One of my most exciting experiences from the year I lived in New York City was attending the 2008 New York Comic Con at Javits Center in Hell’s Kitchen. I got the autographs of several highly influential creators – including those of highly influential X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and infamous novelist Orson Scott Card – attended panels for Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Frank Miller’s The Spirit, and on Sunday I even bumped into The Daily Show‘s host Jon Stewart, who’d toted his kids along for children’s day. I showed up to let my geek flag fly, but I was also a man with a mission – to break into the comic writing business. The climax of my journey was when I mustered up the courage to walk over to then Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and say, “Hello. My name is Justin Tiemeyer and I’d like to write for Marvel Comics.” Quesada’s response was priceless – he looked up, sighed, and said, “You have to go through the submission process just like everybody else.”
Writer Dirk Manning has had his own fair share of comic con run-ins with big names from the comic book publishing industry as described in Write or Wrong: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics, his autobiographical how-to guide for aspiring writers in the comic book medium. His conclusion: Don’t do it just like everybody else, because everybody else is not a paid comic writer. Most successful writers are successful only because they published their own independent comics long before Marvel or DC ever knew who they were. Manning cites Robert Kirkman’s Battle Pope, Brian Michael Bendis’s Lili, Garth Ennis’s Troubled Souls, Grant Morrison’s Zenith, and Alan Moore’s Maxwell the Magic Cat as examples (36). For Manning, it is not about spending your time mired down by the submission process of the Big Two (DC and Marvel) as Mr. Quesada suggested. In fact, he goes so far as to note that these editors cannot legally review unsolicited submissions due to intellectual property concerns (34). Manning’s key to success is making fully realized comics today. After all, what better proof could you provide an editor who wants to know if you can plot and script comics on the company’s dime than a finished comic produced on your own?
Manning’s heftiest contribution to the canon of recent literature is Nightmare World, a series of 52 horror comics originally published online at the Image Comics online imprint Shadowline, Ink. The anthology covers a variety of horror subgenres, from deals with demons (“For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”) to delinquent artificial intelligence (“Extraordinary Machine”) to hitch-hiking murderers (“Movin’ Up”), all of which contribute to a grand unified story arc combining Lovecraftian mythology with Biblical imagery focused through Dante’s Inferno and traversing the apocalypse, the rapture, and all that follows. A couple of my favorite stories are “Knee Deep in the Dead” – a comedic critique of slasher films (and particularly slasher sequels!) from Friday the 13th to Halloween – and “Hungry Like The Wolf” – a stick figure werewolf tale and also one of the more brilliant pieces in the collection due to its creative use of pictures as a substitute for speech and inner monologue. A large portion of the Nightmare World series has been published in three volumes by Image Comics which are available for purchase on Amazon.com.
In a previous draft of this post, I went into a lengthy description of how Manning is the unicorn of comic writers – a unique type of individual that few will ever encounter and that those who have encountered are not likely to encounter ever again. This is because Manning was raised on novels, novellas, and short stories, not comic books and graphic novels. In an interview with Newsarama, Manning listed some of his favorite authors as Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka and George Orwell. Furthermore, with the exception of The Jovian in Nightmare World, Manning has no desire to write superhero stories. In this sense, Manning and I are different. My dream of being a comic book writer has always included writing big stories about my favorite comic book heroes. For Marvel, I wanted to write a post-Avengers vs. X-Men story about Cyclops abducting one-time friend Henry McCoy and travelling across space in search of Phoenix relics from other civilizations with the hope of finally reuniting with the great love of his youth, Jean Grey. I also had a pitch for Batman that I called “The Last Alfred Pennyworth Story.” It should be pretty clear that I am more of a horse than a unicorn. I want what every other aspiring comic writer wants – to have a cushy work-for-hire gig with Marvel or DC with the opportunity of developing your favorite characters for five or ten years. Manning is unique because he is repelled by that possible future and the likelihood of his creativity being stifled by excessive editorial oversight. For Manning, the greatest thing you could do is own your characters, develop them how they are meant to be developed, and make every sacrifice in making certain that your individuality is represented in the sovereignty of your own stories.
There’s more to Dirk Manning than just Write or Wrong and Nightmare World. There’s the noteworthy spiritual successor to Nightmare World titled Tales of Mr. Rhee, an unfinished web comic titled Farseeker, and several other stories for such titles as Dia de los Muertos and Critter. For more information on Manning, feel free to visit the writer’s web site DirkManning.com, and for all the latest news follow Manning on Twitter @DirkManning.
One of the main things I hoped to accomplish with #ProjectKaramazov was to distance the project from critiques that it is an egoistic and self-serving journey where I bask in the delight of interacting with my favorite celebrities regarding my favorite book by including information about organizations that help bring about measurable good in the world. When I asked Dirk Manning if he had a favorite charity, non-profit, or other philanthropic organization that he’d like to promote, he spoke of the charity of “paying it forward.” If Manning had his way, we would all hold this one axiom in our hearts: “Do one unsolicited act of goodness for someone every day.”
Though Manning himself did not hip me to Zerobound, I thought this organization might be worthy of looking into as a means of accomplishing Manning’s ideal of a daily dose of goodness. Founders Sabrina Norrie and Kelli Space tasked themselves with finding a creative way to give students a path out of loan debt. Space had made headlines years ago when she started a web site called Two Hundred Thou where she sought out public donations in order to conquer the $200,000 in student loan debt she acquired while attending Northeastern University. Following Space’s example, Zerobound is a crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo where student debtors pledge to do volunteer work at local charities and nonprofits in exchange for financial pledges from their community that are directly applied to the student’s loan debt.
If you find yourself with the ability to make a contribution toward a better future for college graduates, head over to Zerobound and make a pledge to a current campaign. If you find yourself overburdened by the yoke of excessive student loan debt and strongly inclined toward volunteerism, follow the same link and start your own campaign. Comic writer Dirk Manning was able to get the first volume of his series Tales of Mr. Rhee into comic book stores with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. With somewhere near 70% of the population of the United States suffocating under the force of debt, Zerobound hopes to kick start a few lives, and perhaps a struggling economy in the process, by helping graduates help themselves get out of debt.
We should all be inspired by the imperative to do a good deed daily. It should serve as an excuse to get creative in helping those around us. Norrie and Space were following this moral rule, whether they intended to or not, when they founded Zerobound. I don’t want to do anything to stifle your ability to creatively help those in need in your community, but if you’re looking for a resource to bring your giving to a new level, you could find much worse places to go than Zerobound.