OMAC-TIVATE! DiDio & Giffen Going for 'Big, Bold, Noisy'

OMAC-TIVATE! DiDio, Giffen Talk O.M.A.C.

 

In September, DC readers were introduced to the term "OMACtivate!" as a new O.M.A.C. comic was launched with the New 52.

The creative team on the comic is a little unusual, because Co-Publisher Dan DiDio is co-writing with Keith Giffen, who's also doing art. The two had worked together before on Outsiders, but this is the first time they've co-written.

Yet reviewers and fans of O.M.A.C. have noticed something even more unusual than a publisher doubling as writer: The comic is filled with big, outlandish action, crazy sci-fi concepts and sprinkles of humor. While other New 52 comics are stripping away those character elements that could be seen as "silly," O.M.A.C. seems to relish in them.

As the comic heads toward its fourth issue — which features (speaking of kooky concepts) Bio-gators — Newsarama talked to the creative team to find out why they like this approach, where the comic's going next, and how these two work together on O.M.A.C.

Newsarama: Dan and Keith, before we talk about anything else, who came up with "OMACtivate?"

Dan DiDio: All Keith!

Keith Giffen: Yeah, we were sitting around the office one time, and Dan said, "We need a phrase for him to say when he turns into O.M.A.C.. You know, something really cool for him to say.

And it just came to me. We were in the middle of an interview, so I wrote it on a piece of paper and handed it to him. And he ran with it. So there it is. It's kind of nice to add to the comic book lexicon.

DiDio: And also, it's something that's missing for a lot of books right now. When we were looking at this series, we were trying to look at things that were repetitive, that really helped identify the character and could become signature pieces. And we were trying with a few different things, but this really seemed to latch onto the character most of all.

Giffen: Yeah, 'cause the key to this book is just to have fun, and there's nothing more fun than coming up with a word like "Shazam!" or a phrase like "Avengers Assemble!" and then just using it whenever we need it.

Nrama: Dan, I read somewhere that Keith Giffen was the first creator you met when you started at DC. How has that relationship evolved?

DiDio: Uh...

Giffen: Has it?

DiDio: I think using the words "evolution" and "Keith" in the same sentence is not something you normally do.

Giffen: It's more of a bunker mentality when it comes to me.

DiDio: Yeah, pretty much.

You know what happened? At first I thought it was a hazing. But then you get to start to like him after awhile.

Giffen: Yeah, I grow on people. Kind of like a fungus.

Nrama: How do you two work together? Do you plot over lunch? Or do you break up the script in scenes? Or the dialogue?

Giffen: First off, there seems to be a real misconception out there that I'm contributing more to this story that I am.

I get a plot from Dan. He comes up with the basic idea and where he wants it to go. He breaks it down into plot format, whether he gives it to me bit by bit by bit over the phone or he gives it to me written.

Then I just go in and add things here and there, and just tinker with things as I'm telling the story, just trying to up the ante a little bit. But the story is there.

Dan hands me the story. He is the writer.

DiDio: One of the things that works out well with this book is that I come up with a basic plot for this that's really simple and really straightforward. Then I send it to Keith, and he breaks it out visually into this fully rich story that really layers in all the character interactions, really sets up all the dynamics.

So therefore, when I'm going in to do the dialogue, I can actually just do dialogue that's more about the characters without any need to do any explanation about what's going on in the panels or the scenes, or describe any of the action because it's so clear and so perfectly laid out.

Giffen: Where we are when it comes to doing O.M.A.C. is somewhere midway between full script and "Marvel style." And we're both really comfortable there. I compare what we're doing on O.M.A.C. to a tennis match. We're just lobbing the ball back and forth, waiting for the other person to react.

Nrama: You're doing something similar with Dan [Jurgens] on Superman, where you're doing the dialogue after the art is done, right?

Giffen: Yeah. One of the things I know that DC has been pushing and would like to get back into is that kind of collaboration. A close collaboration. So yeah, Dan Jurgens and I work it pretty much the same way as what Dan and I are doing on O.M.A.C.. There are too many Dan's in this company.

But it's more rewarding that way. Everyone has a skin in the game this way when it comes to the book.

Nrama: How did you guys decide on the tone that this series would take? Was it always decided from the start that you'd go for "fun?"

DiDio: "Fun" is a weird word. I think what we wanted immediately was high adventure, high-octane action, and the level of surreal situations that you would expect to see in comic book storytelling.

