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Manning the Nightmare World

A comics interview article by: Joshua Pantalleresco
Finishing any series in comics is a feat - even more so when you have no company to back you up. Nightmare World began over five years ago, and now, fifty-two installments later the series has finally come to its conclusion. I had a chance to speak to Dirk congratulating him on that feat, and where he is going from here.

Joshua Pantalleresco: First and foremost, congratulations on a great tale. What was going through your head when you finished it?

Dirk Manning: Thank you! Nightmare World has been an amazing experience and I’m just really glad that I got a chance to see the story through to the point where I truly felt it was complete.

I mean, will there always be more stories to tell? Yeah… there will be, I suppose, if I wanted to dig deep enough… but when we went around the bend with “In the meantime…” and then really started to bring things home with Eulogy and finally Somebody Told Me. I knew that the big story I wanted to tell – which ended-up comprising of fifty-two stand-alone (yet connected) stories – had been told.

As for what was going through my head when I received those photographs for page eight of Somebody Told Me (the last story of the series)… I just kept thinking “No… this can’t really be happening. Something’s going to get screwed-up again…” (laughs)
Thankfully it didn’t, though, and after our letterer Jim Reddington – who, make no mistake, is the M.V.P. of the whole series – finished the final edits on the page we sent it off to go online.

The first time I saw the end of the last story online I was in a little bit of shock at first – and in a way I think I still am – but the fact that I’m not really slowing down at all probably has a little something to do with that as well. (laughs)

JP: Going back to the beginning, what were your original goals with Nightmare World? Did you achieve them?

DM: YES! (laughs)

The original goal of Nightmare World for the comic to serve as a vehicle for the artists (at the time) of Golden Goat Studios to showcase their sequential art skills on some short stories that we could publish and showcase in their portfolios and on web… and for me to showcase my own writing abilities, of course.
When we started the series I figured we’d be lucky if we could get six stories completed. Well, that happened pretty easily and I soon had artists approaching me to see if there were stories they could draw for the series!

Imagine that for a second – artists approaching a writer to draw some stories! (laughs)

So, before I knew it the series had expanded to twelve stories… and at that point I had ideas just flowing out of my head and some of the artists wanted to do another story… and there were also some artists (such as a certain fellow by the name of Joshua Ross who I specifically wanted to work with… so before I knew it I was at having twenty-four stories written for the series. Well, I decided #25 would be a good place to cap it… but, again, I had artists still approaching me and stories just falling out of my head left and right… which took me to around forty-eight stories over the next few years.

At this point I had become friends with several of these guys, which is possibly the coolest aspect of the whole experience: the wonderful friendships I’ve formed with so many wonderful and talented people.
Well, when I announced to my “inner circle” of artistic friends that I was going to end it at #48 a few of them piped-in and said “No, no… if you’re going to end it you need to go to at least #50!”

I knew they were right, of course… and so I write a few more scripts and got them out to artists… only to realize that I had written fifty-one scripts! D’OH!

Rather than cancel one of them, I decided what I originally planned to be the hidden two-page “epilogue” of #50 and turn it into a full-blown eight-page story in which I would finally and definitively “spill the beans” on a lot of the “connections” between several of the stories… and readers will recognize that story as “Eulogy.”

JP: Looking back, who were your favorite characters to write about in the series? What are some of your favorite stories?

DM: I know this is going to sound terrible, but Lucifer is hands-down the most fun character to write. There’s just a certain arrogant and understated arrogance about him that I just really, really enjoy writing.

Similarly, I really enjoyed writing Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes Nightmare World story While You Sleep, I Destroy Your World – which is, in my opinion, one of the best stories I’ve ever written.

Finally, Brian Carter was also always fun to write if for no other reason than to just torture the guy as he descended deeper and deeper in madness throughout the chronology of the series. (laughs)

As for some of my favorite stories, aside from the one I mentioned above, some of the ones that really jump out at me off the top of my head are Preys Be the Lured, Violet, Knee Deep in the Dead, You Oughta Know, The Same Deep Water As You, Mine, Sleep Now in the Fire and Eulogy… although I like really them all for different reasons.

I mean, take a story such as Hungry Like the Wolf – it’s a stick-figure werewolf story and I love it to death! However, do I love it in the same way I love Disasterpiece or Try Honesty? Of course not… just like I love chocolate ice cream in a different way than I love deep-dish pizza, you know?
Every story in the series approaches the genre of horror – and, really, one specific theme – in a different way, so it’s hard for me to say which ones are my absolute favorites. However, the ones I listed above are definitely the ones that stand-out the most as ones that I take a special amount of pride in.

