Dirk Manning's Write or Wrong #50: THE SECRET

Write or Wrong: Define Yourself

OK… so it’s taken a little longer to get here than I would have liked, but at long last we’re now at the 50th installment of Write or Wrong… and we’ve got not one, but two anniversary presents to share!

First off, there’s now an official Dirk Manning and “Write or Wrong” Newsarama Page here at the site you can access directly to read (or re-read) all of the installments of this column, interviews with me and other related stuff! Neat!

Additionally, NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume One: “13 Tales of Terror” is officially on shelves of finer comic shops everywhere from Image Comics/Shadowline TODAY! Can I get a “Heck yeah?”

Newsarama Note: And we have an exclusive preview with a page from each of the 13 stories right here!

(If the past 49 installments of this column have served to entertain, educate, motivate, inspire or otherwise help you along your way in your journey of creating comics, feel free to pick up or order a copy of the book the next time you’re at your local comic shop and we’ll call it even.)

Image Comics. Wow. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

As anyone who has read this series of columns from the beginning can tell you, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that NIGHTMARE WORLD originally started as what I called at the time of its inception about seven years ago a “walking portfolio” for myself and some of my artistic cohorts at Golden Goat Studios.

My plan was to write about six (at most) eight-page stories, each for a different artist from the studio, and then post the stories incrementally online so they could serve both as a short webcomic series and “samples” of what we could do for portfolios and such.

To this end I touched base with several of the different artists and subsequently wrote scripts for them that I felt played to both their strengths and interests (a key factor in making any comic-creating partnership, my writer friends) and then we started posting the stories online at the rate of two pages a week under the banner title NIGHTMARE WORLD

And that’s when things started to get crazy.

Before I knew it I had artists randomly e-mailing me out of the blue saying things along the lines of “Hey, I really like the stuff you’re doing with NIGHTMARE WORLD… could you write a script for me to illustrate for the series?”

Here I was, a virtually unknown writer having some pretty darn good up-and-coming artists e-mailing me and asking to work together. I felt like I was in Bizarro Word or something.

(To be fair, I also had numerous writers e-mail me and ask me if they could submit stories they had written to the series, but obviously that was something I wasn’t interested in. As I do know, I did always give any amount of reasonable hints I could in regards to them getting their own online comics going, though…)

Well, before I knew it over a year had passed and I was up to 13 stories in production… and as months and years continued to fly by the number of stories grew to 24, then 30, then 50 and finally 52 before I finally and definitively wrapped-up what had now grown into a collection of stand-alone short stories that all interweaved into one giant uber-story about life before, during and after Lucifer’s Cthulhu-driven Armageddon.

The end result was – and is – quite a sight (and website) to behold: What started as a small “vanity project” that I assumed would take three months to complete from start to finish grew to a massive 500 page epic that commanded and demanded my attention at all hours of the day and night for seven years straight as I single-handedly juggled the schedules (and personalities) of over two dozen artists from across the globe, several wonderful webmasters (not including the now-defunct web-company who took the site hostage for over a year) and one amazingly dedicated letterer in Jim Reddington day after day.

For seven years.

With weekly updates to the site, every Thursday, without fail.

While maintaining a day job.

And another part-time job.

And also doing freelance journalism on the side.

And managing a marriage.

And earning two Master’s Degrees throughout it all.

And my Black Belt.

Yes, really.

Was it hard?

Hell yes it was hard… but as hard as it was, it was always, always, always fun

And that, my friends, is the secret to your future success.


If you’re really dedicated to the idea of making comics, you better make sure that you never stop having fun doing it since it may very well be the only reward you’ll ever, ever, ever get in this business.


Oh sure, I know what some of you are thinking: “My concept is a can’t miss winner that’s going to get picked-up by Image/Marvel/DC/Dark Horse and sell a million copies! You’ll see, once the right editor gives me a chance that’s exactly what’s going to happen! I’ll then live all the movie royalties forever! Bwahahahaha!”

To which I say a resounding… OK.

