We didn’t mean that kind of trade, folks. Dirk’s pretty adamant about keeping Nightmare World for himself.
Nightmare World, Dirk Manning’s collection of morbid and macabre short comics, are being collected by Shadowline as a trade paperback. Since 2002, Dirk Manning has been establishing himself as a writer with various horror comics under his Nightmare World banner. He’s also well-known for his column “Writer or Wrong” here on Newsarama.
Newsarama sat down with Manning to discuss the rigors of self-publication and how his creative and production processes have changed since he began working with Shadowline.
Newsarama: Dirk, to get things started tell readers about your collection of stories being published for the Nightmare World trade paperback from Shadowline. How many stories is it? Who are some of the creators involved with the project?
Dirk Manning: I’m sure by now most people who visit Newsarama have some semblance of who I am and what Nightmare World is, but just in case, Nightmare World is a collection of stand-alone genre-hopping cerebral horror stories in the vein of “The Twilight Zone” or perhaps even “Tales From the Crypt” that, over time, all subtly bleed together to tell one giant overarching story involving Lucifer, Cthulhu and the Armageddon.
We started publishing independently online and in print back in 2002 and were then picked-up by Shadowline as part of their webcomics hub last November shortly after we wrapped-up the whole 52-story series on our own website.
As for the first collection being released by Shadowline, it’s titled Nightmare World: “13 Tales of Terror” Vol. 1, so I guess the title says it all, huh? [laughs]
It features thirteen stories from the online series as we’ve released them at the Shadowline site to date, including “The Same Deep Water As You” by Len O’Grady, “Knee Deep in the Dead” by Erich, “A Small Victory” by Dan Boultwood, “Violet” by Renae de Liz with Ray Dillon and “Not For You” by Kristen Perry among several others.
Anybody who pays close attention to comics should recognize all of those names as “smaller press” creators who’ve worked on some amazing comics over the past few years.
Nrama: You’ve said some of these stories have been "remastered" for the trade paperback collection. What does that entail?
Manning: Basically we’ve just gone back and tweaked the art on several of the stories for the print collection. Sometimes it’s just minor stuff we did for fun, such as is the case with “Try Honesty” by Mark Matlock… but in the case of “You Oughta Know” by Jeff Welborn we had Ray Dillon completely re-ink and re-color the story.
Our goal is simply to give readers who buy the collection the best reading experience possible. We want this to be a book they keep on their coffee tables or pull off their bookshelf again and again.
Nrama: How much work do you yourself put into the production of your comic projects beyond scripting?
Manning: I’m involved at just about every step of the process. Once I would write the scripts the artists would send me character designs and thumbnails that we’d discuss, and then once we hashed that out I’d pass the pencils to the inkers and colorists and eventually the letterer.
Finally, I would then upload the pages to the server or be in touch with the webmaster about doing so to make sure everything was on track – especially because I would oftentimes have up to five stories being worked-on at any given time at the height of things.
It made for plenty of VERY long nights… but that’s the name of the game when you’re self-publishing. [laughs]
Nrama: How has your inclusion at Shadowline changed the way you produce your projects?
Manning: That’s kind of tricky to answer since the series was completely finished when I brought it to Shadowline, but I can say that working with Kris Simon and Jim Valentino has definitely helped me look at everything I do in a new light.
Their insight on everything from art production to dialoging has been something I’m very, very lucky to have access to since working with them. I know I’m in a very privileged position to be working with them as closely as I have been and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can without being too annoying or looking like too much of a “n00b.” [laughs]
Nrama: Which of the stories presented in the new trade is your favorite? Why?
Manning: Can I say that they’re all my favorites in different ways? [laughs]
That’s the funny thing about a series like Nightmare World: Given the fact that it’s written like an anthology and with each story being so different (well, at least to a certain extent), it’s a given that everybody has different favorites.
The ones that probably jump out to me the most are “Violet” because it’s the most blatantly personal love story I’ve ever written, “You Oughta Know” because it kicks the whole “Cthulhu Mythos” subplot into full gear, “The Same Deep Water As You” because I think it strikes the perfect balance of sentimentality and horror and “Knee Deep in the Dead” because it’s the first story I ever wrote on my own terms without “worrying” about what other people would think – and it’s been deemed one of the funniest and most well-received stories as a result.
That being said though, I loved working with Anthony Peruzzo on “Break Stuff,” I think Mark Winters’ work on the ninja vs. samurai story “Bitter Wine” is breathtaking and, honestly, I can’t say enough about how well Josh Ross pulled off “Mine.”
OK… which ones are left? [laughs]
Nrama: Having a trade of your project collected by Image/ Shadowline is a pretty big benchmark for you. In your mind, what's the next big step for your career?
Manning: I’m looking at a two-pronged attack, really.
First, I’d like to do more web-to-trade projects like this with Shadowline through the Shadowline Webcomics Hub. Kris Simon recently mentioned to me that we’ve gained 1,000 new readers a month at Nightmare World since the month we launched, so clearly we’re getting the readers. My hope is that, with the first print edition now in PREVIEWS, listed at Amazon.com for under $11 and even offered at Discount Comic Book Service for under $8 (that’s 50% off cover price, natch!) that these readers will support the online series by buying the book.
Second, even though this isn’t strictly comic-based, I’d really like to get in print a nice definitive collection of the “Write or Wrong” columns. I know I would have killed to have a book like that when I was getting started – and since I get requests to do this all the time it’s something very high on my priority list – especially since I’m closing in on the end of “Write or Wrong” and morphing the column into something semi-related but new.
