Humanoids has published some of the most important sci-fi and fantasy graphic novels ever made. On March 16, they’ll be adding another title to that illustrious list with Ibrahim Moustafa’s Count. It’s a new sci-fi adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ iconic The Count of Monte Cristo, written and drawn by Moustafa and with letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. (It’s actually the first of a three-book deal Humanoids has made with Moustafa.) Running 136 pages, the Count is, in the words Humanoids publisher Mark Waid, “Phenomenal.”
Adds Waid, “Ibrahim has taken a classic text and brought a modern sensibility to it, with widescreen storytelling and clever reinvention. This book is a signpost for the kind of graphic novels that we’ll be publishing in the months and years to come.”
I had the opportunity to chat with Moustafa about the series ahead of its release, discussing the timelessness of The Count of Monte Cristo among several other topics.
AIPT: Ibrahim, thank you for taking the time, and congratulations on Count hitting stores on March 16! How long has this project been kicking around in your head and how long did it take from script to final product?
Ibrahim Moustafa: Thank you! I actually recently found an email I sent to myself 3 years prior to when I pitched the book to Humanoids that said “Count of Monte Cristo, but Sci-Fi”. Humanoids wanted a pretty detailed synopsis from me initially, so I had figured out a lot of the details by the time I got to the actual script. From there, it was just reformatting and adding dialogue, so I wrote the 120-page script in 10 days and then drawing/inking the book took me about 7 months.
AIPT: Revenge tales like the Count of Monte Cristo are so personal, was there anything from your own life that inspired you to take on this tale?
IM: I was initially inspired by the concept of retelling the story in a new setting with modern sensibilities, and action (the original story has very little of it). But there is certainly inspiration that I drew from my personal life; I had a mentor growing up who is like a father to me, and he taught me a lot about life, responsibility, and personhood. Some of that relationship was definitely injected into the relationship between Redxan and Aseyr.
AIPT: For fellow artists out there wondering, what materials do you use for your art?
IM: I draw my layouts/page breakdowns digitally, and once those are approved by editorial, I print them out on bristol board and pencil and ink with traditional techniques; graphite, pens, a brush, and ink. Finally, I add an ink wash (ink diluted with water) to separate elements, and add some depth and value to the page. Then Brad Simpson finishes the pages off with his genius coloring abilities, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou makes the words dance with his excellent lettering.
AIPT: You use quotes to break up the graphic novel, like one from William Makepeace Thackeray that reads, “Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural.” What was your goal in adding literary quotes to the work?
IM: I think there’s a timeless quality to quotes like that, and they help ground the story a bit in a contextual sense. Even though there are androids, impossible swords, floating islands and flying ships, there is something tangible and relatable to the notions of revenge and the cost of it that help remind us what the character is going through.
AIPT: There are some cool futuristic vehicles throughout the book, what went into designing something new for this sci-fi world?
IM: It started with the visuals. I asked myself what kind of things I wanted to draw, and it’s really fun to design those kinds of things. Then I thought about the “how?” and “why?” of the world and the things in it and based the designs around the rules that I made for the world. The result was that I envisioned a society where they were able to harness and manipulate the polarity found in the natural ores in the ground, and so their industrial revolution was based around these magnetic properties, rather than a combustion engine. This meant that they’ve never needed traditional cars, gunpowder and explosives were never invented, and they weren’t limited to the same technological boundaries that we are here in our world.
AIPT: There have been many adaptations of the Count of Monte Cristo, do you have any favorites and why do you think this tale is so timeless?
IM: I think the themes of classism, wrongful incarceration, and corrupt officials are timeless. We still deal with those issues on a very real and visceral level today, unfortunately. Those are aspects that I wanted to lean into more heavily in my adaptation than those that have come before it. My personal favorite is the 2002 movie with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce. I think the production value, the caliber of actors, and the smart changes that were made to the story really sets that one above the rest.
AIPT: Count is being published at Humanoids. Why is this publisher such a good fit?
IM: Humanoids has been the premier global publisher of sci-fi comics for decades, and so I was really thrilled that they were interested in collaborating on this with me. Humanoids is French in origin, and so is The Count of Monte Cristo, by way of Dumas, its writer. So, I think to have a sci-fi adaptation of a classic French novel, published by the premier sci-fi publisher in comics, makes it the perfect home.
Thanks very much for your time!