Making His Shadowline - Talking to Dirk Manning

Manning on Moving to Shadowline

The Same Deep Water as You

By now most Newsarama readers should be familiar with the work – or at least the name – of Dirk Manning. He’s the creator of several popular independent online comics and he has spent the last few years publicly discussing the trials and tribulations of his endeavors as an up-and-comer in the world of comics in his column “Write or Wrong” exclusively here at Newsarama.

Recently, Dirk announced that he was taking his popular horror title Nightmare World to a larger venue: Shadowline, an arm of Image Comics run by Jim Valentino. What, if any, changes are in store for Dirk and Nightmare World over at Shadowline as he enters the “big leagues?”

Newsarama recently sat down with the always lively and candid Mr. Manning in an extensive two-part interview to talk about the history of Nightmare World, how the series was picked-up by Shadowline’s webcomics division, and the state of world affairs in the comic industry (both online and in-print) for this popular, promising and prominent writer.

Newsarama: So, 2009 marks a new era for Nightmare World – you're moving on up to Shadowline/Image. Congratulations are in order…

Dirk Manning: Thank you! The contract with Shadowline has been signed for about a month and a half and we just started going live at the Shadowline Webcomics Hub at the beginning of November… but it’s only now that the first few stories are online and the comic is consistently updating daily that the move to Shadowline feels “real” to me.

In other words, I’ve finally stopped pinching myself quite so much. (laughs)

NRAMA: How did you get involved with Shadowline?

DM: Based on the very eclectic range of high-quality books they’ve consistently released for the past few years, I’ve wanted to work with Kris and Jim for a while now. In fact, I was getting to the point where I was finally ready to pitch Nightmare World to Shadowline when I read a press release about how they were launching a new online comic site/division. In fact, I read that press release right here on Newsarama! (laughs)

Upon seeing the press release – and before I even had time to think about what I was doing – I e-mailed Kris Simon (whom I had already been in contact with due to the “Who Wants to Create a Superheroine?” Contest) and said “Hey! We just finished Nightmare World and are getting ready to re-launch it online at an accelerated rate of publication! Would you be interested in running it at the Shadowline webcomics site?”

Bitter Wine

About five minutes after I sent the e-mail I became a nervous wreck – mainly because I couldn’t believe that I’d been so reckless and “informal” about such a professional matter – so I quickly re-gathered my nerves and meekly e-mailed Kris again, apologizing for the “overly excited” previous e-mail and formally asking her if she and Jim would consider allowing me to pitch Nightmare World to them for consideration with their new webcomics division.

Well, she and Jim Valentino agreed to look at a formal pitch/proposal in the standard format, I obliged, and now Nightmare World is a part of Shadowline’s Web Comics division! Huzzah!

NRAMA: What can readers expect with the relaunch?

DM: Well, therein lies a tale. (laughs)

After about five years of weekly posting/updates (minus almost a full year during which time our server crashed and took the site with it into temporary limbo) we finished the 52nd and final Nightmare World story, in which we completed the whole series and tied everything into a neat little bow… or put the final nail in the coffin, depending how you want to look at it. (laughs)

Well, over the years there were some artists that I had lost touch with and some hi-res files that had disappeared… so when I decided to pull the original website down and “relaunch” the series from scratch in “syndication” (as I’m now doing with Shadowline) I decided that it was a perfect time to “update” a few of the older stories with new artists and/or art teams.

Of course, due to the fact that most of the series is done and “print-ready” (both in the online and literal sense) we can still release the pages online at an accelerated rate (four a week – releasing two stories a month for two years) while still having plenty of time to assemble art teams to “retell” a few of the stories... which is nice.

Some of these “re-imaginings” are going to old friends of the series – but I’d also like to find one or two new artists or art teams for one or two as well… so we’ll see what happens. I’ve got a little time to find some good ones – or let them find me – the sooner I get that small handful of stories redone the better, of course.

NRAMA: For folks who aren't familiar with Nightmare World, what's the format of the book going to be like? For example, there are going to be a number of artists working with you throughout the series, right?

Sleep Now in the Fire

DM: Yeah. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Nightmare World is a series of 52 eight-page self-contained stories that – over time – all weave together to form one giant uber-epic about a very Lovecraftian Armageddon/Rapture scenario, who’s behind it and why.

