In any given month, you can find Michael Avon Oeming's name attached to a handful of comic book projects. In the New Year alone, he's working on Powers, The Magician's Apprentice, Omega Flight, and Red Sonja, to name a few. He's been working in the comics industry - in one capacity or another - steadily since he was 17 years-old, and we got the chance to ask him questions about his past and present works.
MANIA: I think most people came to know you by name when you were working with Brian Michael Bendis on the comic book series, Powers; but you'd been in comics for close to a dozen years by the time the first issue of Powers saw print, right?
MICHAEL AVON OEMING: Right. I'm a 10 year overnight success!
MANIA: What comics had you worked on that people might not realize had the mark of Michael Avon Oeming on them?
OEMING: Quite a lot. I started with some Indy comics, with Innovation Comics inking Child's Play and a very small company called Comic Zone, where I did a lot of porn comics, stuff like Edward Wizzarhands, Night of the Giving Head, stuff like that. I did a Star Wars parody I wrote and drew called Space Sluts. It was called Star Whores, but Diamond was afraid to carry it. Fun days.
That's also where I first worked with Bryan JL Glass on a book called Lycra/Spandex, later to become Spandex Tights. From there, I was hired by Andy Helfer for a Paradox Press book written by Dean Motter that never saw print. At the same time I started inking -- bits here and there -- for Marvel and DC on Daredevil and Justice League. Then my big break happened and I was hired as the artist of Judge Dredd for DC. I wasn't really ready for the job!
After that was Foot Soldiers, which I'm still proud of. From there, it was hard to find work, the mid-'90s implosion happened and it was lots of struggling from there. I inked Ninjack for a year or so with Neil Vokes and I drew Bulletproof Monk, all the while eking out my first real creator owned project with Bryan JL Glass called Ship of Fools.
MANIA: When you first met Brian Michael Bendis, was he someone you immediately clicked with or did it take a while before you two meshed and decided to work together?
OEMING: We clicked right away. I met him and [Kabuki creator] Dave Mack at the same time, they were already best friends, but we all clicked. They really pushed me into doing creator books, and Ship of Fools largely happened because of their advice -- they saw some sketches and such and were like, DO IT!
We stayed in touch, and it didn't take long until we knew we wanted to work together eventually. Once I finished Ship of Fools, I called up Bendis (still a nobody at that point) and we talked about this thing Powers that I didn't want to do at first. It had superheroes in it. Yuck.
MANIA: Speaking of that project you didn't want to do, do you think it was the success of Powers that opened the door for you to get the chance to do some other comic book projects, or did other things you were pitching just seem to fall in place around the same time Powers became a smash?
OEMING: It was Powers. My career was going nowhere. Powers changed it all. Brian's career started to really take off at the same time Powers was happening. Things started to change for him and then Powers came out and wowed people. Deals happened for Brian as we were doing Powers, so at the same time Powers came out, these other things like Sam and Twitch started up. It was a combination of good timing, but honestly, I just think Powers is a good book, and at the time, there was nothing like it on the stands.
MANIA: Since most people first really became aware of your work through your drawing of Powers, I think some people were surprised to see you writing more and more comics. What came first for you: the desire to draw or the desire to tell stories through your written word?
OEMING: That's been with me the whole time. I was just smart enough to not jump into it until I really gave myself time to develop those muscles. That's why I worked with so many co-writers like Bryan Glass and Bendis -- to learn from them. I still enjoy working with others writers, but I finally feel I can write on my own as I have been with Thor, Ares, Red Sonja, and the upcoming Omega Flight.
MANIA: When you were first inking comics at the age of 14, how did that happen? In the Golden Age, we heard of a lot of teenagers getting the chance to draw or write a few stories, but that doesn't seem any kind of norm now ...
OEMING: It was just this one story for Innovation. I had sent my samples in and they hired me, not knowing my age. I was still in school, and too stupid to follow up and try and get more work! I didn't get comics work again until I was about 17, right when I dropped out of high school.
