Sign Up for the Daily Filmfodder Newsletter       

Horror News and Commentary

Just Who Is Black Ink Horror's Timothy Manning, Anyway?

Let's be clear about something. There's a lot of fantastic art happening in the small press, and to highlight one publication is to run the risk of neglecting other worthy examples. But I'm going to do it anyway (and I hope to do more of it in the future). If you like your horror fiction with a splash of shock-o-rific ink accompaniment, then "Black Ink Horror" is for you. Not only are most of the hand-drawn illustrations that adorn each issue of staggering quality, but the sheer number of them boggles the mind. Each story boasts at least two illustrations, and even the poetry is dutifully illustrated.

My point here, folks, is that "BIH" serves it up right. They've caught the tail of something meaningful in the midst of all the fun they're obviously having. Somewhere between comic book and illustrated fiction, between anthology and magazine, "BIH" carves out an easily identifiable signature for itself.

It's easy to get the sense that chief editor Timothy Manning, if that really is his name, would just as soon let the content of his eye-popping digest speak for itself. Only one of the four existing issues sports an editorial of any kind, and it's tucked neatly away on the last page. A glance at the Web site of "BIH" publisher Sideshow Press provides a good idea of what the zine is all about, but to give you an even deeper insight, here's the result of an illuminating session of back-and-forth between yours truly and the mysterious Mr. T. M.

Fearfodder: How did you hook up with Tom and Billie Moran of Sideshow Press, the publisher of "BIH"?

Timothy Manning: Well, I suppose the time is right to let a big, snarling cat out of the bag. I've always said that if Tim were ever interviewed, I would use the opportunity to "come clean," so to speak. This is going to come as a shock to many people (although I suspect that several of our regular contributors have caught some of the hints I've made), but Tim Manning, editor of "Black Ink Horror," doesn't exist. Tim Manning is actually a pseudonym of myself—Tom Moran. In fact, the name comes from the narrator in my novella, "The Problem With Mickey." Hopefully, our faithful readers and contributors don't take exception to this revelation. Only a handful of people know, and the ones that do I told out of necessity.

I suppose you could say that Tim was born from "Wicked Karnival." Several years ago, I had hoped to take "WK" in a different direction, moving more toward an art-heavy, fiction-only, digest-sized format and getting rid of the non-fiction. After all, there were enough publications out there that already ran articles and interviews, and I thought that it was time to try something different. When that didn't pan out, I gave serious thought about starting my own publication in which Billie and I could call the shots and—sink or swim—try our hands at a new horror title. For a while, it was just something we talked about on occasion, and my obligations with "WK" kept me from giving it any serious thought.

When Billie and I took our first steps toward creating what would become "Black Ink Horror," I had recently stepped down as the chief editor of "WK." "WK" was still pumping along, and Brian Yount (editor and chief) still had some exciting plans for it. I didn't want to give the wrong impression to the readers of "WK" by suddenly departing only to resurface with my own zine. I had been quite involved with "WK," and I wasn't sure how my split would be perceived. As a writer and artist, I also had to consider the advantages of keeping my writer/artist persona separate from my publishing endeavors. After much deliberation, Billie and I decided that I would use a pseudonym to edit under. Shortly after, Tim Manning was born.

The irony of it all was that "WK" folded shortly before we put out our first issue of "BIH." By this point, I had been editing as Tim Manning for several months. He had already begun to make a name for himself, and submitters were remarking favorably on his approachability and his thorough rejections. Hell, at this point I even thought of him as a real person! Rather than come clean, we decided to roll with it. It's been incredibly difficult keeping this secret under wraps for two years. Many of the people I interact with daily—both the writers and artists—I consider friends. A part of me always felt a pang of guilt when I interacted with them as Tim. It felt like I was being deceptive. Still, for this idea to work, it pretty much had to be all or nothing; either keep it a secret from everyone, or forget about it. I chose to keep it up. We were, however, able to keep my wife and my name involved by announcing that our Sideshow Press label would be publishing "BIH."

Of course, this left us with a small problem—namely, how to attract some of the "WK" faithful to the "BIH" fold without breaking our cover …

FF: Well, I'll be damned. It's a good thing I didn't come right out and say what I really feel about this Tom Moran character!

