This column comes at my turning point in my career as a writer.
I originally planned on it being between four and six self-contained short stories of eight pages each. My plan was to write each story for a different artistic cohort from an online studio/collective based in Kansas that I had recently joined… and that the website featuring our work would serve as a “walking portfolio” that would show off our mad skills in regards to creating great comics, yo.
Six years later the series NIGHTMARE WORLD finally ended after it swelled and grew into a self-sentient and fully-realized comic book series of 52 stand-alone-yet-interconnected eight-page stories. What I originally intended to be a tiny online portfolio had grown to what I dared not dream it could one day become: a 420+ page epic about Lucifer awakening Cthulhu to kick-start the Armageddon (along with a few other related sub-plots) all told through a series of self-contained short stories, each by a different artist or art team.
From 2002 to 2008 pretty much all of my comic-creating energies were channeled into creating, sustaining and promoting NIGHTMARE WORLD… with very few exceptions.
One of them was for a short teaser story for a new fantasy-esque all ages series by my frequent NIGHTMARE WORLD collaborator and friend Len O’Grady titled FARSEEKER (a story that – to my pleasant surprise – my largely horror-based readership loved despite its definitively non-horror feel) as well as a few chapters of the supernatural-noir NIGHTMARE WORLD spin-off series TALES OF MR. RHEE with my good friends (and, again, frequent NIGHTMARE WORLD collaborators Josh Ross, Austin McKinley and Jim Reddington)… and again, at the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, it to received a lot of praise from my readers, this time for its slightly darker tone and more complex characters than I was able to display in NIGHTMARE WORLD, mainly because this time I was writing a comic that followed the exploits of one central character.
Oh… and I also launched “Write or Wrong” here at Newsarama during that time, too.
By and large, though, 2002 to 2008 were almost exclusively dedicated to NIGHTMARE WORLD… as they had to be by design.
After all, with every story being illustrated by a different artist or art team – combined with weekly deadlines to meet – I often found myself juggling and maintaining anywhere from two to five separate art teams at any one time… as well as writing new stories and editing the previously written ones that were about to be published online.
For better or for worse, this meant that I spent an average of four to five hours a night on NIGHTMARE WORLD-centric work pretty much every night without fail, be it writing, editing, talking with artists, promoting the series, replying to messages or formatting and uploading content to/for the site.
Four to five hours a night.
At least five nights a week.
For six years.
Welcome to the wonderful world of self-publishing, folks!
To be fair, though, I do have to mention that my experience was a little more… involved… than most people’s will ever be due to several different factors.
First, please remember that this all started way back in 2002 before “online comics” – and especially traditionally formatted ones (as opposed to short strips) – were “the norm” they are today. Heck, nowadays programs like Comicpress make it very, VERY easy for anyone to host their own online comic... and no one will look at you funny for doing so nowadays like they did back then.
Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, at the time I was working with sometimes as many as a dozen artists on four or five different stories at any one time. Point blank, a lot of my time was spent merely talking to them all through a host of online chat programs or via e-mail.
Finally, I had to do a lot more to promote my work back then. When I started there were no “social networking” website such as Facebook, MySpace (remember Myspace?) and Twitter… and as a result if I wanted to let new people know abou9t my work I’d have to go to message boards, post a link to the work, and then pop-back every so often to update the thread and reply to people there.
God… how far we’ve come in less than a decade, huh?
My point being, especially back in those days sustaining my first online comic required a lot of work… but I was happy to do it, as I genuinely loved the project and the people I was working with, many of whom I still have close friendships with to this day.
Heck – let’s not mince words here: I was livin’ the dream.
In 2008 – six years after the first two pages of the first NIGHTMARE WORLD story went online – the final installment of the 52nd and final NIGHTMARE WORLD was published to much fanfare amongst my readership, as all of the dangling plot-threads were pretty-much tied up and everything was brought to a satisfying (and fun, if I do say so myself) conclusion.
