By Dirk Manning
Towards the end of 2013 I had four new comics being released, including:
• The Love Stories (to Die For) one-shot from Image Comics/Shadowline (previously discussed on Bleeding Cool here)
• My four-issue run on The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West from Big Dog Ink (in which I got to tell the origin of the Flying Monkeys!)
• A twelve-page story in Riley Rossmo's Dia De Los Muertos TPB collection
• Tales of Mr. Rhee from the recently resurrected and restructured Devil's Due , which was successfully funded as a hardcover collection via Kickstarter, hence allowing us to solicit for a standard TPB edition in PREVIEWS
Given the amount of books I had coming out, I decided to go on an insane "13 Shows in 13 Weeks" book signing/promotional tour that eventually grew to 15 shows in 15 consecutive weeks.
Yes… you read that right: 15 shows in 15 consecutive weeks.
If you missed the last installment (which details the first leg of the tour), you can read it (and look at all the cool pictures) HERE.
With four shows down (as discussed in the last column), we now pick up with the fifth show of the tour, which happened to be the legendary Midwest horror convention…
Cinema Wasteland (Strongsville, Ohio; October 4-October 6, 2013)
For those of you who aren't familiar with my comic work, I tend to primarily write horror (or at least dark-fiction-based) comics, including Nightmare World and Love Stories to Die For (Image Comics/Shadowline) and Tales of Mr. Rhee (which makes its debut in print via Devil's Due next month).
Because of this, I usually set up at least a few horror conventions a year along with my ever-expanding comic convention circuit… and one of the horror conventions that's been a staple for me is Cinema Wasteland in Strongsville, Ohio.
Once you really dedicate yourself to the convention circuit and start making friends with attendees and professionals alike, you'll hear the term "convention family" bandied about– and with good reason. Despite the fact that, by nature, I'm not a very outgoing person (especially in person), over the years I've developed quite a large and wonderful "convention family" which extends into both the comic convention scene as well as the horror convention scene. This is something I'm very grateful for, as I've made some of the best friends I've ever had (and still have) "on the road," even if we only see each other a few weekends a year. After all, given the solidary nature of creating comics (whether you're a writer, artist, or both, it requires long amounts of time alone in front of a computer), many comic creators tend to only see each other (and their readers/fans) on the road at conventions.
(And if you think I might be talking about you, here… you're probably right.)
That being said, I've yet to ever experience such a tight-knit community – and "convention family" – as the one at Cinema Wasteland.
Cinema Wasteland is a genuinely legendary show on the horror circuit due both familial nature of the show, the always-impressive lineup of guests, and the very festive party atmosphere it's maintained over its 25 years (and counting) history.
In fact, the vendor and exhibitor list of this show is so tightly-knit that I was on the waiting-list for several years before being invited to begin setting up there, and having attended the fall show (they also do an annual spring show) for the last several years now, this is one of those shows that I can't imagine ever not attending, double-negatives be damned… and that's as much due to the financial success I enjoy at this show as it is to the fact that allows me at least one weekend a year to hang out with my "Wasteland Family," friends I would never have met any other way, but friends I can't imagine living my life without.
Oh… and for those of you not yet "in the know," here's a little secret for you: Horror fans are some of the most loyal and steadfast people – and customers – you will ever meet. Ever.
Comics & More (Royal Oak, Michigan; October 12, 2013)
There's quite a great story involved concerning my signing appearance/in-store rock concert (yes, really!) at Chris Brown's Comics & More… so bear with me, folks. The payoff is worth it. I promise.
And yes, again, you read that right: Chris Brown scheduled an in-house rock concert by the synth-metal band Voyag3r as part of my signing/mini-writing-for-comics panel at his shop.
And while all of that is awesome in and of itself, there's even another layer (or two) to the incredibly surreal cosmic nature of the day… and it actually started the weekend before at Cinema Wasteland.
While at Cinema Wasteland weekend a gentleman approached my table and asked if I was Dirk Manning, an occurrence I've become very used to by now given how there's so few uncovered pictures of me out there.
(Yes, a few "unconcealed" pictures do exist, and yes, I still get asked if I'm "me" a lot, despite the seven foot banner – and the "Dirk Manning" button on my lapel. It's the cost of having one tongue-in-cheek publicity photo become your "logo," and such minor setbacks are worth the recognition the top hat/scarf pic lends itself to.)
So, anyway, this guy asks if I'm me, and when I confirm that I am (after all, who else would want to be me, right?) he says "Oh, cool! My name's Steve, and I wanted to introduce myself since I'm in the band that will be playing up in Michigan next weekend at your signing."
