Dirk Manning's apocalyptic magician Mr. Rhee returns this year with a new volume of his series - and a big adversary.
Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3: Those Who Fight Monsters... pits the titular warlock against the new world order that took charge after a war between Heaven and Hell decimated Earth. In the past two volumes, Mr. Rhee's warnings of a darker influence on the world fell largely on deaf ears, but now he looks to confront it headlong.
And this is going on all the while Rhee is trying to keep the peace between his girlfriend (a demon hunter) and his best friend (a demon).
With this new volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee scheduled for release in September, Newsarama talked with Manning about this new volume and how it all came together with artists Marianna Pescosta, Seth Damoose, Austin McKinley, Leonard O'Grady, and Howie Noel.
Newsarama: Dirk, you're back with a new volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee. Where are you going with this after the first two volumes?
Dirk Manning: In Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 1: Procreation (of the Wicked) we dove right into the middle of the story of Mr. Rhee, a magician who’s seemingly one of the last people left on Earth willing to admit (at least publicly) that there may still be demons and other creatures left lingering in society after the “Three Days of Darkness” spread across the world as Hell went to war with Heaven for a second time. That particular volume… didn’t end well for Mr. Rhee.
Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 2: Karmageddon was mainly comprised a flashback story set before the events of the first volume in which Mr. Rhee revealed what happened to him and five suddenly orphaned siblings he vowed to protect during the aforementioned “Three Days of Darkness.” Again, it didn’t go well.
Noticing a pattern here? [laughs]
In Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3: Those Who Fight Monsters… we pick-up in the present, after the rather bleak ending of volume 1. Mr. Rhee is in a slightly better place, but he’s learned some hard lessons and is now trying to decide who – if anyone – he can trust in the New World Order. Will his decisions end well for him and those around him? That’s what Volume 3 is about!
Nrama: Mr. Rhee has sometimes had a black and white view of his world, but with what I’ve read of this new volume, his demon friend Brad and his demon-hunting lover Charity are pulling him in two different directions. Where's he at this point?
Manning: That a great question, and I think it really strikes at the heart of what Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3 is about. Mr. Rhee wants to trust Charity, an agent of the covert demon-hunting organization The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group, as she is both his lover and – literally - his savior, but he doesn’t know if he should. Conversely, he really trusts his demonic best-friend and informant Brad Thomson, and as readers of volume 3 will quickly learn, Brad has a very different moral code than we do.
In this latest volume Mr. Rhee in a place where he’s optimistically - and perhaps even rather naively -trying to have his cake and eat it two by maintaining relationships with - Brad and Charity - a demon and a demon hunter. Should those two learn the truth about each other, they’ll both expect Mr. Rhee’s allegiance even though only one of them will be able to have it.
Nrama: This whole series began with the "Three Days of Darkness," an event where Hell invaded Earth. Third volume here, three days there, is there something extra special coming here ringing in that dark occasion?
Manning: Absolutely! Three volumes into the series we’re now to a point where we know Mr. Rhee well and can now start to explore the cultural mindset of the survivors - the survivors who were left behind, mind you - looks like and how that affects the whole world. Everyone has agreed - be them right or wrong - that the world is back to normal and that all the monsters are gone… even though anyone willing to pay attention could easily see that’s not the case.
Mr. Rhee, of course, is one of those people.
To that end, let me say this, too: The whole “magician who fights monsters” trope has been done to death in comics, but people who read Tales of Mr. Rhee see it as a breath of fresh air because, even three volumes in, this remains a genuine horror book.
Tales of Mr. Rhee is not a superhero book where superpowers are replaced with magic and super-villains are replaced with demons. This is a book that explores isolation, aggression against the truth, and the very Lovecraftian and noir themes of “What would you do if you knew things about the world no one else wanted to admit?”
Nrama: Tales of Mr. Rhee and your other creator-owned series, Nightmare World, have obliquely hinted at one another. Given that they are both horror books, do these series crossover with each other?