MANIA: Was your family always supportive of your desire to make comics or did your folks try to convince you to pursue some other occupation? If you had some people trying to get you to do something else, how did you stay true to your own goals and not cave in to the outside pressure?
OEMING: My family was totally supportive. They had to be because I was a laser. I was totally focused on art and drawing comics. I was like that since I was 12 or 13, and I think being like that impressed them at my young age, so they were totally behind me.
We are also VERY blue-collar, lower middle class, at times, down right poor, so having any goal like this was promising. Since I've been this focused for so long, I have NO idea what else I could have done with my life. I probably would have been very unhappy. Comics and art have been great therapy.
MANIA: You seem to be one of the busiest guys working both sides of the comic book street in the mainstream with your work on Powers, Red Sonja and the upcoming Alpha Flight, not to mention the Magician's Apprentice and the other projects you've completed in recent years. What's a typical day like for you? How do you break down those 24 hours so you can maximize the time the best to get everything down you need to?
MANIA: How does being a father affect your work load? It's tough to explain to a child when you're working, "well, I have to do this now ..." Are there ever any times when he wants you to play hooky but you can't get away from the job at that point?
OEMING: Yep, it's a balancing act, but I can at any given point be there for the boy. I go to all the school functions- even if they are in the middle of the day during school. I get to go on class trips and stuff, and that's always fun. Even when I work seven days a week, I still get to see him more than most office bound fathers, but it never seems like enough.
MANIA: A lot of your work sometimes deals with the mythical or fantasy type elements. What is it about those genres that attracted you as a reader?
OEMING: I think I've always been a daydreamer. Even as a child, I was always in my own head. I remember in school, first and second grade, maybe before, when we would go to the library, I would only get books on mythology or dinosaurs. I didn't know anything about mythology, just that it was cool. Maybe having seen Star Wars at an early age (5 or 6) helped with that, along with those '70s sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica. My mother watched Doctor Who and Flash Gordon, so that stuff was always there for me on some level.
MANIA: What is it about those genres that talks to the creative soul inside of you and inspires you to draw and write?
OEMING: Honestly, for me it was escapism. I wasn't a happy kid, so daydreams and fantasy was where I would live. Mythology, comics, film and such were an escape into a happier place, though I didn't know that was what I was doing at the time. Now that I live in happier times, that world is part of who I am at this point.
MANIA: How do the comics you read and enjoyed as a child influence the work you're doing now?
OEMING: I didn't really start reading comics until I was 12. Spider-Man and New Mutants were my favorites. Then I found Nexus and that was it. Nexus was my favorite book and it's why I'm a creator owned guy, and not more of a work for hire guy. I'd rather work on something I made up than Spider-Man any day, even though Spidey is really cool. I owe a lot to Mike Baron and Steve Rude.
MANIA: You mentioned that you'd wanted to work on Alpha Flight for a while, but the first time you proposed an Alpha Flight series, it wasn't met with open arms. How did that feel wanting to do a series or a special about those characters and getting a very unenthusiastic response?
OEMING: It was great. But at the same time, I had gotten used to the ups and downs of mainstream projects -- they come and go so fast. You'll be working on a pitch you were told to write for weeks and then BAM - it gets killed. Or, out of the blue, you get called to write something you didn't see coming. It's tough and unpredictable, you just take it as it comes.
MANIA: Why do you think it took the death of some of the Alpha Flight to egg Marvel on to do a new series featuring the surviving members and some other heroes?
OEMING: Well, look at Hawkeye. A "B Level" character with a giggle factor, but lord, kill him off and you'd think he was Captain America. Same with Alpha Flight. There is a great history there, but they needed something radical to happen to them for people to want to see them come back. We just hope to do it justice.
MANIA: Since a lot of the original cast were killed ... did that affect your original plan for Alpha Flight or were you still able to do what you had envisioned just replacing a few of the players?
