New York City Comic Con may have happened more than a month ago but Multiversity Comics’s coverage of the East Coast’s largest comics and pop culture event is just getting going. Multiversity sent 14 of our staff to the event this year for interviews, panel reports, and more so expect lots more to come over the next few weeks. This way, even if you couldn’t make it yourself, you can still see the con through our eyes.
Few writers are as versatile as Dirk Manning. Whether it’s horror, like “Nightmare World” and “Tales of Mr. Rhee,” or his feminist superhero miniseries “Hope” (which wraps up this week), Manning’s work remains emotion and character driven at its heart, and makes you think on larger questions of life from first page to final panel. He’s also taken time to share the secrets of his craft with the world with his self-help book, Write or Wrong: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics. No doubt you’ve walked past a Dirk Manning table at a con you’ve attended (if you’re in the US) – – he has had a relentless touring schedule this year, and looks to do the same for 2020.
At NYCC, I sat down with Dirk to talk about “Hope,” reinventing classic literature to tell new stories, and a very important question that Walking Dead fans have probably wrestled with for years.
You’re known mainly for your horror works, but your current series with Source Point Press, “Hope,” is a superhero story with maternal twist. It’s a very deeply personal story, in the sense that it’s very character driven. What compelled you to tell Hope’s story now, in 2019?
Dirk Manning: It’s interesting because I’ve actually wanted to create “Hope” as a series since about 2007. And what it comes down to for me – – spoiler: I am not a mom. And not to be overly political about it, but I think now more than ever it is relevant how women are just treated differently by systems and institutions. And I wanted to tell that story through the lens of a mom who is a superhero, very powerful woman, and then what happens when she gets outed and her identity becoming revealed to the public, how people reacted with being a superhero and a mom. The fact that’s now coming out in 2019 with K. Lynn Smith as artist on the book, with all the things going on in society. It’s serendipitous, but I think we just hit that boiling point, and people are recognizing that.
It seems to be something that people are recognizing and embracing now. We are in the back half of this story. And without spoiling too much, what can readers expect?
DM: Tears. “Hope” is ultimately about a villain that can’t be punched. It is a story about a mom who likes a superhero. But I tell people it’s not a superhero book. And really what we’re starting to see as we get into the fourth issue and things like that, is Hope’s extreme frustration with what’s going on. The reality of the situation setting in, the situation with her daughter, the situation with her husband and things getting to a boiling point very much for her. And as you starting to realize that she’s standing on principle, but there’s this Kafka-esque absurdity to what’s going on in her life. And it wouldn’t be happening if she was a guy. If Hope was a guy, there’d be no story here. And she’s realizing that, and just her escalation and her frustration with that, is she’s starting to realize the absurdity of the situation she’s in.
The first issue of “Hope” was a Free Comic Book Day issue, and it was also Source Point Press’s first Free Comic Book Day issue ever!
DM: Yeah, and it’s funny because for Source Point Press to be a publisher that mainly does horror and sci-fi primarily, for their first Free Comic Book Day book to be a book about a superhero, then let alone to be a book about a superhero written by a horror guy like me. Source Point Press recognizes what I do, they recognize what K. Lynn Smith does. So for them to take us and make us the first ever Free Comic Book Day book, that was really an honor. And for them to take a book like “Hope,” and to put it out there. Here’s a book by Dirk Manning, horror comic writer, K. Lynn Smith, Tennessee Western, with a pink cover and a mom on the cover. And then for people to read it and say, “Holy crap this book is very much a Dirk Manning-K. Lynn Smith production.” It’s been flattering. The reception has been huge, and I just couldn’t be happier that it happened with Source Point Press.Continued below
It’s a creative risk the Press took and it’s obviously shown great, great rewards.
Let’s talk a little bit now about horror. One of the things I find with horror is, the best horror is psychological. It’s those moments when your brain is saying “did I just see that? What did I see?” So it’s all in your head essentially. How do you translate that to the page in a visual medium?
DM: To me, horror is ultimately about “What would you do if?” And that’s the foundation of everything I’ve ever written. So for me writing the story, that’s how I looked at it. Like, what would you do if, and then you start to explore what Franz Kafka called “the nakedness of man when faced with the absurd.” I’m not afraid of zombies crashing in this building. It’s not going to happen. I’m going to go on record in saying that this weekend we will be zombie-free. There’ll be no zombies . . . well, not real ones. But there’s a fascinating story to be told of, what if zombies did invade the comic-con and we’re all in this closed-in room with one exit. Because horror is about the human condition.
