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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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]
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.
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.