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Everything is connected: an interview with Dirk Manning

Written by The Indie Huntress on Wednesday, April 27 2016 and posted in Features

Everything is connected: an interview with Dirk Manning

Taking it all the way back to the beginning. The Tales of Mr. Rhee Vol. 3 kickstarter goes live at 12 p.m. EST today!

Source: Dirk Manning

Here we are. It is my one year anniversary on The Outhouse... and I am interviewing one of my favorite creators, and the very person that led me to this path: Dirk Manning. I wanted to make a big splash for my one year here, and write something meaningful. This will suit just perfectly. You see, Dirk has a kickstarter rapidly approaching,(and will be live by the time this is published) for none other than The Tales of Mr. Rhee Vol. 3. This series (along with Dirk's Nightmare world) are special to me because that was the first time I met an independent creator. The day I picked up those books (and others) forever changed my trajectory, and for the better too. Here I sit, now looking back and am so thankful for all of the opportunities that have been given to me to discuss creators' work. Indie comics are truly a thing of magic. These are fresh ideas that come from men and women that aren't being dictated by publishers. These people create whole worlds for us to experience through reading. They often pour every resource at their disposal into making their dreams come to life on the playground of comics. To witness that magic unfolding is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am fortunate to have many creator friends share their in progress works, stories of successes, failures, and personal lives.

Now that the warm and fuzzy nostalgia has been laid out, let's get down to business. Horror. Lots of horror. I'm not talking blood and guts. I am not talking Freddy Vs. Jason slasher horror. I am talking REAL horror. The kind that seeps slowly into your mind and shakes your core. The kind of horror that leaves you trembling at points, not necessarily because it is terrifying- but because you know the events are within the realm of possibility. Perhaps you may even know people that similar experiences have occurred to. Or you know the feelings being presented because you too have lived through that hell being so vividly displayed on the pages that it makes you ill.

You may be asking yourself, "well wait a minute, Indie. I thought this was about The Tales of Mr. Rhee Vol. 3 kickstarter?"

It is.

However, in order to fully understand the weight of events that occur during The Tales of Mr. Rhee, reading Nightmare World is necessary. It isn't a make or break, BUT many of the events leading up to Mr. Rhee occur during Nightmare World. They are from the same universe and the tales that make up Nightmare World take place just prior to and during the events of Mr. Rhee Vol #2. I'm sure I have perhaps confused some of you by now, and I can assure you that Dirk's books aren't nearly as hard to follow as some of the runs from Marvel or DC, but I would argue that they make you think more critically. This was my third time reading back through ALL of the books. Last weekend I plowed through reading all three Nightmare World trades, along with the three books of Mr. Rhee. Just shy of 800 pages in two days. It was glorious. If you are to take on this challenge, I would highly recommend a pairing of music with Tombs, Pelican, and Sunn ((((0))). At least that's what I had playing as I fell down the rabbit hole. It had been well over a year since I last read these books, with the exception of Vol 3, because that was new. Dirk (and Devil's Due) did a pretty cool thing, they released Vol 3 at a page a day for FREE on the Devil's Due website. Additionally, the issues were made available digitally on ComiXology. I waited until they were all released to read them. And before I even did, I went back to the beginning.

I've said this many times before, and I will say it again: Dirk is an incredible writer. Anything good in writing should make you feel things. It should hit you somewhere emotionally, and if it doesn't- it isn't worth your time (IMO). Dirk does just that. You know, I think out of all of the Nightmare World stories, the one that keeps flashing back in my mind is Freak on a Leash. It is a story about a young girl that is being abused physically and mentally by her mother who is an insane religious nut. She is kept locked in her room and the house is boarded up along with the door having several locks in place. She attempts escape, only to be hit by a car and is hospitalized. Her mother assures her in the hospital that she will pay for her sins. That she will be beaten but not allowed to die. The girl lays there in full body bandages, with her jaw wired shut, unable to speak with tears streaming down her face....

That's the one that really bothered me the most. Because it isn't that difficult to imagine. We hear about people being held captive through means of trafficking or otherwise. Violence out of religious belief is certainly nothing new. All you have to do is look around you daily to see similar events. That's the other thing. These books are all tied to The Rapture, the three days of darkness, Lucifer manipulating people into place, and the end of God's reign with creation. Spirituality/religion is something everyone can relate to on some level. It doesn't matter what you believe in, the discussion of the topic alone has a great affect on people. It is my personal belief that is a big part of why these books are so successful. Because of that aspect. Sure- a lot of comics are about capes and babes (not talkin about you, Cho. Calm down.) But not a lot of them make you question your own thinking and beliefs. Not many leave you wondering what you just read. Again, I say that if a book doesn't make you feel, it isn't worth a second thought. Move on to something new.

