In-Depth with mpMann

Writer/Artist Marvin Perry Mann has been working in comics since the late 1970s but is hardly a household name in the industry, partly because his work appears under the professional moniker of mpMann, and partly because a great deal of that work has flown under the radar with small press or independent publishers; on minicomics and webcomics. A few other projects never saw the light of day, and some of Mann's work has even graced the pages of several "adult" themed periodicals.

To many comic fans, though, Mann may be best known for his collaboration with writer A. David Lewis on the critically acclaimed graphic novel "The Lone and Level Sands," a retelling of the Book of Exodus largely from the perspective of Pharaoh Ramses II. The the original black and white edition, published under Lewis' own Caption Box imprint, was awarded the Howard E. Day prize in 2005 for outstanding achievement in self-publishing and was recollected and colored by Archaia Studios Press in 2006, when it was nominated for three Harvey awards: Best New Talent for Lewis, Best Colorist for Jennifer Lewis, and Best Original Graphic Novel.

With the amount of work that the writer/artist currently has slated to hit the shelves in the coming months, 2007 is proving to be Mann's busiest year in the industry thus far, and possibly even his breakout year.   In addition to a pair of short stories Mann's illustrated for IDW Publishing's "Lifelike," an upcoming hardcover anthology written by Dara Naraghi that features a variety of slice-of-life stories told as a series of vignettes and drawn by an array of top artists. Mann also has three new projects on tap from Archaia Studios Press: "Innanna's Tears," a five-part proto-historical tragedy set in ancient Sumer written by Rob Vollmar that touches on everything from sex to ambition to religion; "Some New King of Slaughter ~or~ Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again)," a four-issue miniseries about flood myths the world over that will reunite Mann with A.David Lewis; and a Western Mann is currently at work on with writer Josh Hechinger titled "The Grave Doug Freshly," which Man describes as a comedic Western with some overtones of horror; a blend of Sergio Leone meets Chuck Jones.

It may seem as though Mann has a lot on his plate at the moment -- almost too much. But the 53 year-old creator couldn't be happier to be working so diligently in the medium he loves, even if the hours are sometimes long and the rewards and recognition aren't always so tangible.

"2007 was a year that I spent largely trying to pitch projects, on the assumption that I had established my bona fides sufficiently that potential publishers shouldn't doubt that I could complete my work," Marvin Perry Mann told CBR News. "So 'Inanna's Tears' and 'Some New Kind of Slaughter' and my next project, 'The Grave Doug Freshley,' were all being put into play without much response. By autumn I said, 'Nuts to this! I'm not waiting for someone to give me permission to draw a comic,' and Rob Vollmar wanted to get started on 'Inanna's Tears' and take it to the Web if necessary. So we offered it to ModernTales and then went back to Archaia with that exposure as part of our pitch. They signed both 'Inanna's Tears' and 'Some New Kind of Slaughter' at about the same time.

"'Inanna's Tears' will run bi-monthly from August 2007 through April 2008, and then be collected in a hardcover edition to match "Lone and Level Sands." It's a tale of the first civilization, ancient Sumer, and of the changing times. It touches on issues of the environment, sex as dominance, overpopulation, ambition and dedication to something bigger than oneself. Its also a rippin' good story. I'm real proud of it and it stands nearly alone as a story set in Sumeria.

"'Some New Kind of Slaughter ~or~ Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World,' to give it its full title, is a more unusual kind of book," Mann explained. "First, it's a return to my partnership with A. David Lewis, however in this case we co-wrote the book and I did the art. It's essentially a somewhat episodic and rambling collection of flood myths from around the world strung together as the visions of Ziusudra, the original Noah. Actually, Noah himself makes an appearance, in fact, his is the longest story, and Dave was the primary writer for it. And let me tell you, he knocks it out of the ballpark! Humane and focused on family relationships --incorporating elements of Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions-- this a version of the Noah story like you've never seen before.

"But in addition to Noah's and Ziusudra's stories in the book, there are myths from China, India, Australia, Africa, and the Americas, plus a contemporary story I invented from whole cloth about a woman entering a flood zone in search of her daughter and estranged husband. And among its other novelties, the book is drawn in landscape format. In sum, it should be quite unique on the stands. 'Some New King of Slaughter' run four issues starting in December, before seeing hardcover collection next year."

Getting to work on both these unique series at more or less the same time has been something of a learning experience for Mann, because it marks the first time the artist has colored his own work, which he claims helped him simplify his already highly naturalistic style that much further.

