Finding new ways to be creative with Ibrahim Moustafa

In this episode, we hear from comic book artist and writer, Ibrahim Moustafa

Ibrahim talks about his latest graphic novel, Retroactive ( https://retroactivecomic.com/ ) and how the book came into existence. We learn how Ibrahim was always destined to be an artist, showing an interest in drawing at a very young age. We look at his creative process and the techniques he uses, and we discover how being a creator can challenge your enjoyment of a medium. As always, we also take a look at who he is as a person away from being a creator, his history with geek culture and what he believes its strengths and weaknesses are for the world we live in.

You can contact Ibrahim on social media:
https://twitter.com/Ibrahim_M_
https://www.instagram.com/ibrahim_m_art/

Find how he creates custom action figures on his youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCay5xLF_cSj9C-zWhruwpEQ

And find his personal website with links to all of his work at
https://www.ibrahimmoustafa.com/

You can find his appearance on Indie Comic Spotlight with Tony here:
https://www.superdummy.co.uk/imics

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Transcript

Ibrahim Mustafa:
Hi, my name is Ibrahim Mustafa and I’m a comic book writer and artist from Portland, Oregon. You may know my work from the image book High Crimes or my book Count from Humanoids or my new book Retroactive. I’ve also done work on James Bond for Dynamite.

Paul:
Basically, living the dream, I think, is what people will hear.

Ibrahim:
I’ll tell you, man, James Bond was a dream for sure. I literally had dreams about making these Bond comics at points of my life. So getting to do that was pretty surreal.

Paul:
That’s brilliant because obviously I did the very basic levels of Googling you and when it comes up with your name, google has the little thing in the right-hand corner and it starts listing your books. And I think it showed your four most recent and then it said plus 35 more. I mean, you’ve got quite a busy schedule that you put your name to.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, I think some of that might be different versions of the same thing, too. But I did the math recently and I’ve drawn something like 10,000 published pages, I think, or not 10,000. I’m sorry, it wasn’t 10,000. It was a huge number. I don’t know where I’m getting 10,000 from. I think it was maybe 1000. I think I added the zero on that.

Paul:
Say 10,000 confidently. I’ll believe you. I’m there.

Ibrahim:
Yes. I’m still processing my coffee. I’m pretty sure I think it was 1500 pages. I want to say got 10,000. That’d be something, huh? Yeah.

Paul:
That’s still a lot, though. 1500. That is still a lot.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, I’ve been drawing a lot for about a decade now.

Paul:
Yeah, because you mentioned some of them there. But you’ve also done drawing for DC. You’ve done Marvel. I said it before, I’m going to say it again. Living a dream. Your name is associated with all the companies that people aim to tick off in their lifetime.

Ibrahim:
Yeah. Thank you, man. It’s interesting, once you hit that goal for me personally, I’ve sort of recalibrated and you kind of become more inured to the industry and the inner workings of things. And I’ve started to realize I want to do more of my own stuff. And so it’s a cool thing because sometimes you reach a goal and you go, I never really thought about what comes after this. What am I going to do once I hit them? At least summit the mountain or whatever. But yeah, that’s the nice thing about comics. It’s like the possibilities are pretty endless. It’s just kind of up to you and your imagination. So I’ve really leaned into writing and drawing my own stuff and telling stories that like, you can only tell when you’re not sort of doing IP work for other companies.

Paul:
Yeah, because Retroactive, I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but I’ve been looking at well, I listened to the episode you did with Tony on indie Comic Spotlight, friend of the show. His description was very apt. It’s like that question of if you could turn back time and kill Hitler, would you?
Again, it’s like what Tony says, you can do so much more in comic books because your budget is endless. And you’ve used that to a great degree.

Ibrahim:
It’s funny. I don’t know if this will make the show, but we were joking before we started that we weren’t going to talk about World War II. And here we are.
Yeah. Bless Tony. What a nice guy and what a fun conversation that was. I love time travel. So Retroactive is my new book. I describe it as kind of James Bond meets Groundhog Day. It’s about like a spy who works for a time travel agency, essentially like the MI:6 of time travel. And there are these anomalies in the timeline that he has to go back and try to stop before they change history, essentially the job description, but the bad guys stick them in a time loop, and so he gets stuck in there to figure out his way out. And one of the things I did early on in the book, in the opening sequence, was to sort of answer the question of, like, would you go back and kill Hitler? So somebody’s trying to and they’re actually charged with stopping it because it would disrupt the timeline as it stands. And that’s kind of the first seed in our main character Tarik’s mind, where he’s starting to question what they actually do there and if it is the right thing, if you could kill Hitler, shouldn’t you? And the sort of disillusionment starts to grow out of that.

