By Dirk Manning
(with special thanks to Victor Dandridge Jr.)
Dirk Manning writes for Bleeding Cool when he's not writing comics or touring to promote them. Victor Dandridge Jr. prompted this particular column/interview.
Yesterday we posted a Write or Wrong column in which Victor Dandridge Jr. and I talked about life on the road, whether or not Wizard World conventions are the enemy of comic creators everywhere, and identifying your brand. It was a helluva return for Write or Wrong, and if you missed it, I encourage you to make it a point to check it out when you're done here.
Today, we're presenting the second half of our conversation (over, I'll admit it, a second round of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream) during my recent pass through Columbus, Ohio. For the second half of our chat Victor went into full-tilt "interview" mode to talk to me about my new series Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon", its uber-successful Kickstarter campaign (that's now in its last week), what it's been like working with Devil's Due (and what all aspiring creators should consider when dealing with potential publishers), what makes Mr. Rhee so different from most other comic characters out there, and the biggest lesson learned (so far) from taking a pre-established property to Kickstarter for a boost via crowdfunding.
VDJ: Based on the successes of the Kickstarter campaign you're running for Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon", I'm guessing Mr. Rhee is here to stay for a while?
DM: Oh yeah. Keep in mind, too, that this is actually the second successful campaign for the Tales of Mr. Rhee franchise, as we also ran a Kickstarter last year to collect the online series in print as Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Procreation (of the Wicked)". We raised over $15,000 on that first one, for this new campaign we raised $13,000 in the first 13 days and we're still going strong. People who've read the series are very, very passionate about Mr. Rhee, the universe he inhabits, they want us to keep going, and – most importantly – they're voting with their dollars.
So, yeah… I'm excited to say Tales of Mr. Rhee is going to be around for a while, which is good, because there's a pretty big story with some pretty large themes we want to tell over the course of the series. [laughs]
VDJ: I want to reiterate that for everyone: You made your full funding goal in less than 8 hours, and then went on to raise $13,000 in 13 days. I swear, your fan-base is a powerful thing! You'd do your homeboy Cthulhu proud! [laughs]
DM: I live to appease my tentacle-faced god. [laughs]
Seriously, though, as you said – it really is a testament to the passion readers develop for Mr. Rhee as a character once they read the book. I've never once heard of anyone reading Tales of Mr. Rhee and saying "Meh… it's OK." He's a character that readers really seem to connect to, and they get very passionate and enthusiastic about him and this world that he's a part of.
DM: Yeah. We originally started publishing it online as Nightmare World started to wrap-up its online run, and then when we decided it was time to take it to print I partnered with Devil's Due Entertainment to make that happen.
Since then we've gotten a fair amount of direct market support for the books, but where we've really seen a continuous and ever-expanding groundswell of support for this series is at conventions and, obviously, via Kickstarter. Tales of Mr. Rhee flies off the table at conventions I attend, and the results of this campaign have been humbling.
VDJ: So you've got two successful Kickstarters for this series under your belt. Is that a sign that your publishing agreement with Devil's Due is a strong one?
DM: Absolutely… and partnering with Devil's Due is not a decision I made lightly, either.
Point blank, anyone who pays attention to industry news – or is a student of the game – knows that Devil's Due hit the skids pretty hard a number of years ago. Devil's Due founder Josh Blaylock has been very upfront about what happened both in person and in print, so I'm not going to retell the whole story here, but, point being, he's never hid from it as far as I can tell. He was riding really high for a while, and then the bottom fell out on things. It happens.
Well, over the last few years he's been rebuilding Devil's Due from the ground-up, first with his own series Mercy Sparx and, slowly but surely, with a few other creator-owned titles such as Plume, Tales of Mr. Rhee, Squarriors, and the upcoming 7 Days of Death. It's been a slow burn, but Devil's Due is steadily building an amazing stable of great – and different – creator-owned titles.
VDJ: I'm gathering that you entered into your publishing agreement with Devil's Due a little cautiously, I gather. How'd that all come together, and what made you decide they were the right publisher for Tales of Mr. Rhee?
