This is a transcript of the Sept. 17 edition of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.
Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast for what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season, we’re sitting down with the writer and artists behind the comic book Batman, to learn a little bit about how their stories of the Dark Knight come together from concept to execution.
For this episode, we chatted with Seth Mann, an inker who works almost exclusively with his twin brother, the penciler Clay Mann. Seth lays out what exactly an inker does and explains why he’s so happy to be employed in superhero comics today. He also discusses what it’s like to fill a role that gets less respect from the fans and shares his tools of the trade.
Then in a Slate Plus extra, Mann talks about why his brother sometimes sneaks Magnum P.I. references into their art and tells us what his high school students, the students that he teaches art to, think when they find out about his artistic secret identity.
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What is your name and what do you do?
Seth Mann: My name is Seth Mann and I’m an inker. I freelance as an inker and I currently work on Batman. That’s it.
Brogan: So what is an inker in the comic-book-making process? What is your job?
Mann: I meant to look this up after I heard even Tom say it’s hard to describe. Traditionally, it was so they could reproduce line art from pencils. So you get a pencil page and you ink it, black. What I mean is, you just take a pencil drawing and you have it so it’s reproducible. Nowadays though, they can shoot from pencils, so I think that—
Brogan: When you say shoot, you mean—
Mann: Yeah, scan and inks have—and this is just my interpretation of the medium, but it’s changed in the sense that some artists don’t use them and a lot of artists do it themselves, but there’s still the traditional—you have a penciler, you have an inker, and that person receives the page and they just straighten up, tidy up, add some textures, possibly, depending on what’s in the page, and that’s the part I enjoy.
Because I do work with my brother, Clay Mann, who is a penciler and his pages are ... I know what he wants, so pretty much what his pencils are is not a lot of room open to adding a bunch of extra stuff, and the good thing about working with him is if I want to, then I can ask, and he’ll say yes or no. But it’s a hard question to answer. I would say go watch Chasing Amy.
Brogan: So there’s a joke in Chasing Amy where someone describes inkers as tracers, right?
Brogan: Is that fair?
Mann: Depends on what panel, but I would say, yeah. I mean, it’s an easy way to describe it, but there’s a lot of people would say that’s not what it is and it’s not, but it just depends who you’re working with. Some artists, when you get the pencil pages, they’re very loose, and again, there’s people like Clay who, to be honest, professionally, it’s the only person I’ve ever inked, other than being paid to a commission to ink someone for fun. And his stuff is pretty tight. He knows exactly what he wants.
Brogan: When you say “tight,” you mean the detail is mostly there?
Mann: Yes, I apologize. The pencils are clean, the information is there in pencil, and I’m not making up anything as I go. Unless it’s something organic like trees and rocks and bricks and things like that.
Brogan: So as you’ve already suggested, you have a relatively unique professional role in that you primarily, if not almost entirely exclusively, draw over your brother Clay’s pencils. How does that relationship actually work, though? I mean, we can talk more about the particulars of how you spend time inking a page, but how is your interaction with him at work?
Mann: It’s nice, we’re twins. So we’ve grown up—
Brogan: Identical or fraternal?
Mann: Identical. And we’ve grown up with the same interest in a lot of things and we think very much alike. We enjoy the same movies, pretty much the same person, from an outsider’s perspective. So when it comes to the pages, it’s pretty easy because even before I get a page, he’ll always, which is nice for me, because I’m mainly a fan, so I’m lucky to do what I do.
I get to read some scripts that he gets and even if I’m not inking the book, I get to read them and he’ll show me all his thumbnails and ask opinions sometimes and I get to see it build. When I’m actually working on the pages, it’s intimidating because he’s my brother, so I care a lot about what it looks like. So when it comes to getting the work done, sometimes it can be stressful because if I could work faster on anything, I would get it done. It’s a comfortable thing because he’s my brother, but it’s also stressful because I care.
Brogan: Do you ever have sibling drama with him though or is it purely professional, 100 percent of the time?
