After success before, Dirk Manning is returning to Kickstarter a second time to fund a new hardcover edition of Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon. The series is a post-apocalyptic story of a troubled wizard named Mr. Rhee seeking to do what he can to help those who survived worldwide catastrophe. In this new story, five orphans come to him with a mean-spirited Cthulhu hot on their trail.
With just under a week left in the Kickstarter campaign, Manning has already surpassed his $6,666 goal but is still open to pledges to bolster the book and as a way to accept pre-orders. Newsarama took some time to chat with Manning about his book, the challenges of putting together a kickstarter like this, and working with newly re-minted publisher, Devil’s Due.
Newsarama: Dirk, can you start us off by giving us some context about who this Mr. Rhee is? What would new readers need to know about him to read Karmageddon?
Dirk Manning: Mr. Rhee is a guy who has dedicated his life to trying to help people solve problems they would rather not admit exist… all the while with varying degrees of success.
He lives in a world where the Armageddon and the Rapture have happened and, less than a decade later, society is pretty much back to normal. The catch is that those left people left behind all pretty much want to move past what happened and have collectively decided, as a majority, “Hey… all those monsters and demons that invaded the Earth for three days? They’re all gone! End of discussion.”
You know those people who adamantly claim that dinosaurs never existed or that basic vaccines cause autism – despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary? Imagine if they were the overwhelming majority rather the vocal minority. That’s the world Mr. Rhee lives in.
Mind you, to be fair, while most of the monsters and such are indeed gone… there’s still some sinister things left skulking around, and Mr. Rhee is a guy who a friend of a friend of a friend will tell you to get in touch with if there’s something weird going on that you don’t want to admit to publicly, for fear of being ostracized (at best) or being diagnosed with “Post-Rapture Adjustment Disorder Syndrome” (P.R.A.D.S.) and being locked away in a mental ward (at worst)… something that remains a very real threat for people who even so much as imply that, hey, maybe things aren’t quite back to normal as the majority chooses to espouse they are.
Nrama: How would you describe the concept behind this second volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee?
Manning: The high concept for Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon is Lone Wolf & Cub during the Armageddon, with Mr. Rhee trying to decide how far he'll go to protect the lives of five orphaned siblings he met on the road.
Not sure what else to do, he decides, at the start of their journey, to take them with him to his original destination, which is the home of his former mentor, a very… “shady”… wizard from whom a young Mr. Rhee fled years prior.
Nrama: So what can you tell us about this "shady" wizard?
Manning: Point blank, Mr. Rhee’s teacher sexually abused him for years before he finally fled his home (and tutelage) as a late teenager, striking out on his own as a work-for-hire paranormal troubleshooter. When the Armageddon starts, though, Mr. Rhee finds himself way out of his league, and decides – despite all of the horrible things that happened in the past – that the safest place he can go, at least temporarily, is back to his teacher’s house, as its sure to be protected from the demonic invasion sweeping the Earth.
When Mr. Rhee encounters the five orphaned sibling on the road at the beginning of Karmageddon (who, mind you, are now orphaned because he couldn’t save their parents in time), Mr. Rhee, insure of what else to do, decides to take them with them.
For those of you out there screaming at your screen about what a terrible idea it is to take five kids – ranging from aged 17 all the way down to a babe-in-arms – to the house of an unrepentant pedophile… yes, you’re absolutely right to be enraged. It’s a terrible idea, but not equipped to figure out a better option, Mr. Rhee decides to continue to make his way there, kids in tow, all the while vowing that, no matter what, he’ll keep all five of them safe from monsters both demonic and human, “no matter what it takes.”
Nrama: How far is Mr. Rhee willing to go to pursue this aspect of the story?
Manning: That’s the crux of the story! People will have to read Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon to find out! [laughs]
Nrama: Shifting gears, let's look at how you're bringing Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon to readers. You're releasing this through indie publisher, Devil's Due, right? Why did you opt to take your book to this publisher versus other, perhaps better known publishers?
Manning: I’d argue that Devil’s Due is a very well-known publisher, although, sadly, they’re perhaps well-known to some for the wrong reasons.
Several years ago Devil’s Due was flying high based largely on the success of several well-known commercial properties, only for the bottom to fall out on things and the company to crash and burn. This is all stuff that publisher Josh Blaylock has been very public about, both in-person and in-print, though, so I’m not going to get into it any more than preface my response by saying I’m well-aware of the history.
That being said, in the past few years Josh has set-out to rebuild Devil’s Due from the ground-up by publishing his own creator-owned series Mercy Sparx as well as several other great titles, including Squarriors, Tales of Mr. Rhee, and the upcoming 7 Days of Death.
Unlike a lot of other publishers, Josh agreed with – and embraced – my vision of using social media and crowdfunding to help support the launch and continuation of creator-owned series that may not find a lot of initial support in the direct market.
Nrama: So how exactly does Kickstarter to fit into the picture if you already have a publisher?
