From Web to Dirk Manning, an Interview
Dirk Manning is a success story. Dirk started work publishing a little comic called Nightmare World on the now defunct http://www.nightmareworld.com which has led to Nightmare World’s three collected graphic novels, the third, Demon Days, coming up this October. Beyond Nightmare World, Manning has two online serials, Tales of Mr. Rhee and Farseeker, available to view at Shadowline and Act-i-vate respectively. His column Write or Wrong is inspirational and is worth the read for advice and some great lessons in publishing as Dirk talks about some fascinating experiences.
This writer admits Veritas, his own pet project wouldn’t have happened without reading Write or Wrong.
I had a chance to talk to Dirk about Nightmare World, Mr. Rhee, and Farseeker.
JP: Why don’t we begin with Mr. Rhee. Can you explain where the idea for him came from?
DM: Basically, TALES OF MR. RHEE came about from my desire to venture into a more linear long-form story than I told with NIGHTMARE WORLD.
Despite the fact that, like NIGHTMARE WORLD, TALES OF MR. RHEE is made-up of eight-page chapters, the story is very-much straight-ahead… and it also follows the exploits and adventures of one main character rather than the huge cast of NIGHTMARE WORLD.
As NIGHTMARE WORLD went on people would always ask me “When are we going to see you tell a story that focuses on just one character?” Well, that story is now unfolding with TALES OF MR. RHEE, and as people are seeing, Mr. Rhee is a very fascinating character rather than your stereotypic two-dimensional paranormal trouble-shooter.
JP: How is writing TALES OF MR. RHEE different from writing a NIGHTMARE WORLD story?
DM: With NIGHTMARE WORLD I would always come up with the bare bones of the script for a story (including the pacing, the main characters, and how strongly it would tie into the “uber-story” of the series), and I would then talk to the artists I worked with (or scour the Internet for someone new) who I felt would do the story justice.
With TALES OF MR. RHEE, on the other hand, we’ve veered away from that fun “scattergun”/showcasing approach to really delve into one much more direct story about this man who is trying to survive and thrive in a post Armageddon/Rapture world (the world of NIGHTMARE WORLD, as a matter of fact) and as a result I can really delve into his character a lot more. There’s a definite long-form “character arc” for Mr. Rhee that starts in the first chapter, develops at a slow burn through Chapters Two through Five and then kicks into irrevocably high gear once we hit Chapter Six… and it’s not necessarily a pleasant one, either.
While NIGHTMARE WORLD was all little glimpses of how people’s lives fell apart when faced with horrible situations, with TALES OF MR. RHEE we’re going to stick around with him and see if and how he manages the horror he finds himself surrounded with as the series unfolds. It’s rough stuff, and we’ll see the toll it takes on him get exponentially bigger as the series goes on…
JP: Do you have a grand plan for Mr. Rhee like say Jonathan Hickman, or is this a character you can envision always telling stories with?
DM: I’m pretty positive that I know how the adventures of Mr. Rhee will eventually end, and there’s some definite touchstones and stories that I would tell between then and now, including some that take place before the current series.
In fact, if we continue right into a second volume of TALES OF MR. RHEE after the 13 stories that comprise “Volume One” end, it would be a story that takes place in Rhee’s past rather than after the events of this current series. Heck, for all you know this could be the LAST adventure of Mr. Rhee, and anything else we do with him would be in the past… [laughs]
But, yeah, there’s a definite end-point in mind for him. As to where and when it will take place… we’ll have to wait and see. If I have my way, though, we’ll definitely telling more TALES OF MR. RHEE shortly after this first “volume” of 13 stories ends, though.
All that being said, Mr. Rhee is a fascinating and fun character who resonates with me personally as well as seemingly everyone who reads the TALES OF MR. RHEE, so I could easily write about his life and adventures for a long, long time…
JP: What is the difference between doing this work at Shadowline online over then say nightmareworld.com?
DM: In regards to publishing NIGHTMARE WORLD at Shadowline both in print and at www.ShadowlineOnline.com, the biggest difference is that it has given me a chance to really see the comic – which I started self-publishing online with a small army of various artists and art teams way back in 2002 – through a different set of eyes… specifically, the eyes of Jim Valentino, a man who needs no introduction in the comic industry. He was always very “laissez-faire” about the series when we republished it online through Shadowline Comics, but when we went to tale the series to print he gave me some invaluable advice about how to put the books together, what stories to include or redraw, etc. Mind you, we didn’t always agree… but I’ve always respected his judgment and insight, as he certainly knows a heckuva lot more about publishing comics than I do, you know? He knows the road… [laughs]
This is one of the main reasons that we’ve gone back and re-mastered so much of the art and such in the print collections, too. I mean, sure, part of it is me wanting it to be the best it can possibly be for print… but the fact that each book has the Shadowline logo on it means that there’s going to be certain expectations in terms of the quality of the book, and we wanted not only to meet them, but exceed them.
JP: You go from horror to Sci-Fi/Fantasy in FARSEEKER by yourself and Leon O’Grady, which is published every Friday at www.ACT-I-VATE.com. Where did this idea come from?
In regards to publishing TALES OF MR. RHEE through Shadowline, honestly, I was a little worried about what Jim would think of it since it’s a little bit darker and edgier than NIGHTMARE WORLD, but he’s been very vocal about how much he likes the series and what we’ve been doing with it… which is really nice.
DM: Several years ago, right after Len and I collaborated on our third NIGHTMARE WORLD story together (which was “The Same Deep Water As You”), Len approached me about the idea of him presenting some character ideas to me and me then writing a series with them with his input.