OEMING: When I first wanted to pitch Alpha Flight, I thought of them as Marvel's X-Files, while Avengers and Fantastic Four would fight giant robots and men in tights, Flight would be going after the stranger stuff -- Mothmen, Demons and such. But that's all I really had, at the time, it didn't get past just mentioning Flight before it was turned down.
MANIA: How did you decide which heroes would flesh out this team? You said there are members from the US and Canada on the team, why did you want to break tradition - sort of - and include some non-Canadians?
OEMING: We wanted a fresh start, we needed to shake things up. We needed to say to people who never picked up Alpha Flight before that this wasn't the same books that they have never bought or liked all their lives- this was different- try this out. I dare say, despite the largely American Cast, this will be the most Canadian feeling of all the series, we are respecting the roots of the book and the culture it comes from.
MANIA: With a title like Omega Flight, some might be worried this will be the last version of the team ... why did you decide to call it that instead of the traditional Alpha Flight that people might be expecting?
OEMING: Again, it was a signal that this was a new book. Lots of times when titles are re-launched, I say to myself "I never bought that title before, and I'm still not interested." I wanted to try and avoid that.
MANIA: How is Omega Flight going to be different from some of your other comic projects or what people might expect from something with Michael Avon Oeming's name in the credits?
MANIA: When you're working on an ensemble cast, how do you manage to give everyone the same amount of screen time and not over-focus on any one character? Is it tough when you like some characters better than other to divide up the time spent on each?
OEMING: I make sure every character is RESPECTED. That comes first. Then I see who we can focus on and make that important. Those who are not focused on will be for the next arc. Id rather focus on two characters then four or more, because there is limited space in a comic.
MANIA: What are your short term goals with Omega Flight?
OEMING: I won't lie -- numbers. We need this book seen. We need it read. I'll do anything I can to spread the word. We can't have another failure behind another Flight title. We just can't. Its do or die for me on this one. We need the fans to really step up to help spread the word.
MANIA: You're collaborating with Scott Kollins on Omega Flight. What's that been like so far for you?
OEMING: Great! Scott and I work well together and our differences really compliment each other. We are literally on the same page. It's a good marriage, communication is key and Scott rocks my balls off.
MANIA: As an artist yourself, when you're working with other artists, how do you think that gives you an advantage over those writers who aren't necessarily visual thinkers or don't know the constraints you can or can't put on an artist?
OEMING: Just being visual and getting across important information - visual and subtext. I like to tell Scott what a character is THINKING, not what they are saying, something I learned from Bendis. I also talk directly to Scott, not just on the phone, but through the script. I leave him a lot of room at times. We just had a set of villains to introduce and instead of making them up, I just told Scott to make up guys himself -- and he did. From there, I take them and write them. But now he gets to draw stuff he made up all on his own, and I think that helps when your drawing a monthly book.
MANIA: That sounds like a good plan. Speaking of plans, what were some of the things you did to get in touch with your inner warrior to write the adventures of another one of your projects, Dynamite Entertainment's Red Sonja?
OEMING: First I went into the woods with some candles and a black Celtic cloak. I cut my finger over the wick before lighting it. Then I slept in a stream next to the lighted candles and dreamt of the Salmon of Knowledge ... that helped.
MANIA: What has surprised you the most about the way people have responded to Red Sonja since you began working on the series?
OEMING: That they liked it! Like Omega Flight, I wasn't going to deliver the expected. I can't just write a chick fighting in chain mail bikini. To me, WHY she fights like that is what's fascinating. It goes deeper than just being a great distraction when fighting men, but this is a chick who was raped as a kid, and takes a vow to not have sex with a man unless they can best her in battle ... and now she makes her living running around almost naked killing people who try and take advantage of a nearly naked chick. I find that crazy. She's a good guy, yet she puts herself in situations where she is inviting people to attack her, creating situations that lead to her killing people, and yet she's a good guy -- that's twisted. I love that. To me, that's the kind of thing Sonja is about.
