I had a chance to visit with Eric Dean Seaton to talk about his new graphic novel, The Legend of the Mantamaji while he was at Wizard World Chicago. Check out what he had to say, and support his work!
A/N: After our interview, Eric and I had some follow up conversation via email so you get a lot more than what I was able to get down during our booth chat!
Tanya: Can you quickly tell people who you are, and what you do for those who might not know you yet?
Eric: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. While most children were running the streets, I was studying television and movies with the dreams of someday becoming a director!
After graduating from The Ohio State University, I moved to Hollywood and climbed the Assistant Director ladder on television series such as “Living Single” and “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.” In 2004, I made his professional directing debut on the Disney Channel’s top-rated sitcom, “That’s so Raven.” I went on to direct ten more episodes and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Best Comedy Director!
As an episodic director, I’m a two-time NAACP Image Award nominee and have helmed over 210 episodes of 38 different television shows and 18 music videos. I’ve also helmed two pilots for Nickelodeon, as well as two pilots for Disney XD.
I have also directed episodes of NBC comedies “Undateable,” “Truth Be Told”, BET’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and directed the pilot and co-executive produced the Starz Kids and Family Channel international hit, “The Wannabes Starring Savvy.”
Tanya: You’ve had a long career in television production; including some of the shows I grew up with. What led you into that?
Eric: I loved storytelling and just was naturally drawn into how stories are made. I grew up in Cleveland, OH and I didn’t know you could be a director until I was getting ready to go to college. I saw a friend who had a film camera and I was like what are you doing? He was like, I’m in film school at Ohio State. I knew then what I had to do, that I had to try it.
Ended up going to Ohio State, studied filmed, made a few films. I always wanted to tell stories and grew up reading comic books and kind of stopped when I went to college. I chose directing because it seemed more interactive than writing and I love being around people of different walks of life. When I moved out to California; there was a comic shop right down the street from me and that interest was rekindled.
Tanya: Now you’re in comics, how did that happen?
Eric: Growing up my dad worked out of town and used to come home on the weekends and take me to a coffee shop that had comic books. So, I would sit in the car all day reading comic books. I’m not sure how safe it was because the windows were up, but I survived. Years later, when I moved to California I lived down the street from a comic books shop. And finally one of my first jobs was on the Fox sitcom “Living Single.” The director was married to the president of Marvel Comics.
So, every Tuesday Tape Day I would drill him about all things Marvel. Finally, he invited me down to a company they bought called, Malibu Comics. After a tour, the editor asked me if I wanted to write a “Spider-Man, Stop the Violence” special. I did, but Marvel went into bankruptcy so I never received a copy. From that moment on, the calling kept coming back to create my own comic book or graphic novel so that’s what I did. So I spent the next eight years putting together this graphic novel, found an artist, found a colorist, found a letterer, also an inker and it’s all come together. All three books are out now and doing well After that, I knew I had to do my own.
Tanya: So what is a Mantamaji? How did you come up with the concept?
Eric: A shallow conceited DA in New York finds out he’s the last of a race called the Mantamaji that used to protect us from the forces of evil. So he’s the last possible person you would ever want to be a hero has to protect us from an evil sorcerer who’s been resurrected in New York City and is posing as a religious leader.
It was just a mind meld of everything I wanted to see done in a story. I took real things like the Ankh and blended them into a totally imaginative story.
Tanya: The Ankh is his symbol of power, can you explain that a bit more?
Eric: The Ankh is an Egyptian Key of Life, because the Mantamaji were from Nubia three thousand years ago. So it can become any weapon just by thinking about it. This was about three thousand years ago, so no guns, no missiles; but anything that existed back then, so spears, staff, bow, whips, as long as it existed back then. But if he was born now it would be something different. Our hero as conceived three thousand years ago but born in modern times; it goes by your conception.
So what I did was took all this real history stuff Egyptian Key of Life, Valley off the Kings, basically anything that was real, and I put my own fake spin on it.
Tanya: You recently had a blog post about creating a female character which was refreshing to read. What prompted you to take on this topic?
Eric: Well because I get a lot of questions about Mantamaji and to be honest I feel like there’s a real lack of respecting women in comics. The one thing I did, I have rules for my book, of which there are four. The first is that the lead character has to be African-American because I didn’t see a lot of those heroes growing up. The second was that all the women had to be strong characters. I didn’t want any women to be ‘just’, .The word just to me is the worst possible word. Because in my business, directing, when you go oh they’ll just do this, or just do that… just is never easy. Therefore whenever you say the word ‘just’; a woman, your girlfriend, your mom is never just they’re more.
