Writer and artist Michael Avon Oeming's comic book output has been eclectic to say the least, with credits ranging from creator-owned projects like The Mice Templar and Hammer of the Gods to work-for-hire books like Red Sonja at Dynamite and Thor at Marvel. And oh yeah, Powers, the long-running, celebrated series that he and Brian Michael Bendis have collaborated on for the past 13 years.
Dark Horse's Victories is one of Oeming's first truly solo projects, as he's writing and illustrating the book himself, with colors by Nick Filardi and letters by Aaron Walker. It's a newly debuted team of superheroes, but a series squarely aimed at the mature readers set, and inspired by some of the creator's very personal life experiences.
We talked with Oeming about the recently launched ongoing Victories series, which debuted with a new #1 last week.
Newsarama: Mike, the new Victories ongoing series comes a few months after the initial five-issue miniseries. Was it always your plan to do more?
Michael Avon Oeming: It wasn't a hardcore plan. But because I knew I wanted to tell a personal story about a character who has other characters to bounce off of — that's why there was going to be a team — and then of course the team members had to either have personalities, or develop personalities as the story went. As it happened, I was kind of planting seeds.
Scott Allie and I talked about what we wanted to do after Victories, and for a moment we were just talking about doing something new. But Victories seemed to be doing well enough that that we're like, "Y'know, it's got some momentum, let's keep it going forward." It wasn't a hardcore plan, but we definitely planted seeds for a larger story to continue after that, and luckily it just worked out.
Nrama: Victories seems to fit well with Dark Horse's current lineup, with quite a few new superhero titles, but skewed perspectives on the genre.
Oeming: Yeah, if you're going to do another superhero line, why do it like Marvel and DC? And there are still a lot of differences between the way Marvel and DC do their books, so I'm in no way saying it's all the same, but there is a mainstream branding kind of thing. You can't compete with that market. Don't even try. Do something completely different. Books like The Victories, and Black Beetle, and Captain Midnight — the way they're going to be executed, you're just not going to see that at Marvel and DC. That's not to say that it's better, it's just to say it's different. It has to be different. Why build more of the same?
Nrama: Correct me if this is wrong, but before these two Victories series, in your career, you haven't really done many things of length that was your writing and art, solo. You've written a lot of stuff for other artists, you've of course drawn stuff for writers, and you've co-written things you that you drew, but it's pretty rare for a project to be solely written and drawn by you, right?
Oeming: Yeah, it is. Years ago, I did a short story for Ivan Brandon's NYC Mech, where I wrote and drew, and actually colored it. The only thing I didn't do was lettering. It was a really short story.
That was the very, very first thing that I wrote and drew myself, ever. I haven't done anything like that publishing-wise before, because I always enjoyed working with other people, to the point that it just became natural. When I would develop ideas, my next step wasn't, "How do I go ahead and finish it?" It was, "Oh, who do I want to work with?" with an excited feeling. As I got older, I kind of realized, I should just go ahead and strike out on my own, especially after I had success writing for other people.
What I found funny was there's definitely a transition of writing for somebody else and writing for myself. It's kind of taken a little while to get a hold of, but I think I'm there now. I'll still want to work with other people in the future, but right now I'm definitely enjoying Victories and Wild Rover, and kind of striking out on my own for a while.
Nrama: It does seem to be the natural step for someone with plenty of experience as both a writer and an artist already.
Oeming: Yeah, and these two particular projects, The Victories and Wild Rover, were pretty personal. They were coming out of going through a big chunk of therapy. I just couldn't figure out how I could get somebody else to write this stuff with me, but I thought it was important to just try and do it myself.
Nrama: Yeah, you mentioned in interviews for the initial Victories volume that much of it was inspired by your experience with therapy. Is that still a major influence in this new incarnation?
Oeming: Yeah, definitely. There's stuff of myself that's in there, there's stuff from friends. There's a lot from my mother. My mother seems to be an unending well of inspiration. She was an awesome, awesome person. She gave me boundless love, but no direction. She was kind of a mess.
I had this interesting childhood — most people's damage comes out of their parents not clearly communicating their love for them in some way, or their acceptance of them in some way. Even if they know that they love them, a lot of people don't always feel accepted by their parents; they're still, as adults, trying to impress them, or get their approval in some bizarre way.
My mother wasn't like that at all. My mother was super-supportive, and there psychologically for me. She gave me a great foundation. But, my mom was just full of all kinds of problems, from severe alcoholism, to mental issues. She was clinically diagnosed as having multiple personalities. So she was just this unending well of both love and psychological damage that I draw a lot of inspiration out of. But in a positive way, if that makes any sense.
Nrama: Definitely sounds like the type of experience that for an artist, would really have no choice but to be influential in your work.
Oeming: Yeah. And going to therapy helped me grasp a lot of the stuff that was causing me either tension or anxiety, or frustration, and getting some power over it — and not just power, but control, and realizing where it's coming from. The moment those things started to click in, story ideas started coming to me. "Oh, I draw constantly because it's a control mechanism." If I'm out some place, and I don't have my sketchbook with me… it's literally like a safety blanket. If I start feeling panicky, or start feeling claustrophobic, I can just bust out my sketchbook, and draw a little bit.