MANIA: For those who haven't checked out the new Red Sonja series yet, what's the direction you're going in here? How is this different from the typical rage against the world female warrior type tale?
MANIA: Red Sonja's 35th Anniversary is approaching. What kind of special things do you have planned to celebrate that milestone?
OEMING: I can't spoil things, but lets just say we have plans .... You can keep checking Dynamite Entertainment's official website here: http://www.dynamiteentertainmen
MANIA: Fair enough. What do you think it is about some of those heroes whose adventures are set in the past that makes them seem so relevant and so popular with today's comic reading audience?
OEMING: Contrast. There's no better way to explore a subject then through contrast. How better for Lucas to explore man Vs. technology than in Star Wars, pitting the mystic/Spirit not against other mystic/Spiritual stuff, but by setting it in the future? So what better way to say things about today than by setting them in the past. There are some semi-political messages in the first Red Sonja arc, but they are subtle, things going on in the world right now.
MANIA: Since we're jumping around and touching upon a bunch of your different present works, tell us a little about your Dabel Bros. story, Magician's Apprentice, please ...
OEMING: Its an adaptation of a hugely successful Fantasy novel of the same name, called the Riftwar Saga. Don't bump into a shelf at Barnes and Nobles or a pile of these things will crush you, they are huge. Written by Raymond Feist, its a very Lord of Rings world, but much more character based.
The adaptation is co-written by Bryan JL Glass and in fact he is taking over the series as sole writer beginning issue 7! Bryan and I just finished the first six issues. Its a really nice looking book, anyone who likes my other mythology works will dig it and the novels.
MANIA: When you were younger, did you imagine what it would be like to be able to do magic or were you hooked by any of those performers who would have television specials and astound the masses?
OEMING: Hmm ... The only magic I thought I could do was to push my walls back and jump into another dimension like in Time Bandits. I spent a month pushing on walls at midnight trying to figure out if any of my walls were inter-dimensional, but living in Jersey, they only spit me out onto the turnpike.
Now, I subscribe to Alan Moore's beliefs on magic- to some extent. I believe that words, pictures and sound are magic. They change our perceptions, transform our moods and feelings, change the way we think. That's true magic, and I believe in it. Music is a big part of that for me. I write a lot of Red Sonja listening to Alan's music CDs, or I put on the DOORs if I'm working on Greek Myth, or Led Zeppelin when writing Thor.
MANIA: What did you know of this story before you became a part of the creative team?
OEMING: Only that I've seen it on the shelves and that it was a big deal!
MANIA: How is adapting something different from scripting your own series? What are some of the things you have to be mindful of in an adaptation that you don't have to necessarily worry about when you're just writing from your own concept?
OEMING: Well, we had it easy, because they really just wanted to stay as close to the book as possible. The main thing we changed was introducing the villains at the end of the first issue, because it doesn't happen for several chapters into the book. Otherwise, we just stuck with the book. Bryan is really good at figuring out what not to put in, and how to cover those issues. He's been great at diving deep into the characters, so, like the book, we never stop loving them.
MANIA: What's next for you after The Magician's Apprentice?
OEMING: Bryan JL Glass, my writing partner since Ship of Fools, Quixote and 86 Volts the Dead Girl, and my next project is the Mice Templar. We are looking at over 20 issues, so we are calling it a series. I've been playing with it since before Powers, and we've had some short stories online as early as '99 or 2000, and in some charity books. The first issue will probably be out this summer/fall.
If you're interested in learning more about Michael Avon Oeming and any of his projects, you can visit his official website here: http://www.mike-oeming.com/, where you can see details of his work and sign up for his newsletter.
Jennifer M. Contino is a lifelong comic book fan who writes about comic books daily at THE PULSE http://www.comicon.com/pulse.