Monday, January 19, 2015

Exclusive Interview with Dirk Manning on Tales of Mr. Rhee

Last week marked the release of the third issue in the Tales of Mr.Rhee, a post apocalyptic story like no other! Writer & columnist Dirk Manning was able to tell me about the series and how it all came about! Man does this guy ever know how to answer a question! Here we go:

TFQ: How on EARTH did you give birth to TALES OF MR. RHEE? I actually think it may have been conceived in the some corner of universe where people turn into Reavers.

DIRK: So… you want me to tell you the very earliest of the TALES OF MR. RHEE, eh? [laughs]
Long story short, TALES OF MR. RHEE really came to fruition when, about a decade ago, I was approached by an aspiring all-horror cable channel and asked if I would be willing to create some online horror comic content for them. They had discovered my horror comic series NIGHTMARE WORLD online through the Image Comics/Shadowline website, and wanted something like that, but, in their own words “Even more horror.”

After a few conversations with them I realized what they wanted was not something so-much in the vein of the more cerebral/psychological/Twilight Zone vein of things (like NIGHTMARE WORLD), but something a bit more… extreme.

Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of most extreme horror, but I welcomed the challenge and started to look around in the darkest corners of my mind for something to pitch to them. I stumbled upon a specifically dark corner in which I envisioned a scene with a wizard of some sort trying to control demons by channeling them through the fetus of pregnant women, and then Mr. Rhee sauntered out of the darkness and said, without so much as even an introduction, “You know I ain’t gonna let somethin’ like this happen.”

I was like “Who the Hell are you?” to this character who I didn’t know lived in my brain, and he replied “Mr. Rhee.”

He’s lived there ever since, and I’ve grown quite fond of the guy, flaws and all.
The cable company folded before I was able to formally get anything going with them concerning Mr. Rhee, but myself and artist Josh Ross ended-up publishing 13 eight-pages featuring the character (with the first one featuring a variation of the above-mentioned scene) online alongside – and then surpassing – NIGHTMARE WORLD, and he immediately became a HUGE hit with readers (RHEE-ders?), ever since.

Oh… and, since you brought-up The Reavers, let me just add “Browncoats forever!” [laughs]

TFQ: Can you tell me how TALES OF MR. RHEE: “Karmageddon” got started?

DIRK: After I teamed-up with Devil’s Due to run a very successful Kickstarter for a collected print edition of those first 13 stories titled TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 1: “Procreation (of the Wicked)”, the next question was, obviously, where to go next.

People were losing their minds after the end of the first series, and were anxious to know how Mr. Rhee – this character who people tend to fall in love with pretty quickly – was going to get out of the mess he found himself in… so I of course responded by announcing TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 2: “Karmageddon” would largely be a prequel to the events of the first series. [laughs]
In Volume 1 people really got to know who Mr. Rhee was, but I also wanted to explore how he got to be the man he became, you know? The “tortured, cryptic, monster-hunter” trope has been done to death… but as people read TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 1 they saw that he was this very complex – and flawed – person. Someone at a convention came up to me one time, revealed that he was a psychologist, and asked me if Mr. Rhee had “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which caused me to high-five him, because he was exactly right. I mean, really, how can you live in a world that denies monsters and demons still exist and function, you know?

I knew for a long time that the second full story I wanted to tell about Mr. Rhee would be a prequel set during the Armageddon/Rapture mentioned a few times in the first book. How did Mr. Rhee survive for the three days the devil held dominion over the Earth?
It ends-up he spent those three demon-filled days trying to protect five orphaned siblings... and that his success in saving them all is limited, at best.

TFQ: What led you to collaborate with artist Seth Damoose for this story?

DIRK: I’d worked with Seth Damoose a few times on NIGHTMARE WORLD, and had been a fan of his work for a long time even before that. Over the course of working on NIGHTMARE WORLD together we began attending some conventions together, too, and became pretty good friends.
Seth has a style that’s very… a don’t want to use the word “cartoony”… but… animated. As such, I thought it would be really cool to work with him on a very dark story, as I don’t think enough horror comics are willing to juxtapose a more animated style of art with really dark subject matter, with Eric Powell of THE GOON being one of the only exceptions. A lot of creators – and, honestly, a lot of editors and readers, too, apparently – think that all horror comics should be cloaked in nothing but blacks or something. It works well for Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY books because that’s the look of the world he created, but with that notable (and fantastic, I might add) exception, I think way too many creators default back to lots of black and shadow when they shouldn’t. I think too many of them mistake their comics for movies or something. [laughs]

Anyway, given that Josh Ross was making his move into full-time tattooing, I knew I needed to work with someone else for TALES OF MR. RHEE: “Karmageddon”, and a few of the artists I worked with on various stories for NIGHTMARE WORLD were all in very serious contention… but then Seth drew a few character sketches that sealed the deal on the spot.

Seth is a very expressive artist, and it became clear to me that no one would be able to illustrate the raw emotional power needed to tell this story as well as he could. Period.

You then add Anthony D. Lee’s colors to the mix – especially his very stark use of reds and a few others (wait until you all see “the blue scene” in Issue #4), and you have a very different-looking – but incredibly powerful – horror comic story that will invest you in these characters and the many trials, tribulations, and horrors that befall them as the four-issue mini-series goes on.