Nrama: How has the process changed now that you're actually being published by one of the largest independent comic publishers? What's your biggest challenge now?
Manning: Not bothering Kris and Jim too much. [laughs]
Actually, I’m only half-joking there. For all the years I was self-publishing I kept saying that I wished I had an editor that could help guide me (and contain me) as necessary… and now that I have that in the form of two of the best editors in the business I’m learning a lot more about the business and myself as a creator.
I’ve just tried not to be too much of a nuisance as I’ve jumped overnight from being my own boss dealing with no outside opinions to working with two of my professional idols.
Nrama: Shadowline has very easy-to-use webcomic interface. As a creator, what sorts of enhancements would you like to see to enhance the webcomic experience?
Manning: It would be nice if we could continue to lose the stigma that all comics published online are amateurish… but that’s something that’s just going to come over time. I mean, yes, there are a lot of sub-par “webcomics” out there – but you have a lot of aspiring creators out there who are using programs like WordPress/ComicPress to learn their trade, so that’s going to come with the territory, you know?
However, there are also dozens of truly amazing comics being published online out there, and I’d like to see more comic readers make an effort to venture out there and find them.
Aside from that, I think it’s just a matter of any and all webcomic creators making their webcomics as easy to read and as accessible as possible… but like I said, programs like the ComicPress application on WordPress make this very easy to do for those creators willing to put a little effort into learning how to do it.
Nrama: Are there other genres you'd like to explore in the future? If so, which ones? Are there Dirk Manning steampunk stories or superhero projects locked away in your head?
Manning: It’s funny you ask this since I was just having this conversation with Kris Simon during Chicago Comic Con about how just because I like horror that it’s not the only thing I’m ever going to write. [laughs]
First and forefront in my mind right now are finishing the second half of my supernatural noir series TALES OF MR. RHEE with Josh Ross so we can hopefully run all twelve stories of Volume One at the Shadowline Webcomics Hub right after Nightmare World wraps-up in about a year.
Along with that, though, I’m really looking forward to delving into more FARSEEKER with Len O’Grady. It’s more of a mature but all-ages based fantasy series that we debuted back on our old website about two years ago to rave reviews.
Those two series aside, I’m currently putting together a cool crime comic pitch with Anthony Peruzzo (who illustrated the new version of “Break Stuff” for Nightmare World: “13 Tales of Terror” Volume One) and I’m also getting ready to find out about pitching a genuine straight-up kids book to the Silverline imprint of children’s books that Shadowline has…
So, yeah… while I love horror and will probably always keep my finger in something a little “spooky,” I’m definitely interested in doing more than just horror comics for the rest of my life.
Nrama: Have you had any luck developing projects with other publishers? Can readers expect to see more from you elsewhere in the near future?
Manning: Honestly, I’ve never really pitched to any publishers before. I know that may sound weird, but it’s true. From just about day one of Nightmare World I knew that I wanted to eventually land at Image Comics, and thus far I’m really, really happy working with Kris and Jim at Shadowline.
I mean, sure, I’ve done my fair share of self-publishing and even worked with a few smaller publishers before, but in those cases it was a matter of me being approached to work with them since I already had a strong online presence and following with Nightmare World and later the aforementioned TALES OF MR. RHEE and FARSEEKER.
I was lucky enough to have Scott Allie at Dark Horse give me some great advice on improving my story-telling early-on in my writing career, but even then I never actually “pitched” Nightmare World to Dark Horse
In fact, my first ever “pitch” to a publisher was to the Shadowline “Who Wants to Create a Super-Heroine?” Contest, and my entry Hope made it to the Final Five and then even placed second or third overall in the voting process.
From there I happened to find out about the Shadowline Webcomics Hub on a fluke, at which time I pitched Nightmare World to Kris and Jim… and the rest is history.
All of that being said, I’ve really been made to feel at home with Shadowline and, honestly, I’d have no problem staying with Kris and Jim at Shadowline for as long as they’ll have me.
Nrama: To close out, what would you like to add in regards to the new Nightmare World trade? What's going to make folks run out and buy this collection of stories?
Manning: Point blank, when I started Nightmare World as an online series it was my goal to create the best modern online horror comic to date… and there’s a lot of people out there who will tell you we did just that.
Now that we’re going to print I have the same goal: To offer readers the best cerebral horror collection of stories that they’ll get all year… or at least until Volume Two is released pending the sales of Volume One. [laughs]
Along with some re-mastered art Nightmare World: “Thirteen Tales of Terror” Vol. 1 contains a breathtaking cover by Kristen Perry, a brand-new and exclusive in-continuity prose story written by me, an introduction by Rex Mundi and Zero Killer author Arvid Nelson and some other cool extras.
Bottom line, I encourage everyone reading this – including people who don’t think they’re necessarily into “horror” or horror comics – to go to the website and check out the series for themselves. I mean, hey, it’s free and there’s 25 stories and over 220 pages of content on there as I’m typing this, so we’re obviously pretty confident that people will like what they see enough to want to buy a nice collected edition of the stories for their coffee tables and bookshelves, you know?
If people like it they can get it from their local comic shop or, if that’s not an option, like I said above, Amazon and DCB are booth offering special pre-order prices at below cover price for a nice, 128-page full color graphic novel collection.
Besides, it’ll be a lot easier to read the stories in the bathroom this way rather than sitting on the toilet trying to balance a laptop on your lap. [laughs]