Two years ago, Michael Avon Oeming released the first issue of The Victories, a mini-series that was located in a hyper-violent world where superheroes were as commonplace as the criminals they pursued. The five-issue series focused on Faustus – a member of the superhero team, The Victories – who initially seemed like a Batman analogue but quickly developed into something much more nuanced with the exploration of this hero's personal demons through his superheroic persona. What made this initial arc particularly compelling were the ways in which art mirrored real life, namely in Oeming's expressed interest in exploring some of his own life's troubles through his superheroic narrative.
Not long after the conclusion of the mini-series, Dark Horse gave Oeming the greenlight and The Victories were reborn in a new, on-going series. This gave Oeming the opportunity to expand his focus from not only digging deeply into the psyche of his characters but also to pursuing larger-scale conspiracy theories surrounding hidden governments, secret experiments, and aliens from other worlds.
With only one issue left in the series, Newsarama had the opportunity to talk with Oeming as well as series editor and Dark Horse Editor in Chief, Scott Allie, about their final reflections on The Victories.
Newsarama: In August 2012, the first issue of The Victories mini-series was released. In previous interviews, you spoke about exploring personal demons and past experiences. So Mike, Scott,, almost two years later, you are beginning to approach the grand finale for the on-going series. Have you accomplished what you set out to do with this cast of characters and story?
Mike Oeming: Pretty much. Maybe I would have developed Sai and Sleeper a bit more, but other than that, we had the time and space to build and explore characters. Even when we decided to wrap it up, we had time to make sure we did that correctly.
Scott Allie: Around issue #7 of the ongoing, Mike started really laying the groundwork for the finale. It was great, working with him on the outline as we got closer to the end, making sure all the pieces were lining up. And while I love Sai and Sleeper, the series was so much about the personal demons of Faustus and D.D., so it was important to bounce the focus back and forth between them, using them and the other characters to explore the darkness not just of heroes, but of our culture at large.
Oeming: As far as my personal demons, I'm not sure they will ever go away, but between Wild Rover and the first Victories mini, I was really able to explore them, and work out some issues with art therapy. I think you can really see the difference between the more personal feel of the mini-series and the wider exploration of the world and conspiracies in the on-going title. Scott was a huge help in keeping these things on track.
Allie: Mike is my personal demon.
Nrama: What was the fan response to your use of comics as a form of art therapy?
Oeming: I was both surprised and shocked to be honest. Surprised that more people seemed to understand it, the idea of art as therapy and shocked just as many people NOT getting it. Maybe it was because I wrapped some of my issues up in capes, some people just didn't understand why I would expose myself like that. But that's okay, I wasn't offended. I really pushed the "Write what you know" idea here, and at the time of the first trade, I was in a really dark place, so that's what I wrote. You can tell the shift in tone for the ongoing series, which is less personal and more an exploration of the conspiracy psyche plays on the mind and how that reflects in our overall society.
Nrama: In addition to exploring deeply personal issues in this series through the various character developments, you've also dug deep into your own interests in conspiracy theories with this series. Did you find it a challenge to blend those more intimate moments with the grander elements of your story?
Oeming: I didn't feel like a challenge because my POV on conspiracies is that they are merely an extension or manifestation of society's anxieties, a larger social version of a panic attack. In the way that bad things happen to us early in life, it molds our perception and expectation of the world we grow up in- and our own American history has its own traumas that were so horrible or they defy any normal explanation that we need a large scope, sometimes even cosmic. Then we have actual conspiracies such as Water Gate, Iran Contra and other that only lend credence to an idea with a seed of truth. I see the personal and social versions of these as macro and micro versions of each other.
Nrama: Scott, are you a fan of conspiracy theories? Is that a part of what drew you to this book when it was first proposed?
Allie: No, not at all, actually! Mike was at a UFO convention of some sort over the last weekend, and I caught some of it on Twitter, and I’m wondering if a weekend of it will have been enough to cool his jets on that stuff. What drew me to The Victories actually had nothing to do with superheroes or conspiracies. The conspiracy thing wasn’t as evident at the very beginning, though of course the superhero stuff was. I felt like The Victories, and Faustus in particular, was just such a raw, honest, and emotionally driven adventure story, that that drew me in more than the specifics of the genre stuff. There’s a lot of "dark, gritty superhero" comics. In The Victories, the darkness is real, and deep. I’ve found that really compelling, because of how earnestly invested in the characters Mike is.
Nrama: The Victories has an altogether different feel when compared to more mainstream comics or even other superhero titles coming out from Dark Horse. How do you think this series has set itself apart from the more conventional entries in the superhero genre?
Allie: The Victories is definitely a superhero book unlike any other, not just because of the darkness, the way Mike dispenses with characters, and the way he deals with personal stuff. The way we’re building toward the end—I don’t think anyone’s done something like this before.
Oeming: To be fair, I think all of the major companies have tackled these subjects, but they always have to take a back seat to company events and the tight genre choices of super hero books- GET THEM FIGHTING! It works, and those are the mainstream books for a reason. I was free at Dark Horse to create a story using those same ingredients, but in different amounts. I think where I chose to put my attention on these subjects really sets it apart as a different experience.
Nrama: And yet, this book has certain pushed the pedal to the floor with the fight scenes and the level of brutality. What was behind the decision to dial it up in this manner?
