Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
You know what one of the best perks of doing a weekly X-Men interview column is? The chance to interview X-Men creators who also happen to be some of your favorite creators in all of comics! Take this week’s guest, for instance: The marvelous Mahmud Asrar, who’s been delighting X-Fans for years with art stints on such series as All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and, of course, the acclaimed X-Men Red!
Most recently, Mahmud made a stellar debut on Jonathan Hickman’s flagship X-Men series with X-Men #8 and will return to Krakoa just in time for the highly anticipated X of Swords crossover. If you ask me, there’s no better time to chat with one of Marvel’s most dynamic artists!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Mahmud! First, I’m wondering how “quarantine life” has been for you. Have you been able to stay busy and keep your focus despite everything going on in the world?
Mahmud: I guess, like with most of my peers, the staying at home part hasn’t really been an issue. As a family, we were already at home all the time, so the situation didn’t affect us heavily. Despite that, we do enjoy going out and traveling whenever we get the chance, so being limited in that regard has been admittedly a negative. The stress and anxiety also has been a challenge. I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working but focusing has been hard and producing pages has been slower. Contrarily, I’ve been creatively invigorated in terms of doing something for myself. I’ve been painting and it has been amazing.
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Amazing Spider-Man #850 Variant Cover . This here is my first ever fully traditionally painted cover for Marvel. It has been a great experience getting to paint Spidey in his black costume. Swipe to see some close ups. . #spiderman #peterparker #blackcostume #marvel #comics #cover #art #illustration #firsttime #gouache #painting #traditionalart
AIPT: That’s good to hear! Speaking of your artwork, I feel like you have one of the most dynamic styles in modern comics. Who or what has influenced your art style?
Mahmud: I’ve been inspired by many artists and many things. Lately, I’ve been actively trying to learn more from my original influence, John Buscema. In recent years, I’ve also been drawing inspiration (see what I did there, hah) mostly from movies and manga. Maybe not in style but perhaps in composition and storytelling.
AIPT: I’m going to assume you were a fan of the X-Men before you started illustrating X-Men comics. And if so, what was your first eXperience as a fan?
Mahmud: X-Men has been near and dear to my heart for many years. I did get into reading X-Books a little later in my comic-reading history, though, as access was not always easy. What made an impact on me were the Classic X-Men books. Especially “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and John Byrne’s work. I was terribly fond of Byrne’s work from Fantastic Four and I ate up anything he did on X-Men.
AIPT: Do you have an absolute favorite X-Men character to draw? And if so, what makes them so much fun to illustrate?
Mahmud: I really can’t pick between Jean Grey, Wolverine and Storm. They’ve been favorites ever since I started enjoying X-Men books. Storm is probably the most fun to draw among these.
She’s visually very striking with her white hair, and her powers allow for great visual possibilities. She flies, she can make it rain, she commands wind and she can call down lightning strikes. She’s also had various hairstyles and costumes which were mostly amazing. I proudly gave her a new costume design a little while ago too. So there’s that.
— Mahmud Asrar (@MahmudAsrar) May 22, 2018
AIPT: And it looks great! You’ve redesigned quite a few costumes, including Jean Grey’s X-Men Red look. How do you approach redesigning the costumes of iconic characters?
Mahmud: I guess that was a decent enough segue to this question. Hah! Candidly, I can say that costume design is a very challenging thing for me. It can be very tricky, especially if you are making a new design for an established character. Although there are so many potential possibilities, I do like to stay true to the original ideas or iterations for the character at hand. If possible, I like to incorporate elements of their nature to the costume, like adding scales to Namor’s outfit or an “X” symbol being prevalent on the costumes of an X-Team. I also like themed costumes for teams. So, like in X-Men Red, I tried to make the costumes similar enough so that they’re easily identifiable as a team.
It’s also a balancing game. Since potentially a big group of artists might have to draw these costumes, I have to consider that there is enough detail or subtlety on the design so that it is not hard to draw on a regular basis. Finally, perhaps the most difficult part is trying to make it look like an original design by coming up with something new or something that would enhance the silhouette of a character.
AIPT: The silhouette–that’s a really interesting point! In the last edition of X-Men Monday, I spoke to artist Russell Dauterman, who took your Jean Grey costume and gave it a fresh coat of paint for his recent Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost comic. As an artist, what’s it like to see other artists use or update your designs?
Mahmud: I think it’s a nice little edit to the design. It works great in that combination, which actually made me happy as, in my eyes, it made the design stronger. My design overall was an homage to the ’90s blue-and-yellow design for Jean. The green and yellow colors from the earlier Jean Grey costume design incorporated into this one was a smart choice.
AIPT: Speaking of Jean, X-Men Red remains a fan-favorite series, thanks in part to the all-too-relevant themes it explored during its short run. How does it feel to have been part of a series that means so much to so many X-Fans?
Mahmud: It means the world. X-Men has a huge part in making me a lifelong comic fan. So today, when I look back on my resume to see I’ve contributed to tell an X-Men story that, to me, embodies what the X-Men are all about is priceless. In general, I’m very proud that I got to work on a bunch of X-Books to date and got to contribute my art, designs and even a new character or two as well.
AIPT: You also illustrate the covers for the current Excalibur series. What’s your approach to crafting a cool cover?
Mahmud: With every cover, I get thoughts and concepts from Tini, Jordan and Annalise. They tell me about the story and what would be good to see on the covers. I work on some sketches on how to make those thoughts work best. Sometimes it’s a straightforward action image, sometimes it’s a graphical composition or representation of the issue. In that regard, it is very enjoyable as with every issue, it can be a totally different visual which keeps things fresh for me. Finally, Matt Wilson comes in with the skill and artistry to make it shine each time. So evidently, my workmates deserve a whole lot of credit on these covers.
AIPT: Let’s hope they’re reading! I feel like the recent X-Men #8 is a true showcase for your artistic abilities. Your talent for facial expressions shined during the quieter Summers brothers scenes. Your mastery of depicting psychic energy and optic blasts crackled off the page. And then you had space whales and the Brood. As an artist, is there one aspect of superhero storytelling you enjoy more than others?
Mahmud: I think this issue in 20 pages has all sorts of things that I like to do in a comic. From some epic cosmic visuals to very low-key character moments. Then, there are the battle scenes and moments where characters are allowed shine in terms of what they’re capable of in a superhero comic. Not every book is a good balance like this, of course, but when I get it, it is a joy. What I’m trying to say is that I like to do it all. However, too much of one thing can get tedious, so I do enjoy it when I get to shake things up a bit when the chance comes up.
AIPT: Finally, in April, you tweeted that you were working on what you believed were some of your best X-Men pages. You’re illustrating X-Men #13, #14 and possibly more issues. So what can you tease about what’s to come without spoiling anything? Is it safe to assume there’ll be some swords?
Mahmud: The parts that I’m contributing to are all involved with the X of Swords event that is coming up. The stuff that Jonathan has been throwing at me is quite wild. I do like to tease and share snippets from the work I’m doing but this one is such that almost anything I share could be a spoiler. At least at this point. So you’ll have to forgive me for not divulging much.
AIPT: Hmm… OK, I’ll forgive you and let it slide. I’ll also thank you for taking the time to chat! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us during X of Swords.
That’s all for this week, X-Fans–have an eXceptional week and if you’re around others outside or indoors, remember: Real heroes wear masks.