Mann: No, we’ve gotten into some arguments over little things, like quibbles anybody would have. When you’re closer to people, it’s easier to get on their nerves sometimes, or let it show at least. But mostly no, we do not.
Brogan: Do you have a sense of how your working relationship with him resembles or differs from that of other teams of pencilers and inkers?
Mann: There’re some people, and I won’t say names, but there’re some people—because, again, I’m a fan—and I’ve talked to some people and I just assume they’re buddy buddies with their pencilers. The inker has a really tight relationship and when I was first getting into the inking, I was already inking, but I was very dissatisfied with what I was doing when I saw it in print. And I would go talk to inkers or go ask them and I’m fortunate enough that when I would attend a convention, a comic convention with Clay, as he’s been in the business much longer, I was able to talk to some of these people or go out to dinners and socialize.
And my first assumption was, “Oh, you’re friends with this penciler,” and they were like, “No, we don’t really talk that much.” And so I think that naturally, we have a relation in the sense that we’re brothers. I think we probably communicate a lot more than what I would have imagined that some of these people who have been teamed up a little bit longer would have been doing.
Brogan: Yeah, one of the things that David Finch pointed out when we spoke to him in a previous episode, is that inkers actually have to be really talented artists in their own right. You’re in a position where you can really screw things up, if you put the wrong line weights in and so on. I assume that must be pretty talented. Do you ever get to do pencils yourself?
Mann: No, I’ve never done pencils. I do draw and I went to school, majored in fine art. So I dabble here and there. I like art, I like looking at art, I appreciate art. I wish I had more time to do it, but when I do have time—I’m actually an art teacher, high school teacher—so when I have time, I’m generally getting paid for it and that’s when I’m picking up the freelancing as an inker. So no, I do draw. I’m jealous of my brother, but he’s been doing it as a full-time job for years, so he’s an inspiration. I like looking at his stuff and all art, but I draw. But it’s nothing that’s ... hopefully people will say, “One day I’d like to do my own thing,” but yeah.
Brogan: Inkers often get the short end of the reputation stick within the comics business, more generally. You’ve done some pretty high-profile stories with Clay. You did the Issue 24 of Batman, the proposal issue that we’ve talked about. You’re working now, I think, on The War of Jokes and Riddles, which is a big Batman story that Tom King is doing. Do you feel like you’ve been able to develop a profile or reputation within fandom? Do people know who you are?
Mann: Yeah, when we’re at the conventions they think I’m Clay. No, we’ll be at the table, he’ll ask me to go with him to some of these things, and we’ll be at the table and people will come by and they’ll be like, “Oh, Clay, sign the book,” and then they’ll walk away and he’ll be like, “Hey, this guy inked it.”
But I would say, yeah, there are fans of artwork and then there’re fans of the artist, and if they just know Clay, they may not actually be aware of our relation, that we may look alike, so they might say, “Oh, this is his inker.” But honestly, people pass by me a lot and I’m not the one that they’re generally after, and that’s fine, because I understand it.
Brogan: Does that ever sting?
Mann: I honestly don’t know how to answer that, because the person, they’re there to see my brother, which it stings in the sense—I want him to be successful—but it stings in the fact that you’re looking at somebody that you know and you know how hard they work, and you know how hard you work to help them, and then they don’t know. So, yes, I guess it does. I can’t answer for somebody ... it’s harder for me to answer that, I think, because of the relationship I have with my brother, but yeah, it bugs me sometimes. But nothing against the artist, it’s just like, “How do these people not know what I do and how hard I work?”
Brogan: How did you break into comics, though? Was it just through your brother?
Mann: Yeah, my brother worked his butt off and got in and I went to college to major in art. That’s all I did. He worked as a plumber and a roofer and in his time off, he was trying to be a penciler and got in and over years of being persistent, and there were things he was working on and not that he wasn’t happy with what the inking was, but there were little things that he would be like, “Man, I think you could have probably interpreted that a little better. What I did there in pencil.”
