Welcome back, my minions! I promised you RHEE-LY big things were coming, and I am delivering on that statement. The one. The only. Cthulhu's homeboy in the flesh (but never showing his face), DIRK MANNING. Oh how I have longed and waited for this day to come. I adore every single person I get the chance to interview. Most of them have been close friends to me. I've spent hours with many, listening to their personal stories of both successes and struggles, watching their lives come together, their dreams brought to life- through hard work and dedication. I've come to know so many incredible creators: writers, illustrators, inkers, colorists, podcasters, reviewers, cosplayers, the list goes on. The community of independent comic creators is vast and beautiful. I found a home in it, months ago. I decided that this was where I needed to be. However, I would most certainly not have that, if it weren't for Dirk.
Brief history lesson on yours truly here. Dirk was the first independent creator I met. I met him in November of 14', he was doing a signing in my neighborhood. My go to comic shop owner, THE Chris Brown of Comics & More, had spoken highly of his works. At this point, I had only been collecting comics for a few years and limited titles. I've never been too keen on the superhero stories. They just weren't my thing. I wanted something different. I craved stories that revolved more around the human experience, and written without time contraints or dictation. I had decided to go ahead and give the Nightmare World series a shot. I fell in love imediately. There are currently three volumes to this series, and it had originally started off as a web series. The interesting thing about that is, Dirk was a pioneer of sorts at the time of it's release online. Webcomics were nearly unheard of at that point in time. Kudos to you, Dirk, for not only branching off into uncharted territory- but also making it successful.
These tales are short stories combined into TPB's. They are of the horror genre, and of the Lovecraft nature. You can easily see where H.P. has heavily influenced Dirk's writing style. In addition to this, he has this tendency to include little nods to music with titling them after songs, and is wonderful at teasing his readers with tales to come. Often involving various crossovers in his stories. Particularly with The Tales of Mr. Rhee. He has designed it that way, (in my opinion) and it is imperitive to read the Nightmare World series before venturing into Mr. Rhee, as there are little bits throughout that series, that tell the stories to unanswered questions lingering from Nightmare World.
Back to my part of the story, I met Dirk, and he just had this really jolly and boisterous personality. The kind that makes you want to sit down and just listen to him speak for hours on end. Which is essentially what I did. I plopped down on the floor at this comic shop; and just listened to him speak. Hell- it made ME want to go out and make comics. He speaks with true passion for his work, and it pours out onto the pages as well. I had told him at the time, I was considering journalism (heh) and that I wasn't really sure how to write stories or go about any of it. I lacked confidence in my writing, and at times still do. We are unfortunately, all our own worst critics at times. He had recommended to me that I pick up his book on creating comics: Write or Wrong. He then began relating to me some of his story, how he came to be and how he has continued on the path. It was inspiring to hear of how he too struggled with getting off the ground, but once he began- he stopped at nothing to pursue his dreams. It was refreshing and wonderful to hear such a positive story.
I ended up picking up the first trade to Mr. Rhee as well: Procreation of the Wicked. I went home that night, in some kind of stupor. What had just happened? I just spent 2 hours chatting to someone that makes comics. AMAZING COMICS. I was in awe by it. I had to know more. I had to know more about the industry as a whole. I wanted to meet more people like that, and hear their stories as well. I friended Dirk on Facebook, and started falling down the rabbit hole. Every day it seemed that I was meeting someone new in the independent community. I loved and still love talking to all of these people. I have developed a great passion for sharing their work and speaking about it whenever possible. It all ended up eventually landing me here, where I am right now, speaking to you. J.M. Hunter had made the deal to land me here on The Outhousers; however, had I not met Dirk, I would not know the 400 plus creators I do now. He has been catalyst in bringing me where I am now, and I cannot express my gratitude enough, for giving me the push I needed to find something that I could pour my soul into. So, when you read my half Dirk- Thank you.
Without further delay, here are those juicy bits you crave...
While reading WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS, you spoke of the details of how you began your career in making comics. Will you please touch on some of your history in getting to where you are now?
