Ed Piskor points to his highlights of Marvel’s merry mutants!

He’s won multiple awards and plaudits for turning the history of hip hop music into the critically acclaimed series “Hip Hop Family Tree,” but now writer/artist Ed Piskor tackles his first major project at Marvel. Starting with December 20’s X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1, he’ll be reframing and remixing the history of the X-Men into one, singularly crafted narrative. It’s a chance to relive the mutants’ greatest hits from the perspective of one brilliant cartoonist who grew up on these stories.

We caught up with Ed to talk about his favorite X-Men stories and what’s changed for him from reading these comics as a youth to recreating them as an accomplished professional.

Marvel.com: The structure and format of X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN is unique. Can you describe the particular restrictions and whether that form was the starting point or something that developed organically?

Ed Piskor: [When I started] I basically said that I have a way to make the first 280 issues of UNCANNY X-MEN into a lean 300 page story. After some deliberation Marvel said “do it in 240 pages, across six issues, three trade collections,” and sent me a contract. But aside from the concession of those extra 60 pages GRAND DESIGN is a completely faithful vision of what I want to do.

Comics-making is way too time intensive to allow them to be compromised in any way. I like restrictions and rules or else I have a tendency to meander. Knowing that I was going to be taking about 8,000 pages of material and whittle them into 240 pages adds a certain storytelling necessity to be brief and not linger. Each issue has to be jam-packed rather than the decompressed method to storytelling that is fashionable with most of today’s comics. Each issue basically covers about 50 issues of the series more or less.

Marvel.com: The mythology of the X-Men is about as rich, dense and diverse as the history of hip hop music. Were there any big challenges in adapting this fictional material versus the historical facts you’re used to chronicling?

Ed Piskor: The major challenge is that there is so much I love about X-Men and it’s wholly impossible to cover it all in the space provided. Also, I’m just a little past the halfway marker so there’s still plenty of room to really hit some challenges. One that is constantly on my mind is figuring out a way to keep Scott Summers a hero after leaving his wife, Madelyne Pryor with child, when Jean Grey comes back to life. That always caused me trouble as a young reader, but I think I have the way to get it to [make] sense.

Marvel.com: Were any eras of X-history easier to tackle than others?

Ed Piskor: The third issue of GRAND DESIGN, I knew, would be the easiest to tackle because it’s the gold-standard stuff that got everybody on board with the original series in such a big way. It covers GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1 through UNCANNY X-MEN #137 or so.

Marvel.com: You’re essentially one man reframing the serialized works of dozens and dozens of writers and artists. Which influences of those prior architects did you find coming out the most?

Ed Piskor: Artistically I’m building the story off of all prior artists whose work I connect to, X-Men, Marvel, or otherwise. I like how John Byrne and Paul Smith stuck to the characters proportions and kept Wolverine a shrimp. I liked the way Rob Liefeld drew hair back in the New Mutants/X-Force days. Steranko’s quirky foreshortening is a pleasure to my eyes. There are direct homages and samples using [Jack] Kirby in there. Neal Adams composition with the Sentinels flying into the sun is untouchable.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN is made on the shoulders of giants.

Marvel.com: Who were your favorite X-Men characters growing up and did you find your faves changing as you worked on this project?

Ed Piskor: I confess that I’ve never been the kind of fan who identifies with particular characters or who has favorites. From a very young age—five, maybe six years old—seeing real life names associated with the credits of those who created the actual comic books were always my motivation.

Thinking in those terms, I will answer the question another way. When I was little Jim Lee was the most captivating artist on X-MEN at the time I really decided to become a cartoonist. Then I discovered and adored Byrne and Art Adams and Steranko, and Paul Smith. Kirby and [Marc] Silvestri.

While revisiting the series I have to say that I’m embarrassed that I didn’t give [artist] Rick Leonardi as much credit as he deserves when I first read his issues. Looking at that work now, his chops rival anybody’s and I’ve been digging in the bins for any comics with his name on them.

Marvel.com: The X-Men, more so than any other corner of the Marvel Universe, tend to function as their own world, rarely needing to intersect with the other heroes. Why do you think they work so well as a self-contained soap opera?