After formal introductions, Steve and I started talking about the Detroit music scene of present and past, something I was intimately familiar with since, before dedicating my efforts exclusively to comics, I spent about a decade working the Midwest "underground" music scene during my years as a music journalist.
(Also, remember, fellow creators, working at a convention should never be only about selling books. While your end game should always be to introduce people to your work, and hopefully make money doing so, there's nothing wrong with just shooting the breeze with people who specifically come to talk to you here and there, you know?)
Upon learning that I used to work with a lot of the bands in Detroit area, Steve asked "Oh… so do you remember a band called Forge? "
My own reply was automatic and passionate. "Hell yeah, man!" I loved Forge, and would go see them play all the time. In fact –"
And then a light bulb went off in my head… "Holy crap… Steve?"
And then we realized that we were not meeting for the first time, but rather meeting for the first time in almost two decades.
That's right, folks: Back when I was just a long-haired, all-black-wearing music journalist (as opposed to the perfect-haired all-black-wearing comic writer before you today) Steve and I knew each other via his previous band, Forge, and I had actually worked with him and his old band several times, providing media coverage for them in one of the music magazines I wrote for that focused on regional up-and-coming bands like his.
It's amazing how about twenty rotations around the sun and haircuts (for both of us) can obscure recognition of a once-close professional peer, eh?
Point being, although he didn't realize it, Comics & More store-owner Chris Brown had reunited several old friends when he booked Voyag3r to play at my signing at his store.
The signing, the mini-panel and the rock show were all successful, and after the store closed we met up with even more friends (including a pair of my pals I brought with me) for some grub (at which time I give a huge shout-out to Imperial in Ferndale, Michigan and their amazeballs hot dogs and tacos) to, as mentioned earlier, go see Secret Chiefs 3 open for the legendary horror-rock band Goblin in Pontiac, Michigan.
Lest the day not be "old school" enough, though, at the end of the show I happened to bump into the very magazine editor of the aforementioned magazine that led to me meeting (and working with) Steve and Forge (among so many other great bands) in the first place.
Not having seen him in about a decade, I was flattered to hear him say that he'd been keeping tabs on my writing career since leaving music journalism behind and that he was very happy for my continued success in comics.
Coincidence, fate, or none of the above? You decide, folks… but it was a helluva nostalgic day in which, for the first time in a long time, my old life and my current one overlapped so much.
Maybe the stars were just in the proper alignment, eh? Ia! Ia! Dirk Manning fhtagn!
Flint Horror-Con (Flint, Michigan; October 19, 2013)
Hey… if you're a horror comic writer doing a "13 Shows in 13 Weeks" signing tour, you might as well make one of those appearances be at horror convention held at a Masonic Temple in the most dangerous city in America, right?
It's a horror convention held inside a Masonic-Freakin'-Temple.
Given the locale of the show I wasn't sure what to expect (despite a lot of positive buzz from people I knew who'd been there before), but a large, strong, and enthusiastic horror crowd – many of whom were looking to sink their teeth into some new stuff – made for a great convention experience in atmosphere and sales alike.
As an added bonus, I finally got a chance to formally introduce myself to Evil Dead FX artist and guru Tom Sullivan, who was such a nice guy he even offered me some free candy…
(I cannot tell a lie: I couldn't do it.)
After the show was over I took some time to have dinner with an old friend of mine who I hadn't seen in about a decade (I hope you're all noticing a pattern by now, folks – there will be a quiz later) in order to grab some legendary "Flint Coney Dogs" before hopping back on the road for a midnight signing at a midnight sale at Rupp's Comics in Fremont, Ohio.
Sadly, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to make it to the Midnight Sale, prompting store owner (and swell fellow) Chris Rupp and I to reschedule the signing for the last week of my signing tour instead…
Which led to another bit of hilarity we'll get in Part Three of this column. Heh.
That being said, though, I can now cross both "set up at a horror convention in a Masonic Temple in the most dangerous city in the United States" and "eat an authentic Flint Coney Dog" off my Bucket List (yes, they were both really on there), and that's to say nothing of the success I had in selling more books, earning new readers, and reconnecting with an old friend for dinner.
Life on the road, folks. Life on the road… and I was barely at the halfway point of the tour, with one of my favorite conventions of the year a mere week away in…
Detroit Fanfare (Dearborn, Michigan; October 25-27, 2013)
Much like Cinema Wasteland, Detroit Fanfare is another one of those shows that I can't imagine ever not attending.