As fate would have it, though, just as I planning on what to do next (which, honestly, was self-publishing four TPB collections collecting all of the NIGHTMARE WORLD stories in print and then dedicating myself to launching FARSEEKER and TALES OF MR. RHEE I learned that Shadowline – Jim Valentino’s wing of Image Comics – was launching their own webcomics hub with some pretty well-esteemed comics.
Since I had already gotten to know then-Shadowline Editor Kris Simon through her support of this very column, I decided to throw caution to the wind and e-mail her to see if they might be interested in letting NIGHTMARE WORLD join the party. Not only was it a 420+ page series that was already done (meaning we’d never miss an update), but since I was planning on taking the series from web-to-print anyway, what better place to post it “in syndication” than Shadowline, right?
Thus NIGHTMARE WORLD began a two-year run with Shadowline Online as a webcomic, which resulted in the series becoming their most-read comic by our second month there, a rank we held throughout our two-years of daily updates.
During this time I was able to go back and tweak some of the original stories by cleaning-up some dialogue here and there, completely redoing a few of them from scratch and even replacing a few of them with newer stories that I never got around to telling the first time. The result was not only a bigger, better and stronger NIGHTMARE WORLD series, not to mention my first opportunity to work with professional editors on a regular bases and the release of two trade paperback collections from Shadowline (to date).
Considering all of the good that came from running NIGHTMARE WORLD through Shadowline, it was well worth the extra two years I poured into the series.
But as of October, at long last, my involvement with the series (with the possible exception of prepping the remaining 26 stories for publication in the last two graphic novel collections, hence getting the whole series in print) is at an end.
And with it, my life as a writer is at a massive turning point.
When I first started to grow NIGHTMARE WORLD past its initial few short stories, a lot of my peers – other hopeful and/or up-and-coming writers told me I was nuts for trying to create such a series.
The reasons I heard for quitting/abandoning the series were many:
“You’re writing it like an anthology and no one reads anthologies anymore.”
“Horror’s not ‘in’ anymore.” [Writer’s Note: Mind you, this was in the early 2000’s…]
“If you get typecast as a horror writer no one will take you seriously or see you as anything but a guy who writes horror comics.”
“No one will really be able to get into it since there’s no main character.”
“It’s unmarketable/un-filmable as a movie.” [Writer’s (Snarky) Note: Tell that to the people who read NIGHTMARE WORLD and went on to make the movie “Trick r Treat”, will ya’?]
“No one will really be able to get into it since there’s no main character.”
“You’d be better off making pitches to [insert major editor/publisher here].”
“As soon as you help develop/expose good artists they’re just going to get scooped-up by writers or publishers who can pay them more than you.”
And on… and on… and on…
But you know what? I liked writing the series.
That’s not to say that there weren’t headaches and hiccups along the way… but I’ll tell you what: Any problems I was having at my job, or with my girlfriend, or even in life in general all faded away when I hunkered down in front of my computer and started doing NIGHTMARE WORLD work.
I’m guessing that a lot of you out there know that feeling I’m talking about too, right?
Yes, creating the series was a pretty all-encompassing endeavor for almost a decade… and no, I obviously haven’t been approached by Marvel to write a Midnight Sons mini-series yet… but my goal wasn’t to create a comic that would get me gigs writing stories for corporately owned characters.
My goal was to create a comic that was creator-owned, would get my name (and the name of everyone who worked on it with me) recognized, and would be something I could be proud of even if it was the only comic series I ever created.
And naysayers be damned, I me all three of these goals during the eight-years I eventually poured into the series.
Did I make a million dollars on NIGHTMARE WORLD? Of course not. In fact, since 2002 I’ve spent thousands of dollars on web-hosting costs, convention appearances, promotional materials and more… but it’s not money I’ve minded spending.
After all, some people spend their “fun money” money on gourmet coffee, digital music, video games and/or DVDs/Blu-Rays… but I spent mine on creating and publishing my own comics… and the results speak for themselves.