Ed Piskor: We have [longtime UNCANNY X-MEN writer] Chris Claremont to thank for that. Having one guy write the series for almost 20 years creates an unparalleled consistency in mainstream comics that I’ve not seen matched. He fleshed those characters out in ways that made readers really care. Listen to Chris speak about the work and he acknowledges his characters as people. Not words on a page or lines on paper.

Marvel.com: Were there any moments you found yourself more excited by when you got to them than you previously expected you would be?

Ed Piskor: Every aspect of this project is a blast. There isn’t a wasted panel in the whole thing. No particular moments are more important to me over others. I have to keep the big picture in mind at all times with this story.

Marvel.com: What’s surprised you the most about this process?

Ed Piskor: X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, to date, is a completely uncompromised vision. The editors were great so far all the way up the line. The sales guys were mindful the whole time. The folks handling the book collections are amazing and very helpful. Unless you guys are lying to me there’s going to be some special considerations with the printing of the books and trade in terms of paper stock and design. In a universe of corporate properties I appreciate that I’ve been given complete trust and respect to get my vision across. It’s going to yield an amazing product. I think my enthusiasm is clearly evident on every page and the hope is that the fans absorb that energy while reading.

Check out the first installment of this unprecedented undertaking in X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1, from Ed Piskor, on December 20, followed fast by issue #2 on January 3!

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Ed Piskor tackles the unprecedented uncanny project!

On December 20, X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1 chronicles the greatest and most important moments in X-Men history—from origins, to battles, to heroes and villains.

Written and illustrated by Eisner Award winner Ed Piskor, this monumental assignment will provide a brand new look at some of mutantkind’s most iconic moments.

We got Ed’s perspective on what to expect from X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN.

Marvel.com: Since we’re talking history here, tell us how this series came about.

Ed Piskor: I tweeted that I wanted to do this exact comic and attached a compelling illustration of the lineage of the X-Men team. The image and tweet went viral and then Marvel came calling. I’m a fully-formed cartoonist who handles all the aspects of the creation, which basically means I’m a built-in comics-making factory with a million ideas. If I’m going to do any work-for-hire, the requirement is that it has to be a dream project or else I’ll just work on my own stuff. This X-Men comic absolutely falls into the category of “dream project.”

Marvel.com: Where do you begin with a project like this? How did you start to quantify everything you needed to cover across the history of the X-Men?

Ed Piskor: The most important thing with this, or any kind of project, begins with putting things down on paper. The common misconception of the audience tends to be that what they’re looking at is the creator’s first draft or something. In truth, the end result that the public gets to see, in my case at least, is probably a fifth or sixth draft. The liberation of making stories is that it doesn’t have to be right the first time. In fact, the first draft is usually trash but what comes from that is the more fun challenge of problem-solving rather than just staring at white sheets of blank paper.

Thankfully, I have a pretty in depth knowledge of this material so it just became a matter of curating things in a certain order and retooling things to fit my narrative as needed.

Marvel.com: Do you feel there’s an overarching story or theme in this series?

Ed Piskor: Sure. The overarching theme is the basic theme that’s always been there: here stands a new form of human evolution and the bulk of the population fears them. Now, the really fun thing will be that with each issue, a very natural arc takes place—which I didn’t necessarily anticipate. I’d want the reader to pick up on those themes themselves. It’s not an X-Men comic if you don’t have the dynamics between Charles Xavier and Magneto, for instance. The Phoenix left an indelible mark on the saga. Things like this.

Marvel.com: Did any characters stand out to you over the course of this book?

Ed Piskor: The characters of my comic act as a component piece to the bigger picture, the “Grand Design,” if you will. As I’ve just reached beyond the halfway mark of my epic, I do hate to admit how much I identify with Cyclops as a character. I think of him as a Type A square with a one track mind which focuses on being an X-Man. I focus my square Type A energy on making the best comics I can, seven days a week.

Marvel.com: Likewise, did you get to highlight any X-character that maybe has gotten short-shrift over the years?

Ed Piskor: Not specifically, but I did retool some characters to get them to fit into the greater narrative a little better. Eric the Red’s first appearance in the regular series never worked for me. Introducing Alex Summers so late never worked for me. Having Changeling be human cannon fodder disguised as Professor X never worked for me. The more I talk with readers, those comics never worked will for them either.

Marvel.com: How does being both the writer and artist for X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN benefit you most?