In short, I started publishing my first ever comic series NIGHTMARE WORLD with a small army of artists as an independent online comic in 2002: at the rate of two pages a week, every Thursday. As NIGHTMARE WORLD closed in on its run of 52 stand-alone but interconnected eight-page stories, I launched two more online comic series with some of my closest collaborators from NIGHTMARE WORLD: TALES OF MR. RHEE, and FARSEEKER.
Just as I was ready to start launching all of NIGHTMARE WORLD in print via print-on-demand issues the series was picked-up by Shadowline Comics, Jim Valentino's imprint of Image Comics – first as part of his online comics hub, and then for print via three graphic novel collections of 13 stories each, collecting 3/4th of the series in print.
As NIGHMARE WORLD began launching in print, Artist Joshua Ross and I completed the remainder of the 13 eight-page stories of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume, and the whole series then ran on the (now defunct) Shadowline webpage as well, only to then be picked-up for print a few years later by Josh Blaylock at Devil's Due. The second volume of TALES OF MR. RHEE was then illustrated by Seth Damoose and is about to be released as a TPB collection. We launched both collections were funded via Kickstarter, where we raised a combined total of almost $40,000 in order to print some really nice hardcovers, and all sorts of other Kickstarter-exclusive bonus swag. As we talk right now, five different artists are currently working on the five issues that will comprise TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3.
Finally, the first full issue of FARSEEKER – my all-ages fantasty(!) collaboration with artist Len O'Grady – first ran on my personal webpage, then at ACT-I-VATE Comix and also MTV's website. Yes... really! Len and I are going to be working on a little somethin'-somethin' for TALES OF MR. RHEE, and after that we will both finally be at the point where we can dedicate ourselves to finishing the first story arc and bringing it to print. We've been chomping at the bit to do it for years, so I'm extremely excited about everyone getting a chance to read FARSEEKERS (we've since added the "S"), as most people presume I'm only a horror writer in terms of my comic work.
Sorry... I guess that wasn't so short after all! It's been a long road, though... and the road ahead is longer still. [laughs]
"Where is NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 4?" I think that's a question on a lot of minds. Has this begun? What are some potential prospects for this? Will we see more of your classic crossovers?
It's happening, yes, and some new stories are even already done for it. Heck, I think Anthony Peruzzo's brand new version of "Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead" has been completed for almost two years now! Ugh. [laughs]
That being said, not a convention goes by where someone doesn't ask me about NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 4, so I know that the expectations are very, very high for this final collection... and, point blank, this book is going to be an epic mic drop for the series. Lingering questions will be answered, the connections between this franchise and TALES OF MR. RHEE will be made more even clear, and – once more – people will get done reading this volume only to then be motivated to go back and read the first three books in order – and perhaps even out of order – to see how it all weaves into one uber-epic told over 52 genre-hopping eight-page horror stories.
I mean, seriously... the first story in the book is in the genre of Shakespeare, and all the dialogue is Iambic Pentameter. Seriously... I ain't playin' around with the grand finale. [laughs]
Now that I've officially discussed this in print, let me just say that eager readers need to be patient a little bit longer while we finalize everything... including the incredible Kickstarter tiers we'll be offering with it... maybe even including a giant hardcover NIGHTMARE WORLD omnibus? Hmmm... dare to dream, folks. [laughs]
Regarding Mr. Rhee, how far do you plan on taking his story? What is next for our beloved magic man?
TALES OF MR. RHEE will be a finite series – or at least a finite story – as I know the ending and am always moving towards it.
That being said, as I've shown in the first two volumes ("Procreation (of the Wicked)" and "Karmageddon"), I'm not afraid to hop around in the chronology a bit, you know? Volume 1 took place in the present, Volume 2 took place in the past – before the events of Volume 1 – and Volume 3 will take place primarily in the present, with one issue taking place in the future.
I'm even talking to Seth Damoose and my editor, about us releasing all the issues of Volume 4 backwards, from the last issue to the first. Screw the traditional rules, you know? [laughs]
It's a finite story, but even if I were to tell the final TALES OF MR. RHEE story in, say, Volume 6 (don't read in to that – it's an arbitrary number), I've already established that I could do a Volume 7 story that deals with his past again.