By this point I am assuming most of you have read at least some of Nightmare World and/or The Tales of Mr. Rhee. If you haven't read volume 3 here is what you can expect: *SPOILER WARNING*

1.) Dirk went back to the Nightmare World roots, and teamed up with different illustrators for each chapter of the book. 

2.) The book takes place after Rhee escapes with Charity from the mental institution. 

3.) Thelma Lushkin returns. I repeat: THELMA LUSKIN. (If you don't know who she is, or her history- it is briefly explained in this interview.) 

4.) Rhee agrees to assist the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. group; however, it is pretty clear that he doesn't approve of their methods. Time will tell how that goes... 

5.) Brad makes a come back, and guess what? He has a very dirty secret. He is brother in arms to ____ who is a guard for _____. Massacre ensues, because of course. 

Got it? Good! Still unclear? No problem! Read all of it FOR FREE here

In my personal opinion, this book was put together with a lot of care and thought. I have known Dirk for awhile now, and speak with him on a semi regular basis. Nothing he does is without purpose. He carefully calculates how things should be in a bigger picture. He isn't thinking about how this issue, or that issue should be: he is thinking about the end game and weaving it carefully, one layer at a time. His editor, Leah Lederman works with him in a way that doesn't hack and slash at the story. A while ago I had interviewed her, and learned more about editing than I ever thought I would. She is freelance and if you are looking for an editor, I will always recommend her first. Every single person involved on the creative team for these books blows my mind. It is clear that each of them were happy to work on the stories that were selected for them, and they put a lot of passion into each panel. That is important when it comes to a book. You can be the greatest writer of your time, but if your book isn't visually appealing, it won't matter. Find a team that cares about your projects as much as you do. 

This interview DOES contain spoilers. I *try* not to do that as often as possible, but most of Dirk's fans know his work and have been following him for some time. That is why I felt it was appropriate to attempt a dive into some more detailed questions about the series of Mr. Rhee and Nightmare World. I had previously interviewed Dirk last year about a variety of things regarding his career on a whole, which you can read here. Otherwise, without further delay.... 


 (Mr. Rhee's first appearance.) 

 Let's start with NIGHTMARE WORLD. Reading some of these stories scare even me, someone who is well versed in horror. I believe these tales are more effective because of their nature. They really aren't that far out of the realm of possibility. How did writing these stories affect you? Do you experience emotional transference from your characters, and if so to what extent?

I tell people all the time -- when asked, of course -- that NIGHTMARE WORLD is my autobiography with monsters sprinkled-in to make it more believable. People think I'm being coy when I say that... but I'm really not. [laughs]

While NIGHTMARE WORLD is a very ambitious series (52 stand-alone genre-hopping stories that all wave into one giant story) that's also a modern tribute to the horror anthologies of old, it also represents a very specific period of my life that -- as you picked-up on -- wasn't terribly pleasant for me. Writing NIGHTMARE WORLD was my therapy. It's painfully obvious how steeped in my real life most of the stories are, but I suppose it's a testament to the series as a whole that most people who read it see it as one of the best modern horror comics in existence.

While these stories are fictional works, do you believe that by playing off of religion, morality, and incorporating situations that aren't out of the realm of possibility- create a more disturbing horror element?

Absolutely! Take "The Same Deep Water As You," the very first story in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 1, for example. On its surface (no pun intended) it's about a man who chooses to make a horrifying deal with some underwater Irish fairy-folk in order to save the life of his wife and unborn child. That in and of itself lends itself to a pretty intense story.

Then take it to the next level, where, in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3, we see that child again, dealing with the ramifications of the deal his father made before he was born. Again, that's a scary story in and of itself, too.

Now let's take it another level higher: How, over the course of the series, this seemingly small event ties into the larger narrative about Lucifer making deals and allegiances with all sorts of other paranormal entities and creatures -- including Lilith and Cthulhu -- to kickstart the second war with Heaven. Suddenly the events of the first story of the first volume -- which seem unconnected to anything else until you get to towards the end of Volume 3 -- are revealed to a major piece of the giant story that's also been being told right in front of everyone's eyes the whole time.

And, mind you, that doesn't even factor into the whole autobiographical nature of the series for people who really want to dig into it that way...

