Book deals are relatively rare in the comics industry, at least amongst publishers that do a lot of their sales through the direct market. There’s the occasional announcement of a writer or artist signing a Marvel or DC exclusive, but few creators formally tie themselves to a single publisher for their creator-owned work. The only instance in recent memory I can think of is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ deal with Image Comics.
That’s why I was surprised (and delighted) to read that Ibrahim Moustafa signed a three-book deal with Humanoids. The talented writer/artist is committing a massive amount of time and energy to write and draw three graphic novels for the publisher, and Humanoids is investing heavily in him as well. His first book coming out of the deal is Count, a science-fiction adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo which you can read a preview of here. I was excited to learn more about the graphic novel and the three-book deal from the man himself. Check out my interview with Ibrahim Moustafa below.
How did your three-book deal come about?
I pitched Count to outgoing Humanoids Senior Editor Fabrice Sapolsky, during which time Mark Waid was serving as Director of Creative Development. He championed Count from the very beginning, to my everlasting gratitude, and was a big part of giving it the green light. During the production on the book, Senior Editor (and editor on Count) Rob Levin and I had a few chats about what we might do next creatively. Shortly after Mark Waid was promoted to Publisher, he and Rob presented me with the offer, which I couldn’t have been happier about.
What makes Humanoids a good home for your next three graphic novels?
Humanoids is looking to publish bold, transgressive, thought-provoking stories, and those are exactly the kind of stories that I hope to tell. So far at Humanoids, I’ve only been limited by the constraints of the comics medium itself. It’s been a really wonderful experience and I’m excited for more.
Does the deal offer you a sense of stability as a creator and make it easier to focus on your art?
100%. I’ve been freelancing in comics for about a decade now and making comics as my sole livelihood for about 6 of those years. This is the first time I’ve had a commitment to and from a publisher longer than an 8-issue series, so I’m very grateful for the long-term relationship. Especially during this pandemic, when employment is tenuous and uncertain for so many.
Will you continue to work with other publishers on smaller projects, or are you completely exclusive to Humanoids?
The deal stipulates that my next two original works will be exclusive to Humanoids, but I do have the ability to take on Work for Hire stuff if a cool opportunity arises, which is really considerate of them to bake into the agreement. But I’m having so much fun writing/drawing my own books that it would have to be something pretty cool to get me to take a break!
What appeals to you about releasing your works as graphic novels instead of as comic book miniseries?
There are a lot of challenges to the periodical format of comics. First and foremost, they’re a very niche market. One that is oversaturated, and often a gamble for retailers trying to gauge interest in releases that are outside of the classic super-heroics. From a creative standpoint, a monthly series has to be written in a way that accommodates the 20-22 page format, with cliffhangers, etc. With a graphic novel, there’s the freedom to let a chapter that only necessitates 16 pages stay at 16 pages. I love comics that offer a kind of cinematic storytelling experience, and I can do that in a self-contained volume. There’s also a “best of both worlds” aspect, where the graphic novel can be made available in comic shops, bookstores, and libraries, all at once.
What does The Count of Monte Cristo mean to you as a reader and storyteller?
I love stories about comeuppance and revenge, and the cost of seeking that vengeance. The Count of Monte Cristo is in many ways the progenitor of the genre in modern terms, and it’s so layered with this big ensemble cast of characters. The anger you feel at the injustice of Edmond’s imprisonment is so palpable. It’s really an amazing tome.
What makes the story amenable to the sci-fi genre?
It’s ultimately a story about people, justice, the human condition, and many more elements that transcend their setting. But the original story doesn’t have much in the way of action, and I’ve infused a lot of it into this reimagining. Ultimately Count shares the initial broad strokes of its inspiration, but I deviate from the original text in pretty big ways that only work in a sci-fi setting, so a lot of the genre elements I’ve infused don’t translate from the original.
The preview pages feature a sequence reminiscent of a spy thriller. Did your time drawing James Bond inform your work on The Count of Monte Cristo?
I’m a big fan of the kind of action that tends to permeate espionage stories, so my love of the spy-thriller genre is definitely palpable in COUNT. I think the nature of the story; a man pretending to be someone else in order to enact his plan, is very much in keeping with the genre as well. Our main character, Redxan, finds himself sharing a common enemy with a resistance group fighting against the fascistic government, and he needs information from them. The price of that information is for him to infiltrate high-society, so there are a lot of tradecraft elements involved with something like that.
Anyone who’s read PanelxPanel or watched Strip Panel Naked knows how well Hassan understands the comics craft. How do you see him apply that knowledge as a letterer?
Hassan is fantastic. He approaches the lettering as an element of the storytelling in a way that I’ve frankly never seen before. His sound effects INTERACT with my illustrations in some really fun ways. It was always a treat to see what he was going to do on the page.
His savvy style, paired with the absolutely brilliant colors of Brad Simpson (Crone, Coffin Bound) really makes this book sing visually.
You’ve written other comics before but this three-book deal is the biggest writing assignment you’ve ever taken on. How do you think you’ll grow from the experience?
Thus far I’ve already learned a great deal about how to structure longer-format stories, how to better balance character moments with big action, when less dialogue is more.
A lot of that growth still lies ahead, and I’m excited and anxious to find out what it looks like.