Should We Know You, Dirk Manning?

PoP!: First things first; should we know you, Dirk Manning?

Dirk Manning: YES!

Wait… that wasn’t the whole interview, was it? I mean, c’mon, man… and I wore my best hat and scarf for this and everything.

Wait… what’s that? More questions? Now we’re talking! [rubs hands together feverishly]

PoP!: We certainly know you! We met at the 2010 Mid-Ohio con where you brutally defeated Big Gavin Cool in an exhibition arm wrestling match. Then, you came onto the PoP!-Cast and people are already petitioning for you to become an honorary fifth co-host. Now with this interview you’re the first PoP! Triple Crown winner! How does it feel to be the first to attain such an incredible honor?

Dirk Manning: It feels like someone just rubbed awesome-sauce all over the tingliest parts of my body… and I’d like to thank the listeners for their unyielding support. Them… and Cthulhu, of course. Hopefully that way when the stars enter their proper alignment my loyalty will be remembered by the tentacle-faced Great Old One by me being one of the first ones eaten.

PoP!: That sounds like as appropriate a response as any, really. Speaking of Cthulu, you recently finished up NIGHTMARE WORLD, your horror anthology series. Now that it’s out there in all its glory, what should a new reader know about the series and where can they see it?

Dirk Manning: Joking aside, NIGHTMARE WORLD is probably the comic I’m best known for to date. It’s a series of 52 self-contained, genre-hopping, eight-page horror stories that – when read together – all weave together to tell one giant uber-story about Lucifer awakening Cthulhu to kick-start the Armageddon… among a few other sub-plots.

We self-published the whole series online at www.NightmareWorld.com with weekly updates from 2002 to 2008, and shortly after we finished the series we were picked-up by Jim Valentino’s Shadowline imprint of Image Comics where we reposted the whole series from scratch… only to then also made the jump to print with two graphic novel collections (to date), both (obviously) available from Image Comics and through your local comic shops, book stores or www.Amazon.com.

If the series sounds intriguing, interesting or something neat to check out, the whole NIGHTMARE WORLD series is online for people to check-out for free at www.NightmareWorld.com. Like I said on the podcast, the series is good enough that we have no compunction about putting the whole thing out there online for free so people can check it out before deciding if they want to buy the TPB collections – (which have some re-mastered art, gorgeous wrap-around painted covers and some other exclusive content, too).

Art from FarSeeker

PoP!: Since there’s clearly no rest for the wicked, you’re currently working on several other web comics projects with stories ranging from zombies to fantasy to pro wrestling. Give us the dirt on all these new series.

Dirk Manning: Working on NIGHTMARE WORLD and my “Write or Wrong” column pretty much dominated my schedule from 2002 to 2010… but now that NIGHTMARE WORLD has wrapped-up I’ve been able to start turning my attention to a number of other comics that have been patiently waiting to be unleashed to the world via the Internet… all of them with artists who I first worked with on several  NIGHTMARE WORLD stories.

My first post-NIGHTMARE WORLD series is FARSEEKER, an all-ages fantasy-esque book by myself and artist Len O’Grady. FARSEEKER was picked-up to be part of the uber-awesome webcomic collective www.Act-I-Vate.com and it follows a team of characters from different worlds who are all brought-together to save the world… only they don’t know how. It’s a genuinely *fun* series with breath-taking art, and of course there’s a lot more to the story from that… but I don’t want to give anything away… aside from saying it features a walking mountain as an antagonist. [laughs]  I’d encourage anyone reading this interview to open a second window and check it out. I can all but guarantee that you’ll be hooked by the two-page spread on Pages 4 and 5. Oh… and Chapter Two is starting next month! Yay!

Next are A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD and COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION are my first two stories for www.ComicsPipeline.com, a subscription-based online comic/art portal that allows you to “subscribe” to your favorite creators and get a bunch of exclusive content for a few bucks a month. Both stories are 22-pages and sort of the “next wave” of my NIGHTMARE WORLD-style storytelling. Basically, they’re both 22-page “morality-plays” – with that same type of great art and sensibilities – but now three-times longer. [laughs]

A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD is a story about a young, gifted pro-wrestler who has agreed to “take the hit” put on his mentor by the Mafia for unpaid debts. His plan is to kill him in the ring (during the biggest pay-per-view of the year) and make it look like an accident… but when his mentor finds out things get complicated… as you can probably imagine. [laughs] This one is illustrated by Seth Damoose and Anthony Lee (from NIGHTMARE WORLD and BRAT-HALLA) with letters by Jim Reddington. Seth and Anthony are one of the best teams working in comics right now, and this story is yet another example of the great comics the three of us (with Jim on letters) can put together.

COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION is your basic “lifeboat” scenario concerning a criminal, a priest, a cop and a mother with her newborn baby all trapped in a church slowly getting surrounded by zombies. If any of them are going to survive someone has to die… but when it becomes obvious no one’s willing to be the sacrificial lamb things get complicated… especially since the criminal is the only one with the means to get them out alive! COUNTDOWN is illustrated by Anthony Peruzzo, and I’d like to state for the record it’s all his fault that I’m doing a zombie story after I told everyone that they should stay away from zombie stories in my “Write or Wrong” column at www.Newsarama.com last year. We were actually working on a different story together, but when I told him about my “lost” zombie story (also at his prompting) he refused to draw anything else until I wrote this one for him to illustrate… the jerk!  [laughs] Ribbing aside, I’m very, very happy with this story and I am glad that he sort of “forced” me into writing it.

PoP!: That’s a lot of stuff going on right now… but what about the two Shadowline projects I keep hearing about?

Dirk Manning: Yes! I also have two more series launching online through Shadowline in the next few months as part of the www.ShadowlineOnline.com revamp Jim Valentino is doing.

The first one is TALES OF MR. RHEE with Josh Ross (artist), Austin McKinley (colors) and Jim Reddington (letters). TALES OF MR. RHEE is a noir/horror series about a very troubled paranormal trouble-shooter nicknamed “Mr. Rhee” (get it?)… and when you get to the point that you need to call Mr. Rhee, it’s probably already too late for a happy ending. In other words, it’s an uplifting horror title for the whole family! [laughs]

As we did with FARSEEKER, the first several chapters of TALES OF MR. RHEE were originally released online in our self-publishing days several years ago, and through Shadowline we’ll be re-launching the whole series from scratch, this time completing the whole “first volume” of 12 (or maybe 13) eight-page stories. As an added bonus, over time readers will see how TALES OF MR. RHEE is actually a spin-off of sorts of NIGHTMARE WORLD … but in this series the stories are * A LOT* darker. If NIGHTMARE WORLD is PG-13, RHEE definitely teeters closer to some “Rated R” territory just based on how dark it is. The first story alone will show the type of territory we’re exploring with this series when we meet a sorcerer who is trying to control demons by summoning them through unborn fetuses. Like I said – it’s uplifting, family-friendly stuff! [laughs]

The second title we’ll be launching online through www.ShadowlineOnline.com is HOPE, a superhero title about a mother who moonlights as a well-loved superheroine only to have her child taken away by Children’s Services when she reveals her secret identity to save a life during a car accident.

Austin McKinley is fully illustrating this one and we’re really excited about it because it’s a superhero comics that raises a lot of tough moral questions about the nature of heroism, celebrity status, parenting, superpowers and how those different things co-exist… if at all. We’re going to be asking a lot of tough questions here – many with no easy answers – while still telling a compelling, action-oriented drama about a mother whose whole life falling apart around her…. all because she was just trying to make the world a better place. It’s a complicated, thought-provoking superhero story.

PoP!: I think that your model of releasing your work digitally before going to print is really interesting, especially now when there’s so much talk about what digital comics mean for the industry and if digital is going to hurt or help print comics in the long term. What made you decide to go that route and how do you feel about the state of the industry with regards to the tumultuous relationship between print and digital comics?

Dirk Manning: I originally started self-publishing/releasing my comics online back in 2002 (aka: “The Stone Age” of online comics) because, quite frankly, it seemed like the best way to bring my work to as many people as possible. Yeah, I could have self-published just in print – or even taken the book to Image or a smaller publisher that would have allowed me to keep all the rights to my work (something that was – and remains – of paramount importance to me)… but that would mean I was limiting my audience compared to the amount of people I could reach via the Internet.

Even if I sold 5,000 copies of every comic I published – which would be an amazingly high number for a writer like myself who’s very worked on any corporately owned characters – that’s nowhere near the amount of people who’ve seen my work since I started publishing it online.

My plan from the beginning was to publish my work online and then take it to print once I built-up a audience large enough to support me taking the books to print – be it through a publisher such as Image or via self-publishing my work in print and selling it directly via my website and at conventions.

Back when I first started this approach a lot of my peers mocked me for it, saying things like “If you give your work away online for free no one will buy it,” but time and experience has proven that not to be the case.

Are there people who will only read my work online and not buy it in print? Sure. However, there are also a lot of people who have discovered my work online and buy it in print because they’d like nice print-editions of the work – and to this end I make sure that there are some print-only incentives to do this, such as in the case of NIGHTMARE WORLD some re-mastered art, exclusive story content and more.