So... yeah... I'd say that taking reality and twisting it a little bit to make the stories a bit scarier was definitely part of the plan all along.

When you set out on the path of writing NIGHTMARE WORLD, did you have it in mind that it would eventually lead to TALES OF MR. RHEE?

One of the biggest questions I used to get back when I debuted NIGHTMARE WORLD online as my first ever comic series -- this is before we ever got picked-up in print -- was if I was ever going to write a comic series that focused on one sole character.

To that end, I knew that a story about a central character was something that fans of my work wanted to see... but I also had to really get NIGHTMARE WORLD to a place where I could launch into a solo-character-driven endeavor.

When the time was right -- when I was in the mental place I needed to be -- Mr. Rhee literally walked into my brain from my subconscious, revealed himself, and his been living there ever since.


The events of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 occur directly after Volume 1, while Volume 2 is comprised of flashbacks to the "three days of darkness" seen in more detail in NIGHTMARE WORLD. Can you please explain the reasoning for this? Why jump around instead going in a straight line?

Honestly, it's just the way I felt Mr. Rhee's story needed to be told. We just sort of jumped right into the thick of things with Mr. Rhee in Volume 1, so for Volume 2 I wanted to show readers -- who had really grown quite an affinity for the character by that point -- where he came from and how the Armageddon and Rapture seen in the pages of NIGHTMARE WORLD really made him the person we saw him as in his series.

Now, with TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3, we see how everything he dealt with in the first volume of TALES OF MR. RHEE has affected him, and how he's going to proceed after -- quite frankly -- being put through the ringer, both by his own decisions as well as the actions of his enemies.

TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 1 was all about the danger of self-imposed isolation, and TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 2 was all about the inherent horror of being a parent (even a surrogate one), while Volume 3 is all about relationships -- and how who we chose to align ourselves with can have dramatic, unexpected, and oftentimes horrific impacts on our lives... especially in a world that's being rebuilt by Lucifer himself after the Rapture.


(The Tales of Mr. Rhee Vol 3 issue 1.) 

Rhee is a complex character who has a lengthy history in magic and summoning. He has had to pay a heavy price for possessing these powers mentally, emotionally, and physically. Will we ever see him get to a point of 'normalcy' or at least less conflicted somehow?

Well, he's certainly trying to regain a bit of normalcy in regards to his relationship with Charity -- that's something I tried to show in the "bookend" sequences of Volume 2 and even more-so throughout several issues of Volume 3 -- but as to whether or not forces internal and external in Mr. Rhee's life will allow that to happen is something that will continue to be explored in Volume 3 and beyond.

What will be Mr. Rhee's "issues" after the events of Volume 3? Will Mr. Rhee be able to come to terms with the way The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group operates, or will he go astray?

As Mr. Rhee learns in Issues #3 and Issue #4 of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3, Charity is very committed to and invested in The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group's cause to wipe-out as many demons left-over in this post-Rapture world as possible -- and that's something Mr. Rhee clearly takes a certain amount of umbrage with, as his best friend just happens to be a demon living in disguise among the humans.

Mr. Rhee really does trust -- and I daresay love -- Charity, though, so how this will all play-out has already been explored a bit in TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3, and will continue to be explored as the series continues, including Volume 4.

Let's talk about Thelma Lushkin for a moment.

Yes, please! She's one of my favorite characters! [laughs]

Thelma first appeared in NIGHTMARE WORLD, and in her first appearance was abducted by William and given the ultimatum of assuming a new identity because of her ability to see demons as they really are, even when hiding under human-looking skin.

Exactly. That was in "Break Stuff" in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 1, and then further expanded upon in the prose story "Bad Romance" in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2.

She is now the most powerful person in corporate holdings across the world thanks to her position with Dumashine Enterprises, and is also working closely with Lucifer. How will her role take shape going forward? Other than being in a position of power on the surface, what purpose does Dumashine serve?

Oh man... there are so many things I want to say here... but I don't want to say too much and spoil anything! [laughs]

All things considered, let me just say this: You have two big organizations at play in the world of TALES OF MR. RHEE: One of them is The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group. The other one is Dumashine Enterprises. That being said, I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that sooner or later those two titans are going to come into conflict with each other...

Throughout NIGHTMARE WORLD and TALES OF MR. RHEE, you use variety of moral dilemmas amongst other thought provoking situations. Do you find yourself plugging some of that in as your way to teach and motivate those around you?