Oeming: When you compare The Victories to Powers, you'll see similarities in tone. I don't have to work with a filter, so if someone with super powers punches someone else in the head- it's going to explode. My only filter for depicting my art is me, for the most part, and I don't have one. I've learned to think about that more though. I don't want to be so self-involved with my creations that I forget what it is like to be a reader, and my personal taste, which may feel right at the time, can be totally wrong for the reader when they are reading it. I thought I did the most tasteful version of someone ripping off a head and shitting down the neck, but it still upset people and I don't blame them. That's my crazy.
Nrama: [Laughter] Fair enough! Following the end of the Faustus-oriented mini-series, Mike, you mentioned that there would possibly be other mini-series to come. Do you think Issue #15 will mark the end of The Victories?
Oeming: I think so. I know how I would continue the series if I wanted to, or if the opportunity showed itself with a larger audience via film/TV, but I've really told one complete story that runs 21 issues worth of material. It will be a hell of a collection at some point!
Nrama: Which character/s will be the most difficult to let go of by the time Issue #15 is in the can?
Oeming: I love drawing Faustus. I just love it. I'll miss drawing him the most, but I'll miss writing DD MAU the most.
Allie: But you killed her first.
Nrama: Scott, any personal favorites from the series?
Allie: DD’s death is a favorite moment, because I loved how Mike built to it. And of course it’s not just DD’s death, but Metatron’s—but it’s DD you feel for the most. I love the two super kids that The Victories take under their wings, the former Mark students, and their arcs of realization about what’s going on. I love when Sleeper transforms into his new version. I feel like that sequence felt like it was going one way, but it went somewhere much weirder.
Nrama: For those "process geeks" out there, can you describe your working relationship (including that with colorist, Nick Filardi) and how you bring The Victories to readers each month?
Oeming: When we do Powers, we have a specific template we color with, and there are specific rules. The same with Takio, though Nick really made those rules himself. With The Victories, I really wanted to see Nick unleashed, I sent him some color techniques from Ashley Wood and Skottie Young, and just asked him to go wild- no rules. Still, Nick didn't go nuts, he didn't turn it all up to 11 because he's such a great colorist that even when he's given full reign he knows when to pull back, and when to go over the top.
Allie: Nick was amazing to work with on this, and he did a great job adjusting for the backup artists. I hadn’t worked with him much, so he and I didn’t have a lot of back and forth—it was all between him and Mike. Actually, the letterer on the book, Aaron Walker—he lives in town here in Portland. After we did a couple issues of the miniseries, I was so impressed with how easy he was to work with that I hired him as an Assistant Editor here.
Nrama: In the past, Mike, I've heard you describe your style as being more "loose" with the pencils and then developing the art more during the inking process. Was this any different with The Victories?
Oeming: No, I most definitely kept my pencils very loose. I have some layouts I can show you (Newsarama Note: Seen to your right and left here!). I like to "find the lines" in my inking. Sometimes that backfires and doesn't work out, so I need to rework/redraw something. I like to keep it on edge, like my hero Alex Toth. Lumps and bumps, over extending lines - these things keep the art alive. Realism kills it. A lot of comics are beautiful, drafted way better than I ever could by artists who I admire and can draw circles around me; however, it can feel cold, like perfect smooth jazz. Give me Miles Davis over a clean, perfect sound any day. Same with art.
Nrama: What were your discussions with each other like while going back and forth as during the writing process and as the art was coming together?
Oeming:Scott is amazing at keeping me focused. I benefited a lot from his years editing Hellboy and working with Mignola on building a universe, but not overburdening the readers with details of the "why" and "how" of the story. I find myself caught up too often in trying to explain conspiracy theories in hopes of making a clear story and instead, I made it foggy. Like a bad fart, Scott would come in waving in hands and yell "What are you doing?!" So we worked really tightly together. Even on the script, Scott was great at keeping my dialogue clear and lean. Overwriting is a crime I can be guilty of for sure.
Allie:At a number of points in the process, we’d get together, often over pie, often with Taki, and the three of us would talk through where things were headed. I ask a lot of questions, trying to get the writer to think about his story more deeply, rather than giving him my ideas about a story. So we’d talk through it a lot at various points, to make sure he was always building to something. From the point when Mike decided to end with #15, the conversations got more serious about making sure things were adding up, and that he had the space and time to do everything he needed to do to pull the ending off. Part of what I do is also read back over the earlier stuff, and see what was set up there, sometimes unintentionally, which can contribute to a tighter ending. At one point Mike saw that the first five-issue arc did a lot to set everyone up for the final arc, and it helped tighten and simplify what would happen there. And this book is so complex in so many ways; it was good to see a path for simplifying it.
Nrama: Many fans like to "trade wait" and cautiously wait to see what the response is from other readers before jumping on board. What is one thing either of you would say to convince those readers to pick up the back issues and catch up on The Victories before the final issue hits newsstands?
Oeming: That is a riddle to which every publisher and creator wants the answer. Here is mine: These stories are written in chapters, and while you have to wait for the next chapter, it gives you time with the story to sit with it, digest it, instead of gorging it all and having it quickly faded away in your mind. That's why the issue-by-issue experience is special.