TM: I'm sure there will be a few people who will want to smack me! And I'm sure that there are a few who will say, "I knew it all along." I just hope that this revelation doesn't bring any hard feelings. Instead, I hope it gives people a good giggle. Of course, when I told my editor, Amanda DeBord, she was quite shocked. I believe that Amanda said she felt like someone she knew had died. Truth be told, I think she liked Tim better …

FF: Here I thought I was starting off slow and easy with that question. You certainly had me duped. I can't imagine you're in any danger of alienating anyone in the long term over such a splendid stunt. But your true identity should qualify you in spades to address my next question. Which is … What's the story behind the cover for issue 3? It's obviously your take on Douglas E. Wright's story, "Grannies," from that issue, but then you decided to use Jonathan Streb's artwork (three pieces of it, no less!) to illustrate the actual story. How did all of that go down?

TM: Wow, Billie and I are both impressed by this question, as, to date, nobody had ever seemed to notice this strange little situation. To answer this, I'm going to once again have to start back in the "WK" days. Right around the time that I stepped down as editor of "WK," we accepted this wonderfully unsettling story by Douglas Wright titled "Grannies." For a brief period, I had taken over as art director, and I had recently recruited future "BIH" regulars Jacob Parmentier and Jonathan Streb as a contributing artists. Jonathan's first assignment for "WK" was to illustrate Doug's story. For the last issues of "WK," we had planned on running three pieces of art—one full page and two small—with each story, so Jonathan turned in three illos. As you've seen, he did an incredible job; those ink-washed pieces are just dripping with mood and atmosphere. Unfortunately for both Doug and Jonathan, Brian pulled the plug on "WK" before the issue with "Grannies" was printed, and the story and illustrations were both orphaned.

Fast forward several months: I had been corresponding with Doug as Tim Manning (we'd already accepted one of his stories for "BIH" at this point), and I asked him about "Grannies". To keep my cover, I explained that Tom Moran had mentioned the story, and it sounded like something I'd be very interested in. The truth, of course, was that I had been dying to get my hands on this piece for "BIH," and I had to be creative about getting Doug to send it to me without letting on to Manning's identity. He finally did, and I immediately accepted the story. It was a double win, as I would not only get to print this excellent piece, but Jonathan's beautiful illustrations as well. Although we've only ever printed two illustrations with each story in "BIH," there was no way I was going to waste one of those fabulous illos. So, I made the decision to print all three.

When I posted the art for "Grannies" on the "BIH" forum, Doug remarked that he would have thought Tom Moran would have handled the art duties (after all, it was Tom who had mentioned the story to Tim). I explained that we already had art from Jonathan, but I suggested that Tom could use the story as inspiration for a cover image. Truth be told, I had no interest in taking a cover spot from one of the other artists. The point of the mag is to give these guys and gals a chance to shine, not to promote my own work. Still, I've always loved Doug's fiction, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to illustrate one of his stories. If any author's work deserves to be illustrated four times in a single issue, it's Doug's! The results? My interpretation of "Grannies" on the cover, and Jonathan's three illustrations in the book.

FF: It's definitely a win–win situation for readers. Your cover has such a great sense of humor to it, while Streb's final illo, especially, is pure nightmare. It's really great that you included all four. Why do you think ink drawings lend themselves so naturally to terrifying subject matter? In your editorial for issue 2 you touched on the rich history of this marriage. Is there something innately scary about the medium?

TM: What a great question! In my opinion (and, yes—I'm quite biased), there is no classier illustration medium than pen-and-ink art. A good ink drawing—whether rendered with insanely detailed crosshatching or silky-smooth strokes of wash—just has such a beautiful, vintage aesthetic. I've always been a fan of classic literature, and I've been fortunate enough to encounter many volumes that contained the original woodprint and pen-and-ink illustrations. In my mind, ink art will always be indelibly associated with quality storytelling and artful prose. In this respect, it is the perfect medium for any genre.

As for why pen-and-ink drawings work so well with horror literature, I think that it comes down to mood and atmosphere. Working with the black-and-white absolutes of pen and ink, a skilled artist can create a piece that drips with darkness and shadow, that bursts with the tiny, gritty details that horror fans love. After all, what is horror but good versus evil, light versus dark? What better way to visualize this abstract concept than with a black-and-white medium!