You know... before he dies a horrible and violent death at the hands of a once-more resurrected Cthulhu.
Oops! Spoiler? Or is it? Or isn't it? [laughs]
I just read your story in UNLAWFUL GOOD. The fact that you pulled Tony Miello and Rob Humphrey into this story blew my mind. Also, it seemed that you may have pulled a bit of the NIGHTMARE WORLD style into this. Was this a coincidence or intentional? Please expand on what you wanted to bring to the table with this story.
Tony Miello (pronounced "My-Yellow") and Rob Humphrey (pronounced "Hump-Free") are two of my dearest friends in the industry, so when I was doing this story with artist Seth Damoose and Howie Noel on colors (two of my other dearest comic pals) I decided to name-check them in the story "Kingmakers" just for fun... although in the case of Tony the character actually looks like him too... which is sort of weird since his character also appears in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2 in the story "The Guns of Love Disastrous."
Cosmic coincidence or part of the grand plan that is NIGHTMARE WORLD? You decide! [laughs]
So, yeah... good catch! "Kingmakers" does indeed take place in the NIGHTMARE WORLD continuity, and you'll even see some other references to the aforementioned "The Guns of Love Disastrous" in "Kingmakers"... and some of the characters from "The Guns of Love Disastrous" in the story "Violet" from NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 1... and the events in "Violet" directly tie into the Armageddon/Rapture storyline that's such a big part of TALES OF MR. RHEE, and...
Well, let's just say that I've been doing the "it's all connected" thing for a long, long time... [laughs]
When you wrote your story "Te Vas Angel Mio" for artist Riley Rossmo's DIA DE LOS MUERTOS book, at what point was this in your career? It felt as though it tied in with the same principles of your double-sized one-shot LOVE-STORIES (TO DIE FOR), also from Image Comics. Did the former lay the groundwork for that, or vice-versa?
Again, good eye! Going in reverse, LOVE STORIES (TO DIE FOR) was what I intended to be the evolution of NIGHTMARE WORLD, with me moving to 22-page self-contained stories, each by a different artist or art team. We ran three such stories on the Shadowline website (illustrated by Anthony Peruzzo of DISPLACED PERSONS, Seth Damoose of TALES OF MR. RHEE: "Karmageddon", and Howie Noel of TARA NORMAL, (respectively!) before launching the double-sized one-shot with two more stories illustrated by Owen Gieni and Rich Bonk, respectively... so we're talking about some real power-house artists here, you know? [laughs]
With the LOVE STORIES (TO DIE FOR) one-shot now out of print and the Shadowline website defunct, most of those stories are no longer available for most people to read for the time being, so, again, all of these stories are something I'm looking into bringing to print – and continuing – once I get TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 and NIGHTMARE WORLD 4 out the door, at least.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to my story in the DIA DE LOS MUERTOS anthology. Riley Rossmo had been one of my favorite artists for quite some time, so when he asked me to write a story for him to illustrate (most likely at the behest of our publisher Jim Valentino, as I had was just wrapping-up the LOVE STORIES work) I was absolutely over the moon. I also wanted to work with Riley on something that was a bit different than the horror stuff he usually draws, so I wrote him a genuine, no-monsters present, love story. [laughs]
Riley loved the story, it appeared in the first issue of the three-issue mini-series, and the rest is history. I'm extremely proud of that story and was tickled when Riley then agreed to do two different covers for TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 1 after that. Again, it's all connected, if even indirectly. [laughs]
Sadly, the DIA DE LOS MEURTOS collection is sadly out of print, but people can get it and LOVE STORIES (TO DIE FOR) on Comixology by searching under "Dirk Manning," at least. I'd like to make all of it available in print at some point, again, though.
I understand that you may be collaborating with John Marroquin and Christopher Sanchez of El Arto Studies with a continuation of EL MARIACHI. What are you planning for this vigilante?
