Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FYC Replay: Inanna's Tears with mpMann

For Your Consideration: Inanna’s Tears by Rob Vollmar (writer) and mpMann (artist)
By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: Ancient Sumer, a civilization that has prospered for over a thousand years. But complacency can breed contempt, and things are afoot that will have tragic consequences for the Sumerians. Make with the clicky and check out what should be one of the must-have books of the coming year.
The 411:
Inanna’s Tears
Written by Rob Vollmar
Art by mpMann
5 issues, 32 pages each
Full color, $3.95
Bi-monthly beginning in August

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
In ancient Sumer, the city of Birith has known prosperity and good fortune for over a thousand years. A civilization rich in tradition, the people of Birith worship the goddess Inanna. Through her consort – the En, who is the voice of the Goddess and the head of her temple – a strong devotion between Inanna and her people has flourished. One would be hard pressed to find a Sumerian who does not feel as if things are as good as it gets. But if one listens closely, murmurs of unrest can be heard, for there is always a price to be paid for such bounty.
Thanks to the good fortune bestowed upon the Sumerians they have seen a surge in their population, such that the walls of the city cannot hold them any longer. A large number of citizens, mostly unskilled workers, have found themselves relocated to the tents outside the walls of Birith. Those affected do not care for the forced emigration, but there is nothing to be done. The hierarchy is understood and challenging tradition is frowned upon, and rarely even considered. As long as the Goddess sees fit to bless her people with a good harvest, who is willing to argue for change? Of course, this tacit acceptance of the status quo only works for so long before a civilization becomes stagnant, at which point it must evolve or perish.
In the lands just beyond the city, the Lugal, a warrior king of the neighboring mountain people, has his eye upon the city. Feeling only disdain for the Goddess, he sees the city’s castoffs as an untapped source of power. With these dispossessed souls added to his followers, he could more easily enter the city and bring down the temple. Why follow an insubstantial Goddess when a man such as he can provide for them just as well?
As these dark clouds coalesce on the horizon, the En, Ardru, passes on to the next life, conferring his mantle to Entika, who has been serving as Ishib, the head of the religious arm of the Temple. Traditionally a male position, symbolizing a marriage between the Goddess and her earthly consort, the passing of this important office to a woman is vexing to many. While on the dusty plains, the Lugal sees this as a sign it is time to act. The people of Birith are at a tenuous crossroads and more restless than ever. It will be an easy conquest, for who is there to stop him? Some girl playing at a higher authority? Not likely.
It is within this ancient setting that writer Rob Vollmar and artist mpMann bring their tale to life. Inanna’s Tears, a 5-issue bi-monthly series coming from Archaia Studios this August, is an amazing tour-de-force. These two creators understand the comic page and how to use the confines of that page to tell an exciting, emotional story. Originally serialized on the Modern Tales website, once I started reading it – which, sadly, is not a possibility now as Archaia prepares the book for print publication – I was hooked and found myself anxiously awaiting each weekly update.
Despite being set over four millennia in the past, Vollmar’s story is as topical today as ever. On its surface, Inanna’s Tears can be seen as a simple tale involving the conquest of one society by another, but when readers peel away that outer layer they discover so much more. Vollmar threads themes of sexual prejudice, personal growth, religious intolerance, and a resistance against change throughout the narrative. He deftly handles these multiple themes, allowing them to simmer just under the surface while adhering to the first rule of writing: tell an entertaining tale.
Marvin Mann, artist for the highly-acclaimed The Lone and Level Sands, turns in another wonderful job with this book. His storytelling is clear and fluid, and he grounds everything in a reality that lends itself well to a tale set in the dark recesses of the past. Mann’s line work reminds me a lot of Alex Toth. Using a minimal amount of lines to elicit emotion in his figures, the looseness of his inking imbues them with a feeling of movement that is difficult for many artists to achieve on the two-dimensional page. Mann inks his figures even more loosely when the timbre of the story demands it, such as a scene where those outside the city are overcome by panic as a fire spreads through the camp. The thought he puts into his artwork, utilizing any tools at his disposal, takes advantage of the unique workings of the comic story and adds depth to the tale conceived by these two artists.
Out of necessity (see the interview below), Mann also does the coloring for the book. Using a reserved palette that services the story well, he is able to “shock” readers with sudden bursts of color and layer an added emotional response onto an already moving story. Again, this is something that is almost unique to comics – some art house films have utilized color to similar effect – and it is a testament to these two creators that they examined the medium within which they work and sought best how to utilize the tools at their disposal.
Inanna’s Tears is an exciting book that I heartily recommend you seek out when it hits comic shops this August. A true collaboration between two consummate storytellers, this is one of those books all fans should have on their shelves.
An Interview with mpMann:
Chris Beckett: Why comics? What is it about the medium that attracted you as an artist?
