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

by  in Comic News Comment
Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Jen Benka and Kris Dresen of ‘Manya’

Say you’re a cartoonist going about your normal business, creating comic
strips and producing comics. And then, one day, your career changes, at
least a little, when you become a nominee for a 2002
Eisner Award nomination
for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

“Well, we were pretty surprised,” “Manya” co-creator Kris Dresen told CBR
News on Tuesday. “I submitted our book without expecting anything. I had
forgotten all about it until I saw the nominations list. [Co-creator Jen
Benka] 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 this

As for what “Manya” is actually about, Dresen has this
capsule 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’s
funny, poetic, sometimes serious, and offers great insight into what makes
this woman who she is.”

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

“The reader reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” Dresen said.
“And while critical attention does help, we’re finding that word-of-mouth
seems to be our greatest generator of new readers. We get a considerable
amount of mail from guys who are thrilled that their wives or girlfriends
who never read comics but loved ‘Manya’ when it was given to them. Of
course, when the likes of Steve Lieber and Dwayne McDuffie are pimping our
book, we are now getting some attention from more mainstream-type readers.”


For some previous winners, an Eisner award for Talent Deserving of Wider
Recognition has helped propel winners into more mainstream success – or
simply come at a moment where that success was somewhat inevitable. But
Dresen has no particular interest in following the footsteps of previous
winners like Brian Michael Bendis, Tony Millionaire and Linda Medley.

“I don’t see ‘Manya’ as a stepping stone to doing mainstream work for a
major. I don’t have a deep-rooted desire to draw Spider-Man. We’re already
drawing the type of comics that I want to do. If someone decides to pick up
what we do and publish it, that’s great. We welcome all offers. Jen and I
are 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 script
by Dwayne and Matt S. Wayne is unbelievably funny. It’s going to so much
fun 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 after
that called ‘Grace,’ but that’s a ways off.

“Dwayne’s been a fan of mine for some time. He finally screwed up the
courage to ask me to draw ‘The Road to Hell’ and I said yes. THEN he told
me that it was 128 pages long …”

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

“Jen and I have no illusions that we’ll win. But I wouldn’t feel too bad
if we lost to Dylan Horrocks. He doing some of the most interesting and
intelligent comics out there today.”

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