So all the women in my story had to be really strong characters and that made the story more interesting to me and I found I liked them and had more ways to go and it surprised me that more people weren’t doing that. It became something I’m more adamant. What’s kind of funny is that we did this live action short and you only limited by your budget, the books called Mantamaji so it’s all guys in the short. So if I do another one, it will have the women of the series.
Tanya: Diversity in comics is a hot topic right now, and you’ve got a wonderful story full of black characters. Was Mantamaji a story that was prompted by the lack of diversity in comics?
Eric: No, it actually was prompted by the reality of the world. And it is the reality of the people I work with and see that are all colors, and all races. It’s only in Hollywood, maybe these graphic novels and comic books that are late to the party of the world is multicultural and maybe it should be reflected in their storytelling. So to me I was just telling what was real, versus what has been ignored and what is fake.
It was really just a story I wanted to tell but because I didn’t see a lot of heroes that looked like me, I made my characters Black because he’s the type of hero I would have wanted to see growing up. Also, I would actually say there is a profusion of superhero sidekicks and co-stars on screen. There is not a lead superhero on any screen anywhere. Their won’t be one in theaters until 2018, and even he will be introduced as a story point for other non black heroes. We still have a long way to go, but, hopefully Legend of the Mantamaji is showing that we can be a main hero and that the story is just as good, if not better.
In response to my comment that there’s not a lot of color in Hollywood or comics, Eric had this to say: Well there’s not a lot of color in people up top. That’s the difference in people up top, the decision makers, and the check writers, there’s a few women but there’s not a lot of people of color, or many other races. That’s where the problem is and where the real change comes in. When we have positions of power and are greenlighting things saying yes. A lot of people are doing things independently. I’m the green lighter so I can put a bunch of people of color and had I not done it independently I don’t know that I could have had all these people of color.
Tanya: Other than the three issues run, will we see more of The Mantamaji from you? Perhaps more live action shorts?
Eric: We are currently working on Book 4 which will be titled Legend of the Mantamaji: Bloodlines. It continues the story of the characters that survived the original series and introduces a few new characters that may add in some different twists, because in the books, the hero Elijah doesn’t know about his powers. But his mom used to tell him these folk, fairy tales from books that he thought were made up but actually they were the history of the Mantamaji. So he learns that the stories were true but that was her way of telling him his history without endangering him. Now that he’s become the Mantamaji he’s going to learn the other, true versions.
We are also looking to shoot more shorts where we can introduce more of the characters. People are always asking if we are going to make a movie. We would love to, but in 2015 there isn’t a black actor under the age of 40 that has been giving the opportunity to open a movie. Now we know there are plenty of them out there that can do it, but the opportunities have not come. So we have to find a company willing to invest in the adventure knowing it not only fills an underserved market but is also multicultural and universal.
Tanya: Anything you want to close on? Or leave our readers with before you get back to your fans at Wizard World Chicago?
Eric: They can find The Legend of the Mantamaji on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Comixology, in your local comic shops and on the site. I want to encourage folks to keep demanding diversity in comics. But diversity in comics happens when people buy books that are diverse and when they sell it’s good; at the end of the day big companies are about making money. So we sit here and do really well and sell a lot at conventions but there’s always a number of people that spends time at the booth, hangs out for about ten minutes and then doesn’t buy it because it’s not from a big name company.
It’s clearly something they wanted but some folks are out here so busy trying to be included that their not realizing that by supporting independents ventures, supporting local stores providing things they are actually wanting and liking; that it will generate more diversity. No one spends ten minute at a booth not liking something. Then maybe they will see more mainstream companies include more people of color and become more diverse. That’s the big difference, that’s the one thing I noticed here.
I wanted to mention about support and the importance of people spreading the word. There IS a glass ceiling for independents and the only way to break it is word of mouth. People need to post on their Twitter or Facebook pages and people buying the books if not for themselves but for others. We are always posting the latest from Star Wars or something none of us own, but we never take the equal time to post or share something new and different. We are doing the work for the big companies but nobody is doing the work for us, because they won’t tweet or post about anything other than their own property.
I didn’t know there was a glass ceiling for independents came from but people always say how great our books are “for an independent.” But I say if it’s good, it’s good no matter who is behind it. But the reality is, there is a glass ceiling for independents and the only way we break it is if we do it together and then reach back and help others through the whole that was created.
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