mpMann: I grew up reading comics, and drawing superheroes. It seemed like a cool way to indulge my fantasies. I drew a comic book as an art project my senior year of high school and my instructor said the pictures showed the best, most consistent composition I had shown all year. I was just thinking, "How should this look as a comic?" and spewing out all of the images I had internalized over the years.
As a considerably more mature artist today, I am fascinated by the interaction of words and images. It’s just something that has become deeply wrapped up in my self-image. I am a person who makes comics.
Beckett: Publishing to the web prior to a print edition is a relatively new publishing model that has gained a lot of interest in recent years. From your perspective as a creator, what do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of this model?
mpMann: I'm not sure I know, yet. I'm not all that web-savvy. I'm not all that clear on all of the ways in which people are trying to monetize web-comics. We wanted to use Inanna’s Tears at Modern Tales as a promotional tool. We hoped that people would read it, and there would be some good word of mouth. As of this writing (mid-June), we've topped 30,000 page views, so somebody is making an effort!
I should add that being associated with Modern Tales has been excellent. I had previously drawn Arcana Jayne for Lisa Jonte at Girlamatic, and it was clear to me then that Joey Manley is at the forefront in developing tools for web-comic creators.
If I have a pet peeve with web comics creators, it's missing deadlines. Newspaper cartoonists don't miss deadlines, and web-cartoonists should hold themselves to that standard. I had three months of Inanna’s Tears finished before we began uploading. Faithful readers got a steady and fairly sizeable installment each weekend.
Beckett: The coloring of Inanna’s Tears adds a lot to the atmosphere of this comic.
mpMann: Glad to hear it!
Beckett: Did you do the coloring yourself and what considerations went into the coloring of the comic?
mpMann: I did color it myself and one of the considerations was that I couldn't afford to hire a colorist! I don't fully understand the whole "professional coloring methods" flatting, etc. So I just take my Wacom pen and color it like I'm coloring a coloring book. Since I don't tend to connect my lines, there are very few places where I can just tap a space with Photoshop's paintbucket tool.
On the other hand, being a rather loose drawer/inker, I felt free to be loose with the coloring as well. I also started using the blur tool for a softer effect. Generally, I shifted color palette between scenes, trying to be consistent within the scenes. And naturally, I tried to use color for emotional effect. Towards the end, I began experimenting with some of Photoshop's lighting tools, and liked the results, so I went back and applied them to earlier scenes as well. This trick recalled my days doing 3D animation and using the lights for powerful coloristic effects. The Photoshop lights are not as versatile as those of 3ds max, but with discretion, they can achieve interesting results.
Beckett: I know you write some of your own comics. How much input, if any, did you have with Inanna’s Tears? And following up on that, what are your thoughts, in general, on the separation of duties in comics?
mpMann: Rob had Inanna’s Tears pretty well worked out in his head. We talked a little about what I liked to draw (I prefer emotional scenes between people), but my biggest impact on the writing was when I didn't draw precisely what Rob asked for. He, by the way, was very accommodating of my efforts and asked for very little in the way of changes.
Creators need to understand what the other does, and of course, courtesy should always prevail. I have been blessed to work with a bunch of very considerate writers who have not tried to interfere with my way of drawing things. I do like the idea of the writer and artist being jointly the author of the work.
Another way of viewing it that I have occasionally touted, is to think of the artist as performing the work, with the writer as composer or librettist. In this conception, a writer may later take the script and have it "performed" by another artist.
Beckett: What other comics do you have in the works, and when can readers expect to see them?
mpMann: Beginning in December of 2007 (and therefore overlapping Inanna’s Tears) A. David Lewis and I return with Some New Kind of Slaughter ~or~ Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World.
Some New Kind of Slaughter is a collection of flood myths tied together through the narration of Ziusudra, the Sumerian predecessor of Noah, who also appears in the book in a big way. Our working arrangement was different with this book than it was on our previous effort, The Lone and Level Sands. For Some New Kind of Slaughter we have functioned as co-writers, with me actually taking the lead much of the time. Dave focused largely on the Noah story, which he knocks out of the park, showing the same concern for human frailty and complexity as he did in The Lone and Level Sands. This is Noah as you've never seen him. I did most of the rest, but in truth, we both have our fingerprints all over all parts of the book.
Both Some New Kind of Slaughter and Inanna’s Tears will be coming from Archaia Studios Press, and along with The Lone and Level Sands starts to form a kind of library of ancient myth/stories/histories.
I am just beginning to color Some New Kind of Slaughter and expect to have it finished in time to begin a comedy western written by Josh Hechinger to be called The Grave Doug Freshley. This will be a refreshing change of pace for me. Josh has described it as "Sergio Leone meets Looney Tunes.” I plan to start on Doug in September, and have it wrapped up by early 2008.
After Doug I will be returning to the ancient Near East with Ba'al which will be a solo act. There are other ideas out on the horizon, but right now I look to keep busy for the next year, and provide a steady string of books.

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