Fate apparently agrees, too, as shown on my odometer as I pulled into the show and parked:
(For those of you who think I somehow "planned" it to happen this way, let me remind that that this was my eighth show in eight straight weeks. The amount of planning necessary to try and coordinate this amazing numeric photo-op would not be worth the effort, were it even possible, I assure you.)
Not only do I love the atmosphere and attendees of this show, but having done this show every year since its inception four years ago I've developed a strong set of friends on both sides of the table at this great, vibrant, and raucous (in a good way) convention.
Plus, this is the show that gave me the (now-permanent) moniker "Dirk Mother-F**king Manning", as can be seen on the label waiting for me at my table when I arrived.
As anyone who's spent any amount of time in Detroit can tell you, that's how its residents show you true affection and let you know you're one of them (in spirit, at least): by adding mother-f**king expletives to your name.
In its fourth year of existence Detroit Fanfare has been finding its footing and niche as a great Midwestern party show that caters to both attendees and professionals who are interested in comics by focusing on a very comic-creator centric lineup during the day, and hosting the Shel Dorf Awards by night (and, again, some rockin' parties).
All things considered, this is one of those shows that I would go to every year even if I didn't make turn a penny of profit… although that has yet to ever be the case, as this show consistently being one of my best shows of the year in terms of sales.
While the time I get to spend with my "Fanfare Family" (including the staff, my fellow professionals, the attendees, and of course my frequent artistic collaborator Seth Damoose, whom I bunk-up with every year for this show) is always one of my highlights of the year, this year was especially special to me since it marked the first time I got to hang out with my long-time cyber-only dearest Amber Love.
I've already talked in this very column about how the nature of working in comics makes it difficult to spend time with people "in real life" (I can go hang out with friends or stay home and write comics – but not both, you know?), and as such there are many people who I hold very near and dear in my heart, yet have never had the chance to break bread with in person, even at this point in my career… but at Detroit Fanfare 2013 I was able to break that "streak" with Amber, who not only flew out to the show, but even surprised me with an amazing cosplay outfit inspired by my story in "Te Vas Angel Mio," as illustrated by Riley Rossmo in his amazing Dia De Los Muertos collection from Image Comics/Shadowline, copies of which I debuted at the show.
Creating comics is a long and lonely road, my friends, especially when you (be it by choice or necessity) work a "day job" full-time, and then return home to chain yourself to a keyboard or drawing table. That being said, I'm not sure I have the words to adequately describe how nice it was to even enjoy the privilege of doing something as seemingly "mundane" to some as going to dinner with my friends like Amber, Seth (and his wife), Tom Hutchinson of Big Dog Ink, Josh Blaylock of Devil's Due, and… geez… if I were to list you all it would be another column in and of itself… so let me just say this:
There's an old adage about how when you're old it won't matter what kind of clothes you wore or what kind of car you drive, but rather the effect you had on the lives of others… and, conversely, the effect they've had on you.
I thought about that a lot at Detroit Fanfare, especially, as I was surrounded by so many friends old and new over the three-day extravaganza (you all know who you are, I hope, and if not, you should)… and that's when I had my second Shirley Temple-laden epiphany of the tour:
Time, and distance, truly doesn't matter between real friends… and family…
Including your convention circuit family.
I continued to think about that even after the revelry of Detroit Fanfare ended for another year, and I looked ahead to the third leg of the tour, not realizing at the time that it was going to grow past "13 shows in 13 weeks" before it was done…
NEXT WEEK: Three columns in three consecutive weeks? What is this… 2007 or something? Regardless, Write or Wrong #82 will chronicle the third leg of the tour, which focused primarily on store signings… and what you, as an aspiring comic creator, can learn about 'em.
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of the Nightmare World trilogy of graphic novels and the Love Stories (To Die For) (all from Image Comics/Shadowline and currently available to order from your local comic shop) as well as Write or Wrong: A Writer's Guide to Creating Comics (from Transfuzion Publishing and available exclusively through Amazon.com either in print of as a Kindle e-book). If you enjoy this column – or Dirk's work in general – he'd love for you to support the Tales of Mr. RheeKickstarter. Along with this aforementioned comic-related work, he has also written several short films for BlackBox TV and some other cool projects, all of which are detailed on his newly minted website www.DirkManning.com. Dirk lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook, Twitter and now even www.DirkManning.com on a fairly regular basis… when he's not busy writing, 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.