We posted a picture on Facebook, so I guess that makes it Facebook Official, eh? [laughs]
I don't know if it's a continuation so much as it is a bit of a reboot... and I don't want to say too much about what we're going to be doing with EL MARICACHI for now other than that it's going to contain a lot of action. A lot, a lot of action. Ole!
You've worked with Howie Noel as an illustrator a few times, now, and I noticed that after you pulled him in for the color work for your story in UNLAWFUL GOOD with Seth Damoose, that he's again coloring a story you've written for the next volume of TARA NORMAL, this time the origin story of Baby Cthulhu, that's again illustrated by Seth. What's the story there?
Yet again, there are no coincidences. [laughs]
Seth and I are both huge fans of Howie, both personally and professionally. When we were tapped by UNLAWFUL GOOD editor Heather Antos (a wonderful, wonderful friend who parlayed her work putting that that anthology together into a gig as an Assistant Editor at Marvel Comics) to do a story for UNLAWFUL GOOD, our go-to colorist Anthony Lee was neck deep in coloring TALES OF MR. RHEE: "Karmageddon," so we didn't want to pull him away from that.
I then approached Howie with a deal: Were he willing to lend his mighty coloring skills to the story Seth and I were doing for UNLAWFUL GOOD, we would contribute a story to the next Volume of TARA NORMAL. He was willing to color that one, too, and as a result it was double the pleasure for all of us – and the readers!
Getting a chance to write the definitive origin of the fan-favorite Baby Cthulhu character in TARA NORMAL was something I didn't take lightly. Seth nailed the art, and Howie's colors... oh man... they're so good! It's going to be a real treat for everyone to read, even if some of the events of the story are genuinely pretty jaw-droppingly mortifying. [laughs]
WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS has become a book of necessity to many. I personally found a lot of inspiration and useful information within it. Will you please elaborate on your decision to make this book?
From day one I always said if I got a chance to start making comics that I would do all I could to help other people make comics too, and that was the impetus for the WRITE OR WRONG column... and now the book collection.
Pay it forward, you know?
You've spoken briefly on creating a second WRITE OR WRONG book. What are some of the topics we will see covered in this edition? Is this currently in the making?
The first WRITE OR WRONG book is all about going from wanting to write comics to actually making them. The second book is going to be about what comes next, including marketing, setting-up at conventions, Kickstarter, building your personal brand, and working with editors and publishers.
I'm currently in the process of deciding how to format and organize everything, and then I'm going to really start hammering out the first draft. I'm very excited about closing-in on getting to the point where I can start writing the chapters.
As the comic industry continues to change, I believe we are seeing a real revolution with independent creators. Some of the focus is being shifted away from the larger companies and indie comics and creators are being discovered daily thanks to social media, other internet sites, small press publishers, conventions, etc. What are your thoughts on the way the industry has changed? Do you believe that one day the "independents" will be running more of the show?
I think the "independents" are already running the show, especially in the term of the "independent" creators! A large portion of Marvel and DC's current top-tier talent were considered "indie guys" in the not too distant past, you know? [laughs]
Here's the way the comic industry works these days: You do some independent/small press books, and should your titles get some positive buzz you can then probably parlay it into a job writing (or drawing) a book about a non-top-tier character for Marvel or DC.
From there, you may be able to climb the ranks of titles at Marvel or DC, eventually getting to write (or draw) some of their top-tier books and characters. You know, the ones movies and TV shows are being made about.
Once you get to that point you will have enough clout in the industry to get your next creator-owned book – the one you've been sitting on while writing (or drawing) other people's characters – picked-up by a publisher of creator-owned books like Image Comics (who is on fire right now!). and if you succeed in taking even a percentage of your Marvel/DC audience with you to your creator-owned title(s) you'll do really, really well for yourself in terms of income.
Want to get big in the comic industry? Start doing the work. That's more than half the battle at this point, and there are more opportunities than ever before... but you have to be willing to start as an "indie" guy.
You've often spoken of 'branding yourself'. What are the basic fundamentals of this? How has branding worked for you to grow such a loyal fan-base for your work?
