- Elynor Moss
The Morehouse (Super) Man
If a movie executive was meeting with Maurice Mander, the interview should not convene until there was a full understanding of the complexity and ingenuity of Mander's action-packed, urban thriller, “Surian Seed: Rise of The Rudan.” While it is only a comic book, it has all the initial key ingredients to pique the interest of Netflix, Amazon Video, or a major movie company because it isn’t good, it’s outstanding!
“Surian Seed: Rise of The Rudan” is a far cry from the campy superhero stories written over and over about goofy characters with funny names. Mander’s story manages to take its readers on an unpredictable, emotional rollercoaster ride through a real city populated with actual citizens, shady individuals, and morally challenged “superheroes.” It’s smart, unapologetically tragic, and a rollickingly fun celebration of the comic book genre. At times, it reads like a powerfully poignant memoir insightfully camouflaged as fantasy.
"It took me ten years to write the encyclopedia," Mander said while sipping chai in a suburban Philadelphia coffee house. "I invested one year in drafting the storyline and another nine years developing the characters. The process was a deep examination of the multiple personalities that exist within all of us. As a child, we imagined ourselves as someone incredible, if not super. I took many of those people I imagined myself to be and created the ‘Surian Seed’ universe. It was fun but exhausting. I must have sounded like the ultimate procrastinator when I told people I was still working on it seven, eight, and nine years after I announced the project."
Admittedly, Mander knew very little about comic books other than reading them. His status as a novice required an in-depth investigation of the comic book industry, which landed him at the East Coast Black Age of Comics comic book convention back in the early 2000s. There he met Philadelphia-based artist, Shawn Alleyne.
"Shawn is a genius. He re-illustrated the character drawings done by another local artist and took them from a 4 to a 10. He was also instrumental in designing the first 'Surian Seed Universe Guide'," Mander acknowledged. "Had I not met him the process could have been drawn out another four or five years. Luckily, he saw something in my idea."
Another key contributor to Mander's success was Profiles Studios of Chestnut Hill, PA.
"When I was finally ready to debut the first 'Surian Seed' guide, I felt the book was good, but the project lacked the icing needed to make my lemon cake win the lemon cake contest. I felt there was still a key ingredient missing, so I started asking around about art. I had seen independent comic book creators' presentations at comic cons, but many of them failed to compete with the grandiose displays of Marvel and DC comics. I wanted to make sure I wasn't that guy that had a great idea written on loose-leaf paper when I knew it could be carved into rock-like hieroglyphics, so I started visiting galleries. Again, I was lucky. Michael and Janine Zaikowski of Profiles Studios met with me and introduced me to high-end art printing. It took me a few visits before I understood the verbiage and appreciated the value, but I knew immediately I had a winner," Mander stated with a wide grin. "At my first comic con, customers truly loved that the art which accompanied my book was discernibly different from my competitors. They could literally look at the table across from me and visually differentiate between my prints and my competitors’, including tables housing Marvel and DC products. It was rewarding to hear people tell me that I had the best presentation in Artist Alley and a 'dope' story."
Based in Trenton, New Jersey, "Surian Seed" is easily one of the best comics to debut in a long, long time. It’s a gripping page-turner! Advertised as a science fiction, martial arts, supernatural, urban drama, Mander hit a home run when he decided to use bona fide Trenton residents and his hometown as major components of the story. Both elements added an exhilarating charisma that made it easily imaginable for readers to identify with the heart-wrenching peril occurring on the first page, which immediately set the tone for Mander’s 44-page conversational classic.
"As I began writing, I thought about some of the crazy experiences I had growing up in Trenton, so I decided to use all that the city had to offer to enrich 'Surian Seed.' Around the country, Trenton has a notorious reputation so it wasn't difficult to get people to buy into the idea that Trenton is a city in need of superheroes. The fascinating part is when people tell me they feel the danger leaping off the pages or the love the characters have for Trenton and its residents. That lets me know my characters come across as extremely authentic. When 'Surian Seed' takes off, I want people to visit Trenton to take pictures at some of the locations in the book to feel nostalgic. You can't achieve that in places like Gotham or Metropolis. They simply don't exist. Plus, if the story was ever made into a movie, there'd be employment opportunities if it was filmed on location in my hometown. These are just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind when I decided to use Trenton."
Epitomizing Mander’s authenticity is "Surian Seed's" main character, Infinite aka Isaiah Kemet, graduate of Trenton Central High School and Morehouse College, both of which are Mander's alma maters.
"When I created Infinite, I wanted a piece of me in him, so I made him a Trenton Central High School and Morehouse College graduate. How much more real can you get than that?" Mander asked. Throughout the series, there are many subtle things that allude to my life in Trenton, too.”
It doesn't take readers long before they start recognizing some very familiar names like Morgan State University (Mander's other alma mater), Delaware State University, Howard University, and others.