Paul:
Where did the first idea of the book come from? Is it something you’ve been looking at for a while? Or as we say, as you get older, you think about World War Two. It’s natural.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, I love time travel stories, and I love time loop stories as a subgenre of time travel. Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and I wanted to see if I had a take on one of those. And I initially started with me thinking, like, what if I live a very quotedian life every day is more or less the same as many of ours are with our routines and our jobs and responsibilities. And I thought, what if somebody’s job was to kind of live in the same day over and over again? Like, what if they were just kind of a daily player in the background of some larger thing, whether it be like some kind of a prison manipulation on somebody or just some kind of agency that has to ensure that a day happens exactly as it was supposed to over and over again. And so this person is like a bit player in making sure that happens. And then from there, I kind of just extrapolated on what the story of something like that would be. And I ended up following sort of a different path and that I didn’t want to draw the same day over and over again like I thought that would be like. And also the ideas that I started to get excited about shifted more towards the espionage angle of it. And what if there was an actual government agency whose job this was and, you know, time travels this sort of government secret between a few world superpowers that have the technology and so the general public isn’t aware of it.
I think my love of espionage stories like Bond, things like that, kind of seeped into it. And I thought of it on a larger scale of how it could be more of a kind of a spy fi thriller, if you will. So, yeah, that’s kind of how it all came about. And then from there it was just about figuring out rules to time travel that would make sense as far as time travel does and not give readers a headache and keeping it simple. So it’s very easy to get lost in the weeds of it, right? And I set out to make it very simple. You can only go back to one point in the past and then return to the point that you left. I didn’t want it to be sort of deus ex machina of this sort of guffin of, oh, you just type in coordinates into a watch and you can go anywhere because who cares at that point? If anything’s possible, then? So I wanted the buy in to be easy enough for people. And there’s a really personal part to the story for the main character. He’s got a mother with dementia and he’s charged with taking care of her while also doing this extremely difficult job. He kind of has her as a touchstone and her dementia plays into what he goes through mentally as he’s stuck in this loop. He’s wondering, is this hereditary? Is this just the time loop affecting me? They have to take meds for their what I call ‘drifting’ when they travel through time to sort of counteract some of the effects. And so he’s, without his meds, stuck in this loop forever. So people, when you’re dealing with something as far fetched as time travel. I feel like you really have to have a grounding element for people to hold on to.

Paul:
Yeah, absolutely. Do you mind me asking, is that something that you’ve got personal experience with in your family dementia at all, or has that come from research?

Ibrahim:
Yeah, a little bit. My great grandmother had it and fortunately she was always very chipper. And even though she didn’t know what was going on, she was in a good mood. And I think that was just a huge help for her because I can only imagine how confusing that must be. Yeah, so I’ve had a bit of experience. I was younger, I was probably in my late teens when she started to really kind of have the onset effects of it and then she passed away, my mid twenties. So I definitely dealt with it a bit as an adult. And my family lived in another state about a three hour drive north of where I live. And so as soon as I was able to drive and out of school, I would go up there about once a month just to see her and my great grandfather and spend time with them and try to do whatever I could that they needed outside the realm of the scope of their caregivers in the senior care facility they were in. So, yeah, that definitely played a part in the book itself and just kind of trying to make it as authentic as I could.

Paul:
So it’s a real personal project and not only for the things that interest you, but the experiences you’ve had in life.

Ibrahim:
Yeah. And the main character is Middle Eastern, as am I, and that’s something that was important to me from a representational standpoint. I don’t actually come out and say it in the book, like what his ethnicity is, but it’s pretty obvious. But I don’t make it not a point to hang anything on necessarily. It’s just like it just is. And I think that’s something that we’re seeing more in entertainment and fiction now, which is nice, is that there’s more representation and it’s less for a reason than it is just because that’s how the world is, you know, and we don’t really have like a James Bond, Ethan Hunt style lead character that’s a different ethnicity other than a white guy. Not to say that I’m starting something that is on par with those characters, but we’re in an era where things are getting adapted into films and TV shows and whatnot quite a bit, and it’s kind of my hope that I can help normalize seeing others in roles like that in fiction in my own little way. So, yeah, definitely a very personal project on top of just my sort of general interests.