And so we were talking and we wanted to for a while, and I think he had asked a few times and I did a couple sample pages in the sentiment and I had talked to his editor. He was working on X-Men at the time, and they said, “Yeah, they’re good,” but nothing came of it because he had an inker.
And then there was one weekend, and this was in like 2011, when he was doing an X-Men book and I got a phone call from Clay and he’s like, “You want to ink some pages on the X-Men?” I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “OK, they’re due after the weekend.” And it was Friday, so I think we knocked out like half a book in a weekend and I just drove home a couple hours and I asked my mom if I could borrow a room in her house and Clay lived elsewhere, but we were close, so we could just trade off pages, and I just sat in a room and worked the whole weekend and didn’t sleep a lot and just got the book done, and that was it.
And so after that particular issue, I think he started a Magneto series. It was Skottie Young writing that I got to ink from the cover throughout that miniseries. So that was how I started, I got my foot in the door and got stuck.
Brogan: How did you make your way from there to working on Batman with Tom King?
Mann: I just grabbed my brother’s cape and just rode it. I wish it was more of an answer. My brother ... it’s a small community, the comics thing. I hear that, but I think it’s absolutely true. There are a lot of books, but it’s about who you know and I am a fan of Tom’s and basically, Clay was as well, and he hustled. He knows some guys who know Tom and their buddies and Clay wanted to meet Tom and he met Tom and told me stories.
Brogan: It just happened.
Mann: Yeah, told me of misses where he’s like, “I was going to talk to Tom, but he had to go,” and then it was the next convention. “I’m going to talk to Tom,” and then he did. And then it was pretty much it.
Brogan: Are you a Batman fan, in particular? Is it fun to be drawing the long-lived caped crusader?
Mann: It is. It’s one of those, I did the comics, let’s check that off the bucket list, but then there’s certain ... I’ve done an X-Men cover and that was one thing I will be happy that I’ve done, and Batman’s good as Batman, but Batman with Tom King as he’s doing such a talked-about book, and I think it will be something talked about for a long time, it’s even better. And I’m really happy, the last issue we did, I know we haven’t really gotten to 24, but the last one, I didn’t do a lot of work in there, but that’s something that is going to be monumental. And then in 30, that I just did with Kite Man, I didn’t get to do the first part, I did the second part.
Brogan: Kite Man is this minor Batman villain that Tom King loves, for some reason. Right?
Mann: Yeah, but I don’t know, I just really liked it because he’s an underdog kind of character and he’s really ... I don’t know, I really liked working on that book, but as far as drawing Batman, I haven’t really got to actually ink him very much. I’ve been on the title, but I’m very happy with what I’ve done and got to do and yes, I’m very happy. I have a little comic shelf in my house with some things I’ve done and Batman has moved to the top, because it’s Batman.
Brogan: So what’s a typical day like for you? You said that you also teach high school art, so I assume you’re not inking comic books pages from 9 in the morning to 5 at night or something.
Mann: Yeah, I waited to tell you that before you brought me on.
Brogan: It’s an important part of the job.
Mann: I teach high school, but as far as the inking goes, there’re weekends and I also have two children, it’s when I get home off work and I get through their routines. And I can have a page on a separate room and do a little here and there, but typically, I work in the evening from like 7:00 until—that’s currently when I was working on these last issues—like 7:00 until I go to bed. Prior to kids, I’d just work when I got home and it was like a second job. You know it is? If the work is out and when I can get to it, I get to it. And when there’s a deadline, because again, they don’t move, you sleep a little less. That’s pretty much it. It’s like a second job. People will have a day job and then they have a night job, it’s my night job.
Brogan: It seems like, though, you’ve got to be pretty reliant on your brother’s schedule If he’s not regular, if he’s not turning pages in on time, then that’s going to throw your life off a little bit.
Mann: Yeah, it is certainly and Tom’s great because day one, the script is done. I’ve been working with Clay since 2011 and I’ve got to say, he might be the only person I’ve seen that from. So it’s really easier for Clay to get an idea of what he’s going to do, but some artists, I’m sure it’s a little easier and for Clay working with Tom, it’s Tom King and it’s Batman. So it takes a lot to get started, but yes, once he gets started, whatever he does, does affect my schedule, but again, we communicate well for the most part on what’s hopefully going to happen.