Each story in the series is illustrated by a different art team – although we do have several teams that come back to tell several stories throughout the whole thing.

Josh Ross, for example, did no less than eight full-length stories (and that doesn’t include the random covers and pin-ups – or our spin-off series Tales Of Mr. Rhee)… and several of the other artists and art teams also contributed more than one story to the series.

Jeff Welborn, Len O’Grady, Austin McKinley, Jason Meek, Rene DeLiz and Ray Dillon, Erich Owen, David Miller, Kristen Perry are all currently working professional illustrators (for comics and otherwise) who each worked on several Nightmare World stories. Heck, several of them even did their first ever sequential artwork for the pages of Nightmare World before doing work for companies like Marvel, 2000 AD, IDW, Tokyopop, etc. Just call me Dirk Manning: The Cherry-Poppin’ Daddy of Comics. (laughs)

That’s one of the things that’s really cool about the evolution of the series, too… how there are different artists and art teams on various stories and how a lot of times they would start networking with each other and having friendly competitions with one another to boot!

For example, Jeff Welborn and Josh Ross – both of them multi-time contributing artists to the series, each with a very different style from the other – would always see the other’s latest story and e-mail me saying “Man… that’s amazing! He just kicked my butt with that last story he did!”

My reply to each one of them was always the same: “Well, do you want another story so you can outdo him?” (laughs)

The result of these friendly competitions among the over two over dozen artists all working on various stories over the period of a few years is the amazing art you see for each and every Nightmare World story. I mean, there are no duds in there because no one wanted to be “the weakest link,” you know? No one wanted to be the guy (or gal) who half-assed a story. (laughs)

This format also gives the readers all of the thrills and excitement of an extremely cohesive “anthology” such as The Twilight Zone TV series or the original Tales From the Crypt comic – but without the dips in quality that most comic anthologies bring with them.

Using this format everybody wins – especially those people who are craving cerebral, intelligent and genuinely creepy and thrilling horror! (laughs)

NRAMA: What are some of the challenges of working in the independent market with a creator-owned title like Nightmare World?

A Small Victory

DM: Yeesh… how much time do you have? (laughs)

I’ve talked at length about the trials and tribulations of creating my own comic series from scratch in my column “Write or Wrong” here at Newsarama (the latest installment of which – complete with a full index at the bottom of the column – can be read here), but I’d say the biggest challenge I’ve faced over the last few years has been finding a publisher that can actually live-up to the promises he/she/they make while letting me keep the rights to my work.

Mind you, I’m not trying to slam anyone I’ve worked with in the past, because I’ve been very fortunate to work with some very talented, kind and creative people… so I don’t want anyone to think that I’m attacking anyone I’ve publically worked with and supported before… because that’s not the case.

Now, that being said, it’s frustrating for me as a creator (and the “leader” of the small army of creators who helped me bring Nightmare World to life over the past few years) to only have so many hours in the day to dedicate to promoting the series. Considering this, I would always look for a publisher that would help me promote the series and get the word out about Nightmare World to as many people as possible. That’s the purpose of a publisher… to get the book in front of as many eyes as possible, right?

I’ll tell you point-blank that whenever I talked to a potential publisher my approach was always the same. I’d tell them up front that I was looking for a publisher who could

1) Help me raise the profile of my work by my affiliation with them

2) Help me get publicity for the work, and

3) Let me keep all the rights to the intellectual property itself…

That being said, I was willing to sit down with anyone who I felt was reputable and could help me meet these goals.

Of course, everyone would say “Yeah, yeah! We’ll do X and Y and Z for Nightmare World…” but then as the contracts were getting signed things would get put on hold… or things won’t get done on time… or the publisher would suddenly want an exorbitant amount of money upfront… whatever. Nine times out of ten something would start to gum-up the works… and when everything started boiling down to excuses is when you’d see me heading for the door – with my rights to my work still solely belonging to me and me alone, I might add.

Heck, on many occasions I had small publishers come to me because they had heard about Nightmare World and were hoping that their profile would be raised by being affiliated with US. Isn’t that the opposite of how things are supposed to work? (laughs)

Mind you, I’m really not trying to brag. Rather, I’m trying to explain to anyone and everyone reading this just how easy it is to find a publisher out there willing to work with you if your work is strong enough.

