Born in Montreal to a Lebanese Father and a Canadian mother. Started his art education at an early age. Turned his attention to comics since he was 10, drawing villans and superheros. Majored in Arts and Literature specializing in comic books and illustration. Currently working as a Graphic Designer, designing for both print and multimedia. About his work he says: ” My work, artistic or professional, is a product of thought. I don’t feel like an artist. I feel like a creator. I conceive things, plan them, and execute them, always striving to do it better.” Currently working on a couple of comic books, from penciling, to inking to colors and storyboard.
LR: Hi Shadi
SM: Hello Maroun
LR: You know, before we get started, I am curious about something. You are the first artist we interview who was born and lived outside of Lebanon all his life. I am wondering, how do you see yourself? A Lebanese, a Canadian, a Canadian Lebanese, or a Lebanese Canadian. Or maybe something else?
SM: Well, it’s funny you would ask that, because my perception is shifting right now.
As you know, I’m in India at present – it’s been about a week now. It has been somewhat of a culture shock. I’ve always believed that nationality was nothing more than an artificial barrier between people, that we are all the same, right?
Now… I still believe that… in the sense that we all have so much in common and are all spurred along by the same core pursuits, but I am forced to admit that someone else’s existence, with a different set of cultural, geographical and ideological references is almost impenetrable.
In that sense, I feel I’m falling away from my idealization of myself as a “citizen of the world” to the point where I can, at most, call myself a Montrealer!
What I mean is that I cannot truly call myself anything that I have not truly experienced.
I believe that my cultural identity is not just an addition of french canadian + lebanese. It’s not that simple, it’s more than the sum of its parts, it creates a world of its own, one reality playing off the other, forming new links, new ideas.
First and foremost, I’m a Montrealer. I’ve grown up playing in Montreal’s alleys with haitian, french, arabic, italian, greek – you name it – youths and families. I know what it’s like to get up in the morning, ride a bike through traffic down St-Laurent street to go to work, and picking up a Chai Latté on the way.
Being of mixed origins, I am certainly more open to differences, and I think it’s given me a very unique view of my surroundings. I have a good understanding of lebanese culture and history as well as a strong bond and affection for Lebanon, yet I cannot say I am lebanese. I share the joy and pain of the lebanese people, yet I have but remotely experienced either…
Hmm, I’m just going on forever aren’t I? Let me try to conclude with this -
I guess I feel a bit out of place everywhere, and a bit at home almost everywhere as well. The place I feel the most at home in is Montreal, though I feel at home everywhere where there is decency, kindness and good will, and that, is universal.
LR: The typical question: What’s your favorite color?
SM: It’s not a color, but I would have to say black. It’s elegant, it’s striking, it’s powerful… it holds its ground, but goes well with any color.
LR: How do you describe your work?
SM: In essence, I would describe it as very intellectual, not so much artistic in the sense of spontaneous, subjective expression, as much as through the fact that it is orchestrated communication. Carefully crafted parts each with their symbolic meaning arranged to communicate a feeling, an idea, to act as a narrative. I want my work to clearly communicate something, but only available through some thought and analysis. In such, I believe it stimulates thought in the observer, and that is my goal. Sometimes, I just want to entertain though, but still apply all my craft at building the narrative.
LR: Comics are a big hit in the western world, whereas in Lebanon, they are restricted to imported works such as Superman, Batman, etc…, but let me ask you this first: How did you develop your interest in drawing comics?
SM: Well, I always wanted to tell my own stories. I was so impressed by the stories I would see in movies, cartoons, and especially video games. I just wanted to create my own characters, worlds an situations so I could move people like those masters moved me, each in their own field. Combining that with my love of drawing, comic books were the natural choice as a medium to express myself. I started seeing comics as a main pursuit when I was 10 years old, in the early 90s. A friend had shown me some new comic books (from Image comics) and I just knew I wanted to draw comics.
LR: In your opinion, why do you think that a country such as Lebanon has lacked a strong market for comic books, and only few artists are drawn to this type of work?
SM: That is an interesting question. I can only try to guess. You know, in Quebec, there are a lot of comic book readers, but since we are in the middle of a strong publishing triangle (U.S., Europe, Japan), the comics that really get the exposure are from outside the country. There are many excellent comic book artists in Quebec, but they either work for the big International houses, or are on smaller houses and don’t get much exposure. It’s very difficult to make a living in comic books on a small population of readers.
Perhaps it is a similar case in Lebanon? Perhaps there are some cultural factors as well, more of an interest for song and dance?
In India, I have seen the cultural build-up of forms of art that could be described as comic books stemming from miniature paintings dating from the 16th century, often building narratives through images, sometimes even with text captions. But I have not seen any evidence of a market for Indian comics here…
Perhaps comics are seen as something that you need to put effort in to obtain the story, just like reading, and that makes them less appealing to a certain public? Though I think that the personal investment from the reader into a comic is what makes it such a great experience.
LR: You have on your deviant art gallery a sketch of a True Sheikh. I am interested, what’s the story behind that sketch?
SM: Well I saw this picture in a book from Lebanon that my father owns. There it was this small picture of an elderly Lebanese peasant. I could see in his baring, and in his eye, the gleam of pride and of conviction of a life well lived. His visage, marked by time, hard work, joy and grief showed no sign of regret. I wanted to capture that.
I was also thinking of the elders who had been pillars in my life, shaped its very environment, and their passing away, leaving me to do the same for others. I was wondering at the time what kind of an environment I would help create? How would I be perceived as a father, an uncle, etc.
Also, there was some bitterness that I sought to express, thinking of men like this peasant, who had gathered more wisdom worth passing along from harvesting the land than many supposed spiritual authorities could offer from harvesting their libraries, hence the title, A True Sheikh.