Hey, maybe it will, and if looking back this column helped you get to that point let me know and I’ll be sure to buy a copy… but I also urge you to keep in mind that nobody ever creates a comic thinking “I’m going to pour thousands of hours and equal amounts of dollars into this book that no one outside my immediate circle of friends is going to care about.”


If you’re grinding away at making comics and the only thing that’s keeping you going is the belief that doing so is going to make you rich and/or famous… well, I’m going to go on record here and say that you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason.

Even the best comics on the shelves (however you decide to define them) struggle to find critical success these days outside the comics industry… let alone any truly noteworthy financial success.

(Yes, there are exceptions, of course. No, we don’t need you to list them.)

Instead, as naïve as this may sound, your first goal in creating comics should be to have fun doing it.


Sure, you should study the medium and strive to find the best partners possible that will help you (both) bring your artistic vision to life… but you also need to have fun while doing it.

If you have fun creating your comic, interacting with your co-creators and possibly the people who read it when you publish it, well, you’ve won.

After all, as I’ve said in this column over and over again, you’re going to lose a lot of money and a lot of time in the pursuit of creating comics before you even come close to the possibility of entertaining the notion of turning a profit making comics – even if you hit on some critical success and good reviews – so you should at least make sure you’re having fun doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, though: I too dream of one day being able to making writing my “main job,” (if only there were affordable health insurance for full-time comic writers… *sigh*), but the stark reality of the matter is that while I believe in myself, the artists I work with that I can (and do) create comics that a lot of people will read and enjoy… I’ve also continued to do this for as many years as I have – scraping and crawling and clawling just to get to this point in my career – because I have fun doing it.

You gotta have fun doing this, folks.

You gotta, you gotta, you gotta – or you’re going to get frustrated about how you can’t seem to “catch a break” in regards to getting that sweet publishing deal you “know” you deserve.

Then you’re going to get mad that more people aren’t checking out your work even when you’re giving it away online for free. For FREE!

You’ll start to tell yourself that you’re just too good for those low-life, mouth-breathing editors at the big publishers to “get.” Yeah… that’s it. Your work is just too “avant-garde”… too ahead of the times… but someday they’ll see… THEY’LL ALL SEE!!1!

And then it still won’t happen…

And you’ll start dedicating less and less time and energy to creating your own comics…

And, believe it or not, the world will be a lesser place for it.

All because your values were in the wrong place.

If you’re serious about creating comics – come Hell or high water, mainstream success or not – all you will have to comfort you on those long and lonely nights of hammering away at pages of script, editing lettered pages, proofing the colors and uploading the low-res pages to your webpage at 3:00 in the morning (when you have to get up for work at 7:00 AM) is that necessary smile that won’t leave your face because, hey, even though it ain’t glamorous, YOU, my friend, are living the dream and taking the same journey that all of your now-favorite comicbook celebrities also took “back in the day” before they had their “big breaks” and became so noteworthy of your attention and affection one Wednesday a month.


Having fun will sustain you.

Having fun will keep you from giving-up.

Having fun, in the end, is what will give you the longevity and dedication necessary to one day have a true shot at success.

Furthermore, having fun is what will ultimately make your comic the truest incarnation of what it can and should be… and that true, unadulterated vision of your book – your creation – is what people will ultimately respond to more viscerally than anything else.

Have fun and to thine own self be true, damn it, and don’t worry about what the nay-sayers are saying. When you start creating your own comic – and have fun doing it, to boot – your peers (be them personal or professional) will get jealous and they will talk trash and they will try to undercut you, sabotage you and otherwise drag you down…

But if you’re having fun it really won’t matter that much because, hey, screw ’em, you’re having a good time doing what you’re doing regardless of what they mutter behind your back – and occasionally even to your face.

To bring this full circle, allow me to tell you all something else that happened to me seven years ago when I first started self-publishing NIGHTMARE WORLD online: Out of nowhere I had all kinds of equally-aspiring comic creators start telling me how stupid I was for investing my time and energy into something like NIGHTMARE WORLD.

“No publisher will ever touch it with you structuring it like an anthology,” they’d say. “And  it’s horror… nobody cares about horror comics anymore.”

I’m sure all of you reading this can guess what my response to those Trolls would be to them right about now, eh?

