Definitive Dirk Manning Part 3: NIGHTMARE WORLD 2 Commentary

Definitive Dirk Manning Part 3

Today, class, we continue with our definitive look at Dirk Manning’s work, particularly “Nightmare World”. We all know that getting a single story published in comics is tough enough. Getting an anthology out is more of a feat. Putting out three complex anthologies that actually tie together by the end of the third volume? Ludicrous! And yet, here we, with Nightmare World volume three having only recently arrived. Today, Dirk gives commentary on more of his work, starting with a tale that we specifically requested. Take it away, Mr. Manning…

NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2: “Leave the Light On”

Troy’s Pick: “How Do You Sleep?” 


The Inspiration

Woo-boy… herein lies quite a tale that also involves quite a bit of name-dropping… so brace yourself. [laughs]

I really got my first “break” into comics via Brian Bendis… although I’m sure he doesn’t remember it – or me, for that matter.

(See? I warned you there would be some serious name-dropping going on…) [laughs]

Back in 2001 or so – I went and approached Brian at a convention and asked him – as one Ohio-native writer to another – where I could go to find artists. I told him point blank that I knew I could write and that I KNEW if I could find even just one good artist to work with that I could really make a name for myself.


Bendis was very, very kind and supportive, telling me he knew exactly the kind of frustration that I was talking about, and that he had set-up a forum at his website Jinxworld where writers and artists could meet and mingle. I thanked him for that – and his time – and was on my way (after having him sign the POWERS tpb I had just picked-up a few minutes before from Oeming, of course).

The next chance I had to get online (which was at a relative’s house, since I couldn’t even afford an Internet connection of my own at the time), I went to the website, found the forum he was speaking of, and the third artist I came across had a style (and personality) that really jumped out at me.



His name was Ray Dillon and his posts indicated that he was the president of something called “Golden Goat Studios.” It sounded fancy – possibly even too fancy for some nobody like me – but I liked the art samples that he posted so much that I decided to throw caution to the wind and send him an inquiry e-mail.

Ray and I immediately hit it off, and I was very surprised to learn that this guy – who had founded and developed Golden Goat Studios into an online stable of aspiring comic artists and writers – was in fact just a kid himself (get it?) who was just finishing-up high school.

Regardless, though, he was hungry… DAMN hungry, and as a result we both understood where the other was coming from.


Golden Goat Studios was already packed with a lot of amazing creators at that point (including then up-and-coming professionals Leonard O’Grady, Jon Malin, Erich Owen, Jim Reddington, Jim Keplinger and Rich Bonk just to name a few), but after a little finagling (read: begging and pleading) Ray was able to get me into the studio as a full-fledged member just as they were planning a proposed anthology book that was going to be released through Digital Webbing. I don’t remember the name of it anymore, but the theme was going to be parodies of 1980’s cartoons… and for my contribution I decided to write a parody/manifesto against what I saw as some very unseemly messages displayed and encouraged by The Smurfs. The idea was pitched to my fellow Goat Jon Malin, and he liked it, so we were off and running on what ended-up being a fun little seven page story in which I talked about the pro-communism and pro-drug messages that genuinely horrified me when I watched the cartoon as a child.

Sadly, the anthology never got off the ground, but at that point Jon and I already had the story done… so we decided to add one more page to the story (featuring four guest panels by four other Golden Goat Studios artists), have Kristen Perry do a cover for it, and roll it into NIGHTMARE WORLD as what was originally the fourth story in the series.

However, while Jon and I did a nice job on the story, it always kind of bugged me that it really wasn’t a “true” NIGHTMARE WORLD story. Considering this, when we relaunched the series online through Image Comics/Shadowline Webcomics Hub in 2006 I decided to go back, tweak the story and find a new artist to redraw it so that this new version would fit into the continuity a lot better.

With the new version of the story, I was able to more clearly demonstrate that the main character in the story would indeed grow-up to become the TV producer who would attempt to fire Sinestra DeEvil after he inherited his father’s TV station (see: “No One Knows,” also in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2), which in turn prompted some intervention from a the mysterious sunglass-wearing character who becomes such a major player towards the end of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3.

