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Stela's Five Questions: Ibrahim Moustafa Goes Undercover With 'Jaeger'

Author: Steve Sunu

Veteran illustrator Ibrahim Moustafa discusses his writing debut with Stela's newest series, 'Jaeger', the inspiration behind it, and his experience with the digital format.

Any high school student could recite the impact of World War II on human society. It indelibly impacted the direction of countless cultures and governments in ways that are still felt in the modern era. The history behind WWII is incredibly deep—and many stories, though incredible, are still relative unknowns to the general public.

Enter Stela's newest series Jaeger, by veteran illustrator Ibrahim Moustafa. Perhaps best known for his work on the critically acclaimed original graphic novel High Crimes, Moustafa makes his writing debut with Jaeger, a piece of espionage graphic fiction centered around a spy hunting down Nazis. With Moustafa's signature style, the fantastic plot and concept make Jaeger an unquestionable staple for any fan of graphic fiction.

For this installment of Stela's Five Questions, Moustafa discussed making his debut as a writer, the amount of research that went in to constructing Jaeger, and his experience with the digital format. Plus, he discusses working in Stela's signature vertical scroll, and much more.

Be sure to catch up on all the installments of Jaeger in the Stela Books app, free on the iOS App Store.

Ibrahim, tell us a bit about the development of Jaeger as a story. How long have you been working on this?

I had the germ of the idea about 4 or 5 years ago. I've always been fascinated by WWII and it's mark on history, and with espionage stories, so I knew I wanted to make a comic about a spy hunting down Nazis, but luckily other work kept me busy until I grew enough as a storyteller to be able to do it right. I'd always kept it in the back of my mind as something I'd wanted to do, and then when Jim Gibbons at Stela gave me the opportunity, I started researching for the project in November of 2015, and completed it in July of 2016.

Jaeger is your writing debut. After years of being known mainly as an illustrator, what were the challenges for you in shifting over to writing in addition to illustration?

The main challenge was finding a rhythm for my work flow with the addition of writing a script. But it was so much fun that it was really just an extra thing to look forward to!

But writing with consideration for the other people that would need to read the script besides myself (Jim, and Nate Piekos who lettered the book) was something that I needed to make a priority. And because of the page and panel formatting that is unique to Stela, I needed to make sure not to write too much, as well. Those word balloons add up!

The story is very clearly inspired by espionage and revenge stories, but how much of Jaeger is influenced by real life events?

Nearly all of it. My main source of research for this story was a book called Hunting Evil by Guy Walters. It's a very comprehensive summary of what happened to many high-ranking Nazis after WWII and how they escaped, and how many were eventually brought to justice (mostly by the Mossad in the 1960s.)

So that book was instrumental in informing the first two chapters of Jaeger; the political aspects of post-war Britain, the shutting down of the spy organization the Special Operations Executive by then Prime Minister Clement Attlee, the minimal efforts to pursue Nazi war criminals, their means of escape, and the eventual destinations of many of the escapees. Once I had those bricks of information, I was able to build on them with my narrative as the mortar to hold it all together.

Many of the characters in the book are also based loosely on people that existed, as well. Nancy Kearnes is inspired by two heroic female spies from the era, as well as the Bishop in chapter 2. Morel takes inspiration from many of the operatives from Europe and North Africa who enlisted to serve the allies in covert circumstances.

What was most rewarding for you while working in Stela’s digital vertical scrolling format?

Getting to play with new ways of storytelling was a really wonderful byproduct of the Stela format. I learned a lot of visual problem solving through the experience, and it caused me to think outside of the normal comic page parameters that I'm used to, necessitating a more economic approach. I really feel like I'm a better storyteller because of it, which I'm extremely grateful for.

What appeals to you about the digital format in general?

My favorite thing about digital comics is that there's an unparalleled convenience to them. With Stela specifically, the vertical scrolling format allows you, as the storyteller, to control the pacing in a very unique way. And likewise, as a reader, there's no ruining a surprise by accidentally glancing at the last panel, or the next page because you're only seeing bits of the page at a time.

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