Paul:
Yeah, it is important that people feel that they are represented in a way that is normal and not with finger pointing. And we’re doing this and we’re doing it because of this.

Ibrahim:
Yeah. I have to tell you, man, there’s a show called Rami by comedian Rami Yusuf. It’s on Hulu, and it’s one of those shows where it’s like a comedian, it’s a show and it’s sort of loosely based on their lives, but also heightened for entertainment purposes. But he’s Egyptian and I’m Egyptian as well, and I’ve just never seen myself represented in that way. He’s just like a regular guy living in middle America with these family eccentricities that are so specific too; they’re both specific to my experience, but also just very general. Like, everyone’s got family stuff like that on some level. And so seeing it represented in that way, I mean, it brought me to tears, man. And I didn’t even know that I was missing it on that level until it was put right in front of me. And so that was a big inspiration for me, because I want to try to do my part in whatever way I can to provide that kind of experience for people, too. I know we shouldn’t need any reasons beyond just the sort of altruistic reasoning behind it, but for people who are naysayers about that kind of thing, I think if you look at it also just from a financial logistics standpoint, whatever, the more representation we have, the better. It’s a rising tide, raises all ships scenario, right? So Ms. Marvel is about to come out on Disney Plus pretty soon. Like, that will be a huge boon for the corporate shareholders, right? Like, they’re going to see a lot of people who didn’t previously identify with or purchase their stuff or whatever. So it’s just like I feel like it’s a win win scenario all around. There really is something out there for everyone to a large extent. And the more we have of that, just the richer everything is from. Because think of how many people could have contributed amazing stuff to this culture and these niches that just never had the impetus to, because there was nothing for them to grab onto in it. And now we have so many different things for so many different people, and it continues to grow, and I think that we’re all just going to be the beneficiaries of that. So, yeah, it’s an exciting time.
And obviously there’s over Saturation, too. I never thought in my life I’d be tired of Batman, but I still love Bat. I’m literally working on a line of Dark Night Trilogy custom action figures right now. But to finish my tangential, thought, it’s a great time.

Paul:
Like you said, you’re not making it to make a movie, but obviously it’s in the back of your mind, because that is the age that we live in. If there’s a product out there and they see potential in it, it could go that way.

Ibrahim:
You never know.

Paul:
I’d love to see the movie.

Ibrahim:
Fingers crossed. Yeah. I would love to make whatever money I can off of said movie and then make more comics. Obviously, it would be cool, too, to see, like, oh, man, that’s the thing I made. And now it’s translated into this other thing, and it’s got all these people who got paid more than I did, too. But no, I mean, that is the cool thing, right? It’s like everyone’s looking for IP to translate because all this stuff is so big right now, and a lot of folks, I think, don’t realize that comics have such a wide range in that way. I mean, we’re talking about a book that’s an espionage Sci-Fi thing. It’s not superheroes or horror. There’s so many genres that comics can do, and that’s what I love about it. I’ve always enjoyed the experience of sitting down and just, like, watching a good movie, and I feel like I can get that with certain books where especially like an original graphic novel, you just sit down and cover to cover, and you’re like 2 hours later, you know, god, that was a good time. And then it goes on your shelf like your DVDs do or whatever, and you can revisit it anytime you want. It’s just a cool thing. And to be able to do that with without a, you know, movie or television budget, just to sit down with your brain and your hand and a pencil or whatever, it’s pretty cool.

Paul:
Yeah. I mean, it is awesome. The fact that this product has come from your brain, from your thoughts, from your experiences, through your talent, and there’s this product out in the world that has come from your mind, it’s an awesome thing.

Ibrahim:
Thank you. Yeah. And it’s a privilege to be able to make this kind of stuff. And it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you will have people who say, yeah, we’ll pay you to do that. But once you do, man, if you can keep your foot inside that doorway, that’s the goal.

Paul:
You made a decision as well to make trailers in your comics book, which is an amazing thing. I was watching it earlier, and it’s not something that people usually do. Why was it that you made the decision to do that well?