NIGHTMARE WORLD is comprised largely of morality tales, perhaps more so than TALES OF MR. RHEE, but that being said, I think all good horror can be boiled-down to a morality tale that revolves around the theme of "What would you do if...?"


Your last kickstarter for TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 2 was wildly successful. Can you tell our readers about all of the extras that were received during that campaign?

People who backed TALES OF MR. RHEE received a Kickstarter Exclusive hardcover edition of the book that will never be reprinted as their base pledge, and everyone who got that edition of the book also got -- for free as stretch goals -- a signed bookplate with a head-sketch by Seth Damoose, a TALES OF MR. RHEE button, a TALES OF MR. RHEE bonus comic, and three art prints... all of those items were Kickstarter Exclusive, too, and were only available for the life of the campaign. If you didn't pledge to the campaign, you couldn't -- and still can't -- get them later.

What will we see for rewards from this Kickstarter for TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3? *scratches arms* I hear there may be some coffee involved?

[laughs] Indeed there is coffee involved! Given how several issues of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 start in the coffee shop Dirk's Perk (which is also the setting of a few NIGHTMARE WORLD stories, I might add), one of the pledge levels we're offering during the TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 campaign is bags of whole bean "Dirk's Perk" coffee as well as ceramic, engraved TALES OF MR. RHEE coffee mugs. Both the bags of coffee and the mugs will be Kickstater Exclusive and not be available past the 30 days of the campaign.

We'll also be offering some Kickstarter exclusive glow-in-the-dark TALES OF MR. RHEE T-shirts, which I'm really excited about.

Aside from that, I we're offering some other really (RHEE-ly?) special incentives, including a chance to be drawn as a character in Volume 4, a chance to name the prose story in Volume 3 (and hence guide what it will be about), and some other treats.

The main thrust of the campaign will be the Kickstarter Exclusive Hardcover Edition of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3: "Those Who Fight Monsters...", though. As we did with the first two Kickstarter campaigns, we'll be offering a Limited Edition Hardcover version of the book -- complete with all kinds of cool extras -- that will only be available for the 30 days of the Kickstarter campaign. Once the Kickstarter is over, the hardcover edition of the book will not be made available ever again... so if someone wants one, they have 30 days to get it once the campaign begins.


You have been a big advocate for promoting teamwork within the independent community. Is this part of why you have chosen to bring a variety of illustrators to the table again?

Part of my intent was definitely to introduce -- or reintroduce -- some artists I enjoy working with to TALES OF MR. RHEE readers, but that was secondary to the nature of the story of Volume 3 -- which consists of five stand-alone issues each focusing on a different character as part of one larger story -- really lending itself to a different artist or art team on each issue.

That's why Issue #1 is fully illustrated by Marianna Pescosta (Mr. Rhee and Brad Thomson reuniting at a local coffee shop), TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 2 artists Seth Damoose and Anthony D. Lee illustrated Issue #2 (Brad's bloodlust-induced massacre at Dumashine Enterprises), Austin McKinley and Anthony D. Lee illustrated Issue #3 (the introduction to Charity's powerhouse partner Gannon), Issue #4 is illustrated by Leonard O'Grady (Charity revealing The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group's involvement in the "three days of darkness"), and Issue #5 is illustrated by Howie Noel (Mr. Rhee is space -- yes, really!) with an epilogue illustrated by TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 1 artist Joshua Ross.

When you look at each issue, I think it's easy to see how each artist perfectly captures the mood and atmosphere needed for each issue, and -- truly -- they were each a perfect fit for their issue.

Something that I noticed, across all these books you have had many illustrators take part in them. However there was one constant. Your letterer: James Reddington, who also happened to provide some other illustration work. Can you tell me about your working relationship with him, and how he came to be your go to person for lettering?

I first met James through Golden Goat Studios -- an online artist and writer collective which featured me, James, and several other future heavy-hitters such as Renae de Liz, Ray Dillon, Ryan Stegman, and more. When NIGHTMARE WORLD was getting started we needed a long-term letterer for the series, Ray [Dillon] suggested James, and the rest is history.

We've been friends for over a decade now, he letterers the bulk of my comic work, does some occasional fine illustration work with me, and rarely a week goes by that we don't chat on the phone for a bit.

Clearly, he's one of the most patient people I know. [laughs]

You've had some incredible artists lend their touch to the covers for TALES OF MR. RHEE, in Riley Rossmo (CONSTANTINE: THE HELLBLAZER) for Volume 1, Eric Powell (THE GOON) for Volume 2, and now Jason Pearson (BODY BAGS, DEADPOOL), for Volume 3. Can you tell me a bit about the vision for this cover? Did you direct what you wanted or did you let him have free reign?