Manning: I’ve never made a secret of the fact that Tales of Mr. Rhee takes place in the universe I created with Nightmare World, and in this new volume we’re finally able to explore some of the more prominent plot elements and characters of Nightmare World in more detail that the original series short story format allowed.
One of the characters I’m most excited to do this with is Thelma Lushkin, a character who debuted in Nightmare World as a sort-of evil, psychopathic, and possibly Satanic version of Steve Jobs. We only got to scratch the surface of this very complex character in Nightmare World and in volume 1 of Tales of Mr. Rhee, but she, especially, really gets to shine in Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3… and will continue to be a major antagonist of the series moving forward.
Nrama: You initially launched Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3 as a free online comic through the Devil’s Due website, and then started releasing the issues digitally on Comixology. Why then turn to a Kickstarter campaign through Devil’s Due Publishing to take the book to print?
Manning: As you mentioned, Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3 was already finished before we started the Kickstarter campaign to take the book to print… and obviously it’s always been our goal to take this series from digital to print with each volume. The key for me and DDP has been to not undercut our comic book store supporters through Kickstarter, and that’s why we use Kickstarter to offer Kickstarter Exclusive hardcover editions of the book as well as T-shirts and other related swag through Kickstarter for the most enthusiastic fans of the series who want the T-shirts, coffee mugs, and such. Kickstarter is for the people who want the premium edition of the book and all the bonus stuff, while the standard TPB edition is for people who want the book – or want to explore the series... and I think we really found that balance with the campaign for Tales of Mr. Rhee, Vol. 3.
With this campaign we set a $6,666 funding goal, and we hit that goal in just three hours. Hey, there’s that numerology angle again! [laughs]
We then surpassed $10,000 dollars in pledges in the first 24 hours of the campaign, and at the end of the 30 day campaign we closed at $23,110 in pre-sales and pledges, which was really amazing and humbling. Obviously we then take the remaining Kickstarter funds and put it towards printing the TPB editions of the book for the direct market.
Nrama: After that successful campaign, how are you and Devil’s Due working to make sure the fulfillment side remains seamless in a day and age when some comic Kickstarters falter after the campaign ends?
Manning: This is the third Tales of Mr. Rhee Kickstarter I’ve run through Devil’s Due, and each time everyone gets everything they were promised. Period. In this campaign we unlocked a total of 14 – yes, fourteen – stretch goals, and everyone will get everything in the time frame we promised, as well as regular and routine updates along the way.
That aside, let me get the other elephant out of the room in regards to your question: There are some people who may remember how the original incarnation of Devil’s Due crashed and burned several years ago. Yes, it happened, and Devil’s Due head honcho Josh Blaylock has always been very transparent it with the public and the creators. There are a small minority of people out there who focus on the Devil’s Due of old, ignoring the fact that the “new” Devil’s Due has reemerged a phoenix from the ashes as a cutting-edge publisher of great creator-owned titles with what’s, pound-for-pound, the most diverse creator line-ups of any current publisher.
Anyone who hasn’t looked into titles like Mercy Sparx, Plume, Galaxys For Hire, Squarriors, or Tales of Mr. Rhee - by virtue of simply never having heard of the books or because of what happened with the company all those years ago - is really doing themselves a disservice.
Nrama: So, last question then… what’s next for Tales of Mr. Rhee? I’m assuming the series doesn’t end with Volume 3?
Manning: Oh, provided we continue to get such strong support, there is plenty more Tales of Mr. Rhee to come. I’m writing volume 4 right now (which will bring back Mr. Rhee’s arch-rival from volume 1 for a massive showdown), and I’m also already outlining volumes 5 and 6 as well. There’s a big story to tell in Tales of Mr. Rhee, and I’m anxious and excited about being given the opportunity to bring this refreshing take on horror to the masses through Devil’s Due for years to come!