I’ve created and completed a 420+ page comic series that’s been published by Image Comics both online and in-print, I retain ownership of my work (despite more than a few shady people trying to trick me out of them), and many of the artists I’ve worked with have gone-on to have gigs at all Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse and several other major publishers.
But now, as I said earlier, NIGHTMARE WORLD is over… which means it’s time to move on to new things… and that’s exactly what I’m doing with the release of no less than four (yes, FOUR!) new comics beginning online publication in the next two months (not including FARSEEKER, which is already being published by ACT-I-VATE).
However, as I prepare for this next stage of my career, I want to tell you the most valuable lesson I learned from working on NIGHTMARE WORLD for most of the last decade… and that’s this:
Follow your heart.
I’ve spent at least several million words throughout the history of this column to date talking about my journey in creating comics, and most of the experiences, insights, allegories, opinions and advice I’ve given to date have all been based on my time developing and creating NIGHTMARE WORLD... a series that – literally – saved my life on more than one occasion and always helped me to keep my passion for creating comics alive and thriving.
Is that to say that I’m not just as passionate about FARSEEKER as well as my upcoming comics HOPE (yes, that HOPE), TALES OF MR. RHEE and the first two 22-page installments of LOVE STORIES ABOUT DEATH?
Of course not… but at the end of the day NIGHTMARE WORLD is always going to hold a special place in my heart along with the first girl I kissed, the first comic I read, the first horror movie I watched and the first rock concert I attended.
(The neighbor girl the day before I moved out of town – never to return, a Peter David issue of The Incredible Hulk, The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Megadeth, respectively…)
When I finally took the leap into making comics I started with NIGHTMARE WORLD because it was both where my heart was at the time and where I knew my heart would be for the foreseeable future.
I’ve talked here before about my love for short stories and how – especially at the time – they were being forgotten and/or ghettoized in comics… and that, combined with my D.I.Y./punk rock work ethic involving joining with other up-and-comers like myself in order to make comics (and then run with the then-relatively unheard of notion of publishing them online) was what excited me and ignited my passion – and it was something that kept me going for six plus two years day after day…
And you’ll need that passion to keep going – and keep your co-creators going, too.
As I’ve also said in this column time and time again, making comics is not easy… and it’s doubly tough to sustain momentum once you’ve started. Considering this, you have to have a passion for what you’re doing or you’ll burn out very quickly after you start.
Not to beat a dead horse or anything… but is NIGHTMARE WORLD the most marketable comic in the world – snide references to the film Trick r Treat aside?
No… it’s not.
Is there a lot of people out there who I know would love NIGHTMARE WORLD if they gave it a chance but will never read it because of the tongue-in-cheek title? Or because they don’t think they’d like it because it’s a horror comic? Even though a web-version of the whole series can be read online for free right here?
Of course. Heck, you might even be one of ’em!
However, it’s a comic that I was very, very passionate about creating – and that can be seen in the final product by myself, my readers and other professionals.
Could I have perhaps made more in-roads by creating something a bit more “commercial?”
Maybe… but the thought never seriously crossed my mind because I was creating a comic for me.
Not comic fans… not horror fans… not my artistic partners (although I would go out of my way to give them scripts they’d enjoy drawing), and – no offense – not even for you… but for me.
And that’s what all of you should do.
If that story that you have burning inside you is a series of genre-jumping speculative-fiction/horror-based short stories… pursue it.
If it’s an autobiography… pursue it.
If it’s about professional wrestling… pursue it.
If it’s a romantic cannibal story… pursue it.
If it’s about a Mexican mime who has to suck the souls out of pygmy scuba divers in the Amazon rainforest in order to stay lucid enough to keep on knitting socks for tree frogs… pursue it.
It’s the pursuit of ideas that creators have been passionate about that have given us such great comics as The Walking Dead, 100 Bullets, Hellboy, Y: The Last Man, Promethea, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Mouse Guard, Cursed Pirate Girl, Sandman, The Goon, Fables, Blankets, Demo and a host of other amazing comics that did pander to what readers might want, but rather were embraced by readers because very talented writers (or writers/artists) embraced their passion and told the stories they were most passionate about telling.