(For the completists out there, I should mention that we see the fallout of the meeting between Alan and the sunglass-wearing man can be seen in the online-only NIGHTMARE WORLD finale “Somebody Told Me” at, a story that features a cameo from at least one character from every NIGHTMARE WORLD story in the series.)

All of the cartoon-centric gags and observations are the same new version of “How Do You Sleep?”, of course, but was important enough to me to redo the story the second time around so that we could sync it up with the big picture a lot better.

Yes… you’re reading that right… I pulled a story written by me, drawn by the artist of the brand-new Youngblood artist with a cover by renowned fantasy painter/video game designer/NIGHTMARE WORLD cover artist all because I wanted the story to better fit into the overall plot of NIGHTMARE WORLD.

You may call it insanity, but I call it a commitment to consistency. [laughs]

(Besides, maybe someday way down the road we’ll release a giant hardcover/slipcase/leather-bound NIGHTMARE WORLD Omnibus that will be able to include all these previously unseen gems, you know? Hey… dare to dream, right? [laughs]

Working with The Artist:

With Jon Malin tied-up in other things I realized that “How Do You Sleep?” provided me the perfect opportunity to work with the artist duo of Grant Perkins (pencils) and Jamie Roberts (colors), both of whom I had wanted to work with for quite some time but could never find the right story for.

You see, with NIGHTMARE WORLD, my top priority has always been to match the right stories with the right artists… even if it meant not working with certain artists who I really liked or wanted to work with.

Again, quality first, you know?

Given the quite-literal cartoony nature of this story I knew it would be a perfect fit for Grant and Jamie, two artists who literally blend together like peanut-butter and jelly. They’re an amazingly seamless combination, I mean no slight to either of them when I say that I truly believe they pull the best out of each other.

In fact, I loved working with them so much that immediately after they finished this story I pitched them “Down in a Hole,” a story that takes place during the Armageddon and reunites us with a character from earlier in the series.

Given their very distinct art style they may not seem like an appropriate choice for a story of a man fleeing from demons (both literal and figurative) during the end of the world, but they pulled it off wonderfully. I just love working with Grant and Jamie together and really can’t express how much I want the three of us to join forces again on another project in the future.

Dirk’s Pick: “Without You I’m Nothing” 


The Inspiration:

Anyone who has read NIGHTMARE WORLD can tell you that a good percentage of the stories are actually love stories. Not only is this something unapologetic about, it’s something I actually take a lot of pride in, as it’s something that really separates NIGHTMARE WORLD from a lot of – if not all of – the other horror titles out there.

I think this approach especially works in “Without You I’m Nothing,” the closing story of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2.

The story deals is about a superhero named “The Jovian” and his wife’s reaction to the news that he’s going out to fight a battle against something or someone (I won’t spoil the threat here for people who haven’t read it yet) that they both realize will most likely kill him.

The most heart-wrenching part of the story is that the wife – this poor lady – this is something she is totally unprepared for. She thought that by marrying this man – a seemingly impervious and indestructible superhero – that she would never have to live without him. The notion that she may now have to live without him is just devastating to her.


To make matters even worse, though, her husband – he’s not fazed by the fact that when he leaves their penthouse that he’s most likely going to die. After all, as he explains to her in an almost pedantic fashion that he vowed he would always do everything in his power to protect the people of his city and the whole planet no matter what the risk.

So here’s Christine – The Jovian’s wife – facing not only the horror of a demon-filled Armageddon outside… but also the very real chance that she’s going to lose her husband – who she always thought was indestructible – in the process.

Obviously this story is really about the fact that someday we’re all going to lose the ones we love (or be the loved one someone else loses), and how this poor woman who thought she would never have to be without her husband is literally watching him slip right away from her.

Much as was the case with “Violet,” the closing story of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 1, I wanted to end NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 2 with a very emotional story, and “Without You I’m Nothing” is just that.


Furthermore, on strictly storytelling level, I also love the various little Easter Eggs in this story, such as the newspaper article that reveals how the identity of the killer from “Knee Deep in the Dead” is a character already seen in the series (which, once that connection is made, ties “Not For You,” “Momma’s Boy,” “Freak on a Leash” and “Knee Deep in the Dead” together in a rather unexpected way), as well as the close-up shot of Christine’s wedding ring, which is possibly the cleverest bit in the whole series.

