‘X-Men: Grand Design’ cartoonist Ed Piskor brings order to Marvel’s mutants

The writer and artist of “Hip Hop Family Tree” sets out to tell a concise history of Marvel Comics’ mutants with “X-Men: Grand Design.”

Cartoonist Ed Piskor was lauded for his graphic novel history of rap music called “Hip Hop Family Tree,” and he has some Marvel Comics’ mutants to partially thank for that.

“[‘Hip Hop Family Tree’] is just a linear history of hip-hop, rap music,” Piskor says. “I knew that I was going to have to cover hundreds of characters, a giant ensemble cast, in comic form. I needed examples that I can use as reference to just see how that’s able to be done. So I revisited ‘X-Men’ before I started . . . and just reread that stuff to see how basically [longtime “X-Men” writer] Chris Claremont tackled such a task.”

After turning out four volumes of the hip-hop series, the Pittsburgh cartoonist is now coming full circle, with a new comic book about Marvel’s mighty mutants, “X-Men: Grand Design,” which has its second issue hitting stores on Wednesday. The book, drawn in a warm, retro style, provides a concise history of the characters in a fun, easy to digest format.

amNewYork spoke with Piskor, 35, about the comic.


The “X-Men” comics are sort of known for their dense, complicated history. How did you parse all that down this series?

It’s important to just kind of breathe and take your time and put one foot in front of the other. . . . “X-Men” comics were a constant thing in my life when I was a kid. But when Chris Claremont, the main writer of “X-Men,” went away, I went away. So I guess I’m saying, I have pretty well-versed knowledge in all of that material in a matter of speaking. With this project I have the benefit of hindsight and foresight when it comes to each of these characters. But I never considered it to be an infallible work.


As someone who has drawn graphic novels for indie-comic icon Harvey Pekar, did you ever think you’d be working on the “X-Men” comics?

No. In some ways a bluff was called. I put a tweet out there into the universe and just said, “Marvel should just let me make whatever kind of ‘X-Men’ comic I want to make.” And they got in touch right away. And they said, “What do you want to do?” And the more I thought about it, I was thinking, you know, this might be the only Marvel comic I ever do. I want to do everything then. I want to draw. . . . So this was the kind of logical project to throw their way. Like I said, as a fan, I had my kind of issues and confusions regarding that initial series, even though I liked it. This is my attempt to try to get it to make sense for me.


Did you have a favorite character growing up?

You know, I must have because I was a little boy when I was reading this, and I must have had a connection to specific characters or something. But even as a little boy, when I learned to read by way of these comics, I read on page one of every comic the name of the writer and the name of the penciler and the name of the inker. I always wanted to grow up and draw comics. I must have had a favorite character, but honestly that part of my soul must be dead now because I’m just not that kind of guy. I’ve always, even as a little boy, saw the wizard behind the curtain. But I could answer it in another way and say growing up my favorite artists were Art Adams and John Byrne because I had access to classic “X-Men” that reprinted the stuff that he did before I was born.


You have tackled the history of “X-Men” and hip-hop. Which is more complicated?

I can easily say the hip-hop thing is way more complicated piece of work to put together because so much more is at stake. In a lot of ways, I was playing with real people’s lives. I want to get things right. “X-Men” is fiction, it’s ideas, it’s lines on paper. Wolverine does not exist and he cannot sue me if I veer his story off in way that I see fit or something like that.


You have this magical power on Twitter where you ask and you receive. Is there something else you want?

Yeah, there definitely is. This is going to take me about another year, year and a half to completely finish. So I don’t want to say anything just yet because some . . . dweeb cartoonist will try to come in and steal my thunder. But, yeah, there is. And the cool thing is about being the entire creative force behind the thing is that I’ll do it no matter what, if I am so inclined.

Scott A. Rosenberg