Year of the Artist, Day 99: Mahmud Asrar, Part 1 – Small Gods #2
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mahmud Asrar, and the issue is Small Gods #2, which was published by Image and is cover dated June 2004. Enjoy!
Mahmud Asrar, like Yildiray Cinar, got his start in the States doing small independent work before getting a big break on a Jay Faerber Image series and then moving on to the Big Two. Cinar works for DC pretty exclusively these days, but Asrar has done work for both, and he’s the initial artist on the latest Wolverine and the X-Men series that just launched. His back-up story in Small Gods #1-4 might not be the first work he ever did, but it’s close, as his earliest credits appear to come in 2004. So let’s take a look!
The back-up stories are only four pages each issue, so I’m only going to show these two pages. We’ll get to other aspects of Asrar’s art in later posts, but first, let’s look at how well he draws action. It’s not surprising he was snapped up by the Big Two, as even this early in his career (Asrar was 27 – probably – when he drew this), he’s very good at dynamic action scenes. In Panel 1, he sets the scene with the telekinetic assassin, who can use six guns at once. Asrar uses perspective well, as the guns arc across the panel as they would from the point of view he presents. Then he puts the assassin on the left side of Panel 2 and her targets on the right side, leading our eyes across and back by the exploding muzzles. The assassin is in black, while her victims are in white, creating a contrast between her solidity and their airiness – they have no chance, as they’re already ghosts. Despite the assassin leaping to the left in Panel 3, the gun bursts still lead us to Panel 4 and the corpse crammed into the left corner, which takes us down and backward to the dudes who have accidentally killed one of their own. The assassin uses her skills to smash the table against two bad guys, which leads us to Panel 6, where their situation is more clearly shown. In Panel 7, the assassin again leaps to the left, but her arc leads us down to Panel 8, which is where we need to go. She spots the crockery and uses her telekinesis to chuck it at the bad guys. Asrar draws it moving from the bottom left in an arc to the upper left, but because the assassin anchors the panel on the right side, we move easily to Panel 10, where the plates smash into one dude and decapitate another. The dishes flew up to the top of Panel 9 and then down from the top of Panel 10, linking those two panels together and leading us to the next page. In Panel 1 of the second page, the two dudes stare at each other for a moment and then break, but they’re mowed down by gunfire. Asrar once again leads us over that row very well, and then down to Panel 4. Panels 4, 5, and 6 are interesting, because they’re linked in different ways. Logically, either reading is fine – moving from Panel 4 down to the dude getting skewered by flying knives, or moving right to that panel and then looping back to the dude getting skewered by flying knives. Asrar doesn’t make it clear, as the body in Panel 4, placed closer to us than the assassin, could easily lead us downward, and the knives could lead us to the right panel, OR the shell casings from the gun in Panel 4 could easily lead us to the right, as the casings don’t stop even across the panel borders and the leg in the second panel is linked to the stance in Panel 4, and then we could move back to the panel of the dude getting skewered by the flying knives. Is this a failure of storytelling by Asrar? It’s certainly possible – he has a lot to get onto this page, and perhaps the layout isn’t as clear as it should be – or it could be that it doesn’t really matter in the chaos of a massacre. It’s interesting to note that either reading works, even though I assume Asrar had one in mind. In the final row, a dude tries to crawl away, but the assassin uses her telekinesis to chuck him into a vat of hot oil. The massacre is complete!
Asrar, as I noted has a lot to cram onto these two pages, and a lot to get into the 16 pages of this entire story, but he’s up to the task, for the most part. There are 19 panels on these two pages, but they flow really well. Asrar doesn’t get to show off too much of his drawing skill – the layout is nice, but he necessarily has to use fewer details – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see here. He draws the characters in motion well – the assassin never looks stiff as she whirls around the room, and her final stance as she mentally throws the guy into the oil speaks of supreme confidence. The guy getting sliced by the flying knives is well done, too – Asrar inks his face very darkly, with jagged borders, showing his hard life and death, and he is falling in a very believable way. We see hints of this kind of kineticism throughout the two pages – the way the guy who gets shot from behind in Panel 4 jerks as the bullets hit him, the way the tie on the guy who gets decapitated flies to the left as he topples (plus his surprised look as his head flies off), the pain and terror in the eyes of the victims in Panel 3 of the second page – we can see already that Asrar knows what he’s doing in action scenes. But could he handle the quieter moments?!?!? Well, yes he could, but those are in other issues of Small Gods, so we’ll just have to wait for that!
Asrar drew some small stuff in 2005-2006, but then he started working on his breakthrough series. Come back tomorrow and check it out! Or scan the archives for other artists you might have missed!