I also learned from you that I wasn’t the only one scaring the crap out of myself as a kid by reading this sort of contraband content by flashlight; and from the emails I got, you lot have been sneaking around doing things you’ve been told not to for some time.
Which is why you are very welcome here.
And now, fortune pats me on the head for the third time this week in the form of an email from the man himself, NIGHTMARE WORLD creator Dirk Manning.
Moved by our mutual admiration of classic tales of terror and intrigued by the readers of Black Gate, to whom he had not previously been introduced, Mr. Manning agreed to brave the probing and in depth (insert lightning and thunder sound effects here) Thirteen Questions…
Are the restraints nice and snug? Then let’s begin.
An Interview with Dirk Manning
Conducted and Transcribed by Sue Granquist.
GC: When did you first become interested in the horror genre? Were you a fan of horror comics as a kid?
DM: Gosh… I’ve really been interested in horror stuff for as long as I can remember… which explains a lot about me, I suppose. [laughs]
Like any self-respecting kid I was into dinosaurs growing-up, which then evolved into a love for Godzilla… and then after that I fell into watching stuff like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS with my great-grandma. From there, having always been a voracious reader, I started checking out the works of guys like Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison and… well… here I am today, a full-fledged writer of horror comics.
Looking back at it all like that, my life suddenly makes a lot more sense. Thank you! [laughs]
You’re welcome! Therapy is one of the services we offer here in the underground offices of Goth Chick News. Have you ever worked on the illustration side, or have you always been the storyteller?
I’ll occasionally draw “thumbnail” versions of certain pages or covers of some of the stories if I have a very specific vision in mind for them. Or, even more rarely, a character design or something… but by and large, no.
I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of illustrating a really short and simple piece for NIGHTMARE WORLD, but then I remember that there’s no reason for me to do that when I’m already working with such a remarkably talented crew of artists.
I mean, really, when you have guys and gals like Anthony Peruzzo, Len O’Grady, Austin McKinley, Seth Damoose, Kristen Perry, Carolina Eade, Stacie Ponder and Renae de Liz with Ray Dillon busting out pages (along with many, many other extremely talented artists) why is there any need for my scribbles, you know?
Whenever someone buys a NIGHTMARE WORLD graphic novel from me at a comic convention or book signing I’ll do a little Cthulhu sketch in there… but that’s the extent of the art the public will see from me.
Where do you draw inspiration for your storylines?
Part of the inspiration of NIGHTMARE WORLD was my desire to do an “anthology-style” series; 52 seemingly unrelated stand-alone stories that would all eventually weave together to tell one giant story, but could also still each be read and enjoyed on their own individual merits with no knowledge of the giant “uber-story” they were a part of… and I’m tickled that we managed to do just that.
In fact, I’ll still oftentimes hear from people new to NIGHTMARE WORLD, who read the first two graphic novel collections, that they have no idea how inner-connected all of the stories are… and I LOVE that! Because as they go back and re-read the stories and start to see all of the little hints and Easter Eggs, it gives them a nice “added-bonus” in terms of the joy they get from reading it.
So… that’s part of it. The other big inspiration for a lot of the stories is my life experiences to date, believe it or not. In fact, a lot of the NIGHTMARE WORLD stories are based very directly on things that have happened in my life with some monsters sprinkled in just to make it all more palatable, and dare I say believable. [laughs]
Um… no… not at all.
Besides, In fact, given that writing is such a solitary profession I’ve hardly have time to socialize with my family and friends as it is… or at least not any who don’t already have one foot in the psychiatric ward’s door, anyway. “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhntagn!”
NIGHTMARE WORLD is such an interesting concept. Can you tell us how you developed the concept of thirteen tales converging into one?
It was always a dream of mine to do a series like this since it’s never been done before and was such an interesting concept… so that was a big part of it.
However, pragmatically speaking, it also allowed me to work with dozens of artists who were coming up through the ranks of the comic industry with me, on what was at best, a very limited budget.
Since all of the NIGHTMARE WORLD stories are only eight-pages each, many of the artists could – and did – work on the stories between other gigs as a labor of love and a belief in the concept as a whole.
Honestly, when I was just getting started I wasn’t sure how far the series would go and only planned on NIGHTMARE WORLD maybe being a half-dozen stories or so. But that soon grew to thirteen stories and then twenty-four stories based on the enthusiasm of my artistic collaborators and online readers who were reading NIGHTMARE WORLD online every week and just going bonkers over it.
By the time I wrote the 25th script I had a small army of artists with me and realized that I could actually tell the “big story” I wanted to tell, and that resulted in me really diving into the “big story” and starting to really start weaving the “uber-story” together.
In that sense I truly owe the creation of NIGHTMARE WORLD as it exists today – a 52-part serial disguised as an anthology series – to both the artists I work with and those thousands of original online readers who were so supportive of what we were doing when we used to post two pages a week every Thursday for all those years.
You know, a lot of the artists I’ve worked with on NIGHTMARE WORLD don’t really consider themselves “horror artists” per say. In fact many of them expressed to me time and time again that they loved working on NIGHTMARE WORLD so much because it wasn’t your “traditional” horror comic.
Heck, take Renae de Liz for example. Her first every comic work was illustrating the story “Violet” in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume One: “13 TALES OF TERROR”… and now just a few years later she and her husband Ray Dillon (who colored and lettered “Violet”) are enjoying their fifth week (and counting) on The New York Times Best Seller List for their work on THE LAST UNICORN graphic novel for IDW.
Some of the NIGHTMARE WORLD artists certainly “play to the themes” a bit more in their work, but by and large I like the fact that so many of them are, in fact, not your traditional horror comic artists in terms of the styles they draw in. In fact, I think that makes many of the stories even more effective…
So maybe that’s what you’re experiencing? Maybe? (GC: Maybe, but I think that’s a nice way of telling me I’m off my nut.)
How do you choose the illustrators who bring your stories to life?
Usually I would have the “germ” of a story idea and then approach an artist I knew (but sometimes not) whose style I felt would best suit the tone of the story. If they could commit to drawing the eight-page story I would then write it for him or her with his or her specific style in mind, and send it to them to work on based on their own schedule as much as possible.
Once in a while, though, one of the artists I knew or had worked with in the past would come to me and say “Dirk… I’m really in the mood to draw (fill in the blank),” and then I’d try to accommodate them with a NIGHTMARE WORLD story that would allow them to draw just that.
Though it’s difficult to pick out a favorite story, I loved, “For Those Who Are About to Rock.” Do you have a particular era or character-type that is your favorite to write about?
Even though he doesn’t appear much in the first two volumes, Lucifer makes several big appearances in the upcoming NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Three: “Demon Days” and he has always been one of my favorite characters to write. I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from John Milton’s take on the character in PARADISE LOST and just find him an utterly fascinating , and villainous character.
Aside from him, Brian Carter (the initially unwilling harbinger of Cthulhu first seen in “You Oughta Know” and then later in “Disasterpiece”) is another favorite because he’s such a tragic character. As much as I love drawing inspiration from Milton with Lucifer, I definitely tip my hat to Lovecraft with Brian Carter, the man fighting insanity as he slowly gets pulled into Lucifer’s plot to awaken Cthulhu and force the final war with Heaven.
As much as I love writing those two characters, though, I must admit that Thelma Lushkin has been stealing my heart lately. We first see her in the NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume One story “Break Stuff” with a different name (and look) only to then learn in the bonus prose story at the end of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Two: “Leave the Light On” that she has agreed to a deal with Lucifer and Lilith to join the elite hierarchy of their New World Order. In the upcoming NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Three (which, I suppose I should mention, will be released nationwide this October) we’ll see her in her new role in full, and deadly effect. She’s a sick, broken and detached woman… and in many ways I feel she’s the most representative of me drawing inspiration from myself more than anyone else.
Read into that what you will. [laughs]
Oh… and the mystical janitor Mr. Rhee is absolutely awesome, too. He makes a few uber-quick cameos in the NIGHTMARE WORLD books, but doesn’t really come into his own until we see him in his own spin-off series TALES OF MR. RHEE, which will be launching at the new and improved www.ShadowlineComics.com site. Keep your eyes peeled on their Facebook and Twitter feeds (as well as mine) for his debut in just a few short weeks!
NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Three: “Demon Days” will be released nationwide by Image Comics/Shadowline this October, completing the print trilogy of three books of 13 (spooky) stories each.
Those of you out there good at math will notice that this means there are still 13 more stories we won’t be taking to print… but that’s something I wanted to do as a little “thank you” to all of our original online fans.
Maybe someday we’ll go back and release a giant NIGHTMARE WORLD omnibus collecting all 52 stories in print or something, but even if we never do that I’m very pleased with having the three print collections.
By the time NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Three: “Demon Days” sees release this October I’ll have spent almost a decade as a slave to NIGHTMARE WORLD in one way or another, so I’ll be happy to reveal and wrap-up the story in print and then be able to turn my attention to stories such as TALES OF MR. RHEE.
I read that you have experienced at least one ghost first-hand but still don’t quite believe in them. Can you tell us more?
Here’s the short version: I was in New Orleans many years ago (GC: where else would this sort of thing go down?) and felt a ghost touch my leg and arm. I know exactly what it was, and other people there – none of whom I knew – experienced the same thing right along with me.
I know – I KNOW – what happened and that it wasn’t “the wind” or “a breeze” or “group-think” or anything like that. Hell, several other people corroborated exactly what I experienced before I admitted that it had just happened to me, too.
