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Get to know some key comic book roles

Penciler: The illustrator of a comic book script. Pencilers are the first step of rendering a comic visually, and often set the layout of a comic as well.

Inker: An inker outlines and traces the original pencil work, often adding and interpreting, and finalizes the black-and-white artwork.

Colorist: A colorist applies color to the work of the penciler and inker

Letterer: The letterer draws the text of the comic, often digitally.

Among the incognito celebrities who live in DeLand is 37-year-old comic book artist Clay Mann, a penciler and inker for DC Comics, and a native DeLandite with a long family history in the town.

Mann has been drawing since he was a child and started a mini-business as early as kindergarten, drawing comic book heroes and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for his classmates at $1 a pop.

“I felt rich at the time,” Mann said.

Parlaying that early success into a professional career in illustration was a bit harder, he said.

“It took a few years to get hired,” Mann said. “I went to conventions around the U.S.”

There, Mann entered his portfolio for consideration to convention panels, who picked his out as one of 10 to showcase.

Eventually, he garnered enough attention and connections to begin drawing professionally for Marvel Comics.

“I started as a penciler,” Mann said. “A comic starts with the writer and the script, to the penciler, to the inker, to the colorist, to the letterer.”

Mann left Marvel after eight years and did a brief stint with Valiant Comics, an acclaimed, albeit much smaller, comic publisher, before joining DC Comics in 2016.

“This has been my only job for 12 years,” Mann said.

It may seem odd to work in DeLand for one of the largest comic book companies in the United States, but Mann said it’s no problem at all.

“People think it’s weird, but there are some writers I’ve never met,” Mann said. “They live on the other side of the world. We just email.”

Mann has strong ties to DeLand — his grandfather was Tom Sperling, the City of DeLand’s first Parks and Recreation Department director, for whom the Sperling Sports Complex is named. His mother, Cindy Sperling, is owner of Nest in Artisan Alley.

“I have family here,” Mann said. “I have a lot of memories tied up in the town. … I grew up bumming around on the ballfields with my grandpa.”

He was encouraged from a young age by his uncle Tommy Sperling, a longtime professional illustrator who lives in DeLand and England, and often works for Oxford University Press.

Even today, Mann said, Tommy Sperling supports and encourages him through rough patches in the work. Also, for years, Mann’s twin brother, Seth Mann, now an art teacher at Taylor Middle-High School, helped ink his brother’s pencil work.

Clay Mann’s most recent venture is Heroes in Crisis, a limited-series crossover comic with writer Tom King. King won an Eisner Award — the comic book equivalent of an Academy Award — for best writer of the year in 2018. King and Mann have worked together since at least 2017.

Unlike some of his past partnerships with writers, Mann has become friends with King.

“He’s made my job easier. He’s really the first writer I’ve become friends with,” Mann said. “I feel like it’s personal now more than ever.”

Drawing full time isn’t always easy, Mann said.

“It can be difficult. I work long hours,” he said. “I use way more eraser than I do lead.”

Producing comic books is a collaboration of several artists, and Mann is happy with his role.

“It couldn’t be a comic without the art,” he said.


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