But yes, if he’s a little later and he needs an extra night, then it’s me, but he’s typically not the late one. I’m slower and he does what he can and then I do what I can to meet the deadlines and it’s hard. It’s a hard thing. I’m happy I teach. There’re people out there, they stay up late and they work hard and it’s not always that they mismanage time, it’s art. It’s hard sometimes, it’s hard to sit down and be creative when you’re not feeling creative.
Brogan: Do you have an office or studio that you’re working out of? Or is it just spread out on your dining room table?
Mann: In my last house, we had a spare bedroom. I had a little office set up in there. In my new house, which is still not put together, no one else is in there, so I wouldn’t call it a really giant office, but we have a living room and a den and I have the living room to myself. But yes, it’s on a dining room table and I do have a drafting table, a small one, but to be honest, over the years, I end up hunching over so much that the dining room table, I rather like, because I can more lay over the work. I’ve worked anywhere. I sometimes, if I’m on a deadline, just the hour of filling in blacks on my lunch break, I’ll take a page to school and during my lunch break, I’ll fill in some blacks and scan it in. So I can work anywhere, I’ve met inkers who work in hotel rooms.
Brogan: When we were talking with David Finch for a previous episode, he told us that some inkers work digitally through a system called “blue lines,” but it sounds like you are working on the physical paper that your brother hands to you. Is that right?
Mann: When I did a couple of sample pages years ago on blue line, I don’t know how people can do it, because ... unless I just haven’t seen really good-quality blue line, but to me, when the pencils are in front of you, you can interpret a lot with the pressure or just the value of what’s in front of you, in terms of maybe that line that you referred to or what they want. The blue to me, I would be terrible.
I don’t think I could ... and it wouldn’t be fun for me. I don’t have to do it, this job, and again, I do it and I love the idea of doing it. When I have the pages in front of me, sometimes it’s stressful, but again, I get to put some things up in my house and I’m a fan of, and I got to contribute to, and if it was blue line, I don’t think I’d be doing it because it’s not ... I don’t know, I think I would struggle with that because it’s—
Brogan: You wouldn’t have that physical object—
Mann: It’s literally ... all I know. I’ve seen ... Clay has had to send out blue lines before and there’s a lot lost in the interpretation of blue line, the pencil. But again, maybe I’ve never had a blue line of Clay’s that I had to do, so maybe because I know him so well and what he wants, maybe it wouldn’t be hard, but I’m scared of it. But unfortunately, I don’t have to and as far as digitally, I don’t see the point. If anybody was going to do digital inking, I would just assume it was the artists themselves, because—
Brogan: Or have someone else do them.
Brogan: So what are your tools of the trade, though? I mean, I assume you’re not ... when you say “inking,” you’re probably not using a BIC gel pen, like I am, to take notes as we talk, right?
Mann: Probably, no, but in Batman 24, there’s that open spread page that Tom was talking about with ... you have Gotham Girl and Batman up on the top of like a satellite tower and it’s supposed to have a sense of vertigo. I think for that bird, there’s a bird in the foreground, at the top left, I think I left—that’s like my lunch-hour bird. It didn’t take me an hour, but I think I had left my stuff at home and I think that, just for the scan to get it in, I had to do a patch. You mentioned messing up. I think I forgot my little tool kit and I think I may have used the BIC pen, I may have used a Crayola black line marker to try to do that. No, it messed up bad and I made a patch, which is just basically reinking it, and then laying in that patch on the actual work, before you scan it.
Brogan: Oh, so you use like a different piece of paper and put that on top with the other one?
Mann: Yes, which Clay hates, but I forgot I did it, actually, because I didn’t give him back that original page until much later, and then I could just see he didn’t say much because that book, the deadline on that book was really tight, so I think he forgave me. But he’s typically not happy with having patches, but who would be? But it had to get done. But yeah, I’ve used anything. When I first started off, I tried using brush and that was during that X-Men weekend.
