Making His Shadowline - Talking to Dirk Manning, Part 2

Talking to Dirk Manning, part 2

In this second half of Dirk Manning’s interview with Newsarama we wrap-up talking about Nightmare World and its move to Shadowline, moving the focus to the other projects Manning will be releasing during the next year, the one “corporately owned” series he’d willing sacrifice a body part to write and the notion of the comicbook industry as a “farm-league” for Hollywood. Click here for part one.

Newsarama: You've been very open with your foray into the comic book industry as a writer with your column ”Write or Wrong” here at Newsarama, but do you ever find yourself looking back and wishing that you did things differently? Or is the learning process full of hits, misses, and reassessment?

Dirk Manning: You know, when all is said and done my biggest regret is not getting/keeping copies of all of the hi-res files art from the beginning. It would have made things a lot easier if I had them all from the beginning! (laughs)

Honestly, when I first started Nightmare World I was on a dial-up modem (remember those?) and didn’t have the capability to have the hi-res files e-mailed to me without crashing my computer (a trusty PowerMac 6500 – although I’ve long since “upgraded” to a PC).

I guess I could have had the various colorists burn the hi-res colored files to CDs and then snail-mail them to me or something, but, eh, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Like I said back in Part One of this interview, it’s all working out for the best now anyway since it’s allowing us to go back and “update” a few of those older stories for which we no longer have (or never had) the hi-res files.

In comparison to that, any other “regrets” are even more minor. There are some deals I look back on and wonder about whether or not I should have taken when they were offered to me, such as an early offer to distribute Nightmare World via cell-phones… but I opted not to because I though the idea was ridiculous at the time. Oops! (laughs)

There are also a few artists whose work I’ve always really liked and I wanted to work with back in the day but didn’t, such as fellow Digital Webbing Forum-Lurker Ryan (Invincible) Ottley (to whom I was going to give the darkest Nightmare World story ever – just because I was tired of seeing everyone give him “funny” stuff to draw) and the super cool Francesco Zorro Francavilla (in which case I held-off because I didn’t have a script ready that would match his style. Ugh!).

Again, though, these are all small complaints. I fell very “blessed” (if such as word is appropriate to use in regards to a series like this one) to have had the career I’ve had to date and considering this, I really don’t feel I have the right to complain about anything.

With me it’s always onwards and upwards. (laughs)

NRAMA: Do you have an ultimate goal as a writer in the comics industry? Do you want to work at one of the Big Two, or would you prefer to work on your own projects?

DM: You know, I can’t really say that I have any true immediate aspirations to work for “The Big Two,” per say. I’ve always sort of planned on eventually landing at Image and carving out a nice and successful lil’ niche for me and my cohorts there a la someone like Robert Kirkman or the Luna Brothers. For the most part I’ve never been the guy who one day aspired to write, say, Spider-Man or Batman or something like that.

Do I have a Spider-Man and/or Batman story to tell? Sure! Who doesn’t, you know? (laughs)

However, it’s A story. Like I said, I haven’t devoted a ton of time to developing plots and story-arcs for those characters because I’ve never really made it a career goal to write the adventures of corporate characters. At this point I have way too many of my own stories I want to tell.

I mean, I’ve spent the last five years completing the massive tapestry that is Nightmare World and now I want to start pushing ahead with some of the other projects I’ve been sitting on and developing for years – and to start getting them out at a much more accelerated rate, to boot.

The detail that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that Nightmare World was always meant to be my “debut” in the comic industry – my “calling card” to show what me and my partners in crime can do… but due to the amazing response from readers and other professionals the size and scope of the project just kept growing and growing – and before I knew it my idea for a little six to twelve story anthology turned into a 52-part epic that ran with new story installments being posted online every week for five years.

That’s right – FIVE YEARS! (laughs)

You have to understand, too, that rarely did a night go by in which I didn’t spend hours coordinating stuff for Nightmare World… and if you don’t believe me you can ask my letterer and design guy Jim Reddington, because he was up most of those same nights working on it online with me. (laughs)

It took this much time to do the series because, like I said, not only would we update the website with new pages every week, but I was also working with over two dozen artists from across the world and from all sorts of different time zones… and I took a very direct “hands-on” approach with everyone involved to make sure that everything was as good as it could be. What’s more, I developed true and lasting friendships with a lot of these guys and gals that still last to this day. We’re all a big ol’ family now, and as a result some nights I’d just be up at the computer for hours talking to these guys and gals as friends.

