If Ed Piskor’s name wasn’t recognizable before, it will be now. After gaining recognition for the illustration work he did on American Splendor with writer Harvey Pekar, and Piskor’s own four-volume comic book history of Hip Hop Family Tree, the comics artist convinced Marvel to let him apply the same packed, gossipy, modern-eye view that we saw in Hip Hop Family Tree to the X-Men’s decades of comic book history.

X-Men: Grand Design provides a thumbnail history of the entire X-Men mythology, boiled down to a six-issue arc. And it’s good! X-Men: Grand Design is practically the best Marvel comic running right now due to its humorous, digestible style. Marvel just collected the first two issues of the series into a “treasury-sized” (think Mercury-sized) softcover trade as they prepare to publish the next two issues of X-Men: Grand Design - Second Genesis this summer.

MERCURY: When I was reading Grand Design I was struck by the increasingly bizarre events the young and occasionally murderous X-Men face. It gets borderline slapstick near the end. Cyclops is carrying Professor X—who’s only wearing tighty whities—over his shoulder in one panel. I don’t know how to ask this tactfully. Were you losing your mind?

ED PISKOR: [laughs] At the end of Grand Design, I was working with comics from what I would call a bleak period for the X-Men in every way, shape, and form. The main guy who wrote all that stuff is probably my least favorite writer in comics history, so my philosophy was just to fully lean in and just have fun with it. I guess I’m asking the reader to get through my truncated version so that we can appreciate how great the next part is.

And Second Genesis comes in hard with the good stuff?

Oh man, definitely! [That’s when] writer Chris Claremont jumps on board. The story gains international characters like Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Claremont wrote the series for about 17 years and it really benefited from having the same writer all that time. He’s just an incredibly worldly guy. If comic book characters for the first 20 to 30 years were one-dimensional, and Stan Lee’s contribution to comics was creating a two-dimensional character—like, here’s a hero but he’s got a problem—Claremont brought even more dimension to the characters. In a very bleak period of time for comics in general, when it was just all these old man voices, he brought such a fresh energy. That’s when it really gets good.

Did you have a favorite X-Men story that you wanted to tell?

Not really. I kind of like it all, but I also acknowledge that it isn’t an infallible body of work. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. My whole thought is, take it all. Love it all. That doesn’t mean that I have to use it all. For instance, I just read this one issue that ends in a satisfying way, and then the very next issue [Uncanny X-Men #190] there’s this city from medieval times that just erupts in the middle of New York City—

Oh yeah! I remember that! Melty-face wizard Kulan Gath.

From the issue before to the next, all the characters have different garb and they don’t even acknowledge they’re in different garb, so that implies they’ve been wearing it for a while. It’s like, what just happened here?

I remember being really resistant to finding that back issue of Conan or Spider-Man or whatever was necessary to fill in the blanks.

That’s not going in my comic! So Grand Design is an exercise in trying to get 8,000 pages of old X-Men material to work as one piece. The whole premise is to create a feeling like everything was planned to unravel the way that it did. As if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were in the studio, batting around the idea, and they put pencil to paper on issue number one of X-Men intending that it end up the way it did in issue 281 or whatever.