Brogan: So you’re like literally dipping a brush into a pot of ink?
Brogan: And then painting with it?
Mann: Yes, and I wasn’t even through with a panel and I had inked like a contour Cyclops and Clay came in he’s like ... and I told him not to watch over me, because I was super-nervous. This was the first thing that I was doing and he showed up where I was working and came in and I’m like, “I’m not showing you until I’m done,” and he’s like, “It’s my artwork, you need to show me.” I was like “All right.” And he’s like, “What are you inking this with?” He’s like, “It’s too thick.” I’m like, “It’s a brush.” He’s like, “No.”
So then there’s a nib, which is the metal—I don’t know how to explain to your viewers who don’t know—but it’s literally a piece of metal tip that you dip into the ink as well.
Brogan: So it’s like a fountain pen?
Mann: Yeah, I guess. And I used that and again, growing up, I didn’t know what the tools were and internet was scarce, if it was even available, and I didn’t even know they drew the comic pages larger, until much later.
Brogan: Because they were on these 11-by-17 sheets of bristol board paper.
Mann: And I don’t think I knew that until like maybe ... Clay would be better because he’s really good at remembering things, but I would say like maybe in ninth grade, it dawned on me. Maybe my first convention I went to. But yeah, so I tried the nib and I think I did that issue with a nib and to be honest, I use anything. I still do use a brush pen to do ... I’m really like anytime I can incorporate a dry brush where it just looks like rough ink on the page, it adds texture, but I’ll use pins.
I use anything, anything that I can get to successfully get the mark I want on the paper, but my favorite thing to do is when there are those things where ... and there was in 24, the sun was coming through and it was behind Batman and Gotham. They’re having the conversation and the light was kind of flaring and I got to use a lot of dry brush in the issue. So the way it was colored, it was kind of flared out and that’s my favorite stuff to do. The bodies and the contours and the things that are a little tighter.
Brogan: Those textural details.
Mann: Yeah, those are fun to do and I don’t think in that issue there was any splattering, but whenever I can do that, that’s the best part I enjoy because it’s a little more “Whatever happens, happens,” and that’s where I feel like I don’t need Clay to tell me. He can say, “Hey, play around here,” and those are my favorite parts because I get to get a little experimental, or in fabric sometimes, he’ll have the pencils just and say, “This is black.” But then when I’m like, “Maybe there’s some stitching in here,” so I’ll kind of add the texture in some of those black areas that I just feel kind of make it a little bit more interesting, black and white. Sometimes with the color, you can’t even see the things that I put in for textures, but it’s my favorite part.
Brogan: Let’s talk about how that comes about a little bit. You live in Florida. Does Clay also, does he live nearby? Does he, like, physically deliver pages to you?
Mann: Yes, this past year, yes, we’ve been in the same area. About a year, a little bit longer maybe. Yes, we live in the same town, DeLand, Florida. And who I found out, Jordie, I didn’t have the pleasure of speaking to her, but Clay was communicating, when she lived in DeLand for ... I think she stayed there for a short amount of time, which is-
Brogan: You’re referring to Jordie Bellaire, the colorist on a lot of these books.
Mann: Yes, and I’m a big fan of hers and that’s another part of inking. I love seeing the colors on top of them, again, as a fan, but I was very happy to work with her and I just thought it was very interesting she knew where our little town was. But he does, he drops off the pages and sometimes late at night, and he has a studio, he rents out a space that he works in and sometimes I’ll just go there to pick him up. Batman 24 was done in his studio and it was literally us trading pages back and forth, so he didn’t have to go very far, except to turn around in a desk.
Brogan: What’s the first thing you do when he hands off a page to you? What state is it in, at that point, usually?