Ed Piskor: The benefits of handling everything, including lettering and coloring, is that each page exists as a living document until the very last moment the editor takes it from my hands and presses the buttons to make the comic see print. I rewrite text throughout the process to make things better. I redraw panels and stitch them in later to make things better. I recolor things at the last minute to just add a touch of polish that the reader won’t know about, but it all makes the end product a much better experience.

Marvel.com: What parts of X-Men history does issue #1 cover?

Ed Piskor: The first issue covers the origins of the X-Men. I take all of the established origin stuff that slowly got revealed through the first 280 issues and it’s all in this first issue. Now, the second issue will cover UNCANNY X-MEN #1 through issue #64 or so—whenever the series went into reprints for a few years.

Marvel.com: Rumor has it that this will be the first in a trilogy. What will the other two series cover?

Ed Piskor: Think of X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN as a series of three two-issue arcs. This next set will include the X-Men team that includes Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Wolverine—among many others—and covers GIANT-SIZE X-MEN and way beyond, ending around the first X-MEN: LIFEDEATH story. The last arc begins with Rachel Summers introduction, the return of Jean Grey and it ends in a clever way that I won’t reveal, but I think it will create in incredibly satisfying, self-contained epic which will also inspire readers to dig deeper into X-Men lore. It’s very exciting.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1, by Ed Piskor, drops on December 20!

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Acclaimed creator Ed Piskor takes on mutant history in a unique way!

For the last year and a half, writer and artist Ed Piskor has worked in secret on a project for Marvel, and recently, the House of Ideas revealed said secret—X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, a trilogy of two-issue limited series that will retell the first 280 issues of the X-Men in Piskor’s unique style.

Best known for his work on Hip Hop Family Tree for Fantagraphics, another ambitious project that recounted the early history of hip hop, Piskor shared more details on his love for the X-Men and its creators, and his plans for remixing the material into something new.

Marvel.com: Ed, before getting into the project itself, obviously, you have a lot of love for the X-Men to embark on a project like this. Do you remember the first X-Men comic you read?

Ed Piskor: I do. [UNCANNY X-MEN #157], which has a cover date two months before my D.O.B. I think my dad was excited for me to be born because, even though we weren’t well off by any means, he still did what he could to spoil me, and there were always toys and comics around during my very first memories. That issue of X-Men is also responsible in a major part for me becoming a cartoonist because the credits box on the first page let me know that there are actual human beings behind these comic books. That became my goal from age four, probably. I never flip-flopped. Never wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut. Always a cartoonist, and if I got to make X-Men comics, well then, that’s just icing on the cake.

Marvel.com: What are some of your favorite moments from the X-Men’s history, and your favorite characters? Which X-Men creators really stood out to you over the years?

Ed Piskor: Some of my favorite X-Men comics are from when Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, and Dan Green were churning them out on a bi-weekly basis. There’s a kinetic energy to them that is really fun and inspiring to me. I, un-controversially, think that the best era was during the [John] Byrne run. It’s one of the very few cases where there is complete synergy among the talent all the way through, from [writer] Claremont, to [artist] Byrne, to [inker Terry] Austin, to Tom [Orzechowski] on lettering, and Glynis [Oliver] on color. I can count the great collaborative teams in the history of comics on one hand, and this would be on that extremely short list. Most comics feel like the creative players are competing for shine rather than working together to try and make the best comic possible.

I’m not really a character guy. I more like the idea and spirit of X-Men than I’m into it because Wolverine’s a badass or something. I guess I was a Longshot fan as a kid, but I think I just couldn’t articulate that I was a massive Art Adams fan at the moment.

My favorite Jack Kirby inker is still Chic Stone from those first bunch of issues. You can tell that’s the stuff that guys like Bruce Timm go nuts for. Those big, chunky lines. From [Jim] Steranko forward, the art of X-Men was to die for. It seemed clear at a certain point that the mandate must have been to put Marvel’s top [artists] on the book, and it shows. Steranko, [Neal] Adams, [Dave] Cockrum, Byrne, Paul Smith, Art Adams, [John Romita Jr.] C’mon, man. You can’t step to this crew. And Chris Claremont was the glue that gave X-Men its heart.

Marvel.com: This sounds like such a cool project, but at the same time it is pretty different from what people might expect from a major comics company, bringing in someone to “remix” the history of one of their biggest franchises. How did you go about pitching it, and what was the reaction?