Ibrahim:
And thank you, by the way. It’s important to me to meet people where they are at. And I don’t know that we do enough of that in comics, in the industry as a whole. Right. I think a lot of comics has a kind of if you build it, they will come mentality. That’s the way it should be, frankly, because comics are amazing. But we’re competing with so many other things right now. Look, the spiderman Captain movies, they’re the biggest movies in the world. But the comics aren’t the biggest selling periodicals in the world. I’m sure they’re out there amongst periodicals, but
it’s not a one to one thing, unfortunately. Right. The sales don’t reflect the popularity of movies. Certainly I think they help, but I have anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen or heard that there’s usually a boost when those things come out and then, you know so my thought was kind of like, well, if the movies are so big and if we’re giving an experience that is not necessarily analogous but somewhat related in terms of this sort of closed loop sorry, I mean, no pun intended, obviously retroactive, but then we should give people something that is a little bit more like I said, meeting them where they’re at in terms of the way we consume things. Social media right now is entirely based on short videos, right? TikTok became huge and everybody pivoted to try to YouTube has shorts, Instagram has reels. You know, having an audio visual component to promote the book to me was just like a really important thing on that level.
And also I just loved trailers and sometimes I’ll sit down and I don’t know if you ever do this, but I’ll go to find something to watch on Amazon Prime or something and I’ll be scrolling through Watch trailer and I end up watching as many trailers. In that time I could have watched like an hour TV show or something. And editing them together is just a blast. It’s difficult because you have to find panels that will work for the aspect of ratio and whatnot and it will tell the story without giving away too much. And so you’re kind of threading a fine needle there. But yeah, it’s a lot of fun and I think it’s a good way to engage people. And I’ve actually seen a lot more trailers now that I’ve been doing that. I mean, not to like too my own horn, but I think it’s catching on a bit because it’s frankly amazing that Marvel or DC don’t do that for a lot more of their stuff. You know, I mean, they could put those things on YouTube and then they would get 500,000 views and that would generate them passive income. But sales by and large have increased year after year over the last few years and the pandemic was actually a huge boom for comic sales, specifically, I think, graphic novels and collected editions because people were home and it’s like, well, we can’t go anywhere while we’re here. So the industry is strong and I think it’s easy to rest on Laurels when we go. It’s doing better, but it could be doing even more in whatever little ways I can. It’s just being one person. I really try to push my own boundaries at least as much as I can so that I can try to transcend some of the sort of just like day to day stuff that we do and see if I can reach outside of my comfort zone a bit and maybe get some people interested who wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise.

Paul:
Have you ever considered turning a full comic into an entire movie in the same style that you do your trailers.

Ibrahim:
You know, I haven’t but that’s actually kind of a cool idea. I’ll have to think on that. I think it would have to be something that was designed specifically for that experience because there’s so much about comics that are inherent in the format. For example, they’re sort of the gestalt of taking in a whole page. Right? And one of the most interesting things about comics, Klaus Jansen said something about this one, is that you can have a panel and the panel that comes before it and after it completely can change the context of that panel. And that’s something that only comics can really do in that way because you are taking in the whole image of the page at once, whereas if you’re watching something on the screen, you see whatever’s on the screen in that moment, and you’re more of a passive recipient of that than you are when you’re reading comics. And you’re actively when you read comics, you control the pacing. Right? I mean, we as the artists do to an extent, but ultimately it’s on you to decide how fast you want to read it, or your brain will catch different visuals specific to you that another person might not. Maybe your eyes drawn to a favorite color or a word on the page that has some resonance to you. So I think making a comic in a video format would change that, and I would have to find a way to do it that doesn’t, like, hurt that experience, I think.
And this is just like kind of a poor attempt at a cartoon or something, because we’ve all seen motion comics, and you go like, this isn’t really any better than just reading it. I feel like we’ve slow hand on this a few seconds too long. I’m ready to move on or whatever, but I think there’s fertile ground there, and I think the first person to really crack it and figure it out is hopefully going to be opening the gates for some really cool stuff.

Paul:
Well, if you become rich and famous of that idea, I will hold this recording.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, I’ll send you a cheque.

Paul:
Thank you very much.
So where did it all begin for you, then? Do you remember sort of your first geek culture experience, whether it was with comic books or anything else?