My psychiatrist was saying at the time, "It's a control mechanism. There were all these elements in your childhood that were out of control." The rug, and your foundation, gets pulled out from you in ways you don't expect as a kid, and then that sets up that pattern, that expectation, for the rest of your life. So drawing becomes a control mechanism — something that you yourself are able to mandate. That's really fascinating, and there's ways to take that metaphor into superheroes. And that's kind of where Victories and Wild Rover came from.
A lot of that stuff that's from my mother, it's not just that I'm observing — when somebody you love is going through really hard times, it affects you almost as if you're going through it, just through basic empathy. That's where some of the other character stuff comes from. D.D. Mau is dealing with body issues. That's something my mother dealt with all of her life. Those aren't my issues, but they're my mother's issues, and women who I've known. Trying to extrapolate that to a story, as well as action narratives, is challenging fun. It's a positive thing that comes out of the negative stuff, and it's pretty cool, I think.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit more about that character, since D.D. Mau is a focal point of issue #1. How you arrived at the character, and the very direct use of her powers as a metaphor for body image issues? What inspired you to look at that condition through this lens?
Oeming: I work a lot with iconology. A lot of people look at my characters, and say, "Oh, is this a commentary on this character, or that character?" And it's not so much that in Victories as much I've just been used to working off of iconic characters in Powers, where we are making statements about other characters. That kind of bled over a little bit in Victories.
With D.D., because she was the super-speed character, the first thing you think about it somebody who's hyper, and they're loud and fast and obnoxious. We know people like that in real life, and it's pretty easy to then extrapolate that personality into something. What I notice about people who are kind of loud and brash and obnoxious, it's because they have extreme insecurity. Those insecurities call them to act out in a way that tries to put a spotlight on them, whether it's positive or negative. In D.D. Mau's case, she's using her race in a way to make people uncomfortable. Her character, who is running fast and calling herself "D.D. Mau," I'm sure that's going to make some people cringe — that's what her character would want. That's also why she wears the boob-window. It's not because I wanted to show off the character, it's because the character wants to show off. The character wants to make other people in the room uncomfortable, because that gives her power, and it makes her feel more the center of things, and more secure.
And that insecurity — where does it come from? That's when you really get the fun stuff with the character, for me. I know people like to see her being brash, but I really like looking back at what causes that kind of behavior.
Nrama: It seems like you've definitely put a lot of thought into these characters — and there are quite a few you've created in Victories — plus, you and Brian have created many different superheroes in Powers over the years. At this point you've done so many designs and different visuals — is that something that comes fairly natural to you? Oeming: At this point, it happens fairly quickly and easily. Because Brian and I have been doing Powers for like 12 years, and my personal life pretty much revolves around comics and writing stories. So pretty much everything I do is in some way reflective of that. My wife and I often talk about people we know, what interesting quirks that they have, and what kind of personalities they have, and that quickly, in my mind, makes its way into a creative outlet. There are even people I don't like that I base these characters on, and I love these characters. It's just interesting character traits that you can pull out of real life and then extrapolate to stories.
Nrama: Speaking of Powers, it's now back on a regular schedule. You're doing a lot of work there, plus launching Victories as an ongoing — and you do some occasional outside work beyond that, like the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comic for Marvel. How tough is it to balance two books at once?
Oeming: For me, the secret is just instead of doing a bunch of stuff all over the place, I'm trying to focus all my energy just on these two things. So typically, when I was on Powers, I'd be doing Powers, then I'd be drawing Mice Templar, and coming up with a story for another Hammer of the Gods thing — I had a whole bunch of creator-owned stuff on the side. Usually that was done pretty short-attention span theater, like one-shots and stuff, because I wanted to do all these different things. I'd do a story for Dark Horse here, or a story for Marvel or Image there.
What I'm trying to do now is basically say no to everything that's not Powers and Victories. That's a really good schedule for me. I'm very happy with doing creator-owned stuff. I still like working for Marvel and DC, and playing with their characters, but [creator-owned is] kind of where my heart is, and definitely where the work comes from the easiest.
Nrama: So you could see yourself doing Victories for a while?
Oeming: Yeah, definitely. I have an endpoint in mind that hopefully we'll get to at some point, but I want to try and make this last for a while. After Victories, I'd like to finish up Wild Rover, which we introduced in Dark Horse Presents, and then collected into a one-shot, but I've got a larger story for that that I'd also like to do. Definitely Victories I could see going for a couple of years at least.
Nrama: And the feedback from fans thus far seems to be positive for Powers transitioning to Powers: Bureau and being back on a regular schedule.
Oeming: We were derailed a bit by the show, because it was really intense. The pilot went beyond just being optioned, and every now and then, "here's a script." On a daily basis, Brian was working really hardcore on the show as a producer and a writer. It was pretty easy to lose track of stuff. At the time, too, I was working at the video game company Valve, full-time.
Between the two elements, it was pretty easy to derail the book for a bit, but we've come back and realized that although the show is still happening, we can't control those elements in the way that we can control the comic. Brian and I are just really happy to be able to figure out a schedule — we've got a bunch of issues done in the can. I'm wrapping up issue #5 now, and we're doing really well on the schedule. Super-happy to have it back on a regular basis again.