Enter the Nightmare World: An interview with Dirk Manning

Make no mistake:  I like comic books.  I’m just not an avid collector.  Oh, sure, me and my old buddy Jeff (who was a serious collector) used to take regular trips to Monarch Cards & Comics in Toledo when we were kids.  He would look for the next issue in a series he was reading, or perhaps try to find some undiscovered gem hidden along the shelves.  Me, I’d just kinda wander aimlessly through the store taking peeks at titles I had heard of; like X-Men or Batman, for instance, or pulling random issues out of a box and judging them purely by their cover.  To put it mildly, I had no idea what I was doing.  I still don’t.  And while I’ve got a big box of comics leftover from my adventures with Jeff, and a shelf of graphic novels above my bed, I almost never go to a comic book shop seeking out a specific title.

Until recently.

It was just a couple of months ago that I first heard about Dirk Manning.  It embarrasses me a bit, because aside from being a comic book writer of some acclaim, he is also from my hometown of Toledo, OH.  I had to find all this out from my dad after he had read about him in a feature story in the Toledo Blade, our local newspaper.  My dad was a huge comic book fan growing up and, by the time he joined the Army, had amassed quite a collection.  I remember him handing me the newspaper and saying, “Here, why don’t you get this guy on your show?”

The show he was referring to, of course, was the internet radio program and podcast I do with my friends, Bobby and Robyn, called Strange Frequencies Radio.  On the show we discuss a wide variety of fringe related topics, from ghosts, UFOs, and the people who hunt them, to conspiracy theories and any other unique or interesting hobbies.  The world of the weird and bizarre, in other words, is what we like to explore.  Apparently dear old dad was sick of listening to me talk about the latest person we had on who believes she is a Werewolf and instead wanted to hear about something that, in relation, is maybe a little more down to Earth; like, say, a horror comic writer.  Well, I’m always on the lookout for original personalities to speak with, so I was most definitely game.  I just had to find out a little more about this Dirk Manning character first.

I checked him out on Facebook and Twitter, immediately taking a shine to the profile picture of himself in an overcoat and top hat, with a scarf hiding his face.  I quickly put in a follow and friend request so I could join in on the fun.  Soon thereafter I was out to Borders with Bobby and, entirely by accident, ran across a bunch of signed copies of the first volume of Nightmare World, the series Dirk had been writing and publishing for free online since 2002.  I bought it, took it home, and quickly tore through the 13 short stories, each of which were 8 pages long and written by a fella obviously inspired by the elements of psychology and terror one might experience in an episode of the Twilight Zone.  But while the writing was done with a tip of the cap to the likes of Lovecraft and Stephen King, the artwork, done by an assortment of artists, never ceased to be terrifically vivid, and a wonderful complement to the stories.  Yes, I thought, I will get Dirk Manning on Strange Frequencies Radio, and it will be glorious.

The day of the interview came and, though I had prepared voraciously, I had no idea quite what to expect.  Dirk is an imaginative creator of comics but…was it possible he could also be a bore?  Happily, he was anything but.

Having interviewed hundreds of people over the two-plus year course of Strange Frequencies Radio, I can easily say that Dirk Manning will go down as one of my favorites.  Wickedly boisterous, he was also riotously hysterical and naturally did the one thing I can ever hope from our guests:  he actively wanted to have a good time.  It’s simply much too common in our cozy little subculture to have guests who are less interested in having fun than they are in trying to project an image, or taking on an air of authority.  Though Dirk gave what seemed like a good straight five minute rant on the lack of originality he sees from far too many writers, he did it with a dose of good-natured ribbing, constructive criticism and, yes, laughs.  Myself and my co-hosts loved him, and we hope to have him back real soon.

I hope you’ll give the segment, which lasts right around 45 minutes, a listen sometime.  I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.  In the meantime, I had the chance to do a bit of a follow-up interview with Dirk that you can read right here and now.  So sit back in your easy chair, grab a drink, and prepare to enter the Nightmare World with me as Fortean Squirrel presents:  an interview with Dirk Manning!!!