Ibrahim:
I do. It’s a little blurry because I was so young. I can’t remember entirely which came first. But as a little kid, I was shown the Chris Fury superman movies, and then I was also given a couple of comic books around that same time. I want to say the movies came first. I think that was my gateway, probably. I was born in 85, and by then superman one and two were on VHS. I think if VHS was a thing then, I was certainly watching them when I was about four. And then of course, superman four was out in 88, I believe. And so I was watching that on a loop at home. That’s my favorite superman movie. And I won’t get into why, but people remember it being worse than it is. I’ll say that. But yeah, so those and then my first superman comic was John Burns Man of Steelnumber two. And it came with an audio cassette that had sound effects and voice actors doing the dialogue. And that was a big part of how I learned how to read, matching up the word balloons and the panels to the dialogue on the tape. It was just off to the races from there. And then also at a very young age, ninja turtles came into my scope of interests, those toys in the cartoon and comic books and stuff. So, yeah, I was early on subject to that stuff. And it forever changed the trajectory of my life. It sort of went through different phases, I guess. I was very into superman and batman as a little kid. My other first comic was a batman comic detective 600 something, I believe. It was like a marv wolfman, Jim aparo issue. And the batman 66 show was on in syndication, so I watched a lot of that. And then I got really into zoro. There was a zoro TV show on that I was just fascinated by. And again, guy in a mask saving the day. And then I got a little bit older and got into video games a little bit. Not a ton, but a neighbor kid had mortal kombat on the sega genesis, and I was transfixed. I couldn’t believe you could have these real looking people fighting. It was amazing. Ninjas, come on, right? So mortal kombat was my entire existence for the ages of, like, probably eight to eleven or so. And in that time, I was drawing mortal kombat combat characters constantly. I had more interface with magazines and, like, mortal kombat comic books and stuff than I did the actual games back then because I didn’t have a sega or a super nintendo. And then for a while, I got into other stuff. As I got older, I got really into soccer. Football, as the rest of the world calls it, which almost felt like a birthright thing because I’m middle eastern, and it’s like, that’s what you do.
My father was actually semi pro at one point, and so I was raised with soccer around. And then in high school, I got really into breakdancing. And so that was a thing for years and years, and still to this day a little bit. But when smallville came on the air, it reignited my interest in superman again. And from there, I started to discover comics again. And then that was sort of the thing that got me back into it. And of course, as a kid, the x men cartoon, the 90s cartoon, was a huge thing for me as well. So I kind of went from that and mortal combat were around the same time. So I’ve always kind of had some sort of thing in the background. At the very least, it was geek culture related. And then it was the smallville Superman resurgence in my life that set me back on the course of reading comics and starting to draw them and whatnot.

Paul:
So drawing was always sort of hand in hand as well. You’re always sort of replicating what you saw.

Ibrahim:
Yes. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been into drawing, and that was a big part of my interaction with those characters, was drawing. I mean, I remember when I first saw the Xmen cartoon, I just immediately drew Wolverine. I didn’t know who he was. It was the very first episode I ever saw, and I was just like, I got to draw this guy. So I’ve always kind of had that impulse too, I love the thing, let me make a facsimile of it to some degree. And that has since led into making custom action figures of things that I love as well. So I always kind of need this sort of outlet to sort of express my appreciation for things by making small versions of them.

Paul:
Yeah, because I mentioned before, obviously, about your YouTube channel on which you do show some of your techniques in this. It’s fascinating to see that you’re still finding outlets for this that are kind of pure enjoyment. As you say, there is a certain amount of bringing people into your other forms as well. But it’s important to find pure enjoyment out of these things as well. It’s not just work.

Ibrahim:
Absolutely. Drawing was my hobby for my entire life, and then it became my job. And when that happens, and when you’re essentially self employed and you work from home, it’s very easy to lose sight of who you are and just do that thing all the time. And with making custom action figures, I found a thing that was something I love to do that was not just more work. So there’s another creative outlet that didn’t have deadlines or other people waiting on me. Of course, I have found a way to kind of make it have flavors of… there’s a little bit of work seasoning on top of it by starting a YouTube channel. And now I do have to try to upload stuff in a reasonable time frame and respond to people’s questions and comments and things like that.
But it’s fun. But yeah. So it has been really important for me to have this other kind of thing that I get to do that’s not just more drawing, because I would think I would just burn out.

Paul:
Yeah, that’s interesting because I’ve had that conversation quite a few times with various different people about when you have a hobby that turns into a job and there are different levels to it. Obviously, like you say, you get the phone calls, you get the emails, you get all the boring stuff, but depending on the person, the boundary between the stuff they enjoy and all the boring stuff kind of moves a bit. But are you finding it quite hard sometimes to keep the enjoyment in it all?