JP: Did you always see the series ending like it did with Eulogy and Somebody Told Me? If not, what was the original ending?

DM: By the time Preys Be the Lured came out – which, believe it or not, I was originally intended to run in a separate anthology for some friends of mine that never saw the light of day – I knew how I wanted the series to end… but it was also a matter of whether or not I’d have the time, energy and artists (laughs) to get to that point.

In the event that we couldn’t have made it to Eulogy (which, while not the last story we ran, is the last story in the “uber-arc” about the Armageddon/Rapture) I was perfectly content to let people believe that Lucifer had one and taken control of the Earth without a hitch… but, that being said, I’m both happy and grateful that we were able to show the “real” ending in Eulogy.

(Also, if we never made it to that point I think people would have been asking me “Who is Tom,” and “What’s behind his sunglasses?” for the rest of my days on this Earth… at least! (laughs))

JP: So with Nightmare World coming to an end, what is the status of your website Nightmareworld.com and also the series itself? Will it be printed?

DM: Now that we’ve been able to “complete the saga” we’re going to basically take the series into syndication through two new websites.

The first place will be at Mind Over Matter Comics which is a webcomics collective run by me that will feature the re-release of all of the Nightmare World stories (this time at the more accelerated pace of four pages a week, two full stories a month) but also a slew of new webcomic material by some of my Nightmare World collaborators such as Josh Ross, Austin McKinley and Carrie Curtis for starters… with more friends such as Len O’Grady, Stacie Ponder and Jason Meek (among others) to be joining the fun as well.

The other cool feature about MOM Comics (as we jokingly call it) is that, though our partnership with Ka-Blam Printing we’re finally going to be able to get Nightmare World into print. As anyone who’s been following the series knows, we’ve had a few missteps over the past year or so in regards to getting the series into print, but now that will have the time to take it into my own hands – with some help from Barry at Ka-Blam – I’m finally going to be able to get the whole series (that’s right – EVERY FREAKING STORY!!!) into print via four TPB collections over the next year or so. In fact, the first one will be available to purchase by this Halloween! Believe it!

That aside, Nightmare World is also going to be running on the same schedule as at www.MindOverMatterComics.com at another website called Soul Geek. A good friend of mind had been trying to get me involved with the site for a while, but given the fact that I was (and still am) married I had cold feet about running syndicating Nightmare World at a self-described “geek dating site.”

As it turns out, though, the people at Soul Geek are all really cool and very professional…and I’m very, very excited and grateful to be given the opportunity to be work with them and spreading some horror comic goodness their way.

JP: Do you ever see yourself going back into this world somewhere up the way?

DM: I’ve thought about it, yeah, but not necessarily directly.
I mean, technically speaking Tales of Mr. Rhee is a spin-off series of Nightmare World considering the fact that it takes place in the same world several years after the “Armageddon/Rapture” we saw in the main series.

Also, there are certain stories I’d like to tell featuring some of the characters featured in Nightmare World – such as one nasty little Lovecraftian story featuring the couple from The Guns of Love Disastrous – but I don’t know if I’ll ever necessarily bill such stories as New Nightmare World stories or anything like that. If anything, it would just be a cool little Easter egg type thing I would use to “treat” old-school readers.

Heck, I can tell you right now that there’s even a peripheral connection between the Farseeker series by myself and Len O’Grady and Nightmare World, but whether or not I ever explore it or bring attention to is irrelevant, you know?

When I first started Nightmare World one of my biggest “creative” goals was to make sure that each story could be read and enjoyed in and of itself… and that’s definitely how I want to approach all my future projects.

Honestly, I’ll probably be scattering Nightmare World Easter eggs into everything I do for years to come – if not the rest of my life – but it’ll be more for fun (for me and the fans of the series) than anything else.

JP: Finally, what did the series teach you as a creator?

DM: Great question, persistence, for sure. Also, it taught me a lot about the collaborative process. I think a lot of young creators go into this either trying to find artists to use as their own hands (all comic writers are failed artists, you know (laughs)) or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, without a strong enough vision to attract and entice artists to work with them. It’s a balancing act and it’s one I’d like to think I learned fairly well over the past several years.

Finally, as cheesy as this sounds, getting the chance to create and then ultimately finish a massive project like Nightmare World taught me that a combination of sincerity, passion, luck and skill really can make it possible to meet your goals.