Just take a look at the illustrations in Bernie Wrightson's "Frankenstein" to see plenty of examples of how a master ink artist can create an unparalleled sense of mood with use of lighting, contrast and detail. I honestly can't think of a more impressive, more effective collection of illustrations. With his impeccable use of lighting and shadow, Wrightson creates a perfect visualization of gothic mood and atmosphere—with his attention to detail and gesturing, he creates a monster that elicits both fear and pathos from the reader. In my opinion, these are some of the finest horror illustrations ever produced, and they serve as an example of a perfect marriage between prose and art.

Glenn Chadbourne is another contemporary ink artist that immediately comes to mind as a master horror illustrator. Glenn's hyper-detailed landscapes, stylistically exaggerated figures, and drippy, corrupted zombies bring to mind the classic horror comics and magazines of old, and I can't imagine an art style more complimentary to the genre. Glenn has this uncanny ability to draw something as innocuous as a country cottage, yet through his masterful use of detail, shadow and composition, the structure becomes something dark, foreboding and threatening. Couple Mr. Chadbourne's fine inks with some quality horror fiction, and you have one pleasurable reading experience ahead.

It's also such a beautiful and versatile medium—just by paging through an issue of "BIH," one can see several totally different (and equally effective) styles of ink slinging. It also feels so much more intimate and organic than the ever-popular digital or photo-manipulated art (in my humble opinion). I'm just glad that we've had the opportunity to bring this medium some much needed attention.

FF: Great point about the strong connection between art and literature. Now you've got me thinking of Lynd Ward's woodcuts, and not just because of his own unusual take on the "Frankenstein" story. There's such deep psychological darkness in something like "Gods' Man," for instance, without so much as a word of narrative to help the plot along. Another great example is the work that Hablot "Phiz" Browne did for Dickens, who was no stranger to the tale of terror himself. It all comes full circle! Too bad Charles Dickens and Gustave Dore managed to avoid a collaboration.

Well, it's easy to focus on the artwork in BIH, but this is no hack rag in the fiction department, either. What do you look for in the stories you publish? Have you rejected stories you thought were outstanding in every other way, but that didn't lend themselves to illustration? Or can any good story be illustrated effectively?

TM: As I have very diverse tastes in horror fiction, I try to fill the magazine with a variety of styles and sub-genres. Therefore, it's tough for me to articulate exactly what type of tale would epitomize the perfect "Black Ink Horror" story. When I create the table of contents for a particular issue, I have a mental checklist of the types of stories I'd like to see. For example, although I've heard this type of story is considered to be blasé, I'm a sucker for the old "twist ending." As a kid, I was obsessed with TV shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Tales from the Darkside" and "Tales from the Crypt," and as and adult, I still enjoy a good shock ending. These stories are usually fun, lively and provide a good balance when placed next to long, more experimental tales. I select at least one of these each issue.

Also, although I have no intention of making "BIH" the next "Red Scream," I do enjoy "extreme horror" fiction. The key for a good extreme piece is that it has to be well written, and it should have a storyline beneath the layers of perverted sex acts and wince-inducing gore. C. C. Parker has emerged as our champion of extreme horror. He twists disgusting sex acts (eating a relative's feces, for example) and gruesome violence into wonderfully surrealist narratives that remind me a bit of the work of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike. It's perversion—but with style! You can expect to find a couple extreme fiction pieces in each issue.

I'm a sucker for stories with artful prose and potent description. I thoroughly enjoy fiction that doesn't spell everything out for the reader—that allows the reader to use his or her brain to fill in the blanks. Put these two elements together effectively, and you've got a sale. I firmly believe that too much of the art and style of horror fiction has been distilled over the years in order to make it more accessible to the casual reader. Stripped-down prose and straightforward A-Z plots are fine in some instances, but I miss clever, mood-inducing descriptions and stylistic ambiguity as a way to engage the reader more in the plot. Hell, make me want to reread the story in order to uncover more clues to the plot! Douglas Wright's work epitomizes this more literate brand of horror. His dreamy, descriptive, almost poetic prose fleshes out a subtle narrative stylistically designed to make the reader think. His story, "Grannies," is a perfect example of how expert description can infuse a piece with atmosphere and a mood of dread. It's also a solid example of how a little narrative ambiguity can render a piece more cerebral and interesting. I read that story three times before I had a firm grasp on what had transpired—and I loved it each time I read it. Louise Bohmer and John Irvine also come to mind when discussing quality use of description. Both are talented poets, and they bring some of this skill to their fiction. I'm always on the lookout for a few more "literary" tales to print.