Giffen: Yeah. We just wanted a big, bold, colorful dynamic. A very noisy book. It started out with us saying, if O.M.A.C. would usually throw a punch at somebody, in this book, he'll throw a building at somebody.

DiDio: Yeah. And it was always to up that ante.

What we want to do is have every story set and grounded in a very familiar situation. So if you follow the series, you'll see that we're in an office building in the start, or we're at an ATM machine, or we go into a diner -- places that people can relate to. But then, once the action ensues, everything starts to escalate until you wind up in this really surreal situation that only could be told in comic books.

Giffen: Exactly. What we're really trying to do is embrace the strengths of comic books.

We are unapologetically a comic book. That's all there is to it.

Nrama: But it seems like the order of the day in comics is to make it more and more grounded. I don't know if it spins out of what movies have established over the last decade or what. But you guys have really abandoned that trend. Do you think it works because it's different from what everyone else is doing?

Giffen: I'd like to think so.

 

I always tell Dan that with O.M.A.C., what I'm trying to do is, I'm trying to do the type of comic book that, when I was a young comic reader, made me go, "Wow! I want to do that!"

A lot of the books out now don't have the same charge about them, where this looks like it's so much fun. This is what I want to do for a living.

DiDio: And I just want to pick up on one thing that Keith was saying before. Just purely about how, when we were approaching the New 52, we really wanted a better synthesis between the artist and the writer, really working together as a team, as a tandem, because really, when you open up a comic, the first thing you see is the art. That's what draws you in. And you hope that the continuing story and the character voices are the things that bring you from one book to the next, but the art has got to sell you.

And that's the one thing that this series has, is this really incredible visual sense that just grabs you at the beginning and then holds you all the way through.

Nrama: I noticed that each issue isn't exactly a self-contained issue, but it does seem to tell a whole story before moving on to the next issue. Was that also a conscious choice?

DiDio: Always.

Giffen: Always. Always. The idea that we're just introducing new characters and new concepts. Throwing them into the DC Universe. And it's like, the sub-plots, the character interaction, the growing relationship between Kevin and Brother Eye, the problems that Kevin and Jody are going to have, their co-workers — that's the ongoing soap opera behind the scenes, and that carries over from issue to issue. But when it comes to what's in the forefront of each issue's story, it's about the villain and O.M.A.C. jumping all over him, and then we move on to the next issue.

DiDio: Yep. O.M.A.C. fight. Move on.

And I think the other thing that we try to do with this approach is give that sense that this is an entry point. You want to get that sense of explanation in every single issue at the start. People can jump on at any spot. You don't have to start at #1. You can start at #2, #3 or #4. Ultimately, you get the sense of what the story is about in each issue.

Giffen: Yeah, just because I might get tired of drawing the "O.M.A.C.tivate" sequence where Kevin becomes O.M.A.C., and decide, well, maybe I can have it off camera, there are readers out there that will be picking up O.M.A.C. and have never seen it before. So we're constantly having to remind readers what O.M.A.C. is about, how he operates, who Brother Eye is, what the relationship is — then he can go beat somebody up.

DiDio: Yeah. Although in the fourth issue, O.M.A.C. doesn't appear until the very end. So we had to change up how we actually did our story. The expectation is that he turns into O.M.A.C. by at least the middle of the issue, and then he fights the rest of the way through. But in this case, he doesn't change until the end of issue #4. But the action starts much earlier. And it was more fun to start the action around Kevin this time than O.M.A.C.. So we actually changed it up a little, but stayed within the formula of what each issue is supposed to offer.

Giffen: Yeah, my favorite issue so far is #4, simply because we get to know a lot more about Kevin and spend a bit more time with him.

Nrama: Yeah, are we going to learn more about Kevin and his supporting cast? You mentioned the "soap opera," but we haven't seen a lot of that yet.

DiDio: Yes. As a matter of fact, #4 gives a good sense of Kevin's relationship with Brother Eye, and how adversarial or how interactive it's going to be. And that's the first time we get a real good taste of it. And we really spend some time explaining it.

In #5, we get the crossover with Frankenstein, but there is some more back-story there.

And then #6, we'll also see more of Kevin and his relationship with Jody, as that develops too.

Nrama: And of course, we have Bio-gators coming up, right?

Giffen: Bio-gators! Yeah!

DiDio: We have Bio-gators. We like the craziness. My favorite story to tell you is that when the Psi-Fi Man was introduced, that was originally going to be a pre-existing character from the DC Universe. But Keith didn't want to draw just another character that we've seen before. So he wound redesigning him to the point that the character ultimately had to become something brand new.