Ibrahim:
No, thankfully not. I do find that it is more necessary these days for me to recharge. We just had a holiday weekend here in the States, and I actually took the three days off. I have a bit of yard work in there as well, but mostly just working on my figures and kind of knocking stuff off of that to do list. And I woke up this morning excited to get back to drawing. And I think that’s really important because it’s very easy to just get lost in this sort of, again, quotidian slog of just, okay, wake up and do the thing. But the other nice thing about drawing for a living, especially comics, is that every page is a new thing. So even if you’re drawing the same book, there are different challenges on each page, and you can find a different thing to look forward to with each one. Like, oh, I can’t wait to draw that panel in the book that I’m working on now. There’s sort of a bit of a slow burn at the beginning until we hit the kind of explosive action stuff, which is what I love to draw on. So I have that to look forward to as I go that I’m like, yeah, when I get ten more pages in, that’s when I really get to it’s always kind of about finding the next thing to look forward to. And now, more than before, recharging the batteries, because you’re right as well, of course.

Paul:
Do you find sometimes it takes the enjoyment away from comics, even if the writing or the art, you’re like, I wouldn’t do it that way.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, all the time. And I hate to say that because I don’t want to be defaulting to a position where I’m being judgmental about my colleagues work or anything. But yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that kind of jingles my spurs a little bit when I’m reading comics, and I’m just like, you know what? Okay.
And I’ve caught some heat for some of it before because there are certain digital shortcuts that people use when drawing digitally, that they’re just ubiquitous, and I think they look bad, and I can’t stand seeing them because, and I get it. Deadlines, right? I mean, I have them too. Sometimes you just got to get the thing done. But I think, all in all, there’s a shift happening with comics with a lot of the visual stuff, and it’s just one of those things where I just have to get over it, like it’s happening. And I can either choose to be a little sour on it, or I can go, you know what, people are liking it. Let’s just enjoy the ride.
When I do mine, I can make them how I want. Everyone else gets to do what they do, and I don’t get to be cranky about it. But yeah, to answer your question, more specifically, there is a lot, drawing comics takes so much time, and as such, the free time you get is minimal. And so when you take a chance on something and this goes with comics or movies or TV show or whatever, you put the time into something that you hope will give you a return on investment for that time you’re putting into it. And when it doesn’t like, that’s always kind of a bummer. But I’ve tried to become more content with the notion that, like, you know what, it’s just not for me, and it’s not time wasted. It’s me honing my specific tastes. And eventually, I’ll know right off the bat that that’s not something that’s for me, and I can find something that is, you know?

Paul:
Yeah. I have to say, I’ve found that the digital side of things, I think the more people try to use digital art to make it look like it’s not a drawing, really annoys me.

Ibrahim:
Thats interesting because I’m very aware of it. Right. I mean, as an artist myself right. It’s interesting to hear that it pings on your radar as well as a reader. It’s very hard to articulate. But is it kind of an uncanny valley sort of thing, or what is it for you that makes you go

Paul:
I think it’s that idea of we’re trying to show off what we can do, and that’s too much detail for not any real reason. And I think it’s that kind of thing where they try and use all the shaders and try and make it like, we can do this, so we should. Sometimes I just think, maybe take a step back and think, what is it that you’re trying to create rather than what technology you’re trying to show off, I think is what my brain is trying to come from it.

Ibrahim:
Sure. Yeah. There’s a lot to the less is more approach, I think. And I think sometimes when we learn a new technique or when new technology becomes available, it’s easy to go, oh, let me see what this bad boy can do. Right. And you kind of throw it all in there, and sometimes there are too many ingredients in that stew. Right. And it’s a little bit like, you know what, this doesn’t taste as good as when it’s just kind of a simpler thing. So I get what you’re saying, for sure. Yeah. And that’s not to say some people will hear this kind of thing and misconstrue it as saying, like, oh, well, digital is bad. Not at all. Not at all. I mean, I work digitally for a year straight on twelve issues of comics, and it was a wonderful time saver, and you can do some really beautiful stuff in that. And for me personally, I still enjoy the ink on paper aspect of drawing. And that’s just the part of it for me that I get the enjoyment out of. But my process is 50% digital. I do all the layout, planning of the pages on the computer first, drawing them on the Cintiq monitor to get the placement right. And that way, if the editor has any notes, I can resize things or nudge this here or there without having to redraw everything. So it’s a really powerful tool and it’s a wonderful advent. And I mean, yes, it uses electricity, but saves on paper, right? So it’s like maybe there’s some environmental pluses there and there’s people who do incredible, incredible stuff digitally. I think it’s like any tool, right. It can be misused or overused. And it’s kind of like when GPS became a thing in our vehicles, right? Like, we used to just know how to get places, and now it’s like we all just type it in and let it take us there. And sometimes there’s no substitute for just knowing where you are.