Now, that being said, it’s important to remember that getting published in print is not the “Be-All/End-All” of “success.” In fact, I know plenty of up-and-coming creators who have gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble – in some cases getting to the point where they were duped into signing-away the rights to their own creations – by hooking-up with shady publishers willing to bilk aspiring creators for hundreds or thousands of dollars and the rights to their work all because some creators are so desperate to get their work “published.”

Funk dat! (laughs)

I’ve been published both in-print and online, and I’ll tell you right now that getting your comic put on paper is NOT the pinnacle of success in this business.

Is it nice? Of course? Do I want Nightmare World to get picked-up for print by Shadowline? Of course – that would be great!

Preys Be the Lured

But I’m well past the point of needing some smaller “publisher” working out of his basement to charge me money to get my stuff out there in print. With the glory of the Internet combined with good ol’ positive word of mouth my comics can be everywhere without it costing me a dime (except for some minimal hosting costs) … and if I really want to get “in print” bad enough I can go the “print-on-demand” route through a very reputable and professional print-house like Ka-Blam without going broke (or risking signing-away the rights to my work) in the process… and in my humble opinion that’s something more up-and-coming creators need to think about.

In fact, the details I just ranted about above are some of the biggest reasons I’m stoked about working with Shadowline. Image and Shadowline both represent some top-notch, top-class and flat-out good people who love comics and want to help aspiring (and professional) creators get their work out there to the masses… if it’s good enough, of course.

Most importantly, though, working with Shadowline means I’ll still own the rights to Nightmare World no questions asked.

Yes, there are contracts involved that entail the deal is mutually beneficial, as is the case in any business deal that goes far enough, but when all is said and done I will still own the rights to the work. Considering this, if things go south at some point (which I doubt they will, mind you, I’m just sayin’) I won’t be out a thing and we can all end the arrangement amicably and in the same conditions we entered it.

Honestly, working with Shadowline is already a case of “being honored just to be nominated,” you know? (laughs)

NRAMA: As you mentioned above, you’ve worked with a few different publishers over the years. As the owner of an intellectual property like Nightmare World, how difficult is it to move your project to a different publisher?

DM: As I alluded to above, it’s never been a problem for me because I’m fiercely protective of the rights to my intellectual properties, be them for Nightmare World, Tales Of Mr. Rhee, Farseeker, the “Write or Wrong” column I do here at Newsarama… whatever.

I know that some of my properties are better known than others, but at the end of every day I make sure that anything I write is owned by me.

Due to the fact that I’m not doing “Work-For-Hire” stuff, I don’t (and won’t) share my “rights” with publishers when it comes to stuff I’ve created myself – especially if I’m bringing a pre-existing idea/concept/comic I’ve created to them.

I’m a writer – my ideas are my currency in this market, you know? Without them – I’ve got nothing of value… and because of that I’m not willing to barter little pieces of myself (and my value) away under those circumstances unless I’m entering a “Work-For-Hire” agreement in which I’m guaranteed a paycheck in exchange for work I’m creating for (or bringing to) the publisher in question.

More specifically, I’m not going to sell myself (and/or my artists) out just to get the comics on paper unless that’s part of the arrangement upfront and we’re being compensated for giving away a portion of the rights.

Don’t get me wrong, should I ever make a million bucks off Nightmare World due to my affiliation with Shadowline, they – just as my friends who’ve helped me bring the series to life – should also get fairly compensated. Fair is fair.

However, the notion of giving a publisher (or a publishing entity) a portion of the rights to your intellectual property just because he/she fronted you the money to put your comic on paper is ludicrous… and it’s those kinds of lopsided publishing arrangements that caused seven up-and-coming artists to band together to form Image Comics all those years ago, remember?

Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it… and that ain’t gonna be me if I can help it. (laughs)

So, all of that being said, no, moving Nightmare World to Shadowline wasn’t a difficult move for me at all. Image (and, by proxy, Shadowline) stand for everything that’s right about creator’s rights in the comic book industry… and these are the only kinds of people I’m willing to work with in regards to publishers for and of my creator-owned work at this point in my career.

Tomorrow in Part Two Dirk and Steve discuss more on the particulars of Nightmare World moving to Shadowline , his “final plans” plans for the franchise, the status and plans of his other comic properties and his view on the state of the comic industry for up-and-coming creators.

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