DM: First off, let me say this to every creator out there who is looking for a publisher: Enter any and all publishing agreements carefully, including hiring a lawyer to look over your contract – and include an "escape clause" in which you can terminate the agreement if things go south. A lot of people see getting a publisher as this short cut to success… and while it can – and should – help you, having a publisher does not equal automatic success. Rather, a good one will help you expand your brand awareness and your sales… and, ideally, you should do the same for your publisher, too, by being affiliated with one.
That being said, my decision to join Devil's Due started when Josh and I would start to see each other at a lot of the same conventions, and we finally started talking a few years ago when he offered me some of his mom's cookies at a show in Cincinnati, Ohio, and –
VDJ: Wait… are you playin' here or are you serious? Is that some sort of secret comic book lingo or something? [laughs]
DM: Oh, no, I'm being completely literal. He came by my table, offered me some of his mom's amazing sugar cookies, and we started talking from there. [laughs]
What can I say? They were really good cookies! [laughs]
VDJ: I guess so! And things are going well with Devil's Due, then? Are you, as you put it, both benefiting from the business relationship?
DM: I'd say so, yeah.
Josh and I are both very passionate about comics and the comic business – but, past our strong passion for the comics and the comic business, we're both fairly reserved on a person level. As a result, I think it took us a little time to figure each other out and really learn how to play to each other's strengths, as we both have different skill sets that complement each other's very well.
As I see it, running a Kickstarter campaign has two purposes: Raising the funds upfront to print your comics, and also getting new eyes on the book in question, and I think we have done that very well with this second campaign.
I mean, really, that's the biggest struggle when you're not writing for Marvel or DC: Getting casual comic readers to look at your work and give it a read.
Heck, that's why I was willing to post the first two issues in their entirety at Bleeding Cool for everyone to read for free!
There's a lot of people out there who haven't checked-out my work yet mainly because I haven't written anything for "The Big Two" yet… and as a result you have to use a variety of methods to increase your book's outreach, you know?
VDJ: You brought this project in to Devil's Due, but it's still a creator-owned book, right? With a lot of publishers you have to give-up part of your rights to your work to get it done and close the deal.
DM: Tales of Mr. Rhee is completely creator-owned, as are most of the books published by Devil's Due, as far as I know.
I know some a publishers out there who offer creators that deal: "We'll publish your book, but only if we get to own a piece of the property forever," and with the rampant success of books in other media, such as The Walking Dead, I get that… but those types of deals don't sit right with me.
As I see it, the job of the comic book publisher is to publish the books, and should a TV deal or movie or something spring from the book, then the publisher should be doing what they can to sell more comics based on that crossover success rather than trying to make money off the property itself.
That's how publishers such as Image Comics and Dark Horse do it, too, for starters, and I think it shows a lot of respect and integrity on behalf of the publisher towards the creators.
Don't get me wrong: I even understand that maybe the publisher will want a piece of the movie and merchandizing royalties if, by them publishing your comic, they help you line-up a movie or video game deal – that's totally fair and reasonable – but owning a percentage of the work itself just by virtue of them putting-up the money to print the book and get it in <b<PREVIEWS? Tread lightly there, my friends… that's all I'm saying.
Victor Dandridge Jr.: Before we get too far ahead, let's get back to talking about Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon" for a minute. This series, which is Volume 2, starts off with a different feel than where we left Mr. Rhee at the end of "Procreation (of the Wicked)" last year. Mr. Rhee now seems to be in a good place; a safe place.
Dirk Manning: After the trials and tribulations we put Mr. Rhee through in Volume 1 – not to mention that mortifying cliffhanger we left the readers on – I figured it would be best if I at least showed everyone, yes, Mr. Rhee got out of that situation with Charity's help and that, as you said, he's in a good place… for the moment, at least.
VDJ: But that safety net… is it more of a gateway to some pretty dark stuff?
DM: That's the million dollar question I'm glad so many people are asking! [laughs]
Obviously Charity is a member of The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group (which stands for "The Permanent Reduction of Monsters in Society Everywhere"), and as people who have read the first book know, The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group was pretty heavily involved in basically damning Mr. Rhee to this occult-infested lifestyle before he was even born.