So, yeah, I know what happened and know that there is no other sane, rational or scientific explanation for what I (and several others) experienced that day in the restaurant… but I still can’t quite bring myself to believe it.
No… that’s not true. I am to a point where I do believe it… but I just hate admitting it in public. I mean, really, the horror writer who never believed in ghosts but then experienced one first-hand and now believes in them? How cliché is THAT? [laughs]
So… there you have it. You’ve dragged the truth out of me, Goth Chick! Damn you! [shakes fist in air]
Don’t feel bad Dirk. Torturing information out of people is just another one of the many services offered. Now, tell us about Strays.
“Strays” is the lead story in NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Two: “Leave the Light On” and it’s about a couple of bandits in South America who believe they are stealing a “super-weapon” from Danforth Enterprises only to take it back to their home and discover that what they’re stolen is not a weapon at all… but rather a crate full of Chupacabras. (GC: LOVE it!)
The story deals with the nature of criminals, domestic abuse, whether or not we can ever truly start anew; and in a nod to the last story in the book (titled “Without You I’m Nothing”) the roles of heroes and superheroes in society.
It’s a fun and hopefully ultimately touching story beautifully drawn by Seth Damoose, colored by Anthony Lee and lettered by Jim Reddington; and hopefully the description above has motivated many of you reading this interview to head over to Amazon.com and order yourself a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Two (at least) since it’s really one helluva story in one helluva book. (GC: Completely agree)
Would you like to see your work up on the big screen?
My goal in creating NIGHTMARE WORLD has been to create a great comic series rather than a great movie. And even though films like Trick R Treat sort of took what we did first in NIGHTMARE WORLD and made a movie, I’m really not sure a NIGHTMARE WORLD movie that does the comic justice could be made.
That being said, I think a series of “web-short” movies online, or a TV series akin to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, that would give each individual story the room it would need to breathe, would be pretty fun.
My secret wish in this regard, though, is a series of NIGHTMARE WORLD animated shorts, each about 15 minutes long and illustrated by different animators a la THE ANIMATRIX or BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT, ultimately encompassing the whole series.
If NIGHTMARE WORLD were to ever be adapted into “moving picture” form, that would be the way I’d like to see it done… since you asked.
What’s next in Dirk Manning’s NIGHTMARE WORLD?
The most immediate step is the upcoming releases of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume Three: “Demon Days” this October and, before that, the online launch of the NIGHTMARE WORLD spin-off series TALES OF MR. RHEE over at the about-to-be-relaunched www.ShadowlineComics.com.
A few years back illustrator and NIGHTMARE WORLD alum Josh Ross began releasing TALES OF MR. RHEE online with colorist Austin McKinley and letterer Jim Reddington, and people just loved the series! It’s a noir-horror story of a tortured paranormal troubleshooter trying to make his way in a post-Rapture world. It’s dark stuff, much darker than NIGHTMARE WORLD, and we’re psyched that Shadowline is giving us the chance to bring the series back online with completely re-mastered art. The first “volume” will post with two pages of content a week for a year, and is going to be a really big deal to horror lovers out there.
Again, people can keep their eyes peeled for news about that both through Shadowline’s Facebook page and Twitter accounts as well as my own at www.Facebok.com/DirkManning and www.Twitter.com/DirkManning
Aside from those two properties, I have an all-ages fantasy comic series called FARSEEKER with artist/co-creator Len O’Grady that’s returning to online publication over at www.ACT-I-VATE.com, as well as a few other comics – some horror, some not – looming on the horizon.
So, yeah, I’ll be keeping busy for sure. The best way for people to stay apprised of everything is by connecting with me at Facebook and Twitter, as I post at both (especially the former) fairly often with news and updates.
So there you have it. Just when you thought classic tales of comic horror were a thing of the past, Dirk Manning saves the day. And I should also mention once again, that both currently-available volumes of NIGHTMARE WORLD are available at www.amazon.com so go on over and show some Black Gate love.
Breaking News: As of today, the first chapter of FARSEEKER (an all-ages comic by NIGHTMARE WORLD artist Len O’Grady and Dirk Manning) will be running in multi-page segments at MTV GEEK every Thursday between now and May 12th. On Friday, May 13th (don’t you just love the irony?) Dirk begins running the long awaited second chapter of FARSEEKER at his own site with a page-a-week update every Friday thereafter. Dirk tells me this is a huge break for he and the team, and they’re very grateful to their readers and supporters, as well as their friends at both ACT-I-VATE and MTV GEEK, for giving them an opportunity to bring FARSEEKER to a fresh set of eyes as they return to the continuing series.
Are you a fan of horror comics or were you previously familiar with Dirk’s work? Post a comment or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.