Finally, I'm a huge fan of gritty, realistic horror stories—tales that eschew the supernatural in favor of depicting real-life people facing real-life horrors. The movie "S7en" comes to mind as an excellent benchmark for this type of story. This is the kind of tale that has the best chance of scaring me, of making me want to sleep with the lights on. After all, which is easier to imagine—getting chased by a werewolf, or having your child abducted by the neighborhood pervert? Mark Tullius's work has appeared several times in our pages, as he generally writes the type of stories that fit this mold. As an individual who, back in the day, had experienced his fair share of "road rage," I found his story "Bad Habits" to be particularly unnerving. If you can write something fresh and unnervingly realistic—a horrific situation that I can easily imagine myself getting into—we have a place for you.

Generically speaking, there are a few key elements that will improve a story's chance for acceptance. Originality is huge—give me something that I haven't seen before (for a list of what I've seen too much of, check the site). Give me offbeat characters and situations. Send me stories dripping with atmosphere, thick with mood—stories that have me feeling unnerved before anything remotely horrific happens. Experimental narratives and cryptic endings are fine, but please make sure that you, at least, know what's going on. Have a theme and stick to it. If your story is impossible to sum up in one sentence, you're probably on to something.

And no happy endings!

My fiction-selecting process has really evolved a bit since the first issue. It used to be I'd read a story and, if I liked it enough, I'd accept it on the spot. I've since realized that, although a good story will bring you a few minutes of enjoyment, a great story will be stuck in your head days—maybe even weeks—later. The rule now is that a story has to resonate—I have to be thinking about this piece long after I put it down. It has to affect me in some way, make me stop what I'm doing a few days later and think, "Damn, that story was a doozy!" Now, if I think that I've found a winner, I'll let it sit for a couple days. If it's still in my head, so to speak, I'll give it a second read, or shoot it off to Amanda or Billie to read. Both are good judges of quality storytelling. If either of them likes it, we have an acceptance. Recently, I've turned away a lot of wonderful stories that just didn't blow me away.

All in all, I think our diversity is a strong point for "BIH." Ask ten readers to name their top three stories, and, with a few exceptions, you'll have ten very different lists.

To date, I have never rejected a story because I felt it wouldn't make for good illustrations. Conversely, I have never accepted a story because I thought that it would provide for good illustrations. Good fiction is good fiction, and we can't compromise our standards in the name of art. No matter how "dry" of illustration material a story may seem, how bereft of illustrative "money shots" it may be, I feel that a good illustrator can find some way to create an artistic representation of the prose. A great example of this can be found in Matthew Ian David's illustrations for David Greske's "Forgotten." David's piece was a wonderfully sad, affecting, quiet story about alienation and loneliness that really didn't contain any scenes that screamed, "Illustrate me!" When I accepted it, I knew that it was going to be a difficult piece for the artist to visualize. Still, Matthew attacked the piece, producing two excellent pieces that really captured the mood of the prose. That's the type of connection we're looking for. If the story's good enough, and if we put some thought into which artist would work best with the material, there should rarely be a problem.

FF: Could you expand on that a bit? Just kidding, I couldn't resist. But on a serious note, when can your blood-deprived readership expect issue 5 to be released? And when is the XXX issue alluded to on the Web site going to happen? That has me intrigued, although Meghan C. Hakes's illustration for Spencer Wendleton's "The Delivery" in issue 4 has set the bar pretty damn high for shock value. Are there no depths to which you will not sink? And while I'm at it, where do you see "Black Ink Horror" five years from now?

TM: Ha! That was a bit long winded, wasn't it!