Mann: It really depends on the deadline, but if the page is done, when I first get it, I can picture it inked. It’s very exciting because I’m like, “I know what this will look like.” But then that’s easier said than actually doing it, and then it’s complete. Now, on Batman—since this whole podcast is about that particular issue, I’ll kind of talk about those pages—some were done or some panels, depending on the script, it might be four or five panels. Tom likes panels, so there’re lots of panels. Actually, no, there was actually a fairly amount of small number of panels in that issue, but some of the panels weren’t done or some were emptied or half the page was drawn and I’d have to ink that, and then I’d have to hand it back to Clay and he would finish the page. And I’d be working on a separate page and then we would trade back and forth.
Brogan: You would do the panels he had finished already, but then let him finish the rest of the page.
Mann: Right. Which would not work over blue line. Unless they were going to build a page in Photoshop. Again, that’s an advantage of us being brothers and living near each other. But as Tom mentioned kind of briefly in the podcast, Clay Mann was not going to be working on that book, originally, and I don’t know the ins and outs of how it really happened, but when Clay got the book, it was a tight deadline for Clay.
Clay’s not superfast, and it was one of those things where, when I came on to ink it, it was kind of like, “Seth, this isn’t going to be something you can take your time on. We got to get this done.” So those last couple days, I’m not even kidding, we were up super-late, both of us in a little office and him drawing and I’m inking simultaneously, turning around and trading off pages and handing back pages and then, “Do this for me.”
Brogan: Do you ever read the script before you dive into your own part of the job, or do you just trust that Clay got everything right?
Mann: No, the only way I get a script and you talk about collaboration is, again, I’m really lucky I work with somebody I get to talk to, my brother. Because you kind of asked earlier, as far as the fandom goes, does the inker, are we as present as the people before us, the artists and the writer. I’ve never received a script. If I have, maybe once, since 2011, unless Clay gives it to me, which I don’t know, kind of doesn’t make you feel part of the team.
But working on Batman, I feel like when the emails go out, I’m looped in and Clay will forward me something and he’s really good at that, because I want to read it as a fan, but then he asked me to read it, because again, he shows me his thumbnails. And I’m a tough critic, I’m his brother so he occasionally uses an idea of mine, but he says even, and not that my ideas are bad, but he says any extra idea will just give him a third idea.
So yeah, I get to read the script and there’s been some times where I’ve maybe spotted stuff, but Clay is really good at that. When he’s breaking down a storyboard, he’ll find things that—the artist is the storyteller—and he’ll find some things and he’ll have to adapt in his own way, so the story flows. I don’t have much to do with that, other than I like to edit my brother’s stuff and ask questions, but again, he’s very easy at saying I can’t do that because this happens on the next page. And that’s part of the penciler’s role, which I’m sure David talked about.
Brogan: What are the most important parts of the inking process? One of the things that David talked about, for example, is the importance of adding line weights to help distinguish between what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background. Is there anything that you absolutely have to make sure you do, to ensure that a page comes out right?
Mann: I would say on the inking, again, it really depends on the penciler you have and I’ve only inked Clay, professionally, but I am aware of what needs to be done. Clay, if a page is really loose, the line weights aren’t there and yes, if something’s in the foreground, you want it to be a little heavier, and the things that are in the background to be the thinner lines. And it’s your job to kind of do that. Now, Clay is not a fan of superthick lines, so sometimes, even if it’s in the foreground, he’ll just say, “A little thicker, but not too thick.” And he’ll always give me those notes and he’ll write notes on the page a lot. Sometimes you get a pencil page and there will be notes like, “Do this, do it this way.”
But yes, typically, if a penciler pencils fast—and there are some pencilers who put in the line weight so you know exactly what you’re supposed to do. And that, to me, on a deadline, it’s nice, and Clay does that. He’ll vary his line weights in pencils, so it’s there for you, but then there are things that are open to interpretation of what you feel are correct.
But again, I’ve done some things to Clay’s artwork where ... I don’t know what book it was, but there was a face I did and I went a little too heavy and there was a two-page spread of Magneto lifting some trucks in there, in the X-Men Magneto series and it was, again, my first real series, and I was really excited, and I got this double-page spread. And when he saw the inked page, I had gone really heavy on the cars, because they were floating up in the air, towards the viewer and it was a bird’s-eye shot, so the ground was very low and thin. You were looking down onto the street and he said I had to go back in with a correction fluid and brush in on the contour and thin out all the lines, because he said he felt it looked too cartoony.