(Here’s a hint: Look at the color of the gem very closely… and then think about what she and her husband were doing right before the story begins.)

Working with the Artist:

Many NIGHTMARE WORLD world readers probably recognize Austin McKinley first and foremost as the guy that colored most of Josh Ross’s art in NIGHTMARE WORLD as well as the first six stories of TALES OF MR. RHEE, which is understandable since I actually first got to know Austin as a colorist.


I met Austin shortly after Josh Ross and I just started working together. (Typing that, I find it hard to believe that there was ever a time in my career when Josh and I weren’t working together on something… but alas, such times did exist many moons ago) and Josh and I had just finished our first two stories together, which were “Welcome to the Jungle ” and “Disasterpiece.” We had established a good working relationship and while we were now hip deep in our third collaboration together, the post-Armageddon demonic love story “Milk of Human Kindness,” I was still scouring the internet trying to find the “right” colorist to match his art.

Josh has a very distinctive illustration style that requires a very distinct color palette, and it got to a point where I finally just posted an ad at the Digital Webbing Forums and decided to hope for the best.

Anytime you do something like that you’ll get a handful of people (at least) who simply reply to any job offer whether they’re qualified for it or not just because, hey, it’s a job offer, but after sorting through a bunch of e-mails I came across one from a colorist who seemed fairly capable of doing the job well… or at least well enough.

I don’t remember the artist’s name, but he was from South America (Hint to writers looking for artists: LOOK SOUTH!) and the samples he did were serviceable enough for the timeframe we were looking at. (Remember, at this time NIGHTMARE WORLD was going live for the first time, and we were posting two pages a week every Thursday.)

Right after I gave him the go-ahead I got one more straggling e-mail from this guy named Austin who wanted to know if the gig was still available. I really liked the color samples I saw and told him to go ahead and do a sample page just to see what he had, thinking that worst case scenario he could be a nice back-up if the South American guy didn’t work out.


The first page Austin sent me – which is the first page of “Milk of Human Kindness” exactly as it saw print in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3, blew me away to the point that I gave Austin the gig instead. [laughs]

I realize that it sounds like a real jerk move on my part… but Austin was clearly the guy for the job and, again, quality must win out – even if it involves having to make some tough decisions or make you seem like a jerk sometimes.

Well, Austin immediately became “The Man” when it came to coloring Josh’s stuff, and since Josh was always working on one NIGHTMARE WORLD story or another (Josh is the single most prolific artist of the NIGHTMARE WORLD series – and that’s even without counting the TALES OF MR. RHEE stuff!), and since Josh was always working on something that meant that Austin and I were always in touch, too.

About a year later it just so happened that Austin and I were going to be at the same show together (it was one of the Wizard World: Chicago shows, although I don’t remember which one) and when I went by his table to meet him in person for the first time I was shocked to discover all sorts of comics sprawled out in front of him – comics he himself had illustrated!

After I befouled his precious ears with several excited curse words I finally got a coherent question out of my mouth, asking him why he never told me he was also a skilled illustrator as well as a colorist.

Austin, being one of the nicest guys in comics that he is, just smiled and said something nauseatingly nice, and I vowed then and there that we would also start working together as not just writer and colorist, but writer and artist.

When you look at his work on the five different stories he has illustrated for NIGHTMARE WORLD (“Without You I’m Nothing,” “No One Knows,” “Movin’ On,” “Across the Universe” and “Life in a Glass House” – the latter of which he is currently in the final stages turned into a short live action film – you’ll immediately see that Austin is one of those rare artists who can very competently and very dramatically change his art style depending on the project.

Aside from all of that, though, he’s also an award-winning film maker, a successful video game designer and – perhaps most importantly – a good friend.

I’ve said time and time again that – all professional accomplishments aside – the best thing to come out of NIGHTMARE WORLD for me was the great friends I’ve made, and Austin is right up there with the best of them…

And really, when push comes to shove, what better thing is there in life than making good comics with good friends?

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