Michael Avon Oeming is a creator that should need no introduction. He has been actively working in the comic industry for nearly two decades. He has done work for a wide array of publishers, including but not limited to: Dark Horse, Marvel, DC and Image. He does work for the beloved video game company Valve. The excellent ongoing comic series that he co-created with Brian Michael Bendis, Powers, is in development to become an FX TV series. Perhaps you are familiar with his work in such titles as: BPRD, The Mice Templar, Thor, Daredevil, Black Panther, Judge Dredd, Atomic Robo, Takio… and SO many more. Michael Oeming creates some of the most dynamic and interesting art and stories in comics today.
At the Emerald City Comicon, Mr. Oeming officially announced a new series titled, The Victories, in which he does both the writing and the art, and that will be published by Dark Horse Comics later this year. Not only is Michael Oeming one of my very favorite creators in the comic book industry, he has always been very supportive and extremely nice, both online and on the many occasions that I have met him over the years. He also agreed to do interview with me for ComicBooked.com, which it is my pleasure to present to you here:
Okay, I’m not going to play aloof and work up to this topic: You delivered some pretty big and exciting news about your new Dark Horse Comics project, The Victories, this weekend at ECCC! This is a creator-owned series, all written and illustrated by you? What can you tell us about The Victories?
It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can. Shortly after Brian Michael Bendis and I wrapped up Takio (the first straight to ongoing graphic novel that we did), I finished up my Powers work as Bendis was working daily on the Powers FX TV show, so I decided to create something new. At the time I was going through heavy therapy as I had been dealing with a lot of personal issues: separation issues, some minor depression, and lots of anxiety. The pressures of two full time jobs ( I had been working at Valve Corp. full time while also drawing comics full time) had finally gotten to me, and I had been drinking a lot too. Too much. And by myself. And in secret. All of these bad things were building up. My mother had serious bouts with alcohol, as well as drug and depression issues, so the path I was on really scared me and my wife Taki. I had been going to therapy, but I realized I had to step it up. Part of that was taking my issues and putting them into my art. That’s when Victories and Wild Rover (a two-part story for Dark Horse Presents) came about. Both are crazy dark, yet filled with fantasy and action; so while a big chunk of my issues are in there, lots of fictional issues mostly culled from my mother’s experience made it into both stories as well. So while Victories seems to be a superhero story, it’s really an extended slice of life story– “true fiction” is a term I’ve heard before. So that’s the start of that.
As someone who also deals with severe anxiety issues, I actually find it very inspiring that you were able to channel that into something so creative and even therapeutic. It has been my experience that many creative people seem to deal with similar issues of this nature. So why did you choose to go with Dark Horse Comics for this project? When is the scheduled release date?
Victories will launch in August as a five issue mini. If all goes well, there will be several follow up stories that overlap, focusing on different characters that will culminate into one big story. I have worked with DH for nearly twenty years now in one way or another. Foot Soldiers was one of my big breaks back in 1994, but I had been inking for them around 91-92. Before my stint at VALVE, my wife Taki Soma and I did creator-owned series there called Rapture. I think the cloak/scarf Faustus wears is an homage to that, one created by Taki and her collection of scarfs. The first issue of The Victories is over a year old in art, and as of now I’m just starting on issue 4, so we are well ahead of schedule. Not only has DH been great to me, my editor Scott Allie has really reached out to me, helping me to find the balance between a self help indie book and a mainstream superhero book. Both Scott and I feel that SOOOO much more can be done with superheroes that what Marvel and DC does with them– most of which is great, but lets face it– it’s mostly “cops and robbers”. Why can’t we tell more personal stories? About our families, about our relationships with our kids– all of that life stuff, and let the cops and robbers stuff be the background instead of the focus?
Even a title like Powers, though it has beings with superpowers and abilities, isn’t a typical spandex romp. It is deeper, and in my opinion, much more interesting than the standard superhero formula. So is it easier, from an artist’s perspective, when you are the one doing the writing as well as the art? Has doing both the writing and the art presented you with any challenges?