Any booklover familiar with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) quickly pick up on a central theme-Mander's superheroes are HBCU graduates, which helped explain why one character, Range, memorably made the riveting comparison between Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and the state of Trenton residents. It is as many pieces of haunting social commentary and intense character development as it is artistic brilliance.
Mander noted, “Embracing the rich history of African-American poets, writers, and thinkers is often a valuable lesson taught at HBCUs. As a freshman at Morehouse, Ralph Ellison, Claude McKay, Frantz Fanon, and James Baldwin inspired me. What they wrote later gave me a much-needed appreciation of Aaron McGruder’s ‘The Boondocks.’”
Mander makes it known early in “Surian Seed” that law and justice, according to some “heroes,” exist independent of each other, and a fabulous mixture of urban reality with literary mythology astutely introduces a hoard of characters destined to become water-cooler talk. These characters, including WHO, a shape-shifting, self-avowed skeptic and martial artist in possession of the fighting prowess of every living animal and insect, and Hooligan, a practitioner of magic, usher in a new age of triumphant heroism sorely missing from the genre.
"All of my main characters are well-read. Infinite is a high school history teacher. There are discussions he has with his tenth grade gifted and talented students that speaks to his expectations of them as students and members of their respective communities. Jaden, Infinite's sister, is a social worker. Her professional world, without being preachy, is a stark look into the environment and circumstances that create some of the real monsters and heroes. Two days after I posted the page with Range referencing Ralph Ellison on Facebook, schools reached out to me to conduct creative writing workshops, so I knew there was something special about how I crafted the language and filter through which she spoke. That gave me the motivation to keep the formula I was using because it was another year and a half before the action comic actually debuted. And, it was five years after the encyclopedia was finished. Now, colleges and universities have invited me to speak. Such engagements have helped me spread the word about ‘Surian Seed’, and the response has been incredible!"
Maybe Surian Seed’s soaring popularity is due to its adventurous and compelling story arc. Mander captivatingly challenges his readers to imagine earth being the last planet not conquered by a race of savage aliens called Surians. Originating in the Nexus galaxy, Surians are technologically superior and can pass their knowledge and execution of Yujur, the fighting style from which all martial arts emanate, to their offspring through genetic memory. This makes every Surian a living weapon, with the most dangerous being the king, Moctaii Dem II, and his henchman, Nepo. And, similar to earth’s armed forces, Surians have terrifying fighting contingents known as the Protectorate and Makbu.
On earth, superheroes have no idea they are the Surians next target, and the climate of Trenton has hit an all-time low after The 609s, a sadistic gang, has united the criminal underground to expel heroes from Trenton. In the midst of this immense struggle and impending doom, supernatural forces have also covertly migrated to the capital city of New Jersey to finish a war that started off-planet in another realm. Throughout the “Surian Seed" series there is enough mysterious intrigue to keep readers guessing and wanting more, and therein lies the additive storytelling of Mander.
"I started 'Surian Seed' by writing the story and creating the villains first, then as I got further along in the process I began to hang each character on the wall like a detective trying to piece together a series of crimes to solve an on-going mystery. Sometimes, the storyline required a unique personality, which meant creating a new hero or villain. This delayed the process because I'm such a perfectionist. I wouldn't move on until a character was infused to fit the narrative perfectly. To me, this gave 'Surian Seed' such a wide spectrum of options in regards to the details. In my opinion, it absolutely works better when characters fit your story rather than the other way around. On a whole, novels tend to be more intellectually satisfying. That's why I started 'Surian Seed' as a comic book and ended it as a novel. Not one person I met disliked the idea. In fact, they connected more to the characters after reading the novel portion.”
For diehard comic book fans, rest assured “Surian Seed” is dazzlingly superior in the art department, too.
"Besides the creativity of the story, I have a hidden advantage most writers don't have, Matt Seel," Mander gleamed. "Matt isn't gifted, he's special. As a rule, Matt doesn't read comics, but he listens very well. We may talk about a particular art need for hours to ensure that every aspect of the image meets the requirements. Matt delivers every single time. If he was a star he'd be the sun. He's the Micheal Jordan of the industry, and soon the entire world is going to know just how 'dope' he is."
Mander reached into his bag to pull out images not yet released to the public. He pointed out the nuances about Seel that make him such an effective artist.
"Matt makes sure that every image in 'Surian Seed' can stand alone as a portrait and tell a story. These images are directly from the comic book,” Mander stated. “Each has the capacity to be blown up as large as needed. Instead of drawing in panels Seel drew each image separately then digitally compiled the pages. It took longer, but the end result met the high standards we set. We still are learning, but I am very confident as a team we can compete with the best."
As a book, "Surian Seed," a PG-13 comic, has set the bar high for comic book creators. It can be purchased online at superheroincorporated.net.
Mander can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 267-345-6773.
To purchase the comic book goto: http://www.superheroincorporated.net/shop