Where The Magic Happens: Ibrahim Moustafa Talks Teamwork And ‘Doctor Fate’
Ibrahim Moustafa burst onto the scene in 2013 with his collaboration with Christopher Sebela on High Crimes, a critically-acclaimed murder mystery that takes place atop Mount Everest. His covers for High Crimes were highlighted on ComicsAlliance as some of the best of 2013, and since then Moustafa has gone on to do cover work for a number of different series --- including the first three issues of Doctor Fate.
Since working on those Fate covers, Moustafa was tapped for guest interiors for issue #8 of the series, which hit stores earlier this year, and he'll return to the book for issue #13 this summer. ComicsAlliance sat down with Moustafa to hear more about that experience, his process, and what we should expect from him next.
ComicsAlliance: Let’s start with the crowd fave: artistic process. Everyone works differently --- traditional, digital, an amalgam --- and paces themselves differently. What’s the typical Moustafa process and workflow?
Ibrahim Moustafa: After reading the script, I fire up Photoshop and do loose layouts of each page digitally. This is where a good amount of the heavy lifting is done: pacing the action, considering eye-flow and how you want to guide the reader's eye through the page, etc. Once the layouts are approved, I print them out on traditional comic art boards in a light cyan (blue), and pencil in the more important details, before finishing everything in the inking stage.
All of the things that I love about creating art are inherent to the process of traditional tools on paper, so I think I'll always be a holdout when it comes to the finished page.
CA: Specific to this issue: guest interiors, not unlike cover art, can be a tricky business. Sometimes it requires catch up if you’re working on a book that you haven’t been keeping up with. In other cases, you’ve got to look at what the regular artist is doing and figure out how to preserve that while giving your own take. What was the preparation like for Doctor Fate #8?
IM: It is indeed a bit tricky to pinch-hit, especially for someone as good as [regular artist] Sonny Liew --- those are some big shoes to fill! He and I draw very differently from one another, but there are certain stylistic choices he makes, particularly with the way Fate moves, that I did my best to incorporate into the pages to help ensure that things felt consistent and familiar to readers.
Fortunately the other main ingredients to the book --- Paul [Levitz, writer], Lee [Loughridge, colorist], Saida [Temofonte, letterer] and editor Andy Khouri --- were still there, and they've all built this great world together. I was also lucky enough to do variant covers for the first three issues of the series, and I was reading it every month. So at that point it was kind of like being asked to play a part that I'd already memorized the lines for.
CA: Since working on High Crimes, you’ve done guest interiors for Godzilla in Hell, Flash: Season One, and finally this issue of Doctor Fate — which is a relatively eclectic selection of projects. What made you the right fit for Doctor Fate? Did any of your previous work flow into this one?
IM: Definitely. High Crimes was this very personal story full of nuance and small character moments and facial expressions. The Flash was some fun superhero action mixed with drawing characters with an established look, Godzilla was big-scale action (no pun intended) set amongst an urban backdrop --- all experience that was really helpful to call upon while drawing this issue.
With regards to being the right fit for the book, aside from loving superheroes and being a life-long DC fan, I share a cultural identity Khaled as an American of Egyptian descent. Doctor Fate #8 specifically, explores Khaled feeling caught between the cultures of both of his parents, respectively, and what that means for him, which is essentially the story of my life, haha.
CA: I’m always interested in team dynamics, since comics is a collaborative medium. Some teams snap together immediately and work perfectly from ‘Go!’ but other teams take some work — and I’m curious about how these things work when a team member rotates in or out. You’ve done a lot of tapping in on projects recently, so I’m guessing you’re very good at hitting the ground running by now. What are some key communication elements when you’re working with a team that already seems to know each other? Is it about learning to fit in?
IM: Both issues of The Flash and Godzilla that I worked on were self-contained stories with guest writers, so Doctor Fate was my first time jumping into something with a long-running creative team firmly in place. That team is a well-oiled machine, so I just had to make sure I wasn't the wrench in their respective gears. Andy steered the ship, and I think beyond that the rest of the team just did what they do best!
CA: Speaking of the team, I’ve learned a lot recently about how scripts are frequently the middle of the conversation rather than the beginning or end. How was working off Levitz’s scripting and how did that fit into your collaboration?
IM: Paul is such a pro --- he's been doing this about as long as I've been alive. The script was perfect. It included reference, it detailed what was happening in each panel but didn't dictate how, preserving my creative freedom and making it a real joy to work on.
Andy had a hand in that, as well. He's also of Middle Eastern lineage, so I think this book has some personal meaning to him, too. Paul was very welcoming of both of our insights to some of the cultural aspects of the story. It was really great.
CA: What about your work with colorist Lee Loughridge? You did all the colors for High Crimes, so I’m interested in what it’s been like to have someone else coloring your more recent work.
IM: Coloring is really tough work, especially when you're handling the line art duties as well, and I always just colored my own work out of necessity, haha. On High Crimes, we were able to bring in Lesley Atlansky to help lighten the load and assist with colors on the second half of the book, which was wonderful.
Since then, I've been lucky enough to work with the likes of Nick Filardi, Marissa Louise, and Mat Lopes. Getting to work with Lee Loughridge was the icing on the cake. His work is so diverse, and he's colored so many of my favorite comics. I pretty much didn't have to do anything other than turn the pages in and then kick my feet up and wait for the colors to roll in. It was awesome. I've been a fan of his for years, and getting to share a credits page with him was one of the most privileged moments I've had in comics.
CA: And lettering? There are some fairly prominent sound effects in this issue and I’m wondering whether you did them yourself or whether that was the work of the series letterer, Saida Temofonte. If Temofonte worked on them, could you say a little about how lettering comes in to your compositions? There’s a lot to think about in a panel when you’ve got to make room for word bubbles, SFX, or both.
IM: The lettering on this book is so great. The text message captions, the sound effects, the different styles of dialogue coming from characters like Anubis and Nabu --- Saida is really putting on a clinic with this series.
For my part, I sketch in word balloons as part of my layouts to account for the space they'll require. I do like to draw some SFX into the panels from time to time if I can make them part of the illustration (a "BOOOOM!" in an explosion cloud, for example). But one of the things I love about Saida's work is how it's a part of the storytelling. So this was another case of kicking back and watching the magic happen.
CA: A lot of Fate’s powers are manifested through physical action in this issue. He rebuilds the wall of a castle, manipulates the foundations of a highway. What do you think about when it comes to communicating motion in your sequentials? How do you break it down?
IM: This issue was an important one in the series because at that point Khaled had been through the wringer, and he was finally coming to terms with what was happening to him and getting the hang of his abilities a bit more. I wanted to communicate that through his movements by injecting a bit more confidence and assertion into them.
For many of these instances I actually acted out the motions in front of a mirror to get an idea for what kind of movements they would inspire, and how they would transition into each other from panel to panel (which garnered some puzzled looks from my dog).
CA: What can we look forward to from you down the pipeline? You’ve done a lot of guest interior work since High Crimes --- will we be seeing more of that this year or are you looking for a different direction?
IM: Currently I'm working a creator-owned series through Image with Kyle Higgins that we're both really excited about, I'm writing and drawing a mini-series for the new digital publisher Stela that is coming out later this year, and I'm visiting Doctor Fate again with issue #13, out this June!