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Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Jen Benka and Kris Dresen of 'Manya'

[Manya]Say you're a cartoonist going about your normal business, creating comicstrips and producing comics. And then, one day, your career changes, atleast a little, when you become a nominee for a 2002Eisner Award nomination for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

"Well, we were pretty surprised," "Manya" co-creator Kris Dresen told CBRNews on Tuesday. "I submitted our book without expecting anything. I hadforgotten all about it until I saw the nominations list. [Co-creator JenBenka] and I never approached 'Manya' with the hope of it being nominated,let alone, win any awards. But it's still a rush when something like thishappens."

As for what "Manya" is actually about, Dresen has thiscapsule description:

"It's a serial graphic novel about Manya, a woman in her late 20's,early 30's and her life as she travels the path to becoming a writer. It'sfunny, poetic, sometimes serious, and offers great insight into what makesthis woman who she is."

While there have been dramatic gains for non-superhero comic books inthe nascent 21st century, by and large, comic readers aren't spending a lotof money on comics like "Manya," wherein the title character works in abook store and is advised in her dreams by Marie Curie. But if there isn'ta large audience reading such books, there is an audience interested inworks like "Manya."

"The reader reaction has been overwhelmingly positive," Dresen said."And while critical attention does help, we're finding that word-of-mouthseems to be our greatest generator of new readers. We get a considerableamount of mail from guys who are thrilled that their wives or girlfriendswho never read comics but loved 'Manya' when it was given to them. Ofcourse, when the likes of Steve Lieber and Dwayne McDuffie are pimping ourbook, we are now getting some attention from more mainstream-type readers."

[Manya]For some previous winners, an Eisner award for Talent Deserving of WiderRecognition has helped propel winners into more mainstream success - orsimply come at a moment where that success was somewhat inevitable. ButDresen has no particular interest in following the footsteps of previouswinners like Brian Michael Bendis, Tony Millionaire and Linda Medley.

"I don't see 'Manya' as a stepping stone to doing mainstream work for amajor. I don't have a deep-rooted desire to draw Spider-Man. We're alreadydrawing the type of comics that I want to do. If someone decides to pick upwhat we do and publish it, that's great. We welcome all offers. Jen and Iare quite confident that the audience for 'Manya' is still largely untapped."

And it's not as though she won't be keeping busy:

"Right now 'The Road to Hell' is the big project on my plate. The scriptby Dwayne and Matt S. Wayne is unbelievably funny. It's going to so muchfun to draw. If all goes well I should have it done sometime in early 2003.I have another graphic novel that I'm writing and drawing scheduled afterthat called 'Grace,' but that's a ways off.

"Dwayne's been a fan of mine for some time. He finally screwed up thecourage to ask me to draw 'The Road to Hell' and I said yes. THEN he toldme that it was 128 pages long ..."

As for the award, Dresen has her pick as to who should take home theaward the night of August 2.

"Jen and I have no illusions that we'll win. But I wouldn't feel too badif we lost to Dylan Horrocks. He doing some of the most interesting andintelligent comics out there today."

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