Hey Dirk!  It’s been a few weeks since we last spoke on Strange Frequencies Radio.  How have you been?  Did you have a good Christmas season?

I’ve been good! This year the holidays were a little different for me in the sense that I took a little time to sit back and actually relax a bit for a change since 2011 is going to be crazy-jam-packed with all sorts of new [comics] debuting all over the Internet during the first few months of the year.

I just love Nightmare World.  Can you tell the folks reading what the series is about, and how it may be different from other series in the genre?

I appreciate the kind words about NIGHTMARE WORLD!  It is a series very near and dear to my heart, so I never get tired of people telling me they dig it. [laughs]
As for what the series it about, NIGHTMARE WORLD is a horror anthology of 52 different short stories all written by me and drawn by different artists or art teams. Each story takes place in a different genre of horror, and while they all seem to stand alone at first, over time readers come to discover that all of the stories blend together to tell one giant “uber-story” about Lucifer awakening Cthulhu to kick-start the Armageddon… along with some other sub-plots. Given that it can be read like a straight anthology or as one giant series, there’s no other comic series out there like it.
Also, something else that makes NIGHTMARE WORLD unique is the appeal the series has to so many people who don’t normally consider themselves fans of anything “horror” related. One of the things we set out to do with NIGHTMARE WORLD from the beginning of the series was to really open people’s eyes to what “horror” can be about. When a lot of people hear the term “horror” they think of blood-and-guts stuff and “torture pr0n”… but with NIGHTMARE WORLD we really set out to tell stories that are genuinely unsettling and nerve-wracking “horror stories” without resorting to a lot of violence and/or blood splattered everywhere. I mean, let’s be honest: There’s a difference between violence and terror… and I’m much more interested in the latter than the former.

In that sense NIGHTMARE WORLD is sort of like“The Twilight Zone”:We set out to unsettle people with short stories they’ll remember – and go back to revisit – for years to come.

You were one of the first people to publish your comics online.  And you allowed people to read it absolutely free, to boot.  Why did you decide to go in that direction instead of the traditional paperback publishing route?

My goal was always to one day get NIGHTMARE WORLD in print… but I also wanted to build an audience for the comic so that it would be a franchise book publishers would be interested in picking-up. Considering this, over the course of regular weekly updates over several years I put the whole series online for free at www.NightmareWorld.com starting in 2002 so that people could check it out, tell their friends about it and enjoy it. Because we had consistent weekly updates with new material for years our readership swelled over time due to the positive word-of-mouth advertising.
The series ended with its 52nd and final story (one that finished tying all the various plot threads together) in 2008… and a few months later we were picked-up by Image Comics/Shadowline for part of their new online comics hub. Less than a year later they also started publishing NIGHTMARE WORLD graphic novel collections, and to date there are two collections in print (collecting the first half of the series) and available nationwide through Amazon.com or any local book store or comic shop.
When I first started publishing NIGHTMARE WORLD for free online a lot of my peers mocked me for it, but, well, six years later the results speak for themselves, don’t they? [laughs]
Mind you, that’s not to say that just putting your comics online will automatically result in a major publisher picking-up your series for print. After all, I spent six years creating and promoting the comic – and I also had a small army of extremely talented artists from across the world working with me on the series that whole time to boot. The Internet is *NOT* like “Field of Dreams.” Just putting your work online is not enough to make people come check it out… [laughs]

Still, I think anyone who’s serious about trying to “break-in” to comics should publish their work online for free and then offer print collections with some exclusive content. After all, with all of the Print-On-Demand options out there these days (such as www.Ka-Blam.com) it’s a lot easier to do it nowadays than it was when I started in the Stone Age of online comics… [laughs]

Why do you create comics?  C’mon man, didn’t you dream of working behind a desk for 40 hours per week when you were growing up?