Ed Piskor: I’m hip hop oriented with lots of bravado, and I simply tweeted one day that Marvel should just let me make whatever X-Men comic I wanted to. [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel [Alonso] hit me up within an hour or two, and the ball began rolling from there. I told him that I can make the first 8,000 or so pages of X-Men work as a 300-page story. He told me to do it in 240. I accepted.

Marvel.com: What’s the format of X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, and how will it be released?

Ed Piskor: X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN is basically a trilogy of two-issue [limited series] or arcs—your choice of nomenclature. Each issue will be 40 pages. Six issues total. Every two issues will be collected into a giant format book similar to my Hip Hop Family Tree comics. Same paper quality and design sense. Each big book will also come packaged with a classic reprint. This first book will reprint Kirby and [Stan] Lee’s [UNCANNY X-MEN #1], and I’ll be recoloring it to keep the entire volume congruent. It’s a pleasure to examine that classic work at its molecular level.

A two-issue series/arc and a book collection will come out each year for several years.

I’m basically good for 80-90 pages a year if I promise to work seven days a week. [Laughs]

X-Men: Grand Design by Ed Piskor

Marvel.com: And are you doing everything yourself—writing, art, lettering, etc.—like you did on Hip Hop Family Tree?

Ed Piskor: Yep. Could this be the first Marvel comic done completely by one person? I think it is. I just don’t know how to not do all the jobs. I’m a cartoonist. Not a writer. Not an illustrator. Not a letterer. I have to do it all so that I can be totally accountable for the quality of the piece. I don’t want to be in the position to blame someone else for the end result after I grind as relentlessly as I do. If it works, I can look in the mirror with satisfaction. If it doesn’t, then I’m totally accountable. I live for this kind of pressure. I take it very seriously and with great respect that I’m being trusted to do right by the property.

Marvel.com: So 280 issues of X-Men—minus the 20+ reprint issues that preceded the launch of the new team in issue #94, of course—condensed down to about 240 pages…how exactly are you doing that? What do you plan to cut from that material, and will you make any additions?

Ed Piskor: Well the short answer would be that you need to read it and see how it’s done rather than me explaining how the sausage is made, but I can explain a few things. There was a legendary editorial dictum from former [Marvel] editor-in-chief Jim Shooter that every comic is somebody’s first comic. This is something I can sort of get behind, though it created lots and lots of redundancy issue after issue. That’s the first stuff I stripped away. We only need Cyclops crying about his vision once. We only need Rogue lamenting that she can’t touch people once. Wolverine doesn’t need to say, “I’m the best there is at what I do…” a hundred times. From there it’s about figuring out the bigger theme of each arc and then curating events to meet those ends.

There will be some creative re-edits to get everything to work together, but I wouldn’t call them additions, per se. The raw materials are generally so good that the actual job is to just prune and reduce things down to the most crucial elements.

I’ve literally gotten well over 10,000 hours practice at this exercise on my Hip Hop Family Tree comics for four years, and it all built to prepare me for the task at hand with X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN.

Marvel.com: Issue #280 of the original series takes you right up to before the team split into the blue team and gold team, and into two X-Men books. Why did that make an ideal place to stop? 

Ed Piskor: It’s about where I left off personally. I won’t go into much detail, but you can imagine I was one of those millions of kids who followed the artists away when they decided to do their own thing. I did pick it up a little here and there. I liked [John Romita Jr.’s] second run when his style was more codified. I’m also a fan of Joe [Madureira’s] contribution.

Marvel.com: Finally, I have to ask: what’s more difficult, capturing 15 years worth of hip-hop history in roughly 400 pages, or condensing 280 X-Men comics into 240 pages?

Ed Piskor: They each come with [their] own sets of challenges, but I would never in a million years choose a project that is easy where I can coast just to collect a payday. I only work on dream projects, so the challenges are met with open arms and I don’t feel right if I don’t go to sleep completely exhausted and mentally drained each day. Both projects have rabid, passionate fans who need authenticity, and it’s no question I can meet and exceed those demands. One benefit of the X-Men comic over Hip Hop Family Tree is that Charles Xavier can’t call me at 3 AM to ask why I didn’t mention him on this or that page, and Ororo Monroe can’t yell at me because I drew her with the wrong kinds of jeans on.

Experience history in the making with Ed Piskor’s X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN, kicking off December 6!

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