Paul:
Yeah. And the more and more signs I see that pop up, like on road sign saying, do not follow your GPS, the more I get depressed, it’s like, okay, sure, I’m going to follow the GPS off a cliff. Why not?

Ibrahim:
Yeah, see, here in America, we call that freedom. Paul, the American don’t tell me where I can’t go, what I can’t follow.
No, that’s fair. No, that’s amazing. I suppose I don’t live in a cliffy area, but I think if I did, I’d see a few more of those signs. I’ve heard of some people follow them right into lakes or ponds or whatever.
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, it’s that idea that technology is great, and it can be used to enhance what you’re doing. But sometimes we should remember it’s not always there to replace what you’re doing. Like you say, you can do amazing things using the two side by side.
The technology does keep getting better, and it’s finding more ways to approximate the real thing, which is great, and people are using it to wonderful results. I’m still on the journey of trying to get the physical media to do what I wanted to do. I feel like maybe once I really get that down, I’ll give digital a try. But for now, it’s like I’m still climbing that mountain and I’m enjoying it. So I’m going to stay the course.

Paul:
Yeah. So you’re working in it for your day job. You break away, you enjoy comics in your time off, even though some people annoy you.
So what does it do for you? What do comic books do for you? What do you get out of them?

Ibrahim:
That’s a really good question. I don’t know that I’ve thought about it on the level of articulating, an explanation to it. So I’m glad you asked. I think the escapism is one thing especially. Everything sucks and any kind of little vignettes you can escape into are wonderful. The craft of it still really speaks to me in a lot of ways. For example, the Sean Phillips, Ed Brubaker Reckless Books. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. They’re this kind of Pi series set in like the Los Angeles that they’ve been doing maybe eightys, I guess, and they’re fantastic. It’s kind of what I was speaking to earlier, where you just get this experience. You could sit down and immerse yourself in a story. I think getting to appreciate the way that people use the craft, reading things from a standpoint of what can I learn from this to get better at what I do for a living and what I’m passionate about. And I just love there are parts of it that are hard to articulate into words, but I think just overall, I just love it. I love the way it feels when you read a book that’s good and you say, oh man, that was great.
You know, I love being surprised by stories. I mean, that’s the thing. So many movies and shows are based on existing properties nowadays that oftentimes in comics it’s brand new because a lot of times that’s the source material for these things. For example, there are a few shows that I watch on Amazon or what have you that are based on book series that I like, like prose books. And it’s really cool to see them translate, but I know what’s going to happen because I’m familiar with the books already. So with the comics, there’s genuine surprise still available that I don’t get in a lot of other mediums.
So yeah, I think all of the above, plus some things I’ll probably think about 15 minutes from now when I have already answered the question.

Paul:
Yeah, the way that you would immediately start doing the things that you like, the creativity, the process, obviously speaks to you because obviously you’ve started writing as well. Do you think that was part of it as well, trying to build up that understanding of the process and the whole picture of it?

Ibrahim:
Yes, absolutely. And I think also there are certain things that I want to draw that if I want to draw them, I have to write them. When you’re collaborating with a writer in comics, you’re translating their ideas and not your own. A lot of the times with a good collaboration, it becomes a melting of the two, of course, but the germ of the idea generally starts with somebody else and you’re effectively planning a visual, a very laborious guessing game, really, where you’re trying to translate what they thought about like a month ago or whatever. And everybody has a different visual imagination. And I think a lot of times visual artists have a stronger visual imagination than someone whose job is to write. And so sometimes what they imagine doesn’t always translate well because they’re not as much of a visual thinker.
That’s one example. And not to put a blanket statement on writers, of course, but I found for me, being able to think of a sequence or tell the whole story with my own sensibilities and the way that I see it working comes to me way more naturally and it’s just a lot more fun to realize on the page. So ultimately, getting into the writing was something I wanted to do because I love telling stories, but it was also a means to really put my best foot forward and kind of draw the stuff that I get excited about and that I think my unique perspective will allow me to get across in the best way I can.
For my part, I’m trying to do the kind of books that aren’t really out there, you know, like, there aren’t a lot of graphic novels that are sort of a kind of like cinematic experience in the way that I’m trying to bring to the table that are this kind of like one and done different genres, different subject matter. Like, you kind of get in and get out and have an experience that isn’t as common. So that’s something that I really try to do. Going back to the trailers as well, that’s not something that people really do a lot of. And so I’m trying to bring unique stuff to the table that I feel like is just kind of inherent to my thought processes and the things that I enjoy and then hope that it resonates with people.