Here’s a little secret for you and your readers, man: Most professional comic creators also work a full-time job so they can afford to create comics. Really! [laughs]

Being someone who exercises my creativity from time to time, I know that the question “Where do you get your ideas?” can be kind of silly.  There is no idea factory that only you and other comic writers know about.  Everyone gets ideas, some are just clever and talented enough to weave them into cool, cerebral stories that other people want to read.  So, I won’t do that to you.  Instead, I really just wanna know where you get your GOOD ideas from?

In the case of NIGHTMARE WORLD, honestly, most of the series is just my autobiography with monsters sprinkled in. Feel free to keep THAT in mind the next time you go back and read it, Jason… [laughs]

What have been some of your influences in creating comics?  Are you inspired by other comic writers, or do you take inspiration from television, movies, or even music at all?

I think some of the biggest creative influences didn’t really come from comics themselves, but writers such as Alan Moore who showed what could be done with the medium. The way he used juxtaposition alone in comics such as Watchmen (which was one of the earliest comics I ever read when I first started getting into them as a teenager) was something that really fueled my passion for the medium.
That aside, though, my creative influences are mainly writers of horror and “speculative fiction” short stories such as Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft… although, as I mentioned earlier, watching a lot of “The Twilight Zone” as a child also had a huge influence on the person I would grow up to be.

Finally, music is also a huge inspiration to me when I write. In fact, eagle-eyed readers of NIGHTMARE WORLD will notice that the title of every story in the series is inspired by a song… [laughs]

Who are some other writers or even artists whose work you enjoy?  In other words, who else should we be paying attention to?

Comic-wise the creators who take up the biggest part of my graphic novel library are Alan Moore, Robert Kirkman, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, David Lapham, Bill Willingham, Mike Mignola and Neil Gaiman.
As for some of my favorite titles these days, I’d recommend people looking for some good comics to read try The Walking Dead (of course) as well as the off-beat and hilarious Chew and The Goon or the always engrossing Fables. My fellow Shadowline title Morning Glories is another fun read. I’m also loving B.P.R.D. these days (a book that started as a Hellboy spin-off but is now arguably even better than its predecessor), and highly recommend that anyone who likes Hellboy start digging into that series as well.

Oh… and the first two volumes of NIGHTMARE WORLD, of course. [laughs]

With the success of graphic novels such as 300 and Sin City being translated to the big screen, do you think we’ll only be seeing more of that in the future?  Why do you think it took Hollywood so long to recognize the potential of comic books as source material?

I never write anything with the thoughts of it being made into a movie. I know a lot of up-and-coming writers who try to do that… but to me that reeks of desperation more than anything else. Comics that stand on their own feet as good comics are the ones that usually generate interest in Hollywood, anyway.
That being said, yeah, I think we’ll continue to see good comics optioned for both film and television. I mean, heck, the works already half-done, you know? The story and presentation is all laid-out right there in front of the directors and producers! [laughs]

As for it taking a while for Hollywood to catch-up… I think it didn’t have as much to do with them being slow to catch-up as some people like to say. Rather, I think it’s that the comic industry is now getting all sorts of attention because there’s a lot of really great, high-quality, substantive comics being produced these days – more so than at any other time in the history of the medium, in fact.

I know that aside from writing comics you also teach at a college right here in Northwest Ohio.  Now, a lot of people get over their fear of public speaking by picturing the audience naked.  But you speak in front of groups of people everyday.  And you also write horror comics.  So, tell me, do you ever just picture yourself ripping the heads off of your students and bathing in their blood when you need a little “pick-me-up” during the day?

Ummmm… I’m not really much of a “gore-hound” like that… so… no. Not at all.
That’s the common misconception about horror and people who like horror that I was talking about earlier. Yes, I write a horror comic and I genuinely enjoy horror and speculative fiction stories and movies – just like a lot of people do – but that doesn’t mean I’m some sort of sick, twisted, Caligula-like freak!