So there are things I can do, but again, because I do work in close relation with Clay, before I turn something in, even when I didn’t live with him, he’d get first pass and he’d kind of be like, “Can you do that? Can you make it a little thicker? Can you do this?” That’s just art, though—if the penciler doesn’t do it, the inker should do it. David’s got one of the best inkers, Danny Miki, so yeah, I can imagine David has a lot of trust in him to do his work, and I think Clay has a lot of trust in what I do to his, because again, I’ve been working with Clay for a number of years and I know David’s had a few inkers, but he’s still consistently worked with Danny over the years.
Brogan: Do you ever have the opportunity to add details to a page? We talked about texture and variations of light and such, but are there ever moments when you want to throw something into the panel that Clay didn’t put in there?
Mann: Yes, early on in our working career I was adding the dry brush, which again, is when you have a brush—just for the listeners who don’t know, is you can dip a brush in your pot of ink and it’s very black and rich and like when you first dip a paint roller or a paint brush into a can of paint, that the paint comes out and it’s very fluid and it’s solid on the wall or the paper or whatever you’re working on. And dry brush is simply that. The brush is drying out, so it creates a rough texture, almost like if you took a piece of paper and laid it down on a sidewalk and did a rubbing, you can get that grit. It’s a different texture but it’s a similar look.
Without his permission, I would add a little bit to the pages and he hated it. And that’s when he would get mad and in a nice way, it’s his artwork. I mean, it’s understandable, but I was like, “Come on, man. It looks good.” And he would be like, “No, I don’t like it.” Now, he uses it. It’s one of those things that he uses a lot of it now or sometimes he won’t even put something in and he’ll say, “Seth, do your dry brush thing,” like on a road or something like that or something that’s brick or anything that has a really rough texture. Again, it’s not someone’s face where each line matters. You can change something slightly and it no longer looks like a person. The differences between Clay and I’s faces are very slight. So just a change in a line weight on a face or under an eye can change the perception of the face, so those are things I don’t really mess with, and I try to stay true to the marks he makes.
But yeah, anytime I can have some fun, I’ll just make a quick text and I’ll be like, “Hey, can I do this,” or “Do you mind?” And generally, he doesn’t, as long as it’s not a figure, I can pretty much have some fun. Like in buildings and things like that, I can do what I want kind of thing, on the figures, it’s do what he told me.
Brogan: If you’re comfortable talking about it, what’s the financial side of this like for you? It’s effectively a second job, you’ve said, but is it a comfortable amount of money that you’re getting from the work you’re putting in? Or is it really just a labor of love?
Mann: Everyone makes different. The longer you’ve been in, probably what book you are on makes a difference. My Batman title, with me working on Batman, which is awesome, has nothing to do ... I’m not receiving more money, other than I will in a royalty check that comes out, because it sells more. But I have a page rate. I couldn’t live off that because I’m slow. If I could do two pages a day, you could say that’s not that bad, but even though I work with Clay and he’s been in for years, I don’t have a huge back catalog of ... I’ve only worked with one artist.
This is freelance, and even full-time people freelance, but I freelance as a part-timer, so there’s more to make I’m sure, and you make a lot on the back end. And Tom even mentioned it with the royalties, so depending on where you can get and what book, you’ll make more. You’ll get a check every few months or it’s a little longer than that, but you’ll get a check and if you factor that in, I guess, and you go to conventions and you sell the pages, you can factor that in. I don’t really do that because for me, it’s part-time, but if I break it down hourly, because I’m slow. It takes me ... I think the quickest page I did, and it was on this last issue on 30 is, I think a page took me like 8 hours and I was like, “Man, I did that so fast.” But I’ve taken 12 hours on a page, so when you break that down, I’m not making that much, because the other thing, maybe your audience doesn’t know is, when you freelance, you have to pay the taxes on that money and nothing’s been taken out. You then have to take out taxes and things like that. But again, on a spectrum, I’m not at the top, so people who do this day-to-day, they’re faster, they’ve been doing it longer, they’ve probably had higher page increases and things like that.
