Mahmud Asrar arrived on the mainstream comic book scene at when he co-created “Dynamo 5” with writer Jay Faerber at Image Comics in 2007. Since then he’s worked on a long list of projects for many companies including “Shadowland: Power Man,” “Adventure Comics,” “Nova” and many more, including a stint earlier this year as cover artist for “Supergirl.” With the launch of DC Comics’ New 52, Asrar is now the regular artist on the new “Supergirl” series with writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, handling both interiors and covers.
Readers may have noticed November’s “Supergirl” #3 looked different than the first two issues, an intentional move on Asrar’s part, and #4 marks yet another change. CBR News spoke with Asrar in depth about his beginnings, how he landed the “Supergirl” gig, and his evolved process on the book, including an exclusive look at the uncolored, unlettered pages he handed off to colorist Dave McCaig from #4.
CBR News: Mahmud, I’m curious about your background. Like many readers, I first came across your work when “Dynamo 5” debuted from Image a few years back. Could you talk a little about your background and education?
Mahmud Asrar: Growing up I was always interested in art and comics. This led to me deciding to study art in university. After a couple years of studying graphic arts, I decided it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind so I studied animation as I thought it would cultivate my storytelling skills. I graduated in 2000 by which I already started creating comics with friends as fanzines for several years. Sharing my work over the Internet helped me get recognition and soon I was asked to do work here and there. Little by little my work got noticed which led to Jay Faerber asking me to co-create “Dynamo 5” with him. I worked on the book for a little over two years during which I also started to do work for the Big Two. Did some random books for Marvel. Most notably I created the new “Power Man” for them with Fred Van Lente, which was a lot of fun. Recently I did a “Star Wars: Jedi” story for Dark Horse and now I’m working on my biggest project to date — “Supergirl” for DC Comics.
How did you become involved in “Supergirl” and why did the book appeal to you?
I was approached by [editors] Wil Moss and Matt Idelson to do some “Supergirl” covers for them. This was before there was any news of the relaunch. While I was working on these covers I was asked if I’d be interested in doing an ongoing book. At this point I had no idea about the big change coming to DC. Everything was pretty vague and I barely had any information. Soon I was given bits of information along with an NDA and things got rolling.
Truthfully, I was delighted to be asked, as it was everything I was looking forward to do next in my career; an ongoing superhero book. Even better, I was looking forward to doing a book about a female character and DC has some of the best in that regard. So everything about this was ideal.
What was it about drawing a female character that interested you?
When it comes to female characters, DC Comics has the best and most iconic superheroines. And you can’t get [any more] iconic and recognizable as a character such as Supergirl. I’ve always liked the concept behind Kara; a character as strong and powerful as Superman in [the body of] a fragile young girl who’s trying to adapt to a new world and new life.
Your run with Michael Green and Mike Johnson is a few issues in now. What is it like working with them, and what have you enjoyed most about the scripts so far?
We meshed right away. Both Michael and Mike were great right from the start and asked me openly for my input. They’ve been really collaborative, which makes working on the book even more fun. Apparently what we all wanted to do with the book was quite similar — a fun book with huge, epic action, but all the while a story of a young girl who’s coming to terms with how her life has changed. We all want the characterizations to resonate and mean something. Since this is a relaunch and everything’s supposed to be new, we’re really having a lot of fun as it’s all a blank slate. This really gives us a lot of room to play with certain things like Kara’s powers and her background, as well as bringing in some cool villains, old and new. Michael and Mike have some great ideas which align with these thoughts so we’ve got some really cool stuff coming up. Some of them I just can’t wait to draw.
Supergirl’s depiction has changed dramatically over the years. She’s always a teenager, but sometimes she’s drawn and treated like a teenager and sometimes more like an adult. How do you and Michael and Mike come down on this issue?
Our approach to Kara was unanimous; we wanted her to look, sound and feel like her age. A girl in her late teens and on her way to become a young adult. Personally, that’s the way I’ve always seen Kara and hence that’s how I aim to portray her in that manner. She’s young and wants to act like it, but she’s unfortunately faced with some real hardships, which have a huge impact on her outlook.
When you’re working on a series like this, do you like to know everything that’s coming up as you’re working on the book, or do you like to be surprised by the stories and need to know only enough to do the job?
Normally I like to be surprised. I usually wait for the next script to turn up so I can read it and work accordingly. With “Supergirl,” like when I was working with Jay Faerber on “Dynamo 5,” I like to know what’s going on. It’s a matter of curiosity, I suppose. I just can’t wait. Mike and Michael have been great in that sense as they share their upcoming plots with me. It gets really exciting as I know what’s coming up for me to work on and at the same time exciting as I don’t know how things will unfold until I see the script and read how they’ve realized the characters.
As far as the redesign of Kara’s costume, did you have any say over the costume? What was that process like?
I did start out the project with designs and concepts where I’ve tried different combinations of color and costume elements. Before I could do much however, we were presented with Jim Lee’s design for the character. It’s pretty much the design you see in the book but I did tweak a few small things on it, like the S logo and some other minor stuff.
The new costume was designed by Jim Lee, as you mentioned, but I have to ask — what’s up with Kara’s wraparound boots showing off her knees?