It’s the same thing I did with NIGHTMARE WORLD, and the same thing each of you should do with the stories that you are most passionate about.
Mind you, sometimes you need to know when to change gears, or perhaps even shelve an idea or project temporarily, in order to stay productive (and man, is THAT a tough call to make)… but at the end of the day you have to follow your passion – and find other people that share in your passion (or that you can afford to pay to help you bring it to life) and run with it.
Because there’s no guarantee of success.
Because there’s no guarantee that – even if you give your work away online for free – that people will care.
Because there’s no guarantee that the thousands of hours and thousands of dollars you put into making your comic will make a lick of difference to anyone but you…
However… when all is said and done… how you feel about what you’re doing is all that should matter.
If you’re having fun and not suffering (too much) burden from making the comics you want to make… then damn, DO IT.
Don’t worry about getting rave reviews… or even about being popular. Just get out there and MAKE COMICS.
Yes, yes, we’d all like to be called the prettiest belle of the ball… but – if you’ll allow me to mix my metaphors here – you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.
Put your passion out there on the page and in your stories.
Don’t hold back.
Tell the stories that mean the most to you.
Anyone who has been creating their own comics long enough can tell you that it’s only when you quit worrying about what you think other people might want and start publishing the stories that mean the most to you – the ones that are the closest to your heart – that you’ll find success.
Why? Because at the end of the day, “success” isn’t measured in books sold or website hits, the number of “Likes” your comic gets on Facebook or how many autographs you do at a convention.
Success is about following your heart and creating something.
It’s only when you’ve taken the plunge and created something that you’ve emotionally invested yourself in that your journey truly begun.
As for me, like I said, my work on NIGHTMARE WORLD is done… but it’s only now as I can look back at the series online and the series as a whole online (and the first half of it that’s been collected into two nice graphic novel collections from Shadowline) that I know, at long last, that my journey as a writer has truly begun…
And considering this, I encourage you to now follow your heart and begin your own journey, because there’s nothing like completing a project – be it 22 pages or 2,200 pages – and knowing that you did it.
It’s a rite of passage that will be crucial to your growth as a full realized writer and creator.
If there’s a project out there that you’ve started but not yet completed… I urge you to decide if it’s “worth” pursuing… and if it is, do so.
The tools are there. The people are out there.
Go forth, create, and COMPLETE your first story.
And then, once you’ve done that, move onto your next one… and your next one… and then the one after that.
Then, before you know it, you’ll have a library of work under your belt and – just maybe – a group of people out there who will purchase what you create because they like what you’re doing and/or want to support your future endeavors.
There are worlds to be created… be them made of dreams or nightmares.
Just begin… and then finish so you may then begin again.
Remember: No one else can create what you can… and no one else will create it for you.
Next Column: Branding
The Column After That: How to Survive Three Cons in Three Weeks
A Quick Note:: Especially given the nature and topic of this particular column, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Two: “Leave the Light On” was released by Image Comics/Shadowline last month. I know a lot of you who read this column bought NIGHTMARE WORLD: Volume One as a sign of support, and I’d certainly appreciate it if all of you who read this column and find value (or at least entertainment ) in doing so would consider picking-up a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD: Volume Two from your local comic shop, book store or Amazon.com. Like I said in the column, a lot of people who don’t consider themselves horror fans have picked-up NW: V2 only to find that they really enjoyed it – much to their surprise! Ha! So, if you’re interested in reading a graphic novel containing short stories featuring zombies, the Old West, Sherlock Holmes, heavy metal music, the Vietnam War, Chupacabras, a possible devil baby, dragons, several Cthulhu appearances and more… this is the book for you. Heck, there’s even a superhero story in there. Obviously I’ll never know the difference if you pick-up a copy of not (unless you tell me one way or the other)… but if you’d consider picking-up a copy, well, I’d be much obliged. Thanks, all!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artists Len O’Grady updated every Friday at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy creating comics, of course.
Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!