Dirk Manning is the writer of the Write or Wrong column at Newsarama and the writer/creator of Nightmare World for Image Comics, and that’s just the tip of the creative iceberg. For the last five years I have been a huge fan of his Newsarama column, frequently sharing it with my writing friends and writers groups that I belong to. Several of the columns have been combined into a book: “WRITE OR WRONG: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics,” available now from Amazon here.
Recently I had the opportunity to ask Dirk a few questions. Here’s that interview:
Glenn Walker: When did you start writing? What put the bug in your system, and when did you decide you wanted to do it as a real gig?
Dirk Manning: I’ve been an avid reader and writer for as long as I can remember… so it’s a gig that I’ve always “wanted,” I suppose.
I’ve had to work “day jobs” like almost everyone else getting into (or even currently in) the writing profession… but I was as close to born being a writer as possible, I suppose.
I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious… but it’s the truth. [laughs]
Glenn Walker: What are the secret origins of Write or Wrong? I know it was originally a column for Newsarama, but did you pitch them, or did they suggest it? Why a column about writing, and especially comics writing in particular?
Dirk Manning: As Matt Brady discusses in his wonderful foreword to WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS, I approached him with the idea and he was gracious enough to give me the leeway to run with the column as I saw fit from there on out.
As for why a column about writing – or specifically, a column aimed at helping other aspiring writers create comics – I vowed that if I ever had the chance to create comics that I would do whatever I could to help other aspiring writers do the same. I was given some help and some great advice when I was getting started, so it was simply a matter of “paying it forward” as far as I saw it.
That, and if people read WRITE OR WRONG and created some great comics as a result, well, that’s some more great comics for me to read, you know? [laughs]
Glenn Walker: Five years is a long time, especially for comics press column. What are the pros and cons of such an endeavor? I know you’re coming back to Newsarama for more, so you must enjoy it. What do you think of the comics press in general and where do you think it’s going in the future?
Dirk Manning: I actually started WRITE OR WRONG back in 2006 as a weekly column and sustained that rate for quite a bit… but over time the updates became more sporadic as the columns became longer and more complex.
I love writing the column, though, and definitely look forward to bringing it back on a solid monthly basis, especially now that the first book is out and I’m already thinking about the next one.
As for the state of the comic press in general, well, I’d love it if more high-profile sites donated more cyber-ink to more non “Big Two” titles… and hopefully that’s a niche that will be filled more and more in the coming months and years. Dare to dream, right? [laughs]
Glenn Walker: Tell us a bit about Nightmare World, what makes it unique on the comics shelves and interwebs? Go for it, man, sell the project. ☺
Dirk Manning: NIGHTMARE WORLD is a graphic novel trilogy (to date) from Image Comics/Shadowline that is a series of standalone stories each written by me and drawn by a different artist or art team, with each story featuring a different sub-genre of horror – everything from ghosts to Cthulhu to Sherlock Holmes to a western to zombies to dragons to video games – you name it, we’ve done it. We even have a stick-figure wolfman story in Volume 3. [laughs]
What’s especially cool about the NIGHTMARE WORLD books, though, is that as you go through the series and read all these standalone stories, over the course of the three books you’ll see how they all tie into one giant uber-story.
It’s a really ambitious project, and one that over the years even people who don’t typically identify themselves as horror fans have come to enjoy reading over again and again to find all the cool little connections between these seemingly completely unrelated genre-hopping stories.
Dirk Manning: Gosh… you’re really putting me on the spot! [laughs]
NIGHTMARE WORLD holds a special place on my heart not only because it’s my first project, but it’s also such an ambitious one that allowed me to work with so many talented artists and friends…
But TALES OF MR. RHEE is probably the work in which I most bear my soul…
But FARSEEKER is a lot of fun because it shows that I can do more than just horror…
But LOVE STORIES ABOUT DEATH is some of the most complex writing I’ve done…
But my story “Te Vas Angel Mio” in DIA DE LOS MUERTOS #1 with Riley Rossmo is one of the most emotionally challenging stories I’ve ever written…
And none of this is even taking WRITE OR WRONG into consideration, which is a column – and now a book – that has helped so many writers and creators out there, which is something I’m still extremely honored about…
Sorry… did I answer your question yet? [laughs]
Glenn Walker: How do you write, full script or ‘Marvel style,’ and what would say are the pros and cons of each?
Dirk Manning: Full script. Very full script, in fact. [laughs]
Whenever I write a script, I write it specifically as a form of communication between myself and the artist.
After all, it’s a collaboration, you know?
Glenn Walker: Do you use any special software when writing comics? If so what and why?
Dirk Manning: Just good ol’ fashioned Microsoft Word.
I’ve used Final Draft when I’ve had to – mainly when writing stuff for BLACKBOX TV – but I can’t stand using it and beg Tony Valenzuela to let me give stuff to him for BLACKBOX in Word whenever possible. [laughs]
When I was first starting out Dark Horse Editor (and now Editor-in-Chief) Scott Allie was very gracious to me in the sense that he very thoroughly critiqued a short script or two I sent him… and I still keep those critiques in the drawer right next to me even as I type this.