I have a job, a very wonderful circle of friends and a very supportive family… and I like scary stuff. That doesn’t make me any more mentally ill than the millions of other people who enjoy stuff like “The Twilight Zone” or Stephen King or anything else in that general realm of things.

You write a pretty regular column at Newsarama called “Write or Wrong,” where you try to help young writers overcome the obstacles they may encounter along their journey creating comics.  In your experience, what are some of the common things you see writers doing that they should be avoiding?  What advice would you give to a young lad or lass who may want to grow up to be like Dirk Manning someday?

The first advice I’d give anyone reading this is *NOT* to try and emulate what I’m doing. After all, I’ve got a big head-start on being me and I do a better job at it than anyone I know. [laughs]

Seriously, though, I think a lot of creators come out of the box by trying to emulate the creators they like… and that’s more often than not a big mistake. You should never try to be, say, “The next Alan Moore”… but rather “The First [Insert Your Name Here].”
That aside, there are all kinds of things you can do to maximize your chances of success in creating comics… and I’ve given hundreds of tips in my “Write or Wrong” column over the years.
The whole series is archived at and the whole series can be found archived right here: http://www.newsarama.com/topic/write-or-wrong
Just click a column and scroll to the bottom for links to all of them from the very beginning… but I’d recommend going to the bathroom before you get started… because there’s a lot of information in there… or at least a lot to read. [laughs]
I also try to write a new column about once a month, so it’s worth checking back there often… or connecting with me on Facebook (at www.Facebook.com/DirkManning) since I also post updates to the column – and everything else I’m working on – there on a very regular basis.

What are you working on now?  And what can we keep an eye out for from Dirk Manning in the future?

Oh man… now that NIGHTMARE WORLD is wrapped-up online 2011 is going to see an insane amount of comic output from me and my artistic partners in crime.

For starters, www.ComicsPipeline.com is currently running two 22-page stories from me, each at the rate of a page a week. One of them is a dark pro-wrestling story called “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and the other one is a zombie apocalypse parable titled “Countdown to Extinction.”
Also, the second chapter of FARSEEKER by myself and Len O’Grady will be coming to www.ACT-I-VATE.com in the next month or two. FARSEEKER is an all-ages fantasy/Sci-Fi ensemble book that’s just beautiful to look at… and well written, too! [laughs] It’s definitely not horror… but weirdly enough when I showed a sneak-peek of it to the NIGHTMARE WORLD readers they just flipped over it. It’s a really fun project that I’m extremely proud of, as it shows off a “side” of me that a lot of people weren’t really exposed to very much in NIGHTMARE WORLD.
Finally, in the next month or two I’ll be bringing two new online series to Image Comics/Shadowline at their online comics hub of www.ShadowlineComics.com. The first one, TALES OF MR. RHEE, is a horror-noir series about a paranormal trouble-shooter named Mr. Rhee (get it?) that’s actually a bit of a spin-off from NIGHTMARE WORLD. The second one, titled HOPE, is a really interesting morality play about a mother who moonlights as a superhero only to have Children’s Services take her daughter away when she’s inadvertently “outted” during a car accident. It’s a very drama-laden series that asks some tough questions about what it means to be both a mother and someone who – point blank – is just plain superior to everyone else.
Along with all of this I’ll also still be chugging along with “Write or Wrong”, hopefully doing a column a month there… and I also am already involved with one or two other things that it’s too early to mention. Rest assured, though, 2011’s going to be a really exciting year for sure… so I encourage anyone interested to get in touch via Facebook and stay tuned!

Thanks Dirk, it was great talking to you.

Well, that’s enough outta me, friends.  Hope you enjoyed the interview.  That Dirk Manning is one cool cat.  I encourage you to grab a copy of Nightmare World, volumes one and two of which are available at comic shops and on Amazon.com  And keep an eye out for his current projects too.  They’re sure to be very entertaining.  Now you have yourself a great week, and check back regularly into the new year for more updates, reviews, and interviews right here at Fortean Squirrel.

Be seeing you.


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