Greensboro illustrator blurs line between reality and fantasy
Maurice Sanders, the Greensboro comic artist who goes by the artistic handle of ‘Reese,’ lives in a fantasy world.
The heroes and villains, the epic battles and dramatic family relationships that populate his imagination as he engages in the mundane day-to-day tasks of real estate investment comprise a parallel reality and part of a vision that might turn out to be truer than mere facts.
A heavyset man of 34 years ‘— ‘“born and raised’” in Greensboro ‘— Sanders drops a pile of artist sketchpads, loose sheets and a three-ring binder on a table at the Border’s cafÃ© on High Point Road. There are professional drafting sheets Sanders liberated from Marvel Comics in New York when he did his internship there in 1994. Some are meticulously-detailed panels full of dramatic action and pathos that are illustrated in dazzling color; others are rough sketches. Together the sheets represent the maintenance of a lifelong vision.
Maurice Sanders is not exactly a household name, even in Greensboro. He doesn’t work in commercial art, and he doesn’t show his work in galleries ‘“because I really don’t like flashing my stuff.’”
First off, he gets the practicalities of his money-making gig out off the way.
‘“I buy low, and sell high,’” he says. ‘“Real estate investment. Always go in with partners. That way you minimize the risk. That’s what’s going to fund me ‘— the residual income. I’ve got to get that taken care of first. If I already got my money elsewhere, then when I start doing comics full time, it doesn’t have to be money-driven. A lot of stories end up losing their soul to the dollar.’”
A comic-book fan since he first laid hands on copies of the X-Men and Teen Titans as a seventh grader, Sanders watched the genre hit what he considered a low ebb in the 1990s as creativity took a backseat to commercial imperatives.
Now, he has a handful of projects he’d like to sell to established companies or publish under his own imprint.
One project is an updated version of Popeye, which he’d like to sell to King Features. Another, called Thug Knights, hews to an urban style. Then there are characters and story lines inspired by Japanese anime.
‘“My dad loves Popeye,’” he says. ‘“It’s really more for him than anyone else.’”
But start looking at the panels of his Vindicator series, and suddenly Sanders throttles you into the world of his imagination and becomes completely consumed by the story line.
‘“The story starts around the time of World War II,’” he says. ‘“The first heroes that ever came out in my world were created through government experiments with genetics. They were supposed to be sterilized so they wouldn’t reproduce, but whatever ‘— nature always finds a way of doing things.’”
One sequence in particular strikes a nerve. A disheveled television news reporter with a scar across her forehead makes what may be her last broadcast in midtown Manhattan as skyscrapers lie in ruins behind her and office papers flutter from above. Sanders said he drew the scenes before Sept. 11, 2001, and he had to go back and change references to the World Trade Center to the Chrysler Building after the towers were wiped off the New York cityscape.
In Sanders story, it’s not theocratic fascists intent on humbling the world’s remaining superpower that are the villains, but Megaton, a technologically-advanced monster who’s laying siege to Gotham until the heroes agree to hand over a girl genius whose fate is bound up with this.
There are theological and psychological overtones here since Megaton did not always belong to the dark side; some undisclosed defining experience ruptured his loyalty to the forces of good.
The Vindicators is absolutely not meant to serve as a metaphor for the United States’ ‘Global War On Terror,’ Sanders insists.
‘“Megaton is a product of the government doing something screwed up, and the past coming back to bite us,’” he says. ‘“I’ll give you an example: a [deposed Panamanian strongman Manuel] Noriega.’”
Then he namedrops Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda figurehead believed to be hiding in the mountains of Central Asia who was once an ally of the United States in the mujahideen to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. So’… maybe there is a parallel.
Sanders has drawn more than 50 pages of the Vindicators vs. Megaton saga. The concluding scenes are sketched out in pencil drawings, but he’s not saying how the story ends. He hints that there may be some moral ambiguities in store though.
‘“Believe you me, there is a price for victory,’” he says. ‘“You ask: is that really a victory?’”
In addition to political overtones, The Vindicators also features immolating lasers and a cast of characters ‘— heroes and villains both ‘— who excel at trash talk and sexual insults.
Take Dawnstarr, a hero whose powers are heat related, who launches this verbal fusillade against Megaton: ‘“Quit squirming, puta! Ass whoopin’ is just around the corner. Looks like you ain’t the big dildo you thought you were. Hope you’re greased really good, poppi.’”
Sanders is an adult and his characters, like other adults, sleep with each other and have awkward breakups. One reason he wants to own his own company is to avoid making artistic compromises about such things.
‘“Whether I want to show a nekkid man’s butt or a nekkid woman’s butt, I don’t want to hear no mess about it,’” he says. ‘“I’m not going to have two characters having sex just to have sex, but if it serves the storyline I’m going to do it.’”
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