Brogan: So it’s mostly a labor of love for you, or partially a labor of love for you. It’s a job, but what is it like for you as a comics fan to see the book finished? To see it with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, with Darren Bennett’s letters, bound up on your shelf? What does that feel like?
Mann: That’s why I don’t mind the long hours. It’s great. I mean, it really is. Sometimes it destroys you because you open something you spent ... when I first started, and I didn’t know what my work would look like printed, because it looks completely different, it was like, “Oh my goodness, that looks terrible on it,” and it made me feel bad and then I started ... as long as I’ve been doing this, I don’t think that I felt comfortable with what I was doing until we transitioned to Valiant.
And so when I came in at DC, I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve done and I’ve enjoyed most of the things that I’ve seen printed. But the Batman stuff with Jordie, I’ve been really happy. I love flat colors or not that they’re flat, but they’re not like super-shiny and these robust things are just ... you can see the line art and it doesn’t distract, but it just complements it so well and I’ve always loved that kind of coloring. So to read the comic with the lettering and stuff and it being something that you’re a fan of, the writer, the colorist, the letter, everybody—the artist. It’s really nice, and again, I’ve gone into stores and seen my stuff on a shelf and it makes me happy. I don’t know how to say it.
Brogan: Well, thank you so much for joining us to talk today, Seth. I really learned so much.
Mann: I hope so. I appreciate the invitation.
Brogan: Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. I’m Jacob Brogan. If you’re enjoying our exploration of the creative process, be sure to check out Slate’s podcast, Represent. It’s a space for discussion, highlighting movies, TV and online shows created by and/or about women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. Join Aisha Harris as she dives deep into conversations with critics about the latest pop cultural news and filmmakers, about what they do and how they do it.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about Working. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I read those emails and I try to respond to all of them. It means so much to me to hear your thoughts, your suggestions and all that stuff. You can also listen to past episodes at slate.com/working.
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Brogan: In this Slate Plus extra, Seth Mann talks about why his brother sometimes sneaks Magnum P.I. references into their art and tells us what the students he teaches art to think when they find out about his artistic secret identity.
I’ve been told that you sometimes draw elements of Magnum P.I. into your work. Is that true?
Mann: That is Clay and he is a Magnum P.I. fanatic. He goes to Hawaii and he goes on the compound, and I think you’re not supposed to, and he’s got posters. When we went to New York Comic Con a few years ago, he found Tom Selleck and got him to sign his book and he’s got a great story about that. But yeah, he puts him in his artwork, but sometimes it’s not always Magnum himself, and I just asked Clay this, because I ink a lot of his stuff, and I clearly have inked Magnum’s face on a couple things, but sometimes it’s just the name. Or something one of the extra characters, the helicopter, or something like that. He might put something in from the show, but absolutely, he’s a die-hard fan and he knows a lot about the whole series and he does incorporate him into the artwork whenever he can.
Brogan: Do your high school students know that you draw Batman?
Mann: Yes, but you’d think they would have cared. I am out in a rural area where I teach and there’s no comic bookstore. DeLand has a very small one, so I don’t think that they understand because I had one kid ask me. He said, “Mr. Mann, I heard that you work with comic books.” He says “draw,” I didn’t correct him because I don’t have the time in between classes, but I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Can I come by tomorrow and talk to you?” I was like, finally, somebody, right? He shows up the next day with a backpack and he’s like, “Will you buy these off me?” So he wasn’t even interested.
The kids in my portfolio class, they take an interest that I’ve published something or that I get paid to do it or that I have an editor. I hate to say it but I don’t have a lot of kids that are into comics that are that young. It might be the area, though. I’m hoping that’s what it is, because there’s not a lot out there. There’s some trees and some things like that. There’s literally no store they could buy them in.
Brogan: It was a pleasure having you. Talk to you later.