That aside, working with Jim Valentino has provided me with so much great information and insight, too. He’s really knows the road, which is invaluable.
I also have a few close friends who I may occasionally bounce things off here and there… mainly for grammatical consistency and such.
Glenn Walker: How do you feel when someone who’s made it into the comics field did it using your advice? Adversely, how do you feel when you’re told your advice did not work (if that’s ever actually occurred)?
Dirk Manning: Two years ago a guy came-up to my booth at DETROIT FANFARE with a copy of his first published comic. He then proceeded to give it to me and tell me that WRITE OR WRONG is what gave him the guidance he needed to get to that point in his journey and start making comics… and it was so overwhelming to me that I literally almost started crying right on the spot. I’ve gotten e-mails like this for years, but that was the first time that someone so explicitly came right up to me in person and told me that. It was a very powerful moment for me. I mean, I’ve always sincerely appreciated the e-mails… but for him to bring me his comic, put it in my hands, and tell me that WRITE OR WRONG was what lead him to that point was just very, very powerful.
In fact, it was right then and there that I realized it was really time for me to collect WRITE OR WRONG into a book so that anyone else who wanted to create comics could have one, nice, definitive resource for them sitting there on their bookshelf… or on their desk… or in their bathroom… or wherever. [laughs]
As for my advice not working… that really hasn’t happened yet because I’m always very clear that there isn’t just one way to “break in” to creating comics, you know?
Glenn Walker: What the best advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Dirk Manning: The best: “Everyone has equal real estate on the Internet.”
The worst: “Putting your work online for free means people won’t buy the actual books.”
Glenn Walker: Write or Wrong is not just a book of advice, but also your personal journey through the labyrinth of breaking into comics. What do you think is the single most important thing you’ve learned?
Dirk Manning: Treat everyone well. As an aspiring professional – or even an established one – you can’t afford to treat people poorly despite what kind of “bad day” (or week or month or year) you’re having. The smallest of interactions can lead to the biggest of opportunities.
Glenn Walker: Okay, this might be a tricky question. All of your columns are available for perusal online for free, why should someone buy the book?
Dirk Manning: Actually, the bulk of the columns – or at least the ones available in the book – are no longer available online! [laughs]
Lest anyone think I was behind this in an attempt to get people to but WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS (which is now available exclusively on Amazon.com, by the way), the simple fact of the matter was that when Newsarama switched servers a while back they lost a lot of the old content, including the bulk of the older WRITE OR WRONG columns.
Furthermore, though, I went through those older columns and spent a lot of time and effort updating and otherwise polishing them for the book, up to and including adding several new ones exclusively to the print edition, such as a chapter on print-on-demand publishing that never ran online.
Bottom line, WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS is the most definitive resource available to anyone who wants to create comics but can’t draw them on their own. Period.
Dirk Manning: Social media can be a very, very powerful tool in creating your own personal brand and introducing people to your work.
In fact, it’s really an invaluable tool for up-and-coming writers, really. Just don’t get into any arguments on the Internet. It’s rarely – if ever – worth it once everyone involved has cooled down a bit.
Glenn Walker: Where do you see the future of comics? There are so many options out there – floppy, digital, web, even motion comics, maybe some formats not thought about yet. How do you think that will impact those wanting to break in to the field?
Dirk Manning: I started self-publishing online back in 2002, and was really one of the first creators to publish fully-realized comic book pages (as opposed to comic strips) online on a regular basis… so of course I’m glad to see that technology has caught-up to the masses to the point where this is now a common – and largely accepted – method of comic distribution.
As for the future of comics, I can envision a world where single-issues are mainly distributed online with collected editions being the dominant format.
Whenever I say that I get a lot of flak for it, with some people claiming I’m hailing the end of the “floppy” and others saying that this would cause the comic book market and industry to collapse… but neither is farther from the truth.
Like I said at the beginning of this very interview – I love books. Always have, always will, and I never want print comics to go away… and I don’t think they ever will.
I do see a focus on TPB-style collections becoming more and more important as the next decade marches onwards, though.
Glenn Walker: Thank you for your time and consideration, man.
Dirk Manning: Thank you, my friend… and let me close by again saying that anyone who wants to create comics would do well in spending less than $20 on themselves and purchasing a copy of WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS from Amazon.com. I didn’t spend all those years writing this column online – and then collecting it into a book – to try to bilk people out of money. Rather, I did so to help people who, like me, knew they could create some great comics if given the chance to do so.
In this first WRITE OR WRONG book is everything I can tell aspiring creators – ranging from where to find artists online to how to successfully foster a good working relationship with them to where and how to print your comics without going broke. If you are reading this interview and really, truly want to create comics… get yourself to Amazon and order yourself a copy! You won’t regret it.
Glenn Walker: Thank you, Dirk!