"Have you read my comic Man Bites Man?" was one of the first things Mohammad Jilani said to me at All-Con 2016. I replied "No" and he immediately stopped with his table set up and handed me a copy of his comic. We spend the next couple of days at the con talking about our love for comics, as well as the beautiful struggle that is self-publishing within an industry that still favors the Two Publisher system. So, when I decided to reach out to independent writers and artists to give readers a chance to not only learn about their upcoming projects, but to also learn about the creators – he was naturally the first person I thought of. Why? Because he may be one of the last artist bringing honesty into their work!
AB: To start – let's talk about your background a little bit. Where are you from and how did it influence you as an artist?
MJ: Born in India, then spent some time in Central America, and have been in Dallas TX for over a decade give or take and am still liking it. In terms of artistic influences, I always enjoyed drawing, even as a kid I would always rather be drawing. I read a lot of pictorial encyclopedias and art books growing up and fancied the art masters; DaVinci, Dali, Normal Rockwall, Drew Struzan and Alex Ross to name some of my major influences. Tight illustrations and surreal themes pulled me in and I found myself drawing reference from my inspiration. This inclination to express through art was really given serious direction from my high school art teacher. I practiced all mediums and styles, drew and painted from life…a lot. I'm also someone who outgrew traditional icons and motifs and accepted balance within the Jungian archetypes found in pop culture. The American movies and comics were a big part of my development as a child and it didn't take too long before I found myself re-interpreting my favorite heroes using my art. Being passionate about making the art makes it a meditative experience. It brings me balance and sometimes, purpose.
AB: You've been a mainstay in the Dallas comic convention scene for a while now, what do you love about vending at cons and do you think it's harder to sell independent comics at cons these days then it was before the big fan art explosion?
MJ: Being a student of art always brings great perspective to the con scene. It becomes easy to spot the talent and goal driven artists over scalpers, flipping merchandise to make some scratch. The story behind a labored piece gives it more value, it's something beyond the paint, the lines and even composition. It's in the eye, it's in the depth, there will always be a story in art that's true. I push to attain that in my work, what the rest do is not for me to judge. Art is subjective and liberating in the way it's used to express ourselves, so to me it's about the consumer making a personal connection with the piece regardless of narrative and process. That's something that brings people together and I don't think its my place to judge that relationship. Stolen and derivative are different things…all media is derivative and subjectively a retelling of what came before. Its what we do as people and as Andy Warhol. The access social media has given advertising makes it hard for the independents to be an option. Look at our presidential race for a clear example. When the market is saturated with giants, it's a hard break for jack to have a voice. It becomes a necessity to leverage the trends to make that table cost and hopefully get some attention….then I can show them about what I'm really about. Fortunately, I usually dig the trends, then there's cosplay…if cosplay gets tables comped, fan artists need gilded thrones…im just saying. I celebrate the experience so it's all fair game until the aggrieved finally says no. But then again…because of professional cosplay, it's highly unlikely.
I like being a fan, if you aren't a fan of the art, it's just work. For me it's an expression, however derivative, it's a narration of my place in life. Where I find hope, fear, love, and excitement…fan art is to honor that. I do commissions and push to develop my skills using characters I feel close to, making me feel closer to the work I put days of my life into.I thrive on this symbiotic relationship and it reels the consumer with a piece of familiarity so I can tell them about my crazy independent projects.
AB: Let's discuss your graphic novel Man Bites Man. The description reads "Man Bites Man is a blood-curling tale of survival horror that pushes the limits of sanity. Four friends find themselves trapped and struggling to survive against flesh eating hordes of the undead…." This sounds more like a movie than a comic especially given your photorealistic art style. Was that the original intent with this project or did you and writer Patrick Pena always want to depict this story in comic form? And, why?
MJ: Patrick and I talked fandom on a superheroforum circa 2008. Big around the "dark knights" release, we decided to use our skills and throw a fan comic together for the members of the forum. From that we saw a chance to do more, and so once again, through a celebration of fandom, something new emerged. Patrick had a dark, gritty story heavily influenced by Romero's "Night of the living dead" that I was able to really delve into during a tumultuous period of my life. The story had my full attention, and we spent close to two years developing it across oceans and having never met. I am rather happy with the finished product and I certainly hope to see it in the mainstream one day. Check it out at www.manbitesman.net
AB: What separates Man Bites Man from other zombie stories like the Walking Dead?
MJ: It's a story that could easily be found in that Kirman universe. Although not heavily influenced by the walking dead, we were developing man bites man just around when it started getting big on TV. It kept the inspirational juices flowing for sure, and gave us surety in a quickly emerging zombie trend, that's almost lifestyle some places now. Perhaps it's the tightness of our story, not as broad, makes it a bit closer to home.
AB: And, what can you tell us about the characters that will help the readers connect to the overall story?
MJ: Our characters could be you, me, anybody. They each personify our deepest fears and strength's, and most importantly the places we could go to in order to survive, physically and psychologically.
AB: You also penned a 409 page sci fi novel entitled Exogenesis. What is this story about and what can you tell potential readers about this story that will satisfy the sci fi and fantasy fans out there who are hungry for a new mythos and world to explore? And, what other stories would you compare it to?
MJ: Exogenesis was where I came home after a long drawing session for Man Bites Man. It was a place I could dress my hurt with sci-fi glamor. It's a true story dressed as a sci fi epic. It's an adventurous hypothetical who we are, and where we come from. Draws heavily from my interests in ancient mythology and years of sci fi influences and it's a got one heck of a climax.
AB: And, finally-what other projects are you working on and where can people buy Man Bites Man and Exogenesis?
MJ: I've really taken to illustrating sketch cards as of late. Just finished a set for islanddreams cards, which will donate all proceeds to the Advocate Hope Children's Hospital charitable fund in Illinois. I have also just signed the contract to a very special project involving a big name license which I can't quite talk about yet…but its gonna be pretty neat. In the meantime, I'm still poor so buy Man Bites Man and Exogenesis digitally so I can put it into print for you! I truly owe it all to my beautiful and inspiring wife that gives me time to do my thing and family and friends that still support my art.
You can find the paperback version of "Exogenesis: of man and myth" on AMAZON for $12 and change and MAN BITES MAN in its entirety is available in digital format for $7 at www.manbitesman.net
Arthur Bellfield is a Texas-based podcaster and comic book writer and can be found on Twitter @ALBELLFIELD
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