Most comics have a foundational story or moment — the kind of story where you can point a new reader towards the series and say, “This is the real stuff.” For Marvel’s classic Uncanny X-Men, that can’t-miss moment stretches over decades.
And that’s part of the idea behind X-Men: Grand Design, debuting this week from alternative cartoonist Ed Piskor. The writer-artist behind the critically acclaimed Hip Hop Family Tree series of non-fiction graphic novels stepped to comics biggest superhero publisher with a plan to remix the first 300 issues of Uncanny — a period where the book went from quirky cult favorite to the dominant series in all of comics with plenty of peaks in between.
In Piskor’s version, that decades-long run was one massive can’t-miss story, and over the course of six extra-sized issues, he’ll retell the saga from his unique artistic perspective. This week’s beginning covers the origins of the X-Men team, with the behind-the-scenes saga of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original mutants.
CBR spoke to the Pittsburgh-based cartoonist this fall as Grand Design‘s first issue was coming together. Piskor was not shy about drawing connections between this comic and his hip hop roots as well as between himself and the titanic artists of the X-Men’s past. In the interview, he explained why Grand Design will be a sampling of everything readers remember about the X-Men’s formidable period, spanning from Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to Chris Claremont & John Byrne and beyond, while still providing a new sound.
CBR: I think my initial reaction to the announcement of your X-Men book was the same as a lot of peoples. Namely, “This sounds fun but very much not like a Marvel project.” How did you pitch them on this idea?
Ed Piskor: I put a tweet out there that basically asked my followers, “Wouldn’t you be interested in reading an X-Men comic that takes the first 300 issues and turns it into a 300-page story?” and it got retweeted and circulated a whole lot. This was after I’d sent another tweet out there saying, “Marvel should just let me do what I want.” So both of those got a lot of traction, and I just presented that to Marvel and said, “I think people are interested in this idea.”
It was very seamless and easy. It’s a corporation, so they had to get enough sign off to make it happen. But from those tweets to when I was able to put pen to paper was about six months.
How did you approach this stylistically? Your well-known Hip Hop Family Tree book is more of a documentarian take on imparting information, but will this lean into something like a more traditional superhero story?
When you’re taking 8,000 pages of material and turning it into a 240-page story, there isn’t an infinite amount of room for exposition and character stuff. So it’s Piskor style. It’s documentarian, but I’ve created this MacGuffin for the series where Uatu the Watcher is kind of describing the events that he’s witnessed over decades. So he’s the cypher that the story goes through, if that makes sense. And Uatu, he doesn’t care about your petty human dramas. He’s like Joe Friday — “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Everyone who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s reading comics followed the X-Men at some point, but not everyone read everything. What were the parts of the mythology that you had memorized, and what was some of the stuff you had to discover to get this done?
That’s the thing. I was in a very privileged position growing up where I was able to collect Classic X-Men, the reprint comic, and Uncanny X-Men the series. So started reading Classic X-Men with the Arcade issue that John Byrne drew, and then I kept reading that until I caught up to the point where I had started reading Uncanny. I’ve internalized this material over 35 years. So obviously all the John Byrne stuff like “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past” I’ve read dozens of times. Everything else I’ve read probably four or five times — my favorite being [Marc] Silvestri and Jim Lee’s stuff. I was a kid of that era, and I’d never seen anything like it. Once those guys broke off and formed Image, I followed them. I was done with X-Men at that time. And when the Image guys started flaking out and not putting out books on time, that’s when I discovered the Hernandez Brothers and Daniel Clowes and all that stuff.
I sort of never looked back after that, and I’m into auteur cartooning by a singular person. So I always wondered what a Marvel comic would look like done that way — a comic by one person. It’s really cool to have the opportunity to do that myself without any other collaboration besides my editor.
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