DEFINITIVE DIRK MANNING Part 4: Demon Days

DEFINITIVE DIRK MANNING Part 4

Many Newsarama readers know Dirk Manning as the author of the inspirational/how-to column “Write or Wrong”, which, at over five years and counting, is one of the longest running serial features here at the site.

 

Many comic and horror fans alike have also come to know Manning for his cerebral, entertaining and – when all is said and done – awe-inspiring series Nightmare World, an anthology-esque series of 52 genre-hopping stand-alone yet intertwined short stories all written by Manning and drawn by a small army of artists – many of whom have gone on to become some of the most recognized up-and-coming artists not only in the comic industry, but also in video game and film industries as well.

Over the last few months we’ve taken the time to talk to Manning about his ascension from self-publishing his work online to making Nightmare World a hit trilogy of graphic novels from Image Comics/Shadowline (Definitive Dirk Manning: Part One), and we then took some more time to discuss the inspiration and creative process behind two stories each from Nightmare World Volume 1: “13 Tales of Terror” (in Definitive Dirk Manning: Part Two and Nightmare World Volume 2: “Leave the Light On” (in Definitive Dirk Manning: Part Three), respectively.

With the recent release of Nightmare World Volume 3: “Demon Days”, we’re now asking Manning to pull back the curtain once more and reveal the inspiration, then the nuts and bolts, of bringing two of the stories from the final print edition of the series to life. And, as readers of both ”Write or Wrong” and Nightmare World have come to expect, he is holding nothing back…

Nightmare World Volume 3: “Demon Days” 

 

Troy’s Pick:
“Hungry Like the Wolf”

The Inspiration

Despite Nightmare World being a horror comic, throughout the course of the series we very rarely veered into the “traditional” horror territory. We only did one story involving a ghost (“Violet” by myself, Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon in Nightmare World Volume 1: “Thirteen Tales of Terror”), our one zombie story an emotional social commentary about child and spousal abuse (“Momma’s Boy” in Nightmare World Volume 2: “Leave the Light On”, interestingly enough also by myself, Nae and Ray), and the our vampire story “Don’t Stop Dancing” (only available online at www.ShadowlineOnline.com in the “Webcomics” section) was drawn in a Manga/Chibi style by Caroline Curtis.

(When you consider the fact that there’s 52 different stories that comprise all of Nightmare World, the fact that we only had one three stories featuring “classic” monster roles, well, I guess it tells you why the series continues to also appeal to a lot of people who don’t consider themselves “traditional” horror fans.)

Regardless, once I featured one story each featuring a ghost, a zombie and a vampire, it really only left one “classic” type of monster left… which was of course “werewolf.”

(Yes, yes, if you’re using the “Universal” model I would need a mummy and a “fish monster” in there… but I’m going by the more “traditional” guidelines of monster icons here… despite the fact that I, too, love all the Universal Studios classic monster films and still consider “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” to be one of the best monster movies ever made.)

 

Anyway…

While I’ve had a pretty cool werewolf story rattling around in my head for a few years now, it was not (and is not) something that I felt I could do justice in an eight-page Nightmare World story, and given the fact that I don’t like to do the same thing more than once, I never really gave serious consideration to doing a werewolf story for the series.

I mean, besides, what kind of compelling, emotional and intelligent story could you tell about a werewolf in eight-pages that already hasn’t been told before, right?

Enter: Stacie Ponder.

I’ll discuss the details of how the story came together down below, but let me first say that since the moment it appeared online it has been the single most requested story that we one day take to print, which is why I’m glad that we were finally able to include it in Nightmare World Volume 3” as part of this collection.

Mind you, I realize that this is a story that catches a lot of people off guard (to put it mildly) at first glance, but once people read it they see what we’re doing with it and almost universally fall in love with it.

Working with The Artist:

 

Stacie Ponder and I “met” online way back in the day at the old Digital Webbing Forums where we both cyber-hung-out often, and our mutual love of all things horror lead to a fast friendship.

Before long we started doing the occasional comic and/or horror con together (super-old school Newsarama fans will remember the epic report she and I put together here for Heroes Con ’06), where she would sell one of the shows she was selling original art, trading cards, some Bloodrayne comic pages she had inked, and – most importantly for the sake of this conversation – print copies of her wonderful stick-art zombie comic “They Won’t Stay Dead!”