I actually like that. That's the way Keith will challenge you, saying, "Rather than going to a comfort zone with something you already know, let's go and change it so much that you have to think about it in a completely different way, so we can come at the story from a different angle than from what would be expected."

Giffen: And nine times out of 10, that's what I'll do. I won't say, "Let's not use that character." I'll simply say, "Well, this is probably the first time we've seen this character, and in the spirit of the relaunch, it's time to re-think this character." Of course, unless it's a character that's just ripe for exploitation. Somebody that wasn't used before.

For example, I'm so looking forward to issue #7 of O.M.A.C. because it's the Doctor Scuba story! And I'm not screwing with Doctor Scuba at all. He's one of those characters that appeared in a truncated story with a great visual — the googly eyes and all — and I think that's going to be a lot of fun. That guy doesn't have to be messed with, because it's not like people got tired of him already.

DiDio: We've got some crazy stuff going on. We've gone from fighting at Cadmus in the first issue; to the second issue, we had the Amazing-Man; third issue we had the Psi-Fi man; the fourth issue is the Bio-gators; the fifth issue, we're fighting Frankenstein; sixth issue, we'll have the ever-so-deadly Sweet Leilani; the seventh issue will be Doctor Scuba; and then we'll get up to the eighth issue, where we spend the night at the zoo.

Giffen: And somewhere in there, we'll figure out how to tell the origin, as to how this happened to Kevin and why it happened to Kevin.

And on #6, there's a little buzzing online already. So put this in big bold letters for the fans who are going, "Keith is leaving O.M.A.C." because of the solicitations. I'm not leaving O.M.A.C.! Scott Kolins is being brought on board to do an issue of O.M.A.C. This is a decision that Dan and I made together, and we're probably be having other artists every six or seven issues or so drop by to do their version of O.M.A.C.. He was handpicked by us. It was planned. It was done ahead of time. Not because the book's in trouble or anything. But I'm not leaving the book. Let's scotch that.

DiDio: And also, you have to remember that Keith is still the co-writer on this book. He tells the story. So even with Scott coming on board to do the art, Keith is heavily involved in the storytelling in the series, to maintain that continuity all the way through.

Giffen: Yeah, it's not like I've just disappeared for an issue.

DiDio: As much as we tried.

Giffen: Ah, you can keep trying! I'm like a bad penny.

Nrama: Getting back to Kevin real quick, there seems to be this undercurrent of a kid having no control of his life. Is there a theme of free will and manipulation and trying to get control of your life? And are you guys trying to say something?

DiDio: I don't know. I'm probably working out issues. [laughs]

 

No, really, the whole book is about control. That's what it's about. And the idea that everybody feels like they're in control, and nobody is. Even when we search deeper into Brother Eye, where he thinks he's control, you find out that even he can be manipulated. The same thing we'll find out with Max Lord, the same thing we'll find out with the people at Cadmus, and the same thing will happen with Kevin as well.

Everybody thinks they have a certain aspect of control of their lives, that they're able to make their own choices, but each one is actually being led down a path, even if they think that's a choice they made on their own.

Giffen: What I like most about the tone of the book is that everybody in the book, with the possible exception of Kevin right now, is gaming everyone else in the book. And that's just fun. That's the kind of scheme that I have a lot of fun with.

Nrama: Dan, you mentioned that Kevin would have a mentor. Is that still true?

DiDio: It's one of the things that I want to get to. Once he's able to get to a point where he can try to one-up Brother Eye, there is a hero out there right now that has the capability of helping Kevin keep away from Brother Eye, but he'll also have ties to Brother Eye.

Nrama: Keith, what's the effect you're going for with the art?

Giffen: Big, bold and dopey. You know? I'm just trying to get as much power into the artwork as possible.

A lot of people are saying that "Keith is doing O.M.A.C. 'old-school.'" Umm... OK, I'll have that printed on a T-shirt and wear it with honor! But I'm just trying to get really bold, dynamic visuals. The kind of stuff that floored me when I was a kid.

And for the first time in my career, I've just given up and said, "You know what? I'm going to draw this book the same way I doodle." And when I doodle, my Kirby comes out. And you know what? If I'm Kirby-influenced, there's nobody better to be influenced by.

Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans of the series?

Giffen: You know, the reaction to O.M.A.C. has been quite beyond our expectations. We thought we had a good book. But every time you work on a book, you think you have a good book. And to have so many fans out there embrace the book and just get behind it and talk about it to their friends — that's really gratifying. So a tip of the hat to the fans. Thanks for the support!

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