*Iron Man, Superman, Spider-Man and Batman and may be among the A-list superheroes the world knows, but if Eric Dean Seaton has anything to do about it, folks will be able to put the Mantamaji in the same circle.
The hero is at the center of “The Legend of the Mantamaji,” Seaton’s trilogy of graphic novels that was 6 to 8 years in the making and ready for its live action close up with a well-received recently released live action digital short (scroll down to see it).
The novels, center around Elijah Alexander, a shallow and conceited district attorney who finds out he’s the last in a race called the Mantamaji, which is dedicated to protecting the innocent from the forces of evil.
“He’s basically the last person you would ever want to be a hero and has to defend us against an evil sorcerer who has been resurrected in New York City and is posing as a religious leader,” Seaton, who released his first Mantamaji graphic novel in October 2014, told EURweb about Elijah.
The arrival of the Mantamaji comes amid a wave of diversity currently sweeping comics. In recent months, readers have seen a black Captain America, a half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man and a female Thor, not to mention a gay Iceman, Korean American Hulk and Pakistani American Muslim Ms. Marvel. Adding to that are comic book covers of classic hip-hop albums Marvel Comics is doing that feature their characters in the same poses as the rappers featured on the original imagery.
Movie wise, Marvel has brought a diverse cinematic universe with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, who will appear in the upcoming “Captain America: Civil War” before headlining his (Boseman) own solo film in 2018.
While he is excited about seeing the Black Panther movie, Seaton points out that more has to be done in order for minority heroes to have a solid presence in film and on the printed page.
“One is not a trend. So Black Panther will be the first but then we need to see two or three more before it’s a real trend,” he said. We’re going to be waiting until 2018. It’s probably going to be a fantastic movie because all their movies are fantastic. But you would hope that that leads to a lot more than just one. One is not a trend. So we’re gonna have one, but what else?
“And even with the remaking of these characters, I hope that they have a minority creator to do one of their characters because I think it’s great that Thor is a woman and all that. I hope they then give those same writers and artists a chance to create their own or spin-off from Thor so it’s not just taking every single character and redoing them as a minority but never introducing anything new, Seaton added.
Despite reading and loving comic books while growing up, Seaton often encountered heroes that did not look like him. As a result, he set out to create a character that would be able to establish a real connection with readers and maybe share the same page as his favorite do-gooders.
“I feel like minorities as an audience, we love the superhero genre but weren’t always into it because there was no true connection to us being heroes that we’re super fans, but passive, in a way. So I find that a lot of minorities that I meet have that same background, where they all know all the comic book stories, all the comic book heroes and all the superheroes and love them, but somehow we knew we were never them. And so it’s a stopping point, does that make sense?” said Seaton, who caught the graphic novel writing bug after writing a SpiderMan stop-the-violence movement comic.
“I loved Indiana Jones and I loved James Bond and I just thought they were the coolest things when I was a kid. And you never saw anybody of color, not just saying black, anybody of any color doing movies or being heroes at that level,” he added. “I love ‘Lord of the Rings’ and I just thought that it was this grand epic story. But you never saw any people of color doing it. And I was like ‘I would love to tell those stories with people of color,’ where you’re not saying ‘Hey look at the minority hero,’ but the minority that is the hero and we see them doing it.”
For Seaton, diversity goes beyond the lead character in “Legend of the Mantamaji” as all characters paint a picture of the real life eclectic world the comic series reflects.
“The viewpoint of what I try to do with my books is that you see a minority,” he said. “You see between what the real world is, all these different multicultural people being heroes, doing the same thing you used to see one race and one sex do.”
With that came “a few rules” he felt were necessary to enhance the quality of what he created.
“Obviously the rule was the lead character had to be African-American just because I obviously am, but my other major rule was all the women had to be strong characters,” Seaton confessed. “…Because my character is always gonna be trying to save the world, the world is a mixture. And so that drove having a lot of different characters of different nationalities and races and creeds.”
Seaton’s efforts have paid off with the “Mantamaji” graphic novels being honored with a Glyph Comics Award nomination and an honorable mention at the Los Angeles Movie Awards, where the short was recognized for best editor. In addition, the “Mantamaji” short has gotten high marks among fans and those wanting to find out more about the character and his world.
“It feels really good and I feel like I really was on a good curve because, remember, they were written eight years ago and it took six years to make them. So it was two years after that and they’re just now talking about diversity,” revealed Seaton . “But the characters and the race and all that was set eight years ago. I feel like I was six to eight years ahead of the curve. And now I feel like I’m in the middle of hopefully the explosion. I feel honored and I just feel like a great responsibility to do the books as best as possible and to help others if they’re trying to do the same thing.
“I feel like there’s no way I can do this on my own,” he continued. “I’m happy that people are joining in and I know that there are thousands of other people who have their own ideas for books and all that. So if this helps them in any way to follow their dream and tell their story, then more power to us all.”
Despite the accolades, Seaton knows he has his work cut out as an independent creator with getting the Mantamaji on the level of DC and Marvel’s finest. Yet he remains optimistic that the glass ceiling is “very slowly” on its way to being broken.
“When you’re an independent, you don’t have that brand. You’re trying to build that brand. I found the hardest part is not the quality of the books [which] stand for themselves. The shorts people really like, but it’s just really hard to break that glass ceiling for people to pay attention and to take a chance,” Seaton said. “And so what I’ve been telling people is ‘Take a look. Take a gander. Buy for your friends that you know would like it or share it with people. And if you just keep banging and banging and banging away, we can definitely break that glass ceiling,” Seaton stated.
Up next for Seaton is a continuation of the Mantamaji’s adventures with “Legend of the Mantamaji: Bloodline,” the next two books in the series and plans to “definitely” go digital with a deal he’s working on to get the books done in “sort of a 3D digital style where the images from the work are moving.” The first of the “Bloodline” books will be released by the end of next year with “maybe a year and a half or a year” before the follow up arrives.
For more information on “The Legend of the Mantamaji” and to purchase the books in the series, click HERE. To see the “Mantamaji” live-action short, check out the video below: