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Dirk Manning Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Dirk Manning is quite possibly the hardest working man in the comic book industry. The guy appears at more conventions than is humanly possible, while writing his own series, plus helping usher in a whole new generation of creators with his Write-or-Wrong articles. He's currently using Kickstarter to crowd fund the hardcover collection of Tales of Mr. Rhee: Volume 3 – Those Who Fight Monsters. The campaign has already more than doubled its goal and there are loads of great stretch goals unlocked seemingly every day. I had a chance to speak with Dirk about Mr. Rhee, his process, and more.
James Ferguson: We've seen Mr. Rhee battle all sorts of monsters. Can you give a brief tease as to what fans can expect in this volume?
Dirk Manning: In volume 3, we're in a situation where Mr. Rhee has escaped from the terrible events of volume 1. He's now trying to figure out where to go next and quite frankly, who to trust. He desperately wants to confide in and trust Charity, who saved him from the predicament he was in at the end of volume 1. And he does, but he's also been burned so many times in the past that he is very trepidatious. He's very cautious. As a result, he confides in his best friend, who happens to be a demon.
Mr. Rhee is as much against himself as he is anything else. Volume 3 is really about exploring the world. Volumes 1 and 2 are very focused stories. What we're doing with this one is opening up the world. We're looking at what the rebuilt world looks like after the Rapture. It's not an apocalyptic wasteland. In fact, society is chugging right along just as well as it ever did. Rhee is trying to find his place in the world after he's been smacked down pretty hard by society.
There are certainly other antagonists in this volume, but ultimately this is a story about how all these other characters influence Mr. Rhee and what he's going to do next now that he's back on the scene.
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JF: You actually answered one of my next questions, which was about the world of Mr. Rhee and how it's literally post-apocalyptic, but the tone of that is not what you think. It's not a barren wasteland. Some people left and others didn't. Everyone got over it.
DM: Not to trivialize anything, but I think about it as 9/11 on a very grand scale. The Armageddon that we see in Tales of Mr. Rhee as blatantly evident in volume 3, was that of Nightmare World. Issue #4 outlines that clearly. This is the post-Nightmare World...world. It was three days of really, really bad stuff, but that's not enough to drive society into permanent ruination. People have bounced back. People have moved on. What most people don't realize is that there's a new power structure in place.
When I say “post-Rapture world,” it's not a barren wasteland. You have new power players out there, but most of society doesn't know the difference. The biggest influence society sees – and we're starting to get hints of it now, with more and more as we go on – is how powerful Dumashine is. Thelma Luskin's company is incredibly powerful. Even if you look back at volume 1, you'll see little hints at Dumashine branding on a lot of stuff. Dumashine is like Google and Apple combined.
JF: But far more evil.
DM: Exactly right. Society is moving along like normal. People's reactions to reminders of the events that happened before are pretty extreme.
JF: It's seen like a disorder. They don't even want to talk about it.
DM: Right. This is one of the things that Josh Blaylock, the Publisher of Devil's Due Entertainment, talks about. One of his favorite things about this series is how the whole world basically has post-traumatic stress disorder.
JF: That's a great way to describe it.
DM: Mr. Rhee clearly does as well, but all of society has it too. They have it about two very different things. Mr. Rhee has it about all the terrible things that have happened to him and the fact that he knows there are still things left, while society has it because they're refusing to believe there are still monsters left. As we start to pull back the curtain and look at the big world stage we have here, it's almost Orwellian, like 1984 or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Mr. Rhee is one of the only people that knows what's really going on. Most people, quite frankly, don't want to hear it. We talk about that in issue #4, where all references to the P.R.O.M.IS.E. Group have been erased by Dumashine. One of the things that's so fun to me is Charity's reaction to that when Brad nudges her and asks if she thinks it was Dumashine. She's like, “I don't know why they would do that. What's the point?” Meanwhile, we as readers are like, “OH MY GOD! It's because Lucifer's in charge of Dumashine!” That's not even on her radar. It can't possibly be magic. That would just be too powerful, but look at who's in charge.
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JF: Are there any monsters you haven't brought into Mr. Rhee or Nightmare World that you'd like to introduce?
DM: [deep breath]
JF: That was a very deep sigh.
DM: I'm trying to decide how much to say. I would say as of volume 3, between Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee, the board has pretty much been set. Are we going to see some more monsters here and there? Yes. Have all the power players been introduced? For the most part. There are still a couple surprises, characters, and creatures that are going to pop in out of nowhere. I think what's going to surprise people moving forward is how some seemingly very tiny random characters both from Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee up to this point, become big players moving forward. For example, look at Charity in volume 1. She was in one story and then at the very end of the book. Clearly, she's become a very major part of the story. You're going to see that more and more as time goes on. There are still some monsters and characters that haven't debuted yet, but there are also some other characters that have had some very fleeting appearances that are actually going to become a very big part of the story moving forward.
JF: With these characters that started with a small role and have evolved into a greater one, was that always the plan? Or did that grow with the story as you were writing it?
DM: It was absolutely intentional. If nothing else, I hope Nightmare World shows, especially when we get into volume 4 this October, that there's been a grand plan for a very long time. I've always known what a big part Charity is going to have in this. Even as we carry on into Tales of Mr. Rhee, there will be very minor characters that will actually be shown to evolve into a very large role.
Another example is Thelma Luskin from Nightmare World. We see her as pre-Thelma Luskin in “Break Stuff.” She's mentioned in one prose story in “Bad Romance” in volume 2. She finally appears in her full glory in “A Therapy for Pain” in volume 3. We see her very fleetingly in a two-page segment, transitioning from who she was to who she is now in “Eulogy.” That character arc in itself is pretty cool, but it could almost be done right there. Then you look at Tales of Mr. Rhee: Volume 1 – and I think those looking back now will notice – that that woman that William was talking to in the limo that was beheading people was Thelma Luskin. People might start to notice that knife she has which is from Nightmare World's “Moving On.” That's the knife from “Frozen” and all these other stories.
Everything is very intentional. I have this giant spreadsheet in my mind.
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JF: See, I was picturing something like when cops are trying to catch a serial killer and they have all those pictures and newspaper clippings with red string connecting everything.
DM: Your description is much more accurate, except it's all in my head. It's in there because it would just be so big otherwise. I'm just not good enough with my hands to make that big giant chart good enough. The cobwebs that would go across this thing would be huge. Even the smallest things, like the knife the Satanic Slasher that which originally belonged to the wizard that led Vanessa down the path to become the Cthulhu priestess and caused Brian Carter to wake up Cthulhu [in Nightmare World]. That's just one random story arc and now Thelma Luskin has that knife, who got it from Lucifer and on and on it goes.
JF: I'm realizing now that I have to go back and read all of Nightmare World again to look for clues.
DM: I think a good book, especially a good graphic novel, is one that begs to be re-read. My goal with Nightmare World was for people to finish the three volumes that have come out so far and then to re-read them to see this big story unfold right in front of them. I'm hoping that upon reading Tales of Mr. Rhee: Volume 3, they're going to feel that way, going back to re-read the previous volumes of both series and then get ready for October when Nightmare World: Volume 4 comes out. Then brace for impact for Tales of Mr. Rhee: Volume 4 after that.
JF: What was it like working with five different artists for Those Who Fight Monsters...? Did you adjust your process for each artist?
DM: Working with different artists on different stories is not new to me. That's the Nightmare World model. I wrestled with this decision for about thirty seconds. Do I have one artist, like Seth Damoose for example, come in and just do all of volume 3? The answer in my mind was immediately no. Given that each issue was going to focus on a different character, I really wanted to break it up and to serve the story best, I needed five artists. I put on my old Nightmare World hat again. Who's going to be the best artist to tell this story?
Marianna Pescosta just demolished issue #1. That's a tough story to illustrate and make as engaging as she did because the majority of that story is two people sitting in an outdoor coffee shop. Her ability to pull in the mannerisms and even to make the silence speak volumes just made her perfect for it.
Seth Damoose on issue #2. He's even begun to own the hashtag #toocartoony. He crushed that issue. He made the violence in that issue so gut-wrenching. I can never say enough good things about Seth Damoose. He is not the type of artist people normally associate with a horror book, but I think the perception of how well he fits this character is continuing to evolve. He draws beautiful women beautifully, so when Thelma Luskin shows up and says things to William like, “It's a dangerous world. I'm used to it,” he nails those scenes. The same for when he has Brad ripping people apart.
With Austin McKinley in issue #3, my hope is that when people turn to the splash page with the Gannon reveal, people will understand exactly why I asked him to draw that issue. He owns Gannon. My all-time favorite scene in volume 3 is in that issue. His characters are expressive and emotive. His style works perfectly for Gannon especially.
Issue #4 was a tough one. It's – no pun intended – a monster issue. There is a LOT going on. I've known Len O'Grady going on fifteen years now. We've worked together that long. To say he knocked it out of the park would be an understatement and a disservice to how hard he hit the ball on that, using three different art styles in one book and making it seamless and as good as he did. The flashback scenes during the visions of the apocalypse are just jaw dropping.
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JF: Those pages are so intense because you turn the page and here's this spread of chaos and terror. It's nuts.
DM: It works so well when you juxtapose it to the flat '70s style he's doing with the rest of the book. Then you get done with all that and you go back to this kind of realistic style. Len is an artist's artist. The only reason I ever concern myself with making more money is so I can do more work with Len. Obviously I want to pay everyone millions, but man, I wish I just had a limitless credit card that can support Len just to do what Len does. Issue #4 is Len O'Grady at the top of his game.
