An Interview with Mahmud Asrar

For years listeners of the podcast have heard us sing the praises of Mahmud Asrar. With his clean style and his ability to pull off quiet and powerful moments on the page, it’s easy to see why. Thanks to social media, we found out he was a fan of the show before we ever met in person. New York Comic Con wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t in Artist Alley and the weekend isn’t complete until we get to chat, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Mahmud currently lives in Vienna, Austria with his wife and their son and geography is a big reason why we haven’t had him in the fourth chair to hang out with us. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ask him a few questions and have him as our first interview on the site.

How’d you get started? What prompted you to pick up a pencil? And did you go to school or are you self-taught?
I always drew as a kid. People thought I was good so they encouraged me which made me never drop the pencil. I never had any drawing lessons or anything until I decided to go to art school in University. I studied graphic design for two years which didn’t work out for me so I studied and graduated from animation.

Did you read comicbooks growing up? If so, what were some of your favorite titles, who were your favorite characters?
Yes, comics were all around me as a kid. My parents kept me occupied with all kinds of comics ranging from Italian comics to superheroes, Asterix to local stuff. Conan was big in Turkey so it was a good gateway for me.

Speaking of favorites, do you have any dream projects you’d still like take on?
Indeed. Mostly, in the form of concepts and themes or collaborators rather than characters, I’d say. Looking forward to going back to doing my own thing one day too.

Any plans on writing your own stories?
I did that starting out but not “professionally”. So I definitely want to go back to it.

Getting back to those dream projects: are they character-driven or genre-specific? Are you looking to tell “your Batman story” or a sprawling space opera?
I found that once you do something for a long enough time you can get tired of it. So even if it’s my favourite character or subject I like to change things up. That said, there are some things I’d still like to do very much. For example I’m still itching to do some more good X-Men stories. Particularly with Wolverine. I’d love to play with the Star Wars stuff again a little. Maybe do a bit of Gotham stuff in the future. Most of all I want to dip back into doing my own thing in the future. Something to call my own in it’s entirety. I have some small ideas and some more ambitious ideas that I’d like to bring to life. Hopefully in the near future. The thing I find with this kind of thing is, that you just have to go ahead and do it. Good or bad. So something will happen but I just can’t say when and what.

How much collaboration is there in your projects? You’ve been drawing for awhile now so do you feel comfortable making changes or do you pretty much stick to what’s written?
It usually depends on the people I work with and deadlines. Most writers I work with are great people so they’re not that hands on. If I feel the need to change something, I do it. It’s not often but it can be from composition changes for the purpose of beats to adding panels to be a bit more fluent.

From Jay Faerber to Peter David to Jeff Lemire to Brian Michael Bendis to Mark Waid… does it take a script or two to get comfortable with a writer? David, Bendis, and Waid have written superheroes for the bulk of their careers so there may be some familiar beats to their work, but do you approach each project differently?
These people you mentioned are really good at what they do. So it’s never a problem getting into the script. I do feel the longer the collaboration goes, the better the union becomes. All of them have different takes on things which I enjoy as it makes me look at my work in different ways. In that regard, every project I do, I try to suit the tone of the book. More blacks if it’s a serious book, exaggerated facial features if the tone is more lighthearted and so on.

Are there any writers you’re still anxious to work with?
I’ve been lucky to have worked with some very accomplished people to some capacity in recent years. Some of those I’d very much like to go back to work with. I’ve worked with Rick Remender on what I believe to be his first work with Marvel. However, I’d like to do something with more freedom on both our parts. I also enjoy Jason Aaron’s work quite a bit. So that would be a nice thing. As for talking anxious, I’d say Alan Moore.

When I think about you working on newly launched titles, Supergirl and X-Men come to mind. Did you have a hand in designing the uniforms of the characters?
I didn’t do much with Supergirl. It was Jim Lee but I did some small tweaks on it. With most other projects I did end up designing costumes and characters. Usually not the major ones but some side characters or even new ones. We have Nature Girl in Wolverine and The X-Men for example and the new Power Man from some years ago.

In the Marvel Universe, someone will always show up in another’s book, but you don’t seem to miss a beat whether you’re drawing the X-Men or the Avengers or just poor little ol’ Hulk. Do you have a preference between team or solo character books?
It is my curse that even when I draw a solo character book they end up teaming up. Like in the most recent Hulk arc I’m drawing, he’s teaming up with five other characters to battle evil. On All-New X-Men it was the five original kids teaming up with seven Ultimate X-Men and Miles Morales to fight Dr.Doom and his army of Doombots. In short, I’m used to team books. I started out with Dynamo 5. So I manage. However I do like a single character book more I think. At least nowadays. As an artist you can focus more on your art and the storytelling rather than trying to keep up with deadlines trying to fit all the characters in several panels on each page.

Jason, Vince, and I consider you a Copic Master due to your ability to make the markers do exactly what you want. I’ve been lucky enough to watch some of your Periscope videos, but for the people who sadly haven’t, what’s the process when you’re working on a commission? Tight pencils? Or a rough outline?
I start out with a sketch for the composition digitally. I print that out and lightbox it onto the paper with light pencils. I don’t want to ruin the paper, as I sometimes change quite a bit of things during the initial sketching phase. Then I do a light ink outline for the image. I try to think ahead and sometimes “ink” certain areas with markers for lighting purposes. Then it’s the marker phase. I complete the entire marker work over the image. Most of the time goes into this step. Lately I spend a lot of time on the background as well. Once I’m done, I do the final inks, fill black areas and then put the final touches with some whites. Some shiny bits here and there, some
outlines where the light hits or certain effects.