Mr. Rhee doesn't know this about The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group… but does Charity? And either way, what's going to happen when one (or both) of them find out? That isn't the focus of "Karmageddon," but it's definitely a looming question that has some pretty major implications for the future of the series moving forward…
VDJ: How much research is needed to delve and divulge so much of the occult topics? You've got mythical figures, arcane languages, and all that…
DM: A lot of people speculate that my office is comprised mainly of graphic novels, Cthulhu idols, and lots and lots of occult reference books… they are all 100% correct. [laughs]
I do a lot of casual research in regards to the occult elements of my work, but I also make sure not to be restricted by it or made a slave to it, either. I usually use the research as a springboard for thought more than anything else before doing my own thing with it.
VDJ: Mr. Rhee is a black comic character, and though you are significantly dapper in your all black attire, you, sir, are not of African-American descent as far as I can tell.
DM: I am known for my good hair, but for those people reading this at home or at work, no I am not black. [laughs]
VDJ: By creating Mr. Rhee you've joined the ranks of some pivotal names in comics that have also created prominent black heroes, including Tony Isabella, Jack Kirby, and Stan "The Man" Lee himself. Was that a motivation in you in depicting Mr. Rhee as a black character?
I thought Mr. Rhee was a white guy for all of about 30 seconds when he first wandered into my mind, but that's before I got a good look at him, if that makes any sense. He's black because, well… he's black. That's who he is. I had – nor have – no other agenda in regards to seeking notoriety for myself or the character… and that goes the same for Mr. Rhee having a romantic relationship with Charity, who is a white woman.
Mr. Rhee is black, and Charity is white, and they're in a romantic relationship because that's who they are.
It's really a non-issue as far as I'm concerned, except for, hey, I'm glad there are a lot of people who are reading a comic about a character that may be a little different that the majority of the lead characters in comics out there, at least in terms of his ethnicity.
That being said, though, Mr. Rhee's ethnicity is just one of many things that makes him stand-out from so many other leading comic book characters. I mean, he's also a sexual abuse survivor, too… which is a topic you don't see discussed too often in regards to male characters.
To me, and as seen in "Karmageddon", this is something that plays a lot more into his character development than his ethnicity.
VDJ: You've come at developing Mr. Rhee as a unique character in a lot of ways. Really, I wouldn't define Tales of Mr. Rhee as a "black comic," but rather as a tried and true horror comic… one where the black guy has ironically survived for two volumes and counting! [laughs]
DM: The black guy has survived two back-to-back installments of a horror franchise! You know what? Maybe I do want a little notoriety for that revolutionary concept! [laughs]
VDJ: In Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon" we're seeing some of Mr. Rhee's exploits during the days after everything goes to Hell — literally. Given that most of this story serves as a prequel to Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 1: "Procreation (of the Wicked)", in this story we can see that Mr. Rhee is far from the hard-case we see him as largely portrayed as in the present. Is this series the explanation for how he got to be that way?
DM: Well, I think some of the events in Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Procreation (of the Wicked)" – especially during the latter half of the book – helped show why Mr. Rhee is so distant and non-trusting of most people… but that being said, yeah, Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon" definitely shows where most of his trauma – and his guarded nature towards other – began.
VDJ: I don't want to spoil the ending of "Karmageddon" given that the last issue won't be hitting the shelves for a few more weeks and that some people will be reading the story for the first time when they get the book from Kickstarter, but… wow! The ending is brutal! Respectfully, what the Hell is wrong with you to come-up with stuff like that?
DM: As I started writing this series for artist Seth Damoose, one of the things I talked to him about was how I didn't want this comic to look like a horror movie with everything happening in the shadows and in dark rooms, but that I did want to pace it like one in the sense that I wanted the horror getting exponentially more dreadful each issue, right up until the very last scenes of the book.
As you yourself mentioned a minute ago, Tales of Mr. Rhee is a genuine horror comic, and not a comic where instead of superheroes we have a magician and instead of supervillains we have monsters. To this end, there's a big difference in the way a horror story is told than a heroic fiction story is told, and, again, not to beat a dead horse, but while there are heroes and villains in this story, Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon" is a horror comic through and through… and, yes, the ending is brutal… but it should be.