After the show we were hanging out and she was doodling a little stick-figure Wolf-Man on the edge of a piece of paper, and she happened to mention how funny it would be to draw Lon Chaney Jr.’s famous Wolf-Man transformation scene in a stick-art style.

I immediately and enthusiastically responded: “I will write that scene into a Nightmare World story if you will draw it!”

She agreed, of course, and the result was one of the most fun – and challenging – scripts I ever wrote for the Nightmare World series.

I’ve always said that one of the keys to the success of Nightmare World has been not only writing very meaningful and emotional short stories (that may or may not feature monsters), but also catering each story to the artist who would be drawing it.

 

Anyone who’s seen any of Stacie’s amazing stick art (such as in her most current endeavor, the hilarious and awe-inspiring online comic RPG can tell you that she really has an amazing sense of story-telling with this style of art, and I saw it as my job to write a story that would showcase her abilities as much as possible… as well as work-in the aforementioned “transformation” scene, of course.

I decided that the best way to do – and to help people “get” what we were going – was to have all this be a story where even the dialogue would be told in pictures.

Writing this story presented me with a very fun challenge and allowed me to really collaborate with Stacie in regards to how to best write strictly picture-based dialogue.

Stacie agreed with this approach for the story, and after I let the idea simmer and gestate in my mind for a bit, this became one of the few scripts that I sat down and wrote from beginning to end in one sitting.

In fact, I think I ate more Tootsie Rolls on January 14th, 2006 than every other day in my life combined… but the end result was a great, sugar-induced script… so it was all worth it. [laughs]

After all, it was the only time in my career where I got to write a script like this:

8.1

Wolf-Girl is now tearing her claws across Wolfy’s chest.

WOLF-GIRL:        [Picture of a heart with a circular “no” crossbar over it]

8.2

Wolfy – enraged – claws her back.

WOLFY:        [Picture of a female dog, perhaps?]

8.3

Wolf-Girl is now ballistic and is ripping off one of his arms with her teeth!

WOLFY:        [Picture of a big pile of poop]

 

It was a fun story to write, and as is with the case with many of the artists I’ve worked with over the years on Nightmare World, I’m lucky enough to still call her a friend all these years later (in fact, she just crashed at my place for a day as part of her recent cross-country coast-to-coast trek, marking the first time we’ve been able to hang-out together in person for a few years), and I’d like to think it’s only a matter of time this point before we work together on something else again now that Nightmare World has been wrapped-up…

After her new book RPG: The Collected Collection comes out, that is.

(And yes, you should all also totally check out Stacie’s online comic RPG too.) 

Dirk’s Pick: “Paranoid”

The Inspiration:

 

“Paranoid” was one of the last stories I wrote for Nightmare World, followed only by “Eulogy” (which reveals, a la a series of flash-backs, how Lucifer successfully took control of Creation and can also be read in Nightmare World Volume 3) and “Somebody Told Me” (an epilogue story that features a cameo appearance by at least one character from every Nightmare World story in the series and is one of the 13 online exclusive Nightmare World stories that can be read at www.ShadowlineOnline.com).

As I mentioned a few minutes ago when discussing “Hungry Like the Wolf,” there really isn’t an abundance of monsters present in Nightmare World, so as I was wrapping-up the series I realized that I should make one of the last stories one that touches upon all of the mythological and cryptozoic creatures that I never really touched upon in the series.

I was torn, though, because I also wanted to write a story wherein I finally shed some light on the very subtle alien/Rapture subplot of the uber-story… but I only had room for one more story in the series if I was going to keep it at a nice and even “52” stories.

(And lest anyone think I was “bandwagon-jumping” anything DC was doing, please keep in mind that this was all back in 2004. [laughs])

 

Anyway… after giving it some thought I decided it would be fun to intertwine these two plot elements – lots of mythological monsters and the Alien Rapture angle – into one story, and hence “Paranoid,” the final story in Nightmare World Volume 3: “Demon Days”, was born.