Paul:
Have you thought about sort of other things that you can try and do? the way your brain works, you must have some other idea in your head where you’re thinking, I wonder if I could sort of do this as well, when it would enhance it even more.

Ibrahim:
I would love to get into animation, but I don’t really want to make full features or anything, although that would be cool, but I would love to use that as a way to like, if I could do an animated trailer for my books, that would just be incredible to, say, anime esque. But anime tends to really push the boundaries of action and motion in animation. But I’m not into the visual stylings of, like, the character designs and stuff. If I could find a way to meld what I do with that kind of dynamic movement and animation to create, like, shorts or trailers for myself, that’s something I really, aspire to. We see it a little bit here and there, but I think not employed in the way I’m envisioning.
Alot of it is I don’t know what I don’t know. So once I actually start going down that rabbit hole, it could be like a whole other career that I’d have to be starting just to get to the point of making one of those. So it might not happen. But I also would love to make a line of action figures that are unique and new to the world and have some cool interactive properties. That’s something I’ve been talking a lot with my close friend about. So that’s something that is like, we should do that, but someone will have the time and the funds and whatnot. But yeah, I’m always trying to think of the next thing I can do that will be sort of the next step in evolution of the stuff that I’m into

Paul:
The curse of the creative mind.

Ibrahim:
I tell you man.

Paul:
But it’s what gets you to where you are.

Ibrahim:
Yeah, it is. But it’s funny. Like, nothing can never be easy. As I mentioned, I spent the weekend painting these tiny little action figure heads. And it’s like, of course, I can’t just do it a simple paint job. I have to spatter different flesh tones onto the head sculpt. It will give the approximation of modeled splotchy skin. And then I did a Michael Caine as Alfred figure this weekend, and I’m painting the head. Okay, well, he’s an older gentleman, so he had that kind of, like, dirty blonde hair underneath. You can still see under the gray. So if I layer the paint on in this way, I can approximate that. It’s like you could just paint it a gray color and call it a day. Everything’s got to be a project with me, so I’m sure I’ll get around and make my life more difficult in some way.

Paul:
But that’s what separates you from the other person who grew up just doodling the things that they enjoyed. It’s that mindset, and that’s what got you to where you are.

Ibrahim:
I suppose so, yeah. I grew up fairly poor, so I had to make a lot of stuff if I wanted it. I think that was a big part of becoming, like, a creative kid, was I mean, I would make toys back then, even. So I think it just became part of my sort of survival instinct of this climbing without the rope thing. And as a result, I always have to do the most instead of but I guess nothing that’s worth doing is easy, right? That’s the old adage.

Paul:
Yeah. It’d be nice if it was tho.
Yeah. It’s fascinating, your mindset, but also, it completely makes sense because it’s got you to where you are, and you’ve done amazing things, and you have amazing things, obviously, around the corner.

Ibrahim:
Thank you. Just waiting for it to happen. I hope so. Fingers crossed. I’ll keep climbing.

Paul:
For people who are kind of uncertain about giving comic books a try, giving geek culture a try. kind of building on what we said before, what’s the power of them, what they’ve done for you and for people in general, why should people give them a try?

Ibrahim:
Well, I think very important to this day and age especially, there is generally an underlying theme in most things geek culture, of hope and aspiration and doing the right thing, whether it be Star Wars or Transformers or Batman or what have you… Superman. it’s usually about somebody or a group of people against the odds, trying to triumph over evil, right? And we could sure use a lot of that in the real world right now. And I think there is a lot of that going on and people working very hard. And I think that kind of stuff makes you feel more hopeful and a little bit more empowered. For me personally, I’m a pretty nihilistic individual, so if I can sort of jump from escapism to escapism in a way that makes me feel good enough about forward momentum, then I’ll take it.
So as somebody who struggles with that, I think if anyone else finds themselves in a similar position, that there’s a lot for them to take away from it from geek culture and the things that represent it. I was always very into the sort of goody goody team leader type of characters. Like, I always liked cyclops from the Xmen and Superman, of course. And I think that stuff really helped cement my moral compass in a lot of ways. I think I was lucky enough to sort of have one built in to me somehow. So I didn’t necessarily learn it from those things, but it definitely provided some echolocation for me in that respect. I mean, as somebody who was raised with religion but from an early age found that it wasn’t really for me like the idea of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing and was always sort of reinforced by these characters that I loved. And so in some way, it was a big constant for me in terms of just sort of like maintaining that a sense of moral purpose in life.

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