I love Len to death and love working with him as well, so of course I was flattered by this offer and jumped at the opportunity. He then presented me with the bare-bones ideas for the eight characters who evolved into the cast of FARSEEKER. He gave me a very basic “structure” of what he wanted each character to be (such as “a lion-looking shaman,” etc) and maybe a few basic character traits about them as well as the basic idea of the kind of story he wanted to tell… and from there I really hunkered down with these concepts for a while and turned them into the fully-realized characters you now see in FARSEEKER.
Once we nailed down the characters (in regards to who they were, etc.) Len produced and/or tweaked some character designs for them and we started spit-balling stories ideas. We came-up with a “big plot” for the whole series as well as some smaller adventures that would eventually lead us there.
After we gab for a while I’ll then hammer-out a skeleton outline for a particular story, present it to Len, we argue and wrestle about it a bit, and then I write it and he illustrates it. There’s a very, very strong balance in what we do with the series, and that’s why it has such a dynamic feel to it. I write pretty well (if I do say so myself), and Len is one of the single-most talented illustrators and character designers I know (and I know A LOT of them!)… and the combination of us working together results in FARSEEKER being a very engaging and dynamic all-ages sci-fi/fantasy romp.
JP: Who is your favorite character to write in Farseeker? Also, which character has so far surprised you with their actions?
DM: Hands-down, my favorite characters to write in FARSEEKER are “The Bug Brothers.” I don’t think I’ve ever written a line or gone back and read of dialogue for them that hasn’t literally made me laugh-out loud.
As for the most surprising character, that’s easily the quick-tempered dragoness Felinna. She surprises me A LOT because she’s so impulsive, and I often find her dragging the story in directions I didn’t suspect because of that impulsivity. It’s even hard for me, as he writer, to keep her in check, so that helps me “sympathize” with how the rest of the team must feel about dealing with her. [laughs]
She’s a sweetheart, though… but she’s young and angry and impulsive, and that keeps me on my toes when writing her, for sure.
JP: Tell me a bit about some of the other stories you’ve worked on this year?
DM: Aside from NIGHTMARE WORLD and TALES OF MR. RHEE I also continue to write my inspirational/”how-to” column “Write or Wrong” for www.Newsrama.com as often as I can… and I also am in the process of writing a series of 22-page NIGHTMARE WORLD-esque one-shots that will see release either online or in-print (or both!) in the near future. Two of them are completed (by Anthony Peruzzo and Seth Damoose, respectively), Rich Bonk is halfway through his issue and a few more are in the hands of some of my old NIGHTMARE WORLD artistic pals. These are the stories that I’ve always wanted to tell but were too big or complex for the eight-page treatment… although I should stress that they do NOT take place in the NIGHTMARE WORLD continuity like TALES OF MR. RHEE does.
JP: You’re doing work for Shadowline both in print and at www.ShadowlineOnline.com, at www.ACT-I-VATE.com as well as your “Write or Wrong” column for www.Newsarama.com. Do you prefer yourself in multiple places like this or do you miss a more centralized location like www.NightmareWorld.com or your brief-lived imprint “Mind Over Matter”?
DM: One of my goals is to get a nice new website put together for myself that will serve as a centralized “hub” for all my work by this October when NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3: “Demon Days” hits the stands since I do indeed miss having one place of my own where all my work can be stored and seen…
But, that being said, I also like also having my work spread out a bit across the internet as well. I mean, as you said, I have stuff at several prominent websites, and people can follow my Twitter and Facebook updates will always know exactly where I have stuff of interest going on, so that’s served as my “home base” for a while now.
Still, though, no one will look after you like you will, and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the sites of creators like Evan Dorkin and Steve Bissette (just to name two examples) and how they create these really great websites that are worth checking in on at least a few times a week… and I’d like to have that kind of site myself by October… or Halloween at the latest. Fingers crossed!
JP: Will you ever tell another NIGHTMARE WORLD story again? Are you happy with your legacy there?
DM: If I were to never do another comic again, I would be very, very content with NIGHTMARE WORLD serving as my “legacy.” Sure, there are A LOT more stories I’d like to tell – and hopefully will be able to tell over the next few years as well as the rest of my life – but NIGHTMARE WORLD is such a… heck, I’ll just say it… such an EPIC collection that, really, there’s not a damn thing to be ashamed of if I were to never go any farther in comics.
Considering this, will I ever tell another NIGHTMARE WORLD story? No… not unless we do one last NIGHTMARE WORLD collection that will collect the final 13 stories that have not yet seen print, at which time I’ll write one more prose story, most likely from the standpoint of the aliens, since they’re the one group that we really don’t hear from in regards to their prospective on things.
Now, that being said, TALES OF MR. RHEE does take place in the NIGHTMARE WORLD “universe” and as a result we’ll see characters and even occasionally plot-threads from that series crop-up in that series (sometimes as “Easter Eggs” and sometimes much more blatantly), but… no, aside from that there will be no more proper NIGHTMARE WORLD stories. I mean, the story has been told and the experiment to tell 52 different horror stories that explore 52 different sub-genres of horror that each stand alone but also weave together to tell one giant long-form story is done, you know?
I’ll always carry the lessons I’ve learned writing and creating NIGHTMARE WORLD with me, though, and because of that, whether I’m writing a comic story that’s horror, fantasy, action, romance or even autobiographical, that same NIGHTMARE WORLD sensibility will always live on in everything I do… even if it doesn’t involve Cthulhu or devilish twist endings.
Nightmare World volume 3 is now available for pre-order through DCBService or pick up Nightmare World this October at your local comic shop.