Well Robb, it used to be. But now that I found this new way of writing, of using my experiences and emotions and finding ways to write them into story, it has become a little harder. It took me years to get comfortable with my skills in telling a three act story with a big character arc and a big punch ending. Now I want to do that and feel like I’m delivering more than action and fun, but a part of myself, no matter what the genre. Victories is about my anxiety attacks. Wild Rover is about my mother’s severe alcoholism and depression. I need to make those topics part of these writings and deliver good structure and fun crap in between all of that. Sometimes, it’s super easy; other times I feel lost. That’s when Scott Allie has been great– I can trust him with my issues and he’ll help me reel those back in to be digestible with an audience.
I really commend your courage and conviction to take this personal angle that draws from these life experiences to create art. The word “empowering” comes to mind. I can hardly wait to read The Victories, I think it is going to be amazing. You have been a really busy man, in the last few months alone your work has appeared in: Powers, The Mice Templar, Valve Presents the Sacrifice and other Steam Powered Stories, Black Panther: Most Dangerous Man Alive, Takio… Do you sleep? What projects are you currently working on?
I do sleep. I’m also fast. I also tend to work in big 3-4 hour chucks without a break. That’s what I love to do. I’m also not full time at Valve anymore, I’ve moved to contract work with them. I have a great relationship with them still and hopefully I’ll do more TF stories in the near future. Keep in mind that when we took a break on Powers I was like five issues ahead of production, as Bendis and I were working off of plots, not scripts with dialogue– and Victories and Wild Rover were all done over six months ago. It seems like I’m doing a ton, but it’s just been spread out. Hell, how many books did I release in 2009-2011? Not many… Other projects include a short story for one of DC’s big characters, and as soon as I’m finished, Victories. I have lots more I want to do, and Bendis and I have a new project to do after this Takio mini. I’ll also be more involved in the art for The Mice Templar, as that epic comes to a close. [And judging from Mr. Oeming's website, it looks like there is some Captain America on the way to our US troops as well]
I absolutely love The Mice Templar (Hollywood, please get on an adaptation– post haste)! I have to ask, what is the status of the Half Moon comic from yourself and Warren Ellis? Can we believe Mr. Ellis’ version of how you came to be involved with Half Moon? How did that project come about?
Half Moon will happen as it happens. I emailed Warren out of the blue and told him that we should work together before we both die. It didn’t have to be a high profile project, just a story for he and I, something we can do and release ourselves– a pure exorcize in artistic expression. We’ll finish it when the time is right. I think right now, he is neck deep in the two novels he’s writing. We are both aware of Half Moon and we aren’t’ letting it go, just letting it take a natural course.
You kept following your dream until you were able to start working full time as an artist in the comic book industry, doing what you love. Can you tell me the story of what you did before you became a full time artist and how you got your start in the industry?
I was always a full time artist. I wasn’t always PAID, but I was a full time artist from the age of 12 or 13. Seriously. I’ve only had a few “real jobs”– delivering pizza for a short bit of time, washing dishes, a security job when the industry tanked in the mid 90′s… and Valve. But Valve was a much different thing, that was an art job!
I imagine that just about every artist reading this was nodding their heads in agreement about that, “I was always a full time artist. I wasn’t always PAID…” comment. So let’s talk about the Powers TV series for FX. I understand that you got to go to Chicago and see the Powers TV series pilot being shot. What is it like to finally see your creations being portrayed by actors and coming to life? Despite the late breaking rumors about a shakeup with some of the Powers actors, Bendis stated just this week that FX had ordered more scripts for the show. Do you remain optimistic that Powers will indeed be aired at some point?
I AM optimistic about Powers– but also realistic. It’s a situation with lots of equations we can’t control. What we can control is the comic, that’s what I concentrate on. That said, the pilot was shot, FX wanted to rework and recast it (they are known for such things), but they have also ordered more scripts, and Bendis and I just spent a few days talking with Chic Eglee of The Shield and Dexter about reworking it. So things are happening. Seeing the actors BECOME Walker, Deena, Cross, Calista and all was amazing. I cannot understate that. Even if we come up with gold for the new pilot, I hope people get to see what happened this first time around. It felt like a David Fincher movie, and I got to meet Vinnie Jones– he was the coolest.
