The X-Men are… complicated. Evil clones, alternate timelines, false memories, multiple deaths and resurrections–it’s the kind of stuff that makes veteran comic book readers jump ship and rookies too intimidated to wade into the mutant side of the Marvel Universe. As a result, the idea of taking the complex X-Men saga, which began way back in 1963, and condensing it into a six-issue miniseries may sound like the type of madness you’d find in, well, an X-Men comic.
Fortunately, X-Men: Grand Design is being helmed by writer and illustrator Ed Piskor, who chronicled the early days of hip hop music to great acclaim in his Eisner Award-winning series Hip Hop Family Tree. As Piskor is a lifelong fan of the X-Men, AiPT! reached out to the comics auteur to chat about Marvel’s mighty mutants and what readers can expect to find in the intricately detailed retro pages of X-Men: Grand Design.AiPT!: When you were growing up, what about the X-Men appealed to you?
Ed Piskor: I’m not sure what about X-Men captured my imagination but I can tell you it was a constant in my life from my earliest memories until I was about 12 or 13. I think, subconsciously perhaps, that part of the reason I’m doing this project is to investigate what appealed to me so much about the series.
AiPT!: Who was your favorite X-Men character?
Piskor: I’m not that kind of fan. I was more enchanted by the artwork when I was younger. I wasn’t part of any comics fandom when I was a kid so I just chose comics at the grocery store that looked the coolest to me and X-Men was better looking than Green Lantern comics or whatever other competition was on the spinner racks at the grocery store.
AiPT!: In previous interviews, you’ve said you hope X-Men: Grand Design attracts new readers. So, for those new readers, what makes this six-issue miniseries worth their time and what type of reading experience do you hope they have?
Piskor: It’s built for new readers but there’s plenty for the old guard to check out and chew on. I can’t answer any questions about “is it worth their time” or whatever. I’m not much a salesman, so I have no spiel. The beauty of comics as opposed to prose is that a reader can pick it up, flip through it, and determine if they want to give it a shot. The art buys the first impression. The narrative keeps the attention.
AiPT!: You’ve also mentioned you had a chance to spend some time with longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont and talk about his contributions to the franchise. Was there anything he told you that made you look at his stories you grew up reading in a whole new light?
Piskor: Yep. I’m keeping it all to myself except for the stuff I dole out in my series. Keep you eyes peeled.
AiPT!: Having read the X-Men: Grand Design preview pages–and the original stories on which they’re based–it’s clear you’re making some changes to create a more cohesive story. It makes me think of the X-Men film adaptations. So, what do you think? Once X-Men: Grand Design is finished, should Fox just reboot the X-Men franchise using your series as the screenplay and storyboards?
Piskor: Sure, why not. It’ll sell more copies of Grand Design.
AiPT!: When doing your research and re-reading old X-Men comics, were there any moments you looked at with more mature eyes and found flat-out ridiculous? Personally, I’ll never forget the role Leprechauns played in The Phoenix Saga.
Piskor: Yep. Like you mentioned in the previous question, I am changing some things that don’t work for me. I’m still keeping and/or adding fun/ridiculous stuff but there’s a limit. You’ll have to find out in the second wave of my series if Leprechauns made the cut or not.
AiPT!: Through the decades, there have been many stories about Marvel editors interfering with writers’ X-Men stories. X-Men: Grand Design is truly your vision of Marvel’s mutants, free of editorial interference. In your opinion, how important is it for comic auteurs like yourself to have free rein in mainstream comics, and what’s the potential benefit to both the readers and the publishers?
Piskor: It’s not that important at all because there’s plenty of space for auteurs elsewhere. Image, Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, NY book publishers, etc. The benefit to the readers is immense because they get an uncompromised vision, which will generally mean that the cartoonist is doing whatever the hell it is that they’re inspired to do. It would yield a way better product. Plus, if the creative team is completely housed inside of one brain, there won’t be any lack of cohesion among the disciplines which I see routinely in mainstream comics. I see writers trying to outshine the artists and vice versa. I see lettering that isn’t congruent with the artwork. I see coloring that doesn’t provide clear focal points. You get synergy with a cartoonist who does it all. You get a dictatorial mandate that the artist has to stand behind completely on their own with no weak links to point blame to.
AiPT!: The first Treasury Edition collection of X-Men: Grand Design will include a reprint of X-Men #1, which you’re recoloring. For the casual comic reader, what separates your version of Jack Kirby’s artwork from those that have come before?
Piskor: I can’t wait for the world to see. Simply put, the reader won’t have to worry about photoshop bells and whistles when they see my recolor. It almost can be considered a restoration of sorts to the original color which was perfect. When we start getting pure white paper and garish, computer color separations that’s when they start taking the Kirby out of Kirby. You’ll see what I mean.
AiPT!: You’ve said before that you stopped reading X-Men comics after Claremont wrapped up his first run. What did the X-Men comics lose following his departure that made you not want to stick around?
Piskor: I liked the artwork for a bit afterward so I kept collecting it for years but I found each issue almost completely unreadable. Claremont created characters that had so much individual definition. Subsequent stuff I tried to read just felt like caricatured versions of Claremont.
AiPT!: I’m curious, as you lost interest in the X-Men in the ’90s, how far into the present does X-Men: Grand Design go? Is the series’ present pretty faithful to what we’re currently seeing in the comics, or is it your vision of what the modern X-Men should be like?
Piskor: Just to about issue 280 tops. I’m not taking it to the present like I see suggested online. Marvel can certainly keep X-Men: Grand Design going after me if they wish, though. I jacked out of the Matrix when CC left and when Jim Lee helped form Image.
AiPT!: Are you in full X-Men: Grand Design mode right now, or are there other projects you’re working on simultaneously that we can look forward to?
Piskor: Lot’s that I look forward to. Nothing I can talk about. I am definitely putting every ounce of energy into Grand Design. I won’t be splitting energy or doing frivolous comics anytime soon.
AiPT!: Final question, and possibly the most difficult to answer… Cyclops: Is he lame, or just as cool as Wolverine, if not cooler?
Piskor: Well when I started getting heavy into making this book, I realized that I identify with Cyclops more than any character. But I know that I’ve never met a guy as cool as me so I guess there’s your answer.
X-Men: Grand Design #1 will be released December 20, and #2 will be released January 3.