We're currently planning on a November release for issue 5. This issue will contain several Christmas-themed stories, so it seemed appropriate to unleash it during the holiday season. Although the plan was originally for "BIH" to be offered quarterly, the amount of art and the time it takes to put together each issue has made that schedule too aggressive. Since it debuted in early '07, we've expanded the content from 10 to 15 stories, as well as added poetry to the mix. Rather than rush the production of each issue (which would prove a fatal mistake, in my opinion), we decided to print two regular issues and one limited special issue each year.

And, speaking of special issues, this year's offering is the soon-to-be underground classic, "Black Ink Horror XXX." Not only will this full-color issue be limited to fewer than 100 numbered, shrink wrapped copies, but it will be printed and hand bound by Chris Hedges of Insidious Publications. I don't know if you're familiar with Insidious Publications' work, but each book they publish is a work of art. Chris uses the highest quality paper and materials, and his bookbinding craftsmanship is, in my opinion, incredible. I can't even begin to tell you how fortunate we are to have him printing this book for us. I always envisioned XXX as something extra collectable (in the same vein as "BIH" issue 0), and Chris's participation in this project will ensure that high level of collectability.

At this point, we have most of the art, and the manuscript is almost ready to go. After that, I'll ship it off to Chris and let him work his magic. Due to the fact that these will be handmade, the turnaround time may be a bit longer. I'm hoping to have it ready for shipping in late August/early September, but we'll all have to play it by ear. Just know, with such a small number available, I anticipate that these will sell out in a heartbeat. I'll make sure that I give people plenty of time in advance to prepare for pre-orders.

Weren't Meghan's illustrations incredible! She is easily one of our top talents, and although I promised her that I'd send her subtle horror stories, I've sent two nasty ones in a row. With that illo for "The Delivery," she proved she can be just as gross and darkly comical as the boys!

As for the depths we'll go to, we're going to find out with XXX. When I found that I had accepted several sexually explicit horror stories, I decided to put them into one issue in order to get the smut "out of our system," so to speak. This issue is not going to be for the prudish or easily offended. The best I can describe it, the book will be a collection of sex- and gore-laced horror stories illustrated by a bunch of guys who are—quite frankly—trying to outdo each other in how over-the-top their pictures will be. I've already received work from Tony Karnes (including the fantastic cover art), and it is N-A-S-T-Y. That man can draw, and he has no boundaries insofar as content. You gotta love that. I also have received two of the three illos from Jacob Parmentier. His seedy little masterpieces are sure to shock. And as for mine … Well, let's just say I won't be showing them to my grandmother.

To be truthful, we're going to continue pushing boundaries and making people blush. From the beginning, I've told our artists that anything goes, and we'll march on with that approach.

Where will "BIH" be in five years? I see "Black Ink Horror" emerging as one of the top horror fiction publications offered. With so many publications coming and going, I think that it's taken us a little while to prove our legitimacy. I finally feel, however, that we've just climbed over a hump and that we're beginning to get some serious recognition.

Also, although we've made it this far without trying to court popular writers in order to sell issues (a fact that I'm very proud of), I would expect to see some "name" authors appearing in our pages in the future. I would also expect that, in five years, we might be publishing "BIH" in a hardcover format—something that I've been considering since the beginning. BIH was always envisioned as an "adult storybook" with a classical aesthetic, and I think that a hardcover format would really be the final step in seeing that vision realized.

FF: Holy smokes! It almost sounds like we ain't seen nothin' yet, hard as that is to believe. You've mentioned Jacob Parmentier a couple of times. I love his cover for issue 2, not to mention the interior work he's done for the magazine. He drew a really cool collage-style illustration for one of my own stories in the second "Potter's Field" anthology from Sam's Dot Publishing, so it's always fun to see his stuff.

TM: Doesn't Jacob's cover for issue 2 rock? If you like that one, wait until you see the cover art he turned in for issue 6—truly beautiful and unsettling stuff. Speaking of "Potter's Field 2," I read and loved your story, "Such Bitter Business," and I thought that Jacob's piece complimented it wonderfully. That Cathy Buburuz can sure recognize talent—what a pairing!

FF: Thanks! I'm thrilled to learn that you've read my story. That's great. Dick Starr is another amazingly distinctive fellow who seems to get a fair amount of space in "BIH." How did you wrangle such a top-flight pool of ink slingers? Will some of them be as stunned as the rest of us to learn your true identity, or were some of them part of the inner circle to begin with?