That way the people who only read it online aren’t missing too much… but the people who want nice print-copies of the work (or are purchasing it just to support what I’m doing) will get some cool extra stuff for doing so. Besides, it’s tough to balance a laptop on your legs to read a comic while you’re sitting on the toilet, you know? [laughs]

What’s funny is that now, almost ten years later, several major publishers are starting to take this same approach. Will digital comics destroy print comics? No, I don’t think they will because there will always be people who want to read the material in-print. In fact, what the “online revolution” of comics is doing is exposing more and more people to the wonderful world of comics – often for free (be it legal or not) – and that in turn is doing nothing but growing the audience and awareness of this medium.

Of course, this means that the publishers will have to step-up to the plate and create comics that people are willing to pay for once readers are exposed to them online (while also keeping a close-eye on illegal pirating of the printed materials)… but I think that publishers and creators who find that balance will be reaping the benefits of higher readership – and hopefully increased financial benefits – in the coming years.

Art from a Rush of Blood to the Head

PoP!: Well said. Along with writing super-swell comics of your own, you also write about making comics and getting into the business for Newsarama in your “Write or Wrong” column, which you’ve mentioned  here a couple of times. What tips would you give to a writer trying to break into the biz?

Dirk Manning: Honestly… I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t read it yet to dive into “Write or Wrong” from the beginning:

http://www.newsarama.com/topic/write-or-wrong

Just click the link for the most recent column, scroll to the bottom where the links to all previous columns are archived and away you go. Just grab a bottle of water and some snacks before you start… because you’ll have a lot of reading ahead of you. [laughs]

That being said, I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years of self-publishing and now working with publishers like Image and Act-I-Vate is this: “Publish or Perish.”

We’re now to a point where (good) online comics are treated with just as much reverence as print ones, and in a day and age when anyone can host an online comic (using something like the ComicPress application of WordPress) and then going the print-on-demand route to get those comics in print for sale through the Internet and at conventions (via places like www.Ka-Blam.com) there’s no excuse to not get your comics out there. Period.

Of course, this then leads to the inevitable questions such as “How do I find artists?” and such…. but that’s all addressed throughout the (still ongoing) series of columns.

Mind you, there’s no one way to “break-in” to the comic industry… but through “Write or Wrong” I tell people about how I did it as a writer without even so much as an Internet connection in my own home when I started… only to go on to work with over two dozen professional-caliber artists from all over the world and land my work at Image Comics.

In fact, one of my goals for the next year is to take most of the columns to date and collect them into one nice print book collection for easy reference… but for now they’re all there online to read and enjoy for free.

There’s that “free” word again.  What can I say? Dirk Manning is a giver. [laughs]

PoP!: A giver… of PAN! [luaghs] Lastly, where can folks find you on the web, Dirk?

Dirk Manning: Everywhere. [laughs]

The best place to find me at the moment is at Facebook – specifically at www.Facebook.com/DirkManning – as that’s where I release news on all of my new and upcoming projects while also talking to readers and friends (as well as links to interviews, podcasts and such).

NIGHTMARE WORLD can be read online for free at www.NightmareWorld.com, and my hope is that by the time HOPE and TALES OF MR. RHEE launch online at www.ShadowlineOnline.com in the next few months that both websites will be revamped to allow for greater interaction with readers.

FARSEEKER can be read and enjoyed at www.ACT-I-VATE.com, and the “homepage” of all the “WRITE OR WRONG” columns for Newsarama is, again, http://www.newsarama.com/topic/write-or-wrong.

COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION and A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD can both be read at www.ComicsPipeline.com with weekly updates.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that the first two volumes of NIGHTMARE WORLD in print from Image Comics/Shadowline can be purchased through www.Amazon.com (just search under “Dirk Manning” and they’ll “pop” right up).

So… yeah… in regards to the Internet… I’m around. [laughs]

PoP!: Thanks again for talking to us again, Dirk. We look forward to seeing you again at C2E2 in March.

Wanna see Dirty Dirk Manning in action? Check out his dominating arm wrestling match at last year’s Mid-Ohio Con!

Need some more Dirk? Check out Episode 86 of the PoP!-Cast for more on these topics and more (including bathroom reading etiquette).

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Filed Under: ColumnsShould We Know You?

Who ARE these people!?

Lee Rodriguez is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Panels On Pages. He is also a freelance graphic and web designer, action figure customizer, swell guy, and an awesome dad.

I'm even on Google+... Kind of.

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  1. Dirk Manning says:

    Thanks for this interview, guys! It was a blast!

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