It was a true honor to work with Jason, who -- as anyone who's serious about comic art can tell you -- is one of the best artists the medium has to offer. Not only is he an incredibly gifted illustrator, but his creator-owned series BODY BAGS had a huge impact on me as a reader and was one of those comics that reaffirmed to me -- as a then-aspiring writer -- that you can (and should) do whatever the Hell you want to do in your comics.

We went through several different ideas for what the cover would be for Volume 3, and if was almost impossible for me to choose which layout and design to choose, given how different (yet all magnificent) each of them was. Ultimately, I had to call my publisher Josh Blaylock at Devil's Due and said to him "You've got to help me decide on one of these, dude!"

Once we picked the layout Jason went to work on the actual cover, and absolutely knocked it out of the park. As anyone who follows Jason on Facebook can tell you, he puts A LOT of thought into every single element of every piece of art he does, and this one was no exception. I look forward to him allowing me to share his process on the cover in the "Extras" section of the hardcover... even if I have little doubt he's rolling his eyes about all the compliments I'm giving him right now.

Suck 'em up, dude! They're all earned! [laughs]

dirk cover

I understand this October you will be launching one final volume of NIGHTMARE WORLD. What can we expect from this final installment and how will it coincide with TALES OF MR. RHEE?

Yes! At long last, NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 4 will be released this October from Devil's Due Publishing! This is the book that people have been waiting on for YEARS, so I know we really need to deliver on this one... [laughs]

As for how NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 4 will tie into TALES OF MR. RHEE, while there will be some tangical connections (as there always has been between the two series), it's important to me that NIGHTMARE WORLD 4 really remains its own beast, so to speak. Again, there will be some very clear connections for eagle-eyed readers to pick-up on and gnaw-on a bit (including a scene from TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 Issue #4 that will be directly seen in NIGHTMARE WORLD 4, for example), but by and large NIGHTMARE WORLD 4 will once more present itself as a series of 13 stand-alone yet interconnected stories that -- over the course of the quadrilogy -- all weave into one giant story.

Oh... and in the vein of the genre-hopping we do with each story, the very first story of NIGHTMARE WORLD 4 will be a Shakespearean tragedy written fully in Iambic Pentameter. Yes, really. [laughs]

How long do you intend to write TALES OF MR. RHEE for?

Until the story is over.


Seriously, though, there is a definitive ending point to the series. I know how the story ends, and I even have the title of the last volume already picked-out. As for how soon we'll get there... it will be a little bit, but there is most definitely an ending to the series.

For people who want some sense of scope, next year's TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 4 will serve as the end of "Act One" of the series.

What else is on the horizon for you?

2016 consists of TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3, the full graphic novel collection of all five issues of LOVE STORIES (TO DIE FOR) with an amazing cover by Nei Ruffino, and then NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 4 in October.

Aside from that there will be more MARICHI by myself, Christopher Sanchez and John Marroquin from El Arto Studios as well as a few other smaller works popping-up along the way (such as a prose piece I did for a Pearl Jam anthology), and then in 2017 we'll see TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 4 and hopefully -- depending how my touring schedule goes -- WRITE OR WRONG Volume 2... for starters.

No rest for the wicked, right?

Link to the Kickstarter:

Dirk on Facebook:

Dirk's Website:

Twitter: @dirkmanning



And that's it, kids. You know, at the beginning of this article (which I started writing a few weeks ago) I mentioned that I wanted to do something special for my one year here, and I did. However, this is where I say goodbye. I have decided it best to move on for now, and start working towards the goal of telling my own stories. I've had a great year here, and cannot thank Jude, Gavin, Hunter, or everyone else on staff enough for letting me be part of the team. I will still be assisting with alternative free comics day, and perhaps an occasional review (if I really want to scream about books I read), but my interview days are done. Thank you so much to all of the readers out there that came in and checked out my articles. Having even just one reader meant the world, and I was absolutely floored when there were thousands of hits on articles. Please continue to support the independent community as much as possible. They may be small in numbers, but they are mighty and have grand worlds to show you.

All of my love,




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About the Author - The Indie Huntress

Indie is an on and off again writer for The Outhouse. She fell deeply in love with independent comics a few years ago, and has made that her focus. She loves all forms, types, and styles. She is genuinely excited to see what people have created and admires the passion put into comics greatly.
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