If not, here’s a hint: It would involve me holding-up a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume One: “13 Tales of Terror” , pointing to the Image and Shadowline logos of the spine, and saying something along the lines of “Boo-ya.”

Is that petty? Yeah… maybe a little… but the fact if the matter is that you gotta have fun with what you’re doing, folks… and listening to the negativity can hinder the fun, which can in turn kill your career before it even starts.

Folks, I started my path to creating comics with nothing. NOTHING. Not even so much as an Internet connection at my home… but if you’re having fun it won’t matter how hard it is to get that one page of script just right, or how stressful it is to deal with website outages, or even to listen to the muttering of the people who are trying to tear you down in order to thin-out their self-perceived competition.

Maybe you’ll make it big in comics.

Maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll spend a few thousand bucks over the course of your life making comics only 100 people will ever read.

Maybe you’ll make millions of dollars creating a comic billions of people will read.

Maybe you’ll be a one-hit wonder.

Maybe you’ll die at the ripe old age of 103, slumped over your keyboard working on the 301st issue of your critically acclaimed self-published comic that was made into a multi-film franchise.

No matter how it happens – or doesn’t happen – just have fun creating your comics, folks.

It’s a phenomenal feeling to be sitting here typing this column while looking at a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD and seeing it now exist not only as a bookshelve-worthy collection released by Image through Shadowline… and it also fills my heart with pride to know that, all these years later, I’m now working with two of my longtime comicbook idols in Jim Valentino and Kris Simon – but the best part of it all is knowing that, man, did I have a fun lot of fun getting here.

Of course I have big plans for the future – including starting preparations for the second volume of NIGHTMARE WORLD for print and some other new projects, and what gives me more confidence than anything else is the fact that I can continue to have fun creating these comics each and every day.

Keep it fun, people. That, more than anything else, is the secret.

Next Time: Either “Are You In the Game?” or “Crush ’Em.” Most likely the latter.

Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, which can now be read daily as part of the Shadowline family of webcomics with new content added every day Monday through Thursday. 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 Twitter, FacebookMySpace and SoulGeek in that order.

Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!

WoW #1: Introduce Yourself

WoW #2: Thematically Speaking

WoW #3: How Badly Do You Want It?

WoW #4: Meeting Bendis and Finding Artists

WoW #5: Making First Contact

WoW #6: Things Fall Apart

WoW #7: Creation vs Dictation

WoW #8: Kill the Buddha

WoW #9: They’re Not Robots

WoW #10: Dollars and Sense

WoW #11: World Wide You

WoW #12: Always Use Protection

WoW #13: Contract Killers

WoW #14: Take a Look in the Mirror

WoW #15: Words Worth 1,000 Pictures

WoW #16: Mid-Ohio Musings

WoW #17: Seeking What the Masters Sought

WoW #18: Means and Ends

WoW #19: Likeable Characters

WoW #20: “What’s My (Evil) Motivation?”

WoW #21: It’s Not a Race

WoW #22: How to Successfully Play God

WoW #23: “Are you really THAT good?”

WoW #24: Things Fall Apart, v2.0

WoW #25: Climbing Out of the Hole

WoW #26: “See all those people out there?”

WoW #27: “Lose Yourself”

WoW #28: The Tallest Midget in Shortsville

WoW #29: Punisher Skrull Sex

WoW #30: The Wrath of Con

WoW #31: All We Have is Time

WoW #32: Dishin’ with Dwight MacPherson

WoW #33: The horror, the horror…

WoW #34: The End is the Beginning

WoW #35: The Weakest Link

WoW #36: Wrestling with Spidey

WoW #37: It Has To Be You

WoW #38: Step Up

WoW #39: Rage Against the (Pitch) Machine

WoW #40: Interesting Times

WoW #41: “Why So Serious?”

WoW #42: Defining Success

WoW #43: Define Yourself

WoW #44: The Power of “No”

WoW #45: Interview with the Editor

WoW #46: The Other Places

WoW #47: Quality Control is Not the Enemy

WoW #48: The X-Men Analogy

WoW #49: Self-Promotion, Hold the Spam

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