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Story celebrates environment

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Orlando artist creates children’s comic book based in Crystal River

By Nancy Kennedy

CRYSTAL RIVER — At 12 years old, Mandi (no last name) is a student at Crystal River Middle School.

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With green scaled skin, blue hair and pointy ears, she’s both a typical middle school student and atypical.

Mandi, according to her creator, Shawn Surface, is a Nereid, a sea nymph, much like a mermaid. She can live both in and out of the water.

“Mandi,” a comic book limited series due out this summer, follows a year in the life of Mandi as she learns to live as a “lander,” with friends, enemies, worries and secrets just like any other girl her age, and so much more.

“Kids don’t read books much any more, but they do read comic books,” Surface said in a telephone interview. “Mine has no harsh language or gory details or violence, although later in the series it takes a dark turn.” 

The artist/writer lives in Orlando.

He said he chose Crystal River as a setting because it’s known for its rivers and waterways as well as being a sanctuary for manatees.

Why a sea nymph?

“I have a grown daughter, and she was one of the main inspirations behind this, and I wanted to leave something for her,” he said. “I was also inspired by the ‘Little Mermaid’ and the movie ‘Lady in the Water’ that M. Night Shyamalan did years ago. Mandi is a mythological being, one of the daughters of a sea god named Nereus.”

Surface said some think of comics as “nerd stuff,” but they have long been a way for artist/writers to tell their stories.

“Comics are still big,” he said. 

Surface said he has been drawing ever since he could hold a pen and has been doing comics art since 2005.

“I used to go to (comics) conventions like Megacon that’s here in Orlando as a regular customer,” he said. “Then I had some friends invite me to spend a weekend with them ‘on the other side of the table,’ put my shingle up and doodle on some paper — and people liked it and I started selling my art.”

He said his usual way of drawing is pretty detailed, but he chose a more simple style for “Mandi.” 

“I chose to do Mandi in a more ‘cartoony’ style, with an Anime look to it, with big eyes and simple features, to appeal to a younger age group,” he said. “Also, to produce the pages, it’s quicker.”

“Mandi” is being published by Surface’s company, Peacenik Press.

“I have quite a few stories I’m developing, but ‘Mandi’s’ the first one out of the chute,” he said.

He added that he has been posting his art on the Deviantart.com site, a free art community website, which has helped him get the word out about “Mandi’s” debut.

“Plus I go to quite a few conventions,” he said. 

Saturday, May 3, is Free Comic Book Day. Participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books to the public, subject to the store’s participation and rules.

Shawn Surface will be at the Coliseum of Comics store at Seminole Towne Center in Sanford, Fla., that day, along with other comic creators.

To see more of Surface’s work, go to www.surfaceart.deviantart.com or www.facebook.com/PeacenikPress.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.