Well, Bendis did say in the news section of Powers #8, that he would take the pilot around to conventions to screen it, if it came to that. I know some creators went to Portland with Bendis after ECCC, and they were praising the pilot online after watching it. I really want to see this series happen, and I wish you guys the very best of luck. You create some very dynamic art. I love the entire series, but last few issues of Powers have just completely blown me away. Can you tell me a little about your process as an artist? How do you use digital and traditional illustration methods to create such amazing art?
I use both– not all of one, or all of the other. Usually I sketch out my pages with loose pencil and ink, then I scan it it, play with it in Photoshop, and print it out in non-repro blue. Then I ink it up and do about half the backgrounds digitally. It’s just a tool. I can do all of one or the other. I’m shocked at how many artists are repulsed by it. I mean, even Moebius was drawing on digital in later days! It’s just tool. That was one of the great things about working at Valve, I learned so much about working digitally from amazing artists like Jeremy Bennett, Andrea Wicklund and Bay Raitt.
I agree that digital is just another tool in an artist’s arsenal. I think it is an artist’s duty to always push the accepted boundaries, and use every possible tool at their disposal. Speaking of artists, your wife, Taki Soma, is a brilliant artist as well. Do you two geek out and talk art, as well as bounce ideas off of one another?
Totally. We do it all day and all night; dissecting what we like or dislike about stories and art. When I hit a road bump, she’s there for me. She’s working on her comeback, and we can be honest with each other about our work. We did Rapture together and it was one of the best working experiences of our life. I look forward to her doing more of her own thing, but I also can’t wait to collaborate with her again. I also can’t imagine sharing my life with a non-artist. This life is isn’t easy for everyone, especially for someone who makes their work their life like I do. No one else would put up with it, and I couldn’t live with someone not willing to share that much of my life.
Who are some creators, past or present, who inspire you?
In the past, Art Adams made me want to draw. Later it was Steve Rude and Mike Mignola; then Alex Toth and Bruce Timm. Now I’m very inspired by artists, not only for their art styles, but by their attitudes about their art and life. Artists like Eric Canete, Paul Pope, Francesco Francavilla, and a few others who really make art their life, and their life art. I love that aspect of those creators, and find it as inspiring as any lines laid down on a page.
I know you went through a while back and converted much of the media in your home to digital formats, so I would surmise that you have some thoughts on digital comics. Do you think that digital comics are a good move forward for the industry? Do you think that comics should be marketed in a different way to attract new readers?
Man, that’s a big one. Digital is the future, like it or not. Currently I’ve digitally converted most of my library, film, books, and comics. NOT because I’m in love with the format, but because I want my space back. After several moves, I’ve decided I hate THINGS. I’m not a minimalist, but when you are an artist, you tend to collect a LOT of books and comics and music. I’m still working on converting my DVDs though. Look, I love print, but I just don’t have the space. And now, I can have all of my references on me at all times, on my iPad or phone. I’ve learned to cut up my art books, mass feed them into my scanner, and BAM, that’s it. It was hard thing to bring myself to do, but man, it’s great to not be surrounded by a million books and DVDs that you know are only going to grow and grow and take over your life. I do keep some print books, but not many. We will attract more comics readers through digital means, but it will take awhile. Most of middle America doesn’t have a tablet of any kind, and until they become cheap, it’s going to take awhile. In the meantime, smart retailers will learn to make their stores the kind of place people want to spend their time in; if shops can create a real community, they will prosper. But if they don’t plan for the change, they’ll be in trouble. Unfortunately comics, be it creators or store owners, are not usually known for their business savvy.
It is a very interesting time of change and flux for the comic industry. I don’t want to monopolize too much of your time, as you have been very generous here, so I will close this out with one final open question: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about or add?
Speaking of business, I know comics creators hate this and we think we are above it, but man– we have to learn to read our contracts and take care of our business the way we do our creations.
Thank you SO much, Michael, for your time, all of your of work, and this interview opportunity. You truly are one of the great ones in a very talented industry.
Thanks so much for all of the support!
I strongly encourage readers to check out Michael Oeming’s website and follow him on Twitter. He constantly posts art for people to check out, and who doesn’t like that? As always, be sure to show your support for creators that you enjoy by picking up their comics.