What’s the thinking behind an Elizabethan ruff or the reasoning behind a show curled round in the front? When it comes to fashion and dressing up, we humans tend to do interesting things. Not only in history either. Even in our day we happily wear things that in all likelihood will make no sense in the future.
Kara is from another planet with a culture and dress code of its own. It is sensible that she wears things that might look alien to us. So in that sense it doesn’t necessarily have to be meaningful to us.
As far as designing it in the first place, I’m sure Jim Lee had these kind of thoughts going through his mind and he was thinking outside the box.
Prior to the New 52 relaunch, you did covers for several issues of “Supergirl.” I was struck by the difference between the cover of the new #1 and the older ones. What did you do differently, and what was the thinking behind it?
Before I started working on the new “Supergirl” book, I used to work in a more traditional manner. I inked most of my work throughout my career except for a bunch of my mainstream stuff. The covers I did for the pre-relaunch “Supergirl” book fall into that category. However, in my private work and commissions I prefer to work with markers where I render an image in complete grayscale. My editors liked how those looked so they encouraged me to do this book in that style. Due to time constraints I couldn’t fully work with that process in the first few issues but all the covers were rendered in markers ’til now. I’ve switched to drawing the interior pages fully in markers as of issue #4.
I have to say I was kind of reluctant at first. First off as it is a more time consuming process. Before this project, I hadn’t tried it on storytelling before. Then there were production factors, like how it would print or if would it be colored properly. After some more insistence and arm twisting by the guys at DC, and considering the up sides of the process, I caved in and decided to go for it.
Could you take us through how you’ve been working and interacting with the inker Dan Green and colorist Dave McCaig, but also how that’s changing going forward with this new issue?
In the first couple of issues I worked with the traditional method where I tight pencilled the pages which Dan Green inked gorgeously. For the third issue I did breakdown pencils which were flawlessly inked by Bill Reinhold in ink washes. We wanted a nice transition between the styles in the first few issues and what I’d be doing after #3.
Initially I draw layouts for my editor and writers. After we’re all happy with how they turn out I move on to actually drawing the pages. So for this process I start out with the regular pencil and eraser with which I draw the page in a loose way. I don’t go into too much detail as all I need is the basic drawing and layout of the page. I then move on to inking the page, delineating the images with pens. I don’t complete the inks at this stage but instead move on to markers. I use a full set of Copic warm and cool grays to render the images entirely. I put in all the details like forms, lighting, muscles, shadows, you name it. Then when I’m satisfied with the rendering I move back to inks. The inks conclude the art by adding a more comic-y and cartoon-y feel with the outlines and defined shapes.
Finally we have Dave McCaig on board to embellish the images with his wonderful sense of colors. He’s greatly talented in the sense that he can make his colors work with all the style changes going on.
What did your editors think doing the book in marker would add to the series and what are you trying to do visually that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to accomplish?
I suppose they thought my work looked more unique and more me when I worked with markers so they thought it’d be good if I employed that style on my pages. DC is really looking for characteristic and assorted visual languages in their books with this new start.
When I’m doing all the rendering with the markers myself I’m more in control of the outcome as opposed to working with an inker and drawing in only black and white as a penciller. I get to add in more detailed lighting and I can define shapes the way I see it with the grayscale. This way I also feel I give direction to coloring without having to write notes or describe how I see the page. Using warm and cool grays I think I have a certain control over the colors, too, which all adds up to make the end result something I’m more fond of. It also eliminates any scapegoats as almost the entire blame lies on me, which can be a good thing and bad thing altogether.
What’s the working relationship like with you and colorist Dave McCaig. Especially now that you’re using markers for the interiors, do the two of you have many conversations about how the book should look and what’s possible as far as the production?
Dave has always been on top of a short list of colorists that I’ve always liked to have worked with. Finally I got the chance to do so on this book. Dave is a master with shapes and forms and uses a really characteristic palette in his work. I’m always so happy with what Dave does that I don’t have to say anything at all before or after he’s done. I rarely present him any notes. I like to be surprised with how he works the covers and pages I do so we don’t actually have much back and forth.
Since I work in warm and cool grays the images in my pages have an illusion of color to them. I get so used to that vision that when I see the colors by Dave for the first time I’m always amazed. What he brings to the visuals morphs the artwork into something so different. Once my brain computes that final look of the images I can’t see them any other way. Dave is an important part of bringing “Supergirl” to life.
There are a handful of creators that have emerged from Turkey in recent years, but is there a big comics community there? What style and genres do readers there gravitate toward?
The majority of the Turkish comics community is tuned towards humor comics. Most creators and readers are more into that. However there is a healthy amount of comics readers outside that as well. Can’t say it’s a thriving community as it was a few decades back, but still things do happen. Lately there’s been a growth in “mainstream bookstore” comics and there has been a fair amount of interest in that. People tend to read all sorts of comics; American and European. Manga has captured the interest of the youth as well. I think it’s fair to say that Italian comics has been the favorite of a Turkish comics reader over the years.
“Supergirl” #4 is on sale now. Check out a colored and lettered preview right here on CBR.