Good horror should unsettle the readers and make them care about the characters rather than having them cheer for the bad guys. I can't imagine anyone even considering cheering for the villains in "Karmageddon" on any level.
VDJ: I know the answer to this question, but for the record, do people have to have read Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Procreation (of the Wicked)" in order to understand the new collection Tales of Mr. Rhee: "Karmageddon"?
DM: Not at all. I pride myself on how every creator-owned book I write is self-contained enough that people can pick-up any single book and read it without having to know anything about anything that came before it.
What a revolutionary concept, huh? Creating books that people can just pick-up and read without needing a history lesson! [laughs]
That being said, readers will have a little more appreciation for some of the finer points of "Karmageddon" if they've read "Procreation (of the Wicked)", but it's not necessary, no.
Oh… and should people want both books, though, they can get them both through the current Kicsktarter campaign at a special "bundled" price. I just want to put that out there while the tape is rolling… [laughs]
VDJ: You said there's going to be more Tales of Mr. Rhee to come… so where's Mr. Rhee going show his tattooed head next? What can readers who check out "Karmageddon" expect moving forward?
DM: Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 3 is going to be a five-issue mini-series published by Devil's Due at the end of 2015 or, latest, early 2016. Each issue will primarily focus on a different character (or set of characters) and be illustrated by a different artist, but it will also all be one big inter-connected story… very similar to what we did with Nightmare World from Image Comics, but on a bigger – yet even more interwoven – scale.
Through the first two volumes we've really gotten to know Mr. Rhee, what he stands for, and what drives him in this world where everyone wants to move past the horrible events of the Armageddon and the Rapture… but starting in Volume 3 we're going to really start to put a lot more pieces on the board in terms of other long-term and start exploring some of the subplots we've been seeding throughout the earlier stories from the very beginning. It's going to be a compelling, and often horrific, ride… [laughs]
VDJ: Well, as someone who has already read the first two books, let me say that I'm RHEE-ly looking forward to it!
DM: I see what you did there… [laughs]
VDJ: Do you have any closing advice for aspiring creators looking to launch their comics through Kickstarter?
DM: I could probably write a book on what I've learned from these first two campaigns alone, but I'd say the biggest thing to remember is this: The purpose of Kickstarter is not free money… which is something I think a lot of people think of when they see successful campaigns like this one.
To maximize your chances of success, set goals that will cover your expenses – all of them – without being greedy about it. Then, if you're able to successfully "Kickstart" the printing of your book, you can get out there and make profit by selling your books at conventions, in stores, and maybe even online… which takes us right back to where this conversation started.
WHAT'S NEXT?: Well, wrapping-up this Kickstarter campaign and getting everyone else their books (and all their Stretch Goal swag), obviously.
That aside? I've missed writing this column, and I want to thank Victor for kicking me in the butt enough to do this two-part column/discussion. Should you see him at a Wizard World
In regards to Write or Wrong, I'm happy to announce that I've secured a deal to publish a second Write or Wrong book, and amidst my constant touring and comic writing I've been plotting that out – as it will consist largely of new material. I still plan on contributing columns online here at Bleeding Cool here and there in the meantime, though. In the meantime, if you want to stay in touch – or come see me on the road – I encourage you to check out my "Signings and Appearances" schedule at www.DirkManning.com and/or two stay in touchyou're your social media avenue of choice. Cool?
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of Tales of Mr. Rhee (Devil's Due Entertainment), the Nightmare World trilogy of graphic novels & Love Stories (To Die For) (Image Comics/Shadowline), and Write or Wrong: A Writer's Guide to Creating Comics (Caliber Comics – and available in print and digital format from Amazon.com). Details on all his work, upcoming appearance, and more can be found at www.DirkManning.com. Dirk lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Twitter and Facebook on a fairly regular basis… when he's not busy writing or touring, of course. Feel free to follow him at one or all such locations if you're into that sort of thing. Cthulhu is his homeboy.