Work hard, be nice, and no excuses. If that's your brand, you'll be rewarded with an audience of great, great people... or at least that's what's worked for me, anyway. [laughs]
That being said, I'm going to get into the complex world of branding a lot more in the second WRITE OR WRONG book... but that's where it starts. Do the work, be good to people, and don't make excuses.
Have you experienced hitting the creative wall? If so, what are some of your methods for pulling yourself out and getting back on your game?
Honestly, to me it's more a matter of finding the time to tell all the stories I want to tell.
I usually don't get writer's block because I let the stories simmer for as long as they need to and work on other stories while those trickier ones get to the boiling point...
What shows and signings do you have lined up for the coming months? Where can people follow you and purchase your work?
For the last few years I've instituted a "No-Show July" policy so that I can recharge and spend some quality time at the keyboard, but I'm hitting the road again in August and then really hard in September and October.
In August I'll be doing TALES OF MR. RHEE: "Karmageddon" RHEE-lease Parties (get it?) at COMICS & MORE (Madison Heights, Michigan) and SEANN'S ANIME AND COMICS (Toledo, Ohio), and September and October will include convention appearances at CINCY COMIC CON, WIZARD WORLD: OHIO, and NEW YORK COMIC CON among others.
Full details can be found at www.DirkManning.com under the "Signings and Appearances" tab.
Bonus lightning round!
Let's do it! [cracks knuckles]
Favorite ice cream?
I've always said that JENI'S SPLENDID ICE CREAM based out of Columbus, Ohio has the best ice cream on Earth... but that being said, I recently discovered THE ORIGINAL CHINATOWN ICE CREAM FACTORY in New York City and, wowza, their offerings stand shoulder-to-shoulder with JENI'S, something I never thought was possible until I tried it.
(Seriously, Victor Dandridge Jr! It's that freakin' good!)
Favorite Faith No More album?
My go-to has historically been "King for a Day, Fool For a Lifetime"... but, man, "Sol Invictus" is so damn good. I mean, really, they're all so damn good it's almost a wash... so I guess my favorite one is whichever one I'm listening to at the moment. [laughs]
Favorite scene from TALES OF MR. RHEE?
There's a scene in one of the issues from the upcoming TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 – Issue #3, to be exact – when Mr. Rhee is looking down into this cup of tea he's holding... and that scene... damn. There's nothing spooky about the scene... it's just this really emotional moment that's yet another major turning point for the character. I can't wait for people to see it... and everything we have in store for Mr. Rhee and the rest of the extended cast in TALES OF MR. RHEE cast starting in Volume 3.
Oh... and the Thelma Lushkin scenes in the upcoming Issue #2 of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3, too. I've been waiting to shine more of a light on her since her first appearance in "A Therapy for Pain" in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3, so I'm really excited to finally get bring her to the forefront a bit more. People are going to be pretty blown away, I think.
Favorite wrestling player?
I don't get a chance to play video games very much, but I do loves me some wrestling. Much to Howie Noel's chagrin I'm a HUGE Kevin Owens fan. See also: Finn Baylor, Caesaro, my dude Samoa Joe, and of course Brock Lesnar.
That being said, though, LUCHA UNDERGROUND is, hands-down, the best wrestling show currently on television. Period.
Favorite Star Wars film of the original trilogy?
I unapologetically like RETURN OF THE JEDI the most, no question. Not only does it contain the best light-saber battle of the series, but the Ewoks are total bad-asses, dude! I realize everyone likes to crap all over them for being oversized teddy bears or whatever, but, really, how many other Star Wars characters are there who eat their enemies and use their skulls for jewelry? Ewoks for life. No question. [drops mic]
Links to those mentioned in this article:
If you are so inclined: you can listen to the podcast episode Michelle Gallagher and I recorded with him on The Mistresses of Mayhem and Chaos.
You can find me in the following places on social media:
Facebook: The Indie Huntress
Facebook: Mayhem & Chaos (for indie creators!)
Michelle Gallagher Poetry: A New Mourning (my partner in podcasting)