Looking back over the last several years (the first installment of the first story was on March 3, 2003 and the last installment posted on August 14, 2008) and all of the sacrifices I’ve made – both in terms of time, energy and money – there’s no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice in pursuing the creation of this series… and that would still hold true even if the series ultimately would have failed.

JP: Can you give a list of some of your titles? What are they about?

DM: Sure. Here’s the a quick peek at our initial line-up:
Nightmare World is a series of stand-alone (or are they?) eight-page cerebral horror stories by myself and over two done artists from across the world.

Put Some Pants On! is a roughly 48-page story written and drawn by Josh Ross that’s – as the kids say – “off the hook” funny. It involves a time-traveling monkey from the future trying to help the hapless narrator score some “girlie action.” It’s fun -- and gut-bustingly funny – stuff… especially once the aliens get involved.
Austin McKinley is bringing no less than three titles to Mind Over Matter… which is just ridiculous. (laughs) Most people first got to know him as a colorist for Nightmare World, and then he later illustrated two stories for the series. Well, as it turns-out the guy – who is one of the nicest and most talented people in comics – also has hundreds of pages of his own comic work already produced as well!

The World Is Our Icebox is a “strip” style comedy about penguins, Barbeques Of Optimism is a series of various comedy vignettes in any and every genre imaginable and Boy And Robot is this huge sci-fi/action epic he illustrated and co-created with a friend who we’re bringing along for the ride.
Of course, Austin is also the colorist on Tales of Mr. Rhee, our horror/pulp-noir story about a modern day demon hunter that’s written by me and illustrated by Josh Ross… meaning that you’ll be seeing Austin’s work on the site at least four times a week. (laughs)

Finally, I’m delighted to say that Carrie Curtis is bringing a “re-mastered” version of her manga epic 9th Elsewhere to Mind Over Matter. 9th Elsewhere is just… wow… I really don’t even know how to start explaining how awesome it is – and I’m saying that as a guy who’s normally not that into manga. It’s about a teenage girl who gets accidentally gets trapped in her own dreams and subconscious by her bumbling muse and goes from there. You just really have to see it to believe it. She’s already done about a thousand pages of it, but she’s re-releasing the “re-mastered version” online through the Mind Over Matter Comics site at the rate of two pages a week… which is really, really cool.
In fact, here’s the line-up for the site so far:

Mondays: Nightmare World, Put Some Pants On, Barbeques of Optimism
Tuesdays: Nightmare World, 9th Elsewhere, The World is Our Icebox

Wednesdays: Nightmare World, Boy and Robot

Thursdays: Nightmare World, 9th Elsewhere, Tales of Mr. Rhee

Then, every Friday we’re doing something called “Friendly Fridays” in which we’ll be showcasing the work of other friends who also have comics that we feel are worth checking out. The first several Fridays will be dedicated to Stacie Ponder’s wonderful stick-figure zombie masterpiece They Won’t Stay Dead!

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this is just the “first wave” of comics we’ll be featuring at Mind Over Matter Comics. There are still a few other creators I’m hoping will be getting on board soon (such as Jason Meek, Mark Winters and Brent Engstrom just to name-drop a few), and the wildly-popular Farseeker series by myself and Len O’Grady will be debuting as an ongoing series at the site before the end of the year as well!

JP: Will any of the web comics see print?

DM: My hope is that all of it will see print, but that’s up to each individual creator to decide what to do with their work.
As for Nightmare World, one of the biggest reasons I created it was so all of it can see print – even if it means having to get a few of the earliest stories redrawn (or, in a few cases, just re-colored) by new artists.

There’s no reason why Nightmare World shouldn’t all be in print for people who want to read it on paper, and over the next two years the plan is to collect all of the stories into four graphic novels – complete with a ton of bonus material in each volume – and then collect the whole series in chronological order in one MASSIVE and super-limited edition 500-plus page hardcover book.

JP: Why the name Mind Over Matter?

DM: Because it makes our nickname MOM Comics. (laughs)
I’m kidding! I had about two-dozen possible names written down, and by process of elimination it’s the one I kept coming back to. I knew that my… ahem… self-portrait would part of the logo, and considering this I wanted a name that would go with the infamous Dirk Manning while also not sounding too “spooky” since we’re releasing a lot more than just horror comics.

That aside, it’s also a constant reminder – to me, at least – of all the hard work and effort we’ve put into our work to make it “real.” A lot of people set out to create comics, but a very small percentage of those people actually have any work to show for it, you know?

Well, we do… and that’s what Mind Over Matter Comics is all about.

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