LR: You have an illustration entitled “The axis of Ascension”; tell us a little about it.
SM: That piece was made for an art exhibit about arab culture.
I wanted to portray the legacy of Arabic culture, show all it has contributed, which I felt was particularly important at a time where everyone was panicking with the attacks on the United States.
Its the single piece of art I’ve created that I am the proudest of.
It seems to have touched many people, I even received requests to make prints available.
If you or your readers would want to see it and read a detailed analysis of it, here is a direct link to the piece:
LR: One comic you were working on, and has excellent inks was “The second coming”. Tell us a little about that as well.
SM: Heh, wow! That one wasn’t on my radar! It seems like a long time has passed since I drew those pages!
Well it was a story I was working on, that was heavily influenced by the cyberpunk genre. It depicted a gritty future where the Governments of the world were openly puppets and Corporations were run like states. It explored a U.S. where companies’ troops clashed, there was rioting because of advancements in cloning, etc.
This scientist in the story, Reuter, decided to clone a particular historical figure to prove his breakthroughs in cloning research while at the same time trying to prove his point against his religiously fanatic detractors.
Fantasy steps in as Reuter’s experiment has consequences he hadn’t entailed.
I gave up on the project as too many stories were getting mixed into the story-line, and I felt I had to let my thoughts mature before establishing the story, as well as refine my storytelling skills before trying to tackle such a huge project.
I had started an exhaustive rewriting process 2 years ago, but lost the script. I took it as a sign I should put my efforts elsewhere, which has turned out well, on my new comic book project, tentatively being called “The Trigger”.
Still, I have the story in the back of my mind, and I might want to get it out on paper some day, if I feel its appropriate and relevant.
LR: OK, let’s talk about “The Trigger” comic book. We have profiled on lebrecord mostly artworks from this comic. what’s the project about?
SM: It’s the latest comic book project I’ve started work on. I’ve been building this one with my good friend Marc-André Legault, who is the writer.
Comic books are a very difficult medium to master. You need artistic skills to produce the right artwork, but you need to add to that knowledge of storytelling, character development, etc. You need an understanding of sequential representations, lining up the right shots, choosing the proper framing, angles, strong art direction so that the world all holds itself together… Its not just about drawing people and putting word bubbles… Its taken Marc and I many years and many attempts to hone our skills enough and to realize what was needed to build a comic book, what was the best way to proceed in working together.
So now we are at a point where we feel we can produce something of quality, that will meet our expectations, attain our vision of the project, while knowing where we are at in experience, and what type of project we can undertake.
So this project started out with us wondering what kind of a story to do, to try out a new approach, working together with very defined roles and deliverables, like a business, I treated this project like if Marc had hired me to draw it.
Anyway, all this time, we had been complaining that there were no new western movies coming out, in the style of those great spaghetti westerns. So we decided, if we like those so much, lets make our own, as a comic book!
LR: I see. Well from the artwork, it doesn’t seem like it’s the usual western story setting, can you talk about this a bit?
SM: Yeah, I was getting to that. We realized that to make great artwork and offer something special, it has to be real, you have to put some of yourself into it, and bring some influences from other mediums, and your own experiences.
So this project is a lot like us. It’s a western, six-shooters, the good guy and the bad guys, the damsels in distress, etc., but at the same time, the coloring, the drawings, the special effects have strong influences of graffiti and hip hop culture, as well as a video game look and feel.
LR: Interesting! So, how would you sum up the story in a few words?
SM: Well, it isn’t your grandfather’s western. It is a cross between a spaghetti western and larger than life villains in the style of the Metal Gear video games. It is an exercise in style.
It is intended as a six part mini-series, after the first one, introducing the characters and plot, each issue will focus on our hero’s pursuit of a villain, and the intense dual that inevitably takes place!
LR: Your drawings seem to have a character of a collage, a careful composition of elements. How do work to achieve the coherent whole form these pieces.
SM: Well, I always start working from ideas, or trying to define an atmosphere, a feeling, so I’ll usually start brainstorming for objects, textures, colors that will get my idea across. I’ll then either get some references or start sketching out different parts of the piece. Whatever I do, it always starts out with thumbnail sketches (small rough sketches, indicating proportions and layout, rather than focusing on details). After I do a few of these, I will pick the one that is the most dynamic arrangement and creates just the right impression.
That is the hard part, the rest is keeping a cool head, patience, and employing all my craft to produce the appropriate rendering for the subject.
LR: Will you consider one day working on a comic that has a Lebanese character or theme? I mean, we have a rich history that surely can give rise to myth and mythology and create a sort of a basis for a comic industry.
SM: I would love to. I have thought about doing a graphic novel following the life of a Political leader, and I also have plans for a controversial Middle-Eastern super-hero, but I’m not there, yet.
LR: Any last words?
SM: Well, first off, thanks for featuring my work on lebrecord! Since we first spoke online, I’ve had time to browse the site and forum, and it truly is a brilliant initiative! I’m currently hard at work trying to get issue 1 of The Trigger done, I’ve posted some artwork online on comicspace.com, but I’ll be opening a blog soon to keep people up to date with developments, post exclusives, like pages that were cut, pencils, etc., and goodies as well!
LR: It was a pleasure Shadi. We’ll keep our news section updated with your newest.
SM: Thanks! I’ll be sure to keep you and the readers at lebrecord up to date on developments! We’re really looking forward to building a community around our comic book project and exchange with fans and enthusiasts!
Shadi’s address on the web is: www.drawingbynight.com
You can contact Shadi at: shadi[[dot]]comics[[at]]gmail.com