However, now that all is said and done the results of the series speak for themselves – and it’s a helluva “debut comic” for all of us if I do say so myself. (laughs)

Now that it’s finished, though, (aside from the few stories we’re “redoing” along the way) there are other non-Nightmare World stories that we’ve been working-on behind the scenes and I’m anxious to get them rolling…

In the name of fairness, though, I do have to admit that I would give my left nut to write a Midnight Sons series for Marvel. (laughs)

NRAMA: Now that you've gotten this far – what do you foresee as the next set of challenges for you? You don't want to rest just yet, right?

DM: Oh geez… I never rest. My wife is always yelling at me about that! (laughs)

Like I said, now that Nightmare World is finished and starting its two-year run online with Shadowline I’m finally able to devote my full attention to getting some of the other properties I’ve been developing over the last few years – most of them with various Nightmare World I’m not friends with – moving at a steady rate.

Last year I gave my “old school” readers a sneak-peek at a new fantasy/sci-fi-ish series by myself and Len O’Grady titled Farseeker that really blew everyone away… and my “Number One” priority is to get that moving. I was kind of nervous about what my readers would think since it’s definitely not horror, but the response was overwhelmingly and unequivocally positive. In fact, a lot of people – including several of the artists I worked with on Nightmare World – were really taken aback by the fact that – SURPRISE! – Dirk Manning can write more than just horror. Who woulda thunk it, right? (laughs)

Yeah… Farseeker is a project Len and I have been toiling away at for years and it’s time to finally move ahead full-speed on it, so I’m really looking forward getting more Farseeker out to the masses both online and/or in-print as a continuing series or series of mini-series.

I also have an amazing artist (and friend) lined-up for Hope, my pitch that made it to the finals in Shadowline’s “Who Wants to Create a Superheroine?” contest last year. Everyone who read the pitch saw a lot of potential in the series, and now that I’ve finally found the “right” artist for it, her and I (yes, the artists is a her) are very, well, hopeful that we’ll be able to find a home for it in the next year… hopefully with Shadowline, I might add.

Continuing the uber-popular Tales of Mr. Rhee with Josh Ross is also high on my list of priorities. Not only do we love the character and the series, but – I swear to you – not a week goes by that someone doesn’t e-mail me or leave me a message on MySpace or Facebook or something asking about that when we’ll be returning to the series. Mr. Rhee really “connected” with a lot of people and Josh and I want to start-up on “Volume Two” of the series this year, and in doing so bring the first giant story-arc to a close.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my longtime friend and co-collaborator Ray Dillon of Golden Goat Studios and I have a new mini-series/OGN brewing that we’re both really excited about. Not only have we not worked together in quite some time (he was the first artist I ever worked with on Nightmare World, but this is another one of those stories that I’ve been sitting on for a few years while I waited for his schedule to loosen-up a bit. When that started to happen I pitched it to him and he was like “Dirk, you jerk! How could you hold-out on me with this story for so long?” I told him it wasn’t my fault that he was “too busy” for the last few years… but that at least I held it back for him. Hey, Dirk Manning is nothing if not loyal. (laughs)

So… rest? Ha! Hardly. As I enter 2009 and look to 2010 my motto is going to be “Let’s create comics together… or get out of my way.” (laughs)

NRAMA: What do you think about the current trend of various comic book properties – both mainstream and independent – being optioned for film? Do you think that the comic industry is less of a niche industry now and more of a farm league for other larger industries – like Hollywood and the video game market?

DM: I think one of the hardest things for comic fans to understand is that comics and movies are two different genres meant not only for two different audiences, but oftentimes also two different types of people.

I mean, let’s face it: There are a lot of people who will see the Watchmen movie but never read the graphic novel.

Ever.

No matter what.

Some people just aren’t readers to begin with, and in many cases even people who are readers have a hard time reading comics due to the “complex” process it takes to do so. Heck, I’ve shoved a lot of comics and graphic novels into the hands of several non-comic-reading friends only for them to sheepishly admit to me that they had a hard-time reading them because they “weren’t sure how to do it.”

Not everyone wants – or likes – or has a desire – to read comics, and that’s something we fans of the medium need to keep in mind and respect.

Now, that being said, are we, the comic book industry, becoming a “farm league” for Hollywood? I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment, per say, as we definitely have our own thing going on this side of the fence – a fence that all kinds of Hollywood creators like to climb over so they can play in our yard, I might add.