TM: Dick is an incredible talent. Unfortunately, he has moved on, as his workload with all of his other projects became just too unmanageable. He was with us from the beginning—since issue 0, infact—and I can tell you that he'll be sorely missed (although, I've heard whisperings that he might make a return in the near future …)

Ah—the "BIH" artists: I couldn't ask for a more talented, professional and friendly group of people to work with. Honestly, each time one hands in art, I turn to Billie and comment how truly fortunate we are to have this kind of talent. To answer your question, the "true identity issue" is certain to be a shock to most of them (I say "most," as I think that a couple have always suspected). I even typed out an email revealing my identity, only to delete it before I sent it off. If I told the artists, then I had a list of writers I would feel obligated to tell as well. For the "Manning" thing to make any sense, I had to keep it under wraps from as many people as possible. It's been difficult, as these are not "mercenaries"—I've worked with them quite a bit now, and I felt bad every time I was forced to keep up the charade.

Putting together this art team took a while. When Billie and I first came up with the idea for "Black Ink Horror," we had only one major conundrum—namely, where the hell were we going to find a dozen pen-and-ink artists willing to illustrate for a start-up publication? It was around this time that a friend and fellow artist from the Concept Art website—Glenn Fagertveit—convinced me to sign up on the Deviant Art forum. Within hours, I had found the answer to my little problem. The site was a veritable fountain of artistic talent. After several months of making friends and identifying some fellow ink-slingers whose work I admired, I posted a call for pen-and-ink artists. That first announcement attracted future "BIH" staff artists Geff Bartrand, Meghan Hakes, Evangeline Doctolero, Dick Starr, Jacob Parmentier, and Matthew Ian David. These guys and gals have been there from the beginning, and they've never ceased to amaze me with their talent and dedication to our publication. The amazing part was, each and every one of them were artists I had my eye on for the magazine. I couldn't have been happier with this initial team.

With our second issue, we picked up current regulars Paul T. Sninchak and "The Madman," Tony Karnes. That issue also introduced the talented Peter Brown, who got an unexpected opportunity when an artist backed out and he stepped up to cover my ass. Since then, we've solidified the art team with the addition of Paul Groendes, Joe Uccello, Bret Jordan, Stella Danelius, Jeff Beckman, Hale Pallon and my aforementioned buddy, Glenn Fagertveit. Each and every one of these artists is incredibly talented and a pleasure to work with, and I look forward to many more issues with this team.

FF: Many thanks for enduring this little interrogation session, Tim … er, Tom. Allow me to loosen the straps and switch off the heat lamp. Don't worry, the wounds will heal in time. Before you limp into the sunset, though, are there any parting bits of wisdom you'd like to bestow on our readers? Any uncovered territory that you feel is worth mentioning? Anyone you'd like to take a moment to berate? The floor is yours.

TM: Man, you should work at GITMO with those interrogation techniques. One question, and you make me divulge a secret kept for two years! Seriously, thank YOU, Pete, for taking the time to talk to me and for supporting "BIH" by helping to get the word out.

As for closing words, first I'd just like to thank all those who have purchased a copy of "Black Ink Horror." For our faithful readers, it's only going to get better. And for those who haven't yet read an issue, I'd encourage them to check it out. If you enjoy horror fiction, poetry and art, I do believe that our humble little publication can't be beat. "Black Ink Horror" is a publication created and produced by people who love the genre. Our editors, Amanda Debord and John Irvine, our web-mistress, Jen Galasso, the artists, Billie and myself—we love horror. I'd like to think that this devotion and respect shows.

Folks, I can only add that it does indeed show.—Pete Mesling

Posted by Pete on July 15, 2008 10:56 PM
Permalink | Email to a Friend | Add to | Digg This

More Recent Stories:
A Farewell to Fearfodder
Just Who Is Black Ink Horror's Timothy Manning, Anyway?
Blood, Guts and Brains!
The Permanence of Loss: Used Bookstores for Sale
Doorways Magazine to Publish Fearfodder's Own!
"I Am Legend" Falls Short of Expectations
Clive Barker's "Mister B. Gone" Here to Stay
Fearfodder Contributor Begins Publishing Onslaught
Ira Levin Dead at 78
Bass Legend Les Claypool as a Man of Letters