept. " Your head's so big and your neck's so skinny you look like a Dum Dum™ lollipop." Use it on someone next time you wanna deflate take the wind out of their sails. It works.
Panel 5: My impulse was to go Tim Vigil with Cain Marko's murder fantasies but, alas, Marvel is Disney and I didn't feel like redrawing things if I gave the editor a heart attack.
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.
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).
I haven't talked about the unique use of white in X-Men: Grand Design. Many people are fooled into thinking the comic was printed on some kind of off-white vintage stock but in truth I just use Photoshop trickery to mimic that effect. Whenever I want to show some blinding light all that I do is omit the newsprint color from the page, thus allowing the true bleach-white color of the paper to show through. Reading the comic page after page one's eyes begin to associate the newsprint color with white but when it actually shows up it's very bright and noticeable.
In the last couple panels I wanted to play up the scale between Captain America and Logan (for those who only know the movies, Wolverine is about 5'1" when drawn correctly). Years ago when visiting the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia I remember seeing a preserved skeleton of a giant human being and thinking "If Captain America was a real guy he would be of similar stature and proportion." I'm a nerd. Can't apologize for it.
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.
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. The next page is Egypt. The page after that is a superhero battle in New York City—you get the picture.
Longtime Marvel fans will notice what looks to be an AIM agent in panel 5. I kinda wanted to suggest that perhaps the AIM terrorist organization is dealing in government surplus when doing weapons deals with super villains. Or maybe AIM even had some interest in getting NYC back on it's feet to make for future plundering opportunities?
Panel 6 & 7 mentioning Howard Stark is a bit of admitted fan-service, but why wouldn't Tony "Iron Man" Stark's father have some business ties with Charles Xavier's folks?
The last panel is the product of a creepy idea that came to mind late one night before I officially started working on the project. What if Professor X's psychic rapport ability began with him while still inside his mother's womb. I didn't want to sell the creep-factor of what I saw in my mind's eye with the final page because I want X-Men: Grand Design to feel more magical than grim.
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.
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?
Since mutants have always existed in my version of the X-Universe,I needed something more than simple physical aesthetics to act as a catalyst for the tremendous fear that "normal" humans have for them in our modern times. Something major was needed to get the hate-machine rolling or else why wouldn't mutants have been violently and strategically selected out of the gene pool thousands and thousands of years ago if the prejudice has always been aggressive and reactive? When Marvel decided that Namor, The Submariner was a Mutant it made sense that I could use the events in Human Torch #5 (1941) to create some major anti-mutant hysteria. Of course, in the conservative fashion of those old comics, all the people in NYC were able to evacuate before Namor's tidal wave hit the city. That doesn't fly in my comic. Lots of casualties.
I think it's a good idea to firmly root the X-Men into the wider Marvel Universe as much as possible because I never want you to forget that it's a magical place where almost anything can happen. It'll help ease you into the far-out intergalactic stuff that will come up in the future. If you can buy a single mutant sinking New York, then you can buy a Phoenix Force adorning the shell of Jean Grey, but that's getting ahead of myself. More on that later.
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.
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?). I always held a personal geek-theory that Uatu was the narrator of all those ethereal caption boxes that permeated the pages of Marvel comics. In X-Men: Grand Design I used the opportunity to make this theory into law. Using The Watcher is also the perfect device for jumping around through the complicated X-Men lineage to connect dots and make correlations along the way.
Panels 1 & 2 are silent because I want the reader to decide the exact amount of time that Uatu has been standing on that rock observing the happenings on Earth. The time that transpires between panel 1, 2, and 3 can be seconds, minutes, years, decades, centuries, millennia, etc. Your call. This illusion would have been destroyed if I had any dialogue in those panels as it would imply that the image exists as a moment that lasts only as long as it takes to read the text within.
Panel 3 and the rest: The Recorder! My introduction to the Recorder was from his cameo in Uncanny X-Men 137 and he was drawn so tiny >(and kind of unclearly) that there was plenty left up to the reader's imagination. I didn't realize he was a classic Jack Kirby character until much later. My version of The Recorder here is how I imagined him to look before I read the Kirby Thor comics where he was introduced. It was the '80s when I saw that classic issue of X-Men which would explain why the recorder uses analog means for warehousing data as opposed to solid-state media.
One last formal thing worth noting is that when you look at Uatu's positioning in every panel I wanted to imply that he was slowly orbiting the earth while conducting his observations. He's not up there statically in place. He looks at the story in all angles.