The X-Men have featured in some of the most recognisable stories in the history of comics, and Jean Grey is among the most iconic. Having been dead for years, Jean was resurrected in the pages of X-Men: Red, a series that sees her grappling with a changed world for mutants. Still believing in Professor X’s dream, she puts together a team of her own X-Men to try and make the world a better place for mutants and humans. I recently met the artist of the series, Mahmud Asrar in Manchester at a comic signing in Travelling Man and I couldn’t resist getting his thoughts on what it’s like to draw such an important character. He was really open and The Comic Vault is pleased to present an interview with Mahmud about his drawing process, what it meant to handle Jean and why the X-Men are so relatable in the modern day.
Thanks so much for doing the interview Mahmud. When did you get into comics and can you remember the first comic that you read?
As far back as I can remember, I looked at comics. All kinds of stuff. I don’t particularly remember what I actually read first but it must be an Asterix book.
What in particular inspired you to want to pursue the career of a comic book artist?
I used to draw and people told me I was good at it so I kept on doing it. I loved comics too and when I realized drawing comics was actually a profession, I took steps to doing it myself.
Do you have any favourite artists or writers in the comic industry?
A whole bunch. So many, it’d be a shame to name some and leave out others. Some artists I truly admire and are a big inspiration are John Buscema and John Byrne.
As you started your comic career with Image, did you always have a goal to start drawing for Marvel?
Not particularly a singular goal, but rather one of a few. I wanted to basically do comics. Being a lifelong Marvel fan, I have to admit it was one of the bigger goals.
Before you start drawing, do you have any particular way of approaching the process?
I start from simple and move on to elaborate. Quick doodles and shapes to plan the layout, then sketching out the page and once I’m happy with balances I move on to finish things.
X-Men: Red tells the story of Jean Grey’s resurrection and you do an amazing job of capturing the weight of the task she’s set for herself. With such an iconic character did you feel any pressure when it came to bringing her back to life on the page?
The pressure was there from all sides. Editorial, fans, collaborators but mostly from myself. I care about Jean and I wanted this to be one of my better efforts. I had to ignore the stress though, as it’s counter-productive to work.
You mentioned in Travelling Man that your favourite characters to draw from issue #1 were Jean and Nightcrawler. What do the two of them mean to you specifically?
Jean is one of the original X-Men. She’s truly an X-Man in many ways to me. Plus her Dark Phoenix Saga story means a lot to me in many ways. So I had an affinity towards her. Nightcrawler is a very curious character with many sides to his story. It makes him very interesting. However, I can’t help but mention how much fun he is to draw.
My favourite sequence from issue #1 is where the two of them are watching the sun set and Jean is telling Nightcrawler about what she wants to achieve. Were there any of your own personal touches you added to the characters, or did you want to stick to their classic looks?
Personal touches come in even if you don’t mean to. I guess my main touches come most obviously in the hair department. Particularly on Jean. Then there’s Nightcrawler’s beard that will come in time.
Ive Svorcina’s colours for the story are really stunning. Have you worked with him before on a comic or was this the first time?
I’ve seen Ive’s work over Esad Ribic and Stuart Immonen. He has a very interesting use of colours and makes vibrant choices. I also feel he’s very versatile. This is the first time we’ve worked together so I was very happy when he got on board.
The world of the X-Men has always been popular with comic fans. What do you think makes the characters connect so well with people?
X-Men like many Marvel characters are very relatable. However, what makes them special is that they’re outcasts to society. Most of us can relate to the feeling of not being included and that’s what should make the heart of an X-Men comic. It’s kind of a voice for the unheard. Despite all the fantastic elements, it’s really embedded about real world societal problems.
Are there any characters you haven’t drawn yet that you’d like to draw in the future?
Not too many left. I’d like a go at more Thor. Some Batman perhaps. Mostly some of my own stuff though.
What would be your best advice for someone who is looking to become a comic artist?
Be open to learn. Practice hard and always look to better yourself. It might not happen overtime but try to make everything you do better than the previous. Always remember comics is about telling stories and that should be your priority.
X-Men: Red #1 is out in stores now.