Interview: Ed Piskor Talks X-Men: Grand Design - Second Genesis

Happy New Comic Book Day! And it's not just any NCBD, it's the week in which Ed Piskor's homage of Marvel's Mutants returns with the first issue of X-Men: Grand Design - Second Genesis.

We are incredibly proud to present an interview I did by phone with Ed Piskor, shortly before San Diego Comic-Con about his series and the new issue. Outside of Grand Design, Ed's probably best known for his Eisner-winning work on Hip Hop Family Tree. He's also done his own comics as well as covers for Marvel and worked with the late Harvey Pekar. Without further ado, let's get right to our conversation...

Rob: What made you pick X-men for a project in the style of Hip Hop Family Tree?

Ed: The X-Men comic is THE marvel comic I have most connection with. The series was kind of a constant for me for the first big portion of my young life. I collected those comics month in, month out from age 5 to age 12. I was extremely into the series. When Chris [Claremont] left, I left. I got the Eisner for Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 2, but of course those books come a year out after I do them. We’re at San Diego Comic-Con, I’m doing a signing for Volume 3, and I had about 10 pages to go for Volume 4. I get the award, a big shock for me. The second they announced my name, I got the award, and I thought it would feel different, a sense of a completion, a goal attained. I didn’t get that jolt by any means. As I was walking up, I was thinking I didn’t want to do this comic any more.

People said Marvel should let me make any X-men comic I want to make. They used a tweet that included a pic of Wolverine on a Sentinel. I had some connection with marvel from the [variant] covers, and rather quickly, Axel [Alonso, former Marvel Editor-in-Chief] pitched me. I had played this game with myself. If someone had the chance to give the entire run [of X-Men] a second pass, a second draft. Make an ultimate X-Men comic that you can point someone to. When someone new asks, “What’s a good x-men comic to read?” I’m not sure that exists right now. Days of Future Past has so much baggage for a new reader. They’d read it with more questions than answers. So that’s what I’m trying to do, make an X-Men comic that covers all the hits and clean up some of the Deus ex Machina issues--let people know a [Summers] brother exists so when Havok should be in the game, there’s less of a jolt. There’s some corny stuff that happens that I can’t even acknowledge, but I keep some of the fun cheesy bits. It’s an X-Men story through my filter.

The damned [original] series was kinda canceled for a reason. All of that material was covered in the second issue of first mini-series. And if you as a reader are on board throughout that, the rest is clear
sailing. Come with me through with this stuff--I’m going to do my best. The raw material I’m given there is lackluster at its most charitable. Come with me, we’ll get through it together.

The first issue of Second Genesis is balls to the wall. It’s the stuff I want to see, it’s the stuff I want to draw. You need three acts, and the set-up is generally less fun that that meaty, meaty center.

Rob: How did you approach meshing your style with the multiple artists who worked on the early issues of X-Men?

Ed: It wasn’t an issue. I’m just going to draw the way that I draw. The issue was with the writing. I have big problems with the problem of assembly line comics, especially in that time period, with the
exception of [Stan] Lee, who was the best of those guys. You get such a sense that they were talking down to the reader. It reminded me of when I was a kid reading Marvel comics. You’re showing AND telling this thing, and you’re telling me the same things multiple times. Wading through those bits...they didn’t have the respect for the reader, compared to young adult creators like Maurice Sendak. Roy Thomas is a fanboy, and in every sense of the word, his work is pulp. It was really the writing that I had to wade through and build something around. Whether it’s Werner Roth or Jim Lee, the art that appears in my pages is Ed Piskor.

Rob: Speaking of your style, our readers really enjoy digging into the craft of comics. How do you put together an issue of Grand Design?

Ed: There were several different approaches. I’ll have been working on it for three years when it’s finished and over time, I’ve changed creatively. For the existing material, I’d come up with an overview which had 40 numbered lines, one per page. I’d write a sentence or two of what should appear and send it to the editor. It takes me six months to put an issue together. On a Monday/Tuesday, I would write two pages, do a quick and dirty outline on typing paper with visuals,
and spend rest of the week drawing it. I’d pencil the damn thing, ink the damn thing, and color it. Wash rinse repeat for 20 weeks, and boom!--there’s a completed issue. With Second Genesis, I used method for issue 1, which will cover the debut of the Uncanny X-Men. There’s a clear trajectory. But [after that] there’s not an epic singular storyline that takes place, I had to re-read those comics for my own purposes and pull out a few major arcs to be the flow of Second Genesis. I wrote that one beforehand before I started drawing. I needed it to make sense as a complete story and I had less faith in my old system. I wrote both issues of the third series to start that way, building fun stuff early on that has payoffs.

Rob: Who is your favorite X-Men character to draw and why?

Ed: I don’t think there is one. I don’t think in those terms. It’s more the moments that are fun to draw. I can answer it in that way. I couldn’t wait to draw my version of the sentinels flying into the sun,
my version of Phoenix, my version of the Dark Phoenix saga in ten pages. Never so much the character, but my version of these events.

Rob: Do you remember Marvel Saga?

Ed: I’m pacing around my studio and I’d never seen or heard of Marvel Saga until X-Men Grand Design came out. I’ve never seen one in real life. What I thought Marvel Saga was was the zine Marvel Age.

[We then chat a bit about the idea of Marvel Saga, which attempted to create a chronology of the early Marvel Universe, using existing and original art, and how for many people knowing the complete history of characters was impossible in the 80s and 90s due to the cost of back issues and lack of reprints.]

Ed: Back then it was impossible and prohibitive to read all those damn comics. I think of some of my interactions and impression. For awhile when I was a kid, Ant Man was my favorite character. I’d never seen him in the comics but the Marvel Universe series 1 trading cards had Ant Man prominently on one of them. “Who was that?” I thought, and it made my young imagination go wild about this small hero. Forget Green Goblin or Doc Ock, here’s this guy trying to traverse a living room, the dangers of a domestic house!

It’s not what he was, but that idea was what stoked me to this day. I also think of the Marvel Universe
trading cards second set. That was the first time I saw Loki. The way that card shows the drawing, it’s uplighing and the dark shadow above Loki’s upper lip makes him look like he has a Tom Selleck mustache and I still think it’s wrong when Loki doesn’t look that way. To my young brain, anything else is off-model.

Rob: Thanks for taking the time, Ed! We look forward to X-Men: Grand Design -- Second Genesis, available today from Marvel, in print and online!