But in a comic book, the flip side of that is finding the right artist for the right book. And I’ve sat on stories for years, waiting for the right artist. And that’s very important. Comics are a visual medium. I can’t draw. I can’t even draw a bath. So you really have to find the right artist for the story in order to help communicate the story visually that’s appropriate. So when you look at “Hope,” K. Lynn Smith is an amazing artist. She’s the right artist to work on that book with. When you look at things like “Cthulhu Jr.” with Scoot [McMahon], when you look at people like Josh Ross, all these guys I work with, I take a lot of pride in the library in the matching the right artist with the right story for the right result.
So now that you mentioned zombies, I found a very interesting little fact about you. You were in “Walking Dead” #46 with a letter you’d written to Robert Kirkman with a question: do zombies poop? How did this come about as something you wanted to know?
DM: It was a conversation that was just being had. Like do you think zombies poop? I don’t know, let’s write him a letter! So I’ve never written a letter to a comic book before. I’m one-for-one in writing letters to comic books and having them printed. And what’s funny is other people ask that now, and he says, “I already answered that.” And Kirkman said, “Good luck finding that issue now.”
Basically it’s possible that they have an enzyme in them that breaks it down. But eventually it just runs out of them or their guts would explode, because they eat so much, they just overflow and it starts to blow out eventually. Do zombies poop? Not the way we poop. But they do, eventually. The stuff gets out one way or the other.
What’s funny is when I wrote that letter to “Walking Dead” and they published it, I was writing for Image at the time. “Nightmare World” had just come out through Image Comics, so that was a little extra bonus to me that was just extra fun.
On the topic of writing, you’ve actually written a book yourself for writers on how to write. We want folks to buy this book, so tell us one piece of advice from that book that would intrigue someone enough to buy the book, what would it be?
DM: The book is Write or Wrong: The Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics, and it;s intended for people who know they can write, but are not sure how to meet artists and build your team, and then balance day job, family work and all that, to make comics. If that’s the place you’re at in your career, Write or Wrong: The Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics, on Amazon, go get it.
Some of the other work you’ve done has been in licensed properties, taking a work and reimagining it: for example, your take on The Wizard of Oz, from the perspective of the Flying Monkeys., You’ve done one with based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. How do you balance honoring that original property but putting your own spin on it?Continued below
DM: I always pride myself on doing creator-owned work. I did get to do a story arc on “The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West,” tellin the origin of the Flying Monkeys. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So what I would do is I would look back at the original work and read it. There’s not much about where the Flying Monkeys come from in Baum’s books, very little. How did the Wicked Witch get control of them? There’s like the Golden Cap. So to me, it was then just fleshing that out so that you get to honor the intent of the work, but also do something fun and new.
Doing our Shakespeare story, to write a horror story in iambic pentameter was really fun for me. It was something I really wanted to do. I’m a huge Shakespeare geek. A lot of my stories have Cthulhu in them. Lovecraft really encouraged people to add more stories to the mythos. Plus Cthulhu’s in the public domain so it’s fun to have that exploration, but still also honor the work, but then also play with it and have fun, and do something new with it, That’s usually my intent: honor the original work, but also have fun and contribute something new that also the people who created the original work would hopefully find respectful to their vision.
So since we’ve talked about Wizard of Oz, I have to ask: have you seen Wicked, whether it’s here on Broadway, or a tour?
DM: I just saw it last night for the first time ever.
And what did you think?
DM: It was amazing. I’ve never been to a Broadway play, and I directed community theater in the past, things like that. I love theater. Coming to New York, and I’m in and out. I come in, I do the show, and then I leave. So the fact that I got to go to a Broadway play, see Wicked . . . to see it. It was mind blowing. It was so good.
Outside of “Hope,” once that wraps up, any new projects you want to share with us? And where can people find you online?
DM: How much time do we have? Right now we’re doing a Kickstarter for “TWIZTID HAUNTED HIGH-ONS: The Darkness Rises.” First two days in, they’ve already cracked $11,000 on Kickstarter, which is amazing. So we’re on track for that graphic novel coming out. [Editor’s note: the Kickstarter was fully funded with 13 stretch goals unlocked!]
February is going to be the whole consumer the Kickstarter for “The Adventures of Cthulhu Jr. and Dastardly Dirk,” the whole collection. May, Write or Wrong volume 2 on Kickstarter. People are super stoked about that. For those of you that are wrestling fans, that’s going to be the pipe bomb book for me.
All those books will be through Source Point Press.
Thank you so much Dirk.
DM: It was a pleasure to finally get to talk. Thank you so much.
Our thanks to Dirk for a thoughtful and fun discussion. “Hope” #6 (the final issue in the miniseries) will be available at comic shops this Wednesday.