Friday, February 9, 2024

The News & Observer Interviews M. Rasheed (2011)


Artist Muhammad Rasheed created "Monsters 101," 
which deals frankly with bullying and child abuse.


N&O article | "Comic artist draws on unpleasant themes"
by Glenn McDonald | Correspondent
Photo by Juli Leonard
September 4, 2011
Word Count: 705
News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC)

"Monsters 101" and other books by Muhammad Rasheed are available via his website at

When local comic artist Muhammad Rasheed set about creating his first comic book title, he thought about all of the elements he liked to read in comics himself — cartoon action, epic adventure, dark comedy, scary monsters and brave kids. Maybe a little classic horror, some interdimensional travel and, most important, good guys fighting bad guys. Then he tossed it all together.

The result is the imaginative, hard-to-categorize "Monsters 101," which tells the story of Willy Pugg, a middle school bully whose cruelties are inspired by an abusive home life. Abducted by a trio of squabbling, kid-eating monsters, Willy is offered a deal: Lure other kids into the monsters' lair, and they'll reward Willy by turning him into a monster, too.

But after Willy is transformed into the super-strong monster Pugroff, he chooses to use his powers for good instead of evil. Pugroff partners with his former bullying victim, the nerdy but clever Mort, and two[sic] set off on various interdimensional adventures.

Rasheed, 40, has made four volumes of "Monsters 101" so far, via the Raleigh-based self-publishing outfit Lulu. Each volume is black-and-white with a full-color cover, consisting of six chapters and 150 pages or so per book. The series is scheduled to end at Book 10 next year.

Besides the skillful illustrations, "Monsters 101" features sophisticated framing and paneling techniques that reflect Rasheed's formal training at the prestigious Kubert School, and a keen eye for the strengths of the medium. "Monsters" isn't for kids, though. While often funny and full of high adventure, the comic has some very graphic gore and deals frankly with issues of violence, bullying, child abuse and... monsters.

Rasheed, who works part time in display advertising at The News & Observer, talked about homemade comics, online promotion and "comic book boot camp."

On making his own comics when he was a kid:
"When I was really young, I used to make these little hand-drawn comics. There was this TV cartoon called the 'Tarzan/Batman Hour' or something. That inspired the first one. I would get copy paper or notebook paper, fold it in half, put construction paper around it as a cover. I was making them all the time. Like, all the time."

On his experience at The Kubert School, the nation's only accrdited cartooning college, in Dover, N.J.:
"It's like comic book boot camp. The workload is incredibly intense. Like with the Marines, I showed up with all these other students and by the end of the year it was, like, me and a handful of other people. Two classes a day, five days a week. Homework every night for every class. You may be able to draw really well, but if you can't draw fast, you're going to suffer. And if you can draw fast, but not well, you're going to suffer."

On making a living as a comic artist:
"My book sales — combined with my cartoon portraits, workshops and freelance work — have enabled me to do well financially, up until the 2008 recession, then sales took a rather painful dive. Business has been slowly climbing back up since then. I've been making pretty good money, and more every year as my social networking efforts have really started paying off."

On the origins of "Monsters 101":
"'Monsters 101' started out as a pitch for a newspaper comic strip. I got a lot of very nice rejections saying that, basically, it wasn't the right format. So when they said that, the idea expanded out into an adventure comic book. I started to ask — who are the monsters? Where do they come from? I was filling up piles of sketchbooks as I flushed out this whole universe. I started really getting into it. I realized this was my masterwork. I built it around everything I love to draw, everything I love to read about."

On moving to Raleigh from his hometown of Detroit and publishing:
"I got married, moved down here around 2004, and a friend of mine recommended Lulu and self-publishing. So I got my first bound copy, and started promoting the books through social networks and online. I think the next time I was that excited was when my daughter was born."

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