You’ve been inking yourself for awhile now. Is that by choice? Have any inkers slowed you down in the past or changed your line in a way you weren’t happy with? Do you ink yourself because it gives you more control over the final product (pre-color, at least)? Do you approach your sequential pages the same way you do commissions?
Yes, I’ve been inking my own work for a while now. I’ve always done so before I was a professional. When I started out work with the big two I was offered to do only pencils so I did that. I was lucky enough to work with some great inkers such as Scott Hanna, John Dell and one of my all time faves Dan Green. The thing is I’ve always felt more comfortable doing my own inks. Only pencils felt somewhat unnatural as it felt like I was doing parts of the drawing that I could already do in inks myself and I was losing time. I hope that makes sense. Plus and probably more importantly I feel I achieve a final product that is more of what I had in mind compared to working with an inker. I never feel as accomplished as any inker out there at all but it is what it is, I suppose.

As for sequentials vs commissions, they’re quite different approaches. My pages are entirely black and white so I have to think differently. I do more hatching, more blacks and etc. In my commissions I do a whole range of greys so that allows for different approaches. Most of my backgrounds for example are without actual black ink in those.

Do you work on a page until it’s done, pencils and inks? Or do you pencil a few pages, then go back to the inks, working in batches?
I start out with layouts for a bunch of the pages. Usually at least half the issue. After the layout stage it’s page by page and usually in order. The layouts are pretty rough but they end up being the foundation of the pages. I pencil over them to make things ready for inks and then move on to the inking process which takes up the most time. The pencils being kinda rough, the inking stage is a process of actual drawing as well. So there’s a constant state of thinking during the making of a page from start to finish.

Aside from Copics for your commissions, what are your tools of the trade? Are there brushes and nibs that you must have or will any pen do?
Doing the commissions with greyscale markers has become sort of a traditional thing. I have changed to doing ink and mixed media sketches at conventions. I’ve also done a few full colour
commissions lately. I’m planning to do more varied stuff in the future, in that regard.

As for tools of the trade, I really don’t have a fixed set of things. When doing pages traditionally I use some pens, some brush pens and brushes. Occasionally some nibs as well. The brands change every now and then as I like to test new things. Lately for the pages I”ve gone entirely digital. I use Clip Studio Paint and am really enjoying the experience.

For personal stuff I like to use whatever I can. I like to use different methods and different media just to feed the creative side a little. I don’t like the idea of being stuck with only a certain type of art or approach.

What’s your day like? Do you work at home or do you have an office away from the house? Is it a 9-5 kind of deal where you leave the house and stay in the studio until quitting time? Or do you wake up, have breakfast, start working, and keep your head down until the brush becomes a lead weight in your now-cramped hand?
In brief, my day revolves around the activities of my son. So in the weekdays, he goes to kindergarten and I start work. I work from home. The apartment we live in is a duplex so the lower floor is kind of my workspace. On an ideal day I work until a page is done. It usually takes me about 6 hours for a page but it can vary from 3 hours to 16 hours. So I work until my son comes back and during the day if I can’t get it done then I continue working after he is asleep. A few hours there and then I try to take some time off for myself. The weekends are almost the same but I spend less time for work and more time with the family.

You might have noticed I said “on an ideal day” earlier. That ideal is usually not the case for some reason or another. I end up with cramped deadlines so I have to work on more than a page a day. I’m not as fast as I was some years ago as I feel I put more work into my pages but I’m still relatively quick.

It’s always a treat to see you (and your lovely wife) at NYCC. And it seems like every other weekend you’re at a convention in some country on the other side of the world. Which conventions have been some of your favorites? Are there any you’d like to attend that you haven’t yet?
As it is seeing you and the rest of the gang. Spending some time to chat with you all is a tradition I can’t do without in NYC. And yes, I’ve been doing a lot of conventions for the past few years. Up to 10-11 conventions a year in some cases which is a lot considering I don’t think of myself as a convention artist (if there is such a thing) but rather a full time comic artist. It’s just that when I get an invitation to a place I’ve not been to I can’t say no easily. This job has allowed me to travel the world to a degree and I’m grateful for that. I’ve been all over Europe, Brazil and even Dubai. It’s great to see these countries and meet the people from there. And then there are some shows that I just like to go again because I had such a great time. In that regard some of my favourite shows are those where I get to spend time with peers during and after the show.

NYCC is one of my favourites because of the sheer size of the artist alley and I just love visiting the city. Toulouse Game Show is another fave as Paul Renaud, who is a great friend, makes a great show. I’ve recently been to Thought Bubble and CCXP in Sao Paulo where I spent some fantastic time with friends and peers as well as having a great convention experience.

Where can people find you online?
I’m on most social media when you look for “mahmudasrar”. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Periscope… Plus there’s mahmudasrar.com which is my Tumblr page that I use as a base of sorts.

Mahmud’s original art can be purchased from Cadence Comic Art.

  • charlie

    great article David !!!

    • David Price

      Thanks!