• David Foster

Trenton native creates comic book based in capital city

TRENTON >> Maurice “Raheem” Mander would ask kids their knowledge of African-American superheroes in comic books. “They weren’t familiar with them,” the Trenton native said last week. “I found some that have been introduced, but they couldn’t relate to them.” Believing there was a void to fill, Mander, who grew up in the Trenton Housing Authority’s Donnelly Homes, decided to embark on a journey in 2000 to produce his own comic book. It took him 11 years to create his comic book’s encyclopedia and an additional five years for the first edition to be published. Based in Trenton, “Surian Seed: Rise of the Rudan” issue #0 was first made available to the public for purchase last month. Mander describes the work as a “martial arts, sci-fi, supernatural, urban drama.” The title comes in part from the villains in the comic called Surians, a race of blood thirsty aliens who have conquered every planet, except earth. Mander, a graduate of Trenton Central High Schools, says the book has been “selling nonstop,” with most people attracted to the use of Trenton as a backdrop and real city residents appearing in the comic alongside superheroes to give it an authentic feel. “The mere fact that my characters are housed in Trenton speaks to the time that they want to invest in it,” said Mander, who currently lives in Philadelphia but visits Trenton often because his family still lives here. “I didn’t have to create a Gotham. My characters live in Trenton and they’re about investing in the city itself. They represent the whole idea of going to get a college education, returning home and investing in the city becoming better. That’s why I go back and I always do what I can.” Surian Seed’s three main characters take paths similar to the direction Mander chose in real life. They are all graduates of Trenton Central High School (TCHS) and historically black colleges and universities. “They all work in the city of Trenton doing jobs that are easily obtainable,” Mander said, noting one is a tenth grade TCHS gifted and talented teacher and the character’s sister is a social worker. Mander himself graduated from Morehouse College and Morgan State University, and he is the lead teacher for Eastern University Academy Charter School’s middle school in Philadelphia. Mander does not shy away from the complicated issues Trenton faces in his comic. In the shocking opening scene, a black pregnant teenager is murdered because she is cooperating with prosecutors in Trenton on a homicide case. “She was murdered and identified as being a snitch,” Mander said. “My book opens up dealing with the stop snitching culture that permeates the black community and a lot of underprivileged urban communities.” The 47-year-old also reminisces in the book about the 80s crack epidemic, the 60s riot and the city’s industrial period. “I deal with a multitude of portrayals of how Trenton is,” Mander said, recalling from his own experience of being dropped off by police in all-white Chambersburg and having to fight his way back to the neighborhood. Now, Mander says, the city is inundated with gangs and he can’t walk the streets like he used to. “But that’s just one small aspect of the city,” Mander said. “That doesn’t represent all the great people who actually live there. I would never portray Trenton in the light of it’s just urban ghetto with nothing to offer. It has a lot to offer.” In his comic, one character talks about how people have a corrupted understanding of Trenton and don’t take the time to get to know the residents. “It’s always seen differently in the eyes of my characters because they all come from different experiences,” Mander said. “It’s told through the lens of what Trenton actually is given the perspective or person who’s telling the story.” Mander portrays authentic locations in Trenton. He shoots images and sends them to his graphic artist, Matt Seel, who is based in Ohio and never visited the capital city. Describing the painstaking process, Mander said every single panel was drawn and colored, which took nearly four months. Adding to the uniqueness of the “Surian Seed” experience, half the book is a comic while the other half is a novel. “The comic book fans didn’t mind the novel and the people who read novels didn’t mind the comic,” Mander explained. “It’s been well received by not only people who are general comic book readers but also by schools and universities.” Interest in his comic book has led to public speaking engagements at universities, colleges, high schools and community organizations. Mander has also donated over $20,000 in scholarships, toys, and school supplies to families in Trenton from a youth event put on by “Surian Seed.” Educationally, the process used to create “Surian Seed” has been turned into a credit-bearing course called Graphics Arts and Design for Philadelphia School District, the comic creator said. Mander hopes his comic will inspire residents. “You may be born into a certain situation, but that’s not your destiny,” he said. “You can control your future and be what your future is meant to be given your investment in who you want to be as a person.” “Surian Seed,” a PG-13 comic, can be purchased online at superheroincorporated.net. Mander can be contacted by email at surianseedcomics@gmail.com or via phone at 267-345-6773.

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