Manning: With Kickstarter I’m able to provide the most passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated readers and supporters of my work all kinds of cool perks, through the base campaign and stretch goals. For example, with this campaign I offered two pledge levels where, if people bought them, they could drawn-in as a main character in a full issue of the next volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee… and you know what? Those were the first two pledges that were taken – both within seconds of the campaign starting, as a matter of fact.
Other Kickstarter exclusive rewards include everything from the limited edition hardcover collection of the book that’s only available through Kickstarter (which is the focal point of the campaign), to Kickstarter exclusive glow-in-the-dark Tales of Mr. Rhee T-shirts, to original commissions from series artist Seth Damoose, to a personalized writing tutorial session with me (from those old-school Write or Wrong fans out there), to a chance to be killed in the upcoming volume 3… and more! Kickstarter is great for offering things like this because these are the types of perks that you can’t offer readers by just soliciting your book through Previews, you know?
Nrama: By offering a limited edition hardcover collection of Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon exclusively through Kickstarter, do you feel this approach undercuts the direct market comic shops at all?
Manning: Not really, no. With both Tales of Mr. Rhee campaigns to date (I Kickstarted the publication of the first TPB collection about a year ago) I’ve made sure to include a pledge-level geared specifically to retailers who would like to stock copies of the hardcover edition of the book in their shops. I am very grateful for all the support so many stories give my work – and the work of all the Devil’s Due titles – and see selling special editions of the book through Kickstarter for a very limited window of time as no real threat to direct market sales, where I seek to target casual readers and people who, quite frankly, like Tales of Mr. Rhee but only want the standard edition of the books as they are released and made available via their local comic shop or Amazon.
Nrama: Your Kickstarter seems to be doing fairly well, too, no? Talk us through the process of running a successful Kickstarter.
Manning: At the risk of sounding like I’m “humble-bragging,” this campaign is only halfway over as I talk to you right now, and it’s already exceeded my wildest expectations. We hit our full funding goal of $6,666 dollars in under eight hours, and then went on to surpass $13,000 in 13 days… on Friday the 13th, no less, which was fitting given the nature of the work. [laughs]
Due to the success of the campaign I have people coming out of the woodwork asking me for advice on how to run a successful campaign, and it pains me to tell them that there’s no one easy answer.
Rather, based on my experience, you have to have a product that resonates with readers, you have to be able to connect with those readers – both on the convention circuit and online – and then offer pledge levels and stretch goal rewards that will entice them to directly support you and/or your project.
Another thing to consider is that I did 37 convention and in-store signing appearances to promote myself and my work last year, including an end of the year push made-up of 24 shows in 18 weeks – all while also working a full-time “day job” and actually writing (and coordinating the creation of) the comics I was promoting. I’ve been busting my ass out there to get to this level of support and success. [laughs]
Would I have rather spent that half of my weekends in 2014 sitting at home, relaxing and writing? Of course I would… but connecting with people, introducing them to my work, and building a readership base who now continues to support my creator-owned work moving forward is crucial if you want to make a name for yourself in the comic industry based on your creator-owned work, especially if it’s not superhero-centric work. That’s just the way it is.
Finally, I’d like to remind people that Kickstarter is not a way to make “free money.” Rather, the purpose of Kickstarter is to raise the funds needed to supply people with the work you’re promoting. When this campaign hit its funding goal in the first eight hours people kept asking me “Does this mean you’re going to quit your day job now?”
My response was always the same: “No… but it means I can afford to print the book.” [laughs]
Nrama: Let's talk art. Seth Damoose is illustrating this -- how'd you connect?
Manning: He’d previously done art for several Image Comics series including Xenoholics and I Hate Gallant Girl as well as a few short stories for my Nightmare World. He’s an incredibly talented artist with a very expressive style, that, honestly, a lot of people didn’t initially equate with the darker tone of this book, but have all come to appreciate as the series went on.
That goes the same for colorist Anthony D. Lee, who has colored the majority of Seth’s work for years. When we started work on the art for this series, I was very adamant that I didn’t want everything to be hidden in dark and black colors – something else that, initially – caught a lot of people off-guard. Hiding everything in the shadows is a bad practice that way too many comic creators carry over from horror movies to horror comics. Things are dark in horror movies to hide sup-par special effects… that’s not something we need to do in horror comics, you know? Besides, I think horrible events even scarier when they happen in broad daylight, right out in the open, and that’s an approach we embraced with Anthony’s vibrant coloring of Tales of Mr. Rhee: Karmageddon from the first page of the book to the last.
I think the expressive, borderline animated art style – combined with the vibrant colors – made a lot of people nervous and unsettled as the story goes on and on and more and more terrible things start happening… which is good, because that was our intent from the very beginning. Horror should be unsettling, you know? [laughs]
Finally, we were lucky enough to coerce Eric Powell of The Goon to provide an absolutely stunning cover to this collection, just as we were equally lucky to have Riley Rossmo of books such as Rasputin and DC’s upcoming Constantine: The Hellblazer do the cover for the first volume.
As promised, all family members have since been released, and in Powell’s case, the incriminating photos of that party we attended together in Detroit have been destroyed.