By Ed Piskor
Cartoonist Ed Piskor, of Hip Hop Family Tree fame, tips his toes or rather throws himself head first into the deep end of the pool that is the Marvel universe. X-Men: Grand Design is Piskor’s love letter to the highly influential and perpetually culturally relevant series and characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. His aim is to condense and streamline the 50+ years of deeply complicated storylines and chronology that is the world of the X-Men. Daunting enough as that may seem, he takes it a step further and is the sole creative on this massive undertaking; writer, artist, inker, colorist and letterer. What he presents to readers is an impressive, inventive and refreshing comic experience.
Abridging a period of X-Men publication into a single issue, in this case the Silver Age, may sound like it would a be a dense read, but Ed Piskor planned and executed the comic to be a smooth read and seamless in its transitions. Piskor doesn’t limit himself to Silver Age work for reference, he’s incorporating story elements that were added to the canon years later, but make sense within the context of the story he’s telling. Due to this, Piskor is able to present the narrative in linear chronology, which is part of why the material flows so well. It’s fascinating to see him use ridiculous concepts from that period and reframe them to acceptable, useful plot elements. Using the framing device of Uatu the Watcher chronicling this journey also contributes to this. By using the Watcher, he limits dialog using minimal narration and makes full use of the visual medium.
He designed the pages as if they were published on the Sunday newspaper comics pages and presents a variety of unique images to convey a lot of story information in fun, digestible ways. One particular panel depicting a heist is a beat that seems simplistic, but in truth is extremely detailed and exacting. Even some of the more dramatic or epic moments are given their proper due and absolutely stand out on a page. No matter how small a panel may be, there is a so much detail, whether it be just one character being shown, the interior of a spaceship, the astral plane or the infamous danger room. Despite having the characters not saying much, Piskor uses his talents to have the art be very expressive. It may seem exaggerated at times, especially with Charles Xavier, but it really serves to heighten the emotions of the these characters, and, to be honest, X-Men is of the key comics known for melodrama, so this furthers to exemplify Ed Piskor’s understanding/appreciation of the source material. It truthfully draws you in, following Xavier’s path and by natural extension the rest of the ‘X’ world. His interpretations of characters also feel familiar and nostalgic, yet still a look all his own – truly unique.
Having the comic in print is highly recommended! Ed Piskor has even said that folks who read the comic digitally are missing the full experience. This is because the book was printed on very specific type of paper. It’s an older-looking, thicker paper stock that taps into the nostalgic factor, but adds an additional layer to Grand Design by encouraging it to be a very tactile experience. Piskor was very specific about the stock used because it would impact how his inks and colors would look. It even feels heavier, giving the material literal and figurative weight to it. On this material, his color work is vibrant and varied, yet muted. It’s a strange dichotomy, but, again, it complements pencils and inks strongly. X-Men is also associated with diverse, dynamic colors and that still seems to carry over into this work.
X-Men Grand Design truly is the whole package and so is the man behind the work, Ed Piskor. After this comic, there is little doubt that readers would him to tackle a similar project for other Marvel characters. Just imagine him taking on, say, Spider-Man’s heavy continuity. Luckily, this is jsut issue one with more to come. For those uninitiated with the X-Men or just tangentially familiar with them, there’s good news. This is very accessible because it starts from the beginning, literally. There’s even a little appendix in the back matter if one wanted a little more info on what or who is being referenced, along with the specific issues! Of course, ‘X’ and Marvel fans will probably be able to gain more out of it. It’s so rare to find a comic from one of the “big two” that doesn’t require having to do a lot of reading homework or internet deep dives and allows a reader to instantly connect with the story and its characters. Ed Piskor clearly loves the X-Men and he is paying it forward 100 fold.