(Warning: the following contains spoilers for X-Men Grand Design #1!)
When I got to Phantom of the Attic in Pittsburgh, PA, on Wednesday afternoon around 4 PM, there was already a line 12 people deep snaking away from the table where Ed Piskor was signing copies of X-Men Grand Design #1.
The air was electric, full of excited buzz as folks saw the comic, along with its two variant covers, for the first time. Personally, I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for this, and so although I’d met Ed Piskor before and own signed copies of his Hip Hop Family Tree series, when it was my turn at the table I could only stutter and grin.
I think I’m not alone in being a big fan of X-Men, despite finding the chronology of the story a nearly impenetrable maze full of characters whose origins and history I couldn’t decipher. I always felt hugely guilty for not being able to find my way IN, for being a “bad fan” because to be honest, I just really hadn’t read very many of the comics. (For the record, the stack of X-Men movies that have been released didn’t help me out much…)
If there was anyone in the world who could bring clarity and continuity to X-Men, while also possessing incredible craftsmanship and single-minded love for the project, it was Ed Piskor. He proved that he had the chops for it beyond any shadow of doubt by undertaking Hip Hop Family Tree, and earning the respect of musicians, historians, and fans of the Hip Hop scene along the way. Knowing too that he had been drawing the X-Men since he could hold a pencil, and was fulfilling a dream, perhaps even a true calling, by doing this project…you might say that I was filled with GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
The electricity was back in full force as I cracked open the comic at home. The first page told me immediately that my hopes were going to be realized.
To start out with Watcher and Recorder was a brilliant move. To have Watcher proclaim that he’d finally gotten a fix on the situation and was ready to spill gave me confidence that pretty soon I too would understand this “extraordinary pantheon of mutants“.
There is so much info packed into the remaining 40 pages of “recording”. Huge swaths of X-Men history are boiled down to fit in a spread, or even a “one-pager”, and the origins of Professor Xavier, Magneto, the first class of X-Men and their adversaries are condensed into being.
The comic is a remarkable formalist masterclass. The 4-tier variations are unusual, especially the tall thin panels, and very exciting, keeping pace with the quick action of the story while harking back to comics from past ages, including the 1940’s. The use of color coding riffs on things Piskor did in Hip Hop Family Tree, but is utilized even more perfectly here (Magneto’s purple powers, Professor Xavier’s psychic communication, and especially the use of bright white in otherwise full color/sepia-toned pages, as a sort of guideline through the story). Piskor’s take on the characters are fun and feel right, and many of the pages are really beautiful, due to content and execution.
For me there were numerous “ah HA!” moments, when mysteries I’d mused upon before were suddenly cleared up. And while this first issue rockets through several decades of X-Men history, it ties up perfectly, with all the pieces and characters put in play for the big moves that I know will follow.
Overall, X-Men Grand Design is a stunning achievement already, and I can’t wait for the next issue to come out in two weeks. (As with Hip Hop Family Tree, X-Men Grand Design will be collected into three 2-issue volumes.) You’d better get your hands on a copy of issue 1 ASAP, as I’m hearing from comic shops around the country the refrain “Sold Out!” (Phantom of the Attic sold out in under an hour.)
It’s worth mentioning that Piskor is from Pittsburgh, the city of bridges. With this project he has become a new bridge in his own right, spanning the divide between alternative and mainstream comics, between Fantagraphics and Marvel. No one has ever really done both – or at least not successfully.
From his humble beginnings – self-publishing Wizzywig, and creating markets where there were none, putting work out online like Hip Hop Family Tree before getting noticed by Fantagraphics – until now, Piskor has operated with a true DIY spirit and worked really, really hard everyday at his craft. With this dedication and drive he developed unique projects, and built a fan base in the alternative comics scene that is rivaled by few.
Now with Piskor’s work on X-Men Grand Design, those fans will follow him over to mainstream comics, and similarly the potential for fans of X-Men to start picking up Hip Hop Family Tree and other alternative comics is huge. This is Piskor as the bridge, creating new comics readers and fanning the flames of a struggling market. This is good news for every comics maker in the industry today.
Meanwhile, Piskor gets to realize his childhood dream. He gets to draw X-Men, at last! Some might call him lucky, but I know he would disagree. He’s a real Pittsburgh native, and this is a place where you build things from scratch. Piskor worked for this, he asked for it, he made it happen. He proves once again, at the last minute, right when so many of us creators and dreamers need the reminder, that anyone can do it – that you can do it – if you have the drive, determination, and creativity to build the things you dream of.
Thanks for that, Ed. Thanks for hanging in there, thanks for the hard work, the thousands of hours drawing, thanks for Wizzywig and for Hip Hop Family Tree, and now this – thanks for X-Men Grand Design!