Then you get to issue #5, the mystery in space issue. Howie Noel is a guy I can't say enough good stuff about. He draws Tara Normal and he's a caricature artist. He got to draw in Stephanie and Heather, who pledged during the last campaign to be a main character in an issue. He just brought such a cool, creepy alien vibe to that. He wasn't sure if he even wanted to color the pages himself. One of the things that he did that was so fascinating with this issue was he didn't ink it. He went from pencils to colors. It gives it a great look.
So, in the longest answer ever to the shortest question ever, yes, this was very deliberate. I wanted each artist to be able to shine and to tell the story the best way it could be told. That was by utilizing a different artist for every issue.
JF: This volume was posted online for free on the Devil's Due Entertainment site. How was the response to the webcomic format? You're no stranger to it with the way Nightmare World was originally released.
DM: We actually released volume 1 the same way online. It was very positive. What I ended up hearing the most were people just buying it on ComiXology. They couldn't take the page a day. I think the Kickstarter results speak to how well people received this. I've said from day one on Nightmare World that if push comes to shove, I'm not afraid to give the work away for free just to show people it's good.
What I wanted to show people is that I'm not afraid to stand by this work. I will give the whole volume away for free at the drip rate or the first week of every month you could buy the whole issue digitally. I was confident that this book was so good that people would want a physical copy to own and read and hold in their hands. The results thus far speak for themselves. We hit our funding goal – $6,666 – in three hours. We were over $10,000 in 13 hours. At six days in, we're at over $14,000 and a really good spot.
At this point, we've made our funding goal. It's just about me giving back to the people that have supported this campaign and spreading some love to the other Devil's Due creators. That's why we're doing the character crossover art prints. I've said this time and time again. Pound for pound, Devil's Due has the most diverse lineup of books and creators of any publisher. These art prints are just my little way of showcasing that and giving back to those that have supported us upfront. Getting the art prints, getting the glow-in-the-dark tattoos which I'm really excited about. Other stretch goals like the signed book plates with head sketches from Seth Damoose if we can get to that point. A full sixteen-page minimum comic by Dan Dougherty. I don't have to tell you that all this stuff costs money, but to me it's just about paying it forward and thanking everyone that's supported us.
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JF: Shifting gears a bit, what's something that scared you as a kid?
DM: I was a horror kid, so I was usually the one scaring other people. [Laughs]
JF: Good answer! I'll take it. We've got a write-in question from Gentleman Joe Mulvey. What's your current favorite horror comic (not counting your own)?
DM: I think it's getting almost uncomfortably easy for people to overlook how good some of our legacy horror titles are right now. The Walking Dead is still just an absolute great horror comic. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth is way up there. The Mignolvaverse as a whole is just really strong. My gosh, is B.P.R.D. just incredible. What Mignola has done, coming to the end times of his story with Hellboy in Hell and B.P.R.D., he's just crushing it. The Goon is on a mini-hiatus right now, but I'd still count it. That's a book that people don't know how to take because sometimes it's really funny and sometimes it's really scary. That last story arc was some of the best character horror I ever read. I've got to give a shout out to Riley Rossmo's work with Ming Doyle on Constantine. It was a very strong comic when he was on that.
JF: That actually leads me right into my next question. How do you think Mr. Rhee would react if he came across other folks in his field like John Constantine?
DM: He doesn't trust people very much. [Laughs] Mr. Rhee is not one of those guys that's going to automatically go to fisticuffs with people. He's the type of guy that's going to keep his distance and not really trust anyone. He's like a wounded animal at all times. He will not lash out at you until he feels cornered, but when he does he is going to rip your face off. Maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively.
JF: Just to wrap up, you kind of touched on it before, but what can fans expect from Dirk Manning in the future? You mentioned some Nightmare World with volume 4 coming...
DM: Yeah, we've got a couple things. Right now there's Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 3. After that, we'll be launching a collected edition of Love Stories to Die For from Devil's Due. This will contain the two-issue flip book we did from Image Comics, illustrated by Richard Bonk and Owen Gieni, as well as three issues that ran exclusively online that have never seen print. A zombie story by Anthony Peruzzo, an evil guardian angel story by Howie Noel, and a pro wrestling story by Seth Damoose. It's all going to be under a cover by Nei Ruffino and it is hands down one of the best cover she has ever done in her career.
After that, come October, we will launch a Kickstarter campaign for Nightmare World Volume 4 and/or simultaneously as part of the same campaign, the Nightmare World Omnibus. Hardcover. All four volumes. One book. Our whole goal on Kickstarter is going to be how much we can trick out the Kickstarter exclusive version of that book. #leatherbound?
HorrorTalk would like to thank Dirk Manning for taking the time to chat with us here. At the time of this wring, the Kickstarter campaign for the Tales of Mr. Rhee: Volume 3 hardcover is over 200% funded. Backers at the hardcover level and above will receive five bonus art prints, and glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos. Further stretch goals include signed book plates and bonus comics.
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