"'The Lone and Level Sands' was originally in black and white because A. David Lewis and I self-published it," Mann said. "The Caption Box edition was 500 copies, softcover, and in black and white. When Archaia picked us up, they opted for a full-color, hardcover edition. The cost of doing it hardcover only added about 50 cents to the cost of the book. It's quite economical. I was offered the opportunity to color it, but at that point I was tired of looking at the thing and ASP found Jennifer Rodgers who did such a splendid job on it that she was nominated for a Harvey Award for her color work on the book.

"For 'Inanna's Tears' and 'Some New Kind of Slaughter,' I decided to take the coloring on myself. It's certainly been a learning process for me, and I developed some looks towards the end of it that had me going back and applying them to some of the pages at the beginning, to keep the book looking consistent. I'd say that 'Some New Kind of Slaughter' benefited from what I'd learned coloring 'Inanna's Tears,' and my next book should be even better.

"As for the impact that coloring my own work has had on my drawing style, I'd say its accelerated the trend toward simplifying and reducing my linework that I've been pushing myself towards for years already."

Never content to rest on his laurels, Mann already has another project lined up after he finishes work on the "The Grave Doug Freshly" – a story called "Ba'al," which Mann has written himself and might draw, although he says he is also actively searching for artists whose style might be right for the project. The story will return him to the ancient Middle East and will probably keep him busy well into 2008.

"I guess you could call me a 'fast' artist, but that's mainly because I work small, and I've switched to markers and have adopted a more cartoonish style," Mann remarked. "Also, because I work steadily, regularly and persistently. I put one foot in front of the other until I cross that finish line.

"But I don't want people to see me only as a producer of ancient history/myth/ religious based works, so the project that I'm working on now, 'The Grave Doug Freshley,' is a bit of a conscious change from all that. It's a comedy Western with some horror overtones, written by Josh Hechinger, about a cowhand who refuses to stay dead. When the ranch he worked on gets shot up by the rotten Delancey gang, Ma and Pa and Doug are all killed. Only the youngest son, Bat, survives. But Doug made a promise to Pa that he would look after Bat, and he means to live up to it. So, despite the bullet hole between his eyes, and a real nasty exit wound out the back of his head, Doug takes off with Bat in tow to get the ones 'what done them wrong.' However, the biggest complication is that Doug himself is being pursued. It's not nice to try and cheat the Grim Reaper, you know.

"As for 'Ba'al,' this is a story that takes me back to the ancient world of Canaan circa 850 BCE. It blends the confrontation between Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel as described in the Book of Kings, with the Ugartic myths of Ba'al Hadad.

"This represents two directions that I would like to go in the future: One is to do more writing, and this is a solo effort. Two, it will be presented as two (maybe three) complete 30-page stories that will interconnect. The first is called 'Jezebel at War,' and the second is 'Dying Ahab.'

"My reasoning is this: I dislike spending three dollars for a chapter of a story, or worse, just a few scenes. No wonder the standard expectation is that a miniseries will lose readership throughout the run, as people try the new title, but naturally some won't like it and stop buying. But few climb on later because they've already missed the opening to the story. But if each issue is a complete story, you give the reader a better value for the price, thus encouraging return purchases, and if you come in late, you still get a legitimate story. Think of the eventual trade as a season of stories. Granted, 'Ba'al's' only two stories long, but you have to start somewhere, right?"

If all goes as Mann plans, come April 2008 the writer/artist should have three books on the stands that month bearing his name and distinctive artwork: the last issue of the "Inanna's Tears" miniseries, an issue of "Some New Kind of Slaughter," and the first issue of "The Grave Doug Freshley," which, Mann admits, has him both a little optimistic and concerned at the same time.

"Well, I hope the readers accept them -- that is to say, buy them all," Mann said. "I realize that three books in a month is a lot to ask of people who like my work. On the other hand, they are all very different types of stories, and so may have different audiences. It works out to something like 10 single issues and two hardcover collections coming out in 2008, following the four singles that appear in the second half of this year... oh yeah, and I also have two short stories appearing in Dara Naraghi's ' Lifelike' anthology from IDW this December as well. Plus there's another anthology story that may appear late next year. I think by the end of next year, some people might have heard of me."

Now discuss this story in CBR's Indie Comics forum.

While Everyone is Fixated on "Captain America," You Should Really be Reading "The Fix"

More in Comics