As I formulated the story, though, it quickly became less about featuring all of the mythological monsters and started to center more and more on Nessie and Bigfoot having this sort of philosophical debate about what had happened to their kind, so I ended up only making the first two pages the giant monster party a originally envisioned the story centering around (and it’s a party with a very dashing host, if I do say so myself) with the last six pages filled with Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster debating whether or not they – along with the ever-reclusive Yeti and the Chupacabra (previously seen in the story “Strays” in Nightmare World Volume 2 by Xenoholics artist Seth Damoose!) – are really the last cryptids left on Earth.

As is the case with several of the Nightmare World stories, this one has some rather funny bits in it – admittedly due mainly to the Nessie’s constant Scottish swearing combined with Anthony Peruzzo’s very expressive art – but at its core it’s still a genuine stand-alone horror story that also succeeds in shedding some light (no pun intended) on one of the most subtle subplots of the series in a rather surprising fashion to wrap-up the print trilogy. 

 

Working with the Artist:

Rarely a week passes where someone doesn’t ask me where I found so many talented artists to work with (and still work with) over the years, and the first place I always recommend is the forums at Digital Webbing.

To be fair, I’m sure if it’s quite as rockin’ now as it was from 2002-2006 when I spent the most time there (and met most of the artists I still work with to this day), but it’s still a very good place to find potential comic collaborators, provided you don’t just pop-in there and say “I’m lookin for gud artistz for my new projectz, yo! Holla back!

(Don’t laugh… I’ve seen it happen. A LOT.)

Digital Webbing hosts a great community of aspiring and professional creators who are very passionate about creating comics, and it’s where I met the great majority of the artists of Nightmare World during the first half of the 2000’s.

Well, just a few short years ago I came to a point where I had completely “re-master” a few of the older Nightmare World stories from scratch if I wanted to get them in=print through Image, and so I of course went back to the Digital Webbing Forums and started looking around for professional-caliber artists who might be interested in collaborating with me in regards to reimagining a Nightmare World story or two.

In short order I came across some sequential art samples posted by artist Anthony Peruzzo, and I immediately fell in love with his unique art style, which is gritty yet cartoony all at the same time and, quite frankly, really unlike any other art currently being published.

Naturally I dropped him a line, telling him what I was looking for and that the work I was interested in having him do would be from print through Image Comics/Shadowline, and after we thrashed out some script tweaks and details he signed-on to do a new version of the story “Break Stuff” for Nightmare World Volume 1.

The collaboration went well and shortly thereafter he then went on to draw a new version of “The Guns of Love Disastrous” for Nightmare World Volume 2, followed by brand-new takes on both the barbarian/Cthulhu story “Frozen” as well as “Paranoid”, both for Nightmare World Volume 3.

 

These two particular stories are the first and last one in the collection not only because of how much I live his work, but also because – although it may not be noticeable on the first reading – both stories take place in the same castle hundreds over the course of several hundred years.

Seriously… go back and look and you’ll see it. [laughs]

My little Easter Eggs aside, considering the fact that Anthony basically burst onto the Nightmare World scene in 2009 and has gone on to do four stories in three years – as well as a 22-page one-shot for an upcoming project I’m doing and a few other miscellaneous art duties I can’t quite talk about (yet) – well… that should tell you how much I enjoy working with Anthony right there. [laughs]

With one or two exceptions, I’ve been working with most of the Nightmare World crew on and off for about a decade(!!!), so it was a really neat experience for me to get to look back at these older stories with Anthony from a new perspective.

 

Anthony is an artist who knows what he likes just as much as what he doesn’t like, and there’s been more than a few occasions where we sparred on some things – but it was always in the interest of making the stories as powerful and ascetically pleasing as possible – and we always did it as professionals and friends.

Besides, when all is said and done Anthony is a guy who – on a personal and professional level – I can’t say enough nice things about. He’s a fun guy to collaborate with (even when we “spar” a bit) and I really believe his unique art style is going to make him one of those guys who is going to become a superstar once the reading public takes notice of him.

I only hope he’ll still be willing to work with me when the time comes – or better yet – that he becomes huge due to a project that he and I work-on together. I’d be able to rib him about that for years… [laughs]

Troy’s Note: Keep watching Newsarama for our fifth and final installment of The Definitive Dirk Manning. The Part Five interview will wrap up lingering questions, delve again into Manning’s process, and look at where he’s headed now that Nightmare World has reached its ending.

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