TFQ: This is the second TALES OF MR. RHEE story. How many Rhee stories do you have? What is in his future?

DIRK: Well, in his very last story he… KIDDING! KIDDING! No spoilers here! [laughs]
Despite TALES OF MR. RHEE: “Karmageddon” being primarily a prequel story, it is told in flashback, and we see that Mr. Rhee did indeed survive the terrible situation he finds himself in at the ending of Volume 1… with the help of Charity from The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group, of course.
As of this writing I have several of the scripts for TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 already in the hands of the artists, as with Volume 3 we’re going to tell five or six stand-alone stories, each focusing on a different character in the Mr. Rhee universe, in an order to really flesh-out and explore the post-Rapture world he now lives in, including who controls what, who’s after what, and what actions Mr. Rhee is going to take now that he has seen that he’s not alone in his knowledge that, yes, there are demons left, and many of them have begun to covertly integrated themselves more and more into society… for better and for worse. Expect to learn a lot more about Charity and The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group (what does it mean to seek the “Permanent Reduction of Monsters in Society Everywhere,” exactly?), Thelma Lushkin and Dumashine Enterprises (who really rules the most powerful cooperation in the world), Mr. Rhee’s old friend Brad Thomson (does a demon posing as a human radio DJ still have a place in Rhee’s new life?), and more.

Each issue in TALES OF MR. RHEE Volume 3 is going to be illustrated by a different artist, and I’m just over the moon about who I have working with me on this one, including some people I’ve worked with before as well as some people I’ve been wanting to work with for quite some time. It’s easily the biggest, and most ambitious, story I’ve told yet, and the pay-offs for fans of the series are going to be huge in each and every issue. I P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Uh… I mean, promise. Heh.

TFQ: Can you tell me a bit about your process?

DIRK: A lot of writers will claim that you have to sit at the keyboard and write every day, but, honestly, my style and schedule don’t allow something like that to be possible.

Like a lot of other comic creators, I work a day job and have other commitments… but that being said, I’m writing all the time in my mind, whether it be plots, scenes, or even laying out how the pages panel by panel on the page. It’s a never-ending process for me, and I’m even doing it in the back-regions of my mind as I type this. No offense! [laughs]

I then tend to block out certain weekday evenings or weekend days when I will do nothing at sit at the keyboard and write… and it works pretty well for me. I’ve never been one to be able to write – to physically sit down and type out the words – bit by bit. I like to wait until the cake is done baking before I take it out of the oven and frost it, and really, that’s what the typing process is for me: The frosting of the already-baked cake.

Music is definitely a necessity for me when I’m tying at the computer, too. All these years later I still don’t have an iPod or a MP3 player or anything like that, so I load different CDs depending on what I’m typing, or turn to YouTube to discover new bands or rediscover old ones.
(And since I know you’re wondering, I’m listening to Metallica’s “Garage Inc.” as I type this. My utter distain for the oversaturation of “Whiskey in the Jar” soured me on this record for about a decade or so, but today felt like a good day to give it a listen again… and man, is their covers of “Loverman” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and “Astronomy” by Blue Oyster Cult may be worth the price of the whole CD set alone! [laughs])

TFQ: What are some of your favorite comics and how have they affected your life? How have they affected your stories?

DIRK: In my book WRITE OR WRONG: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS (get it on Amazon, yo!) I discuss how three of the first comics I ever read were WATCHMEN, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and THE CROW. Combine the elements in those three comics with my life-long love of all things horror, a steady diet of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and a love for the economy of short stories by writers such as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and of course Poe and Lovecraft… and the result is Dirk Manning, horror comic writer. [laughs]
That aside, some of my favorite modern comics include, SCALPED, LOCKE AND KEY (Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King, is quickly proving himself to be one of the best prose and comic writers of our generation), all the Mignola HELLBOY/B.P.R.D. stuff, THE WALKING DEAD and INVINCIBLE, pretty much everything written by Alan Moore (yes, including his most modern stuff), EAST OF WEST and THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, Erik Larden’s always entertaining SAVAGE DRAGON, Big Dog Ink’s THE LEGEND OF OZ: THE WICKED WEST (which I was fortunate enough to write a story-arc for), the collected works of Garth Ennis, and, perhaps most especially, Eric Powell’s THE GOON.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s also an absolute ton of amazing “indie” comics being produced by many, many great up-and-coming creators, too. I’d encourage everyone reading this who will be going to a comic convention this year to set aside a little pocket money to explore some of the great comics being made by creators who haven’t made it to publishers like Image Comics or Devil’s Due or Marvel or DC yet. Having a major publisher doesn’t automatically make a book good, just as not having one doesn’t automatically make a comic not worth reading.

As for me, along with TALES OF MR. RHEE with Devil’s Due, I have books in print from numerous publishers, and I still hit the convention circuit pretty hard every year in order to set-up in Artist Alleys all across the country and spread the word about what I do. If any of you out there reading this want to know where to find me, you can my full touring schedule at or follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Twitter @DirkManning.

When I’m not on the road or sequestered away somewhere writing comics (yes, usually of the scary variety), I live on the Internet… [laughs]

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