However, I think the sudden “run” on optioning comics for videogames and films comes largely from the fact that we as an industry are telling so many great stories these days… combined with the fact that movie special effects are to the point where nothing is impossible to recreate for the screen.

That, and it certainly helps your chances of pitching a movie idea to Hollywood folk if the whole thing is already told in pictures. (laughs)

NRAMA: When can readers expect to see the next incarnation of Nightmare World hitting shelves in print?

DM: One way or another Nightmare World will be in print – or officially scheduled to be in print – no later than one year from now. Period.

The one “trade-off” – if you can even call it that – I made when I brought Nightmare World to Shadowline was that they would have first right of refusal to take the series to print for one year.

The irony was that, pending their right to “pass” on the series, I was about to start publishing the series myself in a partnership with Barry Gregory at Ka-Blam, but, hey, I’m willing to wait a year to see if the series picks-up enough readers through Shadowline to go to print through them, you know?

Besides, there are plenty of other things I want to get into print this year that I can – and will – do in partnership with Barry and Ka-Blam. After all, my partnership with him was another one of those deals that was two years in the making. Are you sensing a pattern here, yet? It takes time to make comics on your own budget, folks… especially if you want to own all of your own work. (laughs)

So, one way or another in the next year I’ll start collecting all fifty-two stories in the series in print – preferably in four equal-sized TPB collections of thirteen stories each, each with swanky covers by the amazing Kristen Perry.

Heck, we already have the trade dress for three of the four collections done, so trust me, it will happen one way or the other. (laughs)

Mind you, Shadowline’s willingness to publish Nightmare World in print depends largely on the amount of “hits” and readers we gain at the website – so I’m hoping people will take the time to swing by there and check out it out. Then, if they like it they can tell their friends about it, our hits will grow and grow, and Shadowline will feel more comfortable taking Nightmare World to print.

After all, Kris and Jim at Shadowline have an amazing record of success in regards to the comics they’ve taken from web to print, and I wouldn’t want to be the weak link, you know? (laughs)

So, whether you’re an “old-school” reader or a newer fan of the series (maybe some of you will be checking it out for the first time as a result of this interview) and want to see Nightmare World in print through Shadowline, check out the new pages we post every day – and tell your friends to do the same! (laughs)

In the event that we don’t go to print through Shadowline (for whatever reason), I’ll self-publish the four graphic novel collections and release them through Barry under my Mind Over Matter Comics imprint if for no other reason then to finally get the Nightmare World monkey off my back. I mean, by the time the series runs its course with Shadowline it will have been a part of my life for seven years… and by that time I want to finally be able to get nice collected copies of the stories into the hands of those readers who want the series to grace their bookshelves and coffee tables.

Aside from the “finality” of it, I truly feel as though I owe it to everyone involved who would want nice bookshelf-worthy collections of these stories to make this happen.

Even now as I look back at the whole series in its completion these five years later (a privilege I and very few other people have), I’m still flabbergasted at not only how genuinely and consistently good the series is, but also how seamlessly we created this huge project with over two dozen different artists from across the world.

This may sound like I’m bragging, but if you ask anyone who I’ve worked with they will all tell you that I’m not the kind of guy who compliments my own work very often.

It’s just that, looking back at it as we now re-release it through Shadowline, it’s even more obvious what an amazing accomplishment and series Nightmare World is.

Yeah, we worked our butts off for years to make it as good as it is, and considering all of the hard work that was put into it I owe it to everyone involved in the evolution and success of the series (including the artists, myself and the fans) to be able to present the whole series to them in a set of nice, printed, permanent editions they can take with them to the bathroom whenever they want to without the need for a clunky laptop. (laughs)

Like I said earlier, I always meant for Nightmare World to be an introduction to what me and my friends can do, and with this series we’ve done that. We’ve introduced ourselves and shown what we’re capable of doing.

Now, though, there are many, many new stories to be told and comics to be created. While I’ve said over and over again – even in this very interview – that having your work in print on paper should not be the “yardstick” by which a creator measures success, I do feel that it’s something I need to do to have closure with Nightmare World.

We spent five long years putting the series together, and having the series land at Shadowline is definitely a huge “validation” concerning the quality of the work... but one way or another I want to have physical collections of the series in print for everyone who wants one (or several) to look at and enjoy.

Then, and only then, will I be able to look back and say “OK, five plus years and thousands upon thousands of man (and woman) hours later… we’ve done this massive epic justice.”

Then, and only then, will it truly be “done.”

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