Mike Oeming Goes Through Superhero Therapy For Dark Horse's 'The Victories' [Interview]

Mike Oeming has some issues. And we're not just talking about the physical issues of his new comic book The Victories, which hits from Dark Horse Comics in August. Nope, the prolific writer/artist also spent a long stint in therapy... And came out the better for it, ready to put his insecurities right on the page. His new dark superhero epic essentially pits his Id against his Ego, but in slightly tighter outfits. We chatted with Oeming about all of this, how the book came together, and also snagged some exclusive art from the project; so read on:

MTV Geek: Mike, to kick it off, what’s the idea of The Victories? I understand that as well as being a superhero story, it’s very personal?

Mike Oeming: I really wanted to do something completely different in the super hero genre. Something that bridges the gap between caped adventures and comics that are about personal experiences. Initially, this came out of about a year of me going to therapy, dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks. I was kind of losing my s**t and didn't know it. I was working a full time at Valve, the video game company while I was still drawing comics full time. I was also having a hard time adjusting to being a bi-coastal father. There was a lot going on at the same time.

I had a super hero story I wanted to tell, but I knew it had to be more than another version of "cops and robbers" which so many super hero comics are variations on. I think the super hero genre should be much much more than that, we seem to continue to trap ourselves in those stories, which makes super hero stale for so many of us.

The Victories is named after the super hero team of the book, 6 heroes of various powers and backgrounds defending a corroding city set slightly in our future. If all goes well, we'll continue with more Victories series, each focusing on a different character that all comes together into on final larger story.

The first arc focuses on Faustus, a wise cracking street fighter who is struggling with his own issues. We'll learn the source of his Powers is also the origins of his worst personal issues.

Meanwhile the city is over run by a drug called Floater which will get your literally high, but over use will also deform your body in grotesque ways once you become heavily addicted. Issue one begins with the promise of Faustus enemy, the Jackal promising to turn him into a killer. That promise comes to an explosive ending by issue 5.

A lot of this is what I call "true fiction", I wrote in a lot of my own issues, such as my struggles with anxiety and depression, a lot history from my mothers struggles ranging from drug, alcohol and sexual abuse. It all kind of found its way into the story.

Geek: What’s it like to put yourself so plainly out there on the page? In a certain sense, that’s the responsibility of an author, right?

MO: "Write what you know" is the idiom right? I wasn't sure what that meant for a very long time. Going to therapy a few years ago helped me figure that out. Brian Bendis is not only my partner on Powers, but he's one of my best friends. He encouraged me to put my issues into writing. Between therapy, and slowly practicing that idea I not only found great stories to write about, I think I hit a new creative button that I'm really enjoying. The best thing is I have been able to work on those issues, between "art therapy" and my creative output.

Through therapy, I discovered one of the reasons I draw so much is because it's a control mechanism. I realised thats how I coped with things as a kid when things were going on around me that I couldnt control, like my mothers alcholism and severe mental issues. But that also means I sort of piggybacked all of that baggage with me as I drew, as I created. So the best thing that ever happeend to me, my art- has it's roots in some of the worst things that has ever happened in my life. I realized that was a great origin for a hero. If my personal "super powers" of cretivity come from a place of pain that I always carried with me, what an interesting metaphore for a comic book hero. Luckily for me, I was able to channel those issues into something productive. But what if I didn't have that? That's where Faustus came about. His powers come from an origin that is deeply painful for him and he has to face it or it will destroy him.

It can be scary to put some of this on paper, not because I'm ashamed of any of my issues but because it is fiction, and not everything I'm writing here is about me or my experiences. My mother's life was insanely full of some dark shit. I could probably write about her experiences for years.

Other parts of the story are simply fiction and that's where it worries me a little. I don't want to mislead people into thinking everything I write is about my issues or to become a poster boy for anyone elses problems.

I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who very relieved to hear someone talk openly about going to therapy and dealing with anxiety, so that's cool. I'm surprised at how taboo the subject still is.

Geek: Let’s talk about the specific characters… Who is Faustus?

MO: Faustus is most of us to some extent. We all have a public face, a face we wear for our co-workers, our friends, our family and even for ourselves. That's one of things I love about super heroes, there are such powerful metaphors to draw from. It's not just "we all wear a mask" metaphor, but it goes deeper then that. When we wear a mask for other people, it's usually because we are masking ourselves from ourselves, lying to ourselves about something. "I'm scared". "I'm not good enough". I'm not smart enough". "no one loves me". I don't really care about anyone but myself". These are horrible things many people feel or are afraid they feel, but can never talk about to others to figure out for themselves why these thoughts plague them, wake them up at night like an itch in your mind you can't scratch. That's what I really wanted to explore with Faustus. Where does this pain come from and how can we face it? More importantly, why should we face it rather than try and ignore it.

Geek: Who is the Jackal?

MO: The Jackal is the catalyst for our story. He's a vigilante who has his own twisted but strict code and certainly not a "good guy" but he views himself as the "truest guy". Jackal see's the other heroes as hypocrites, fighting to protect a crooked city from bad guys who use their crooked lawyers to bribe crooked judges to get them off the hook. Jackal sees the Victories as just another part of the problem, they aren't offering solutions. If Jackal finds a bad guy, he'll kill him. No turn around, no getting off. He wont kill anyone innocent or guilty of some small crime, but killers have to be killed. Molesters have to be killed. Rapists get killed.

The Victories, like all "heroes" are putting themselves above the law while pretending to be part of some larger morality. Jackal knows he's no better than the bad guys, that his need to protect people is just an outlet for his violent needs. Thats why they dress up and beat up bad guys. He's willing to be true to his nature and it drives him nuts that guys like Faustus denies these basic facts.

At the beginning of issue one, we see Jackal swear to Faustus he will open his eyes and turn him to his true self, to become a killer like he is. Otherwise, what is the point of fighting evil with a code that is going to hold you back and let these evil people keep doing what they do?

Geek: …And what’s their conflict going to be like?

MO: It's not all hand wringing, mopy, anxiety ridden emotional stuff like it may sound, there is plenty of action, plenty of physical as well as inner conflict. The drug investigation reveals another hero and childhood friend of Faustus has fallen deep into the drug world, so we get lots of action there and other places that serve the super hero icononlogy well. The main conflict is within Faustus as as the Jackal learns something about Faustus that could easily turn him into a killer. It brings his inner struggle with himself into sharp focus that will explode into violence at the end of our story. It's the kind of ending that will either make or break Faustus for good. And really, isn't that the only kind of story worth telling?

Geek: I feel a little ridiculous even asking this, but why make this a superhero comic? What is it about superheroes that makes this a perfect vehicle for this story?

MO: I think the great lesson of Watchmen was that comics, and especially super hero comics can be used to tell any kind of story. The iconology of super heroes is so powerful, we've been retelling these same stories for decades. I want to use super heroes to tell personal stories without abandoning the visuals of super heroes we love so much.

Yes, there is plenty of darkness and violence in the Victories, which is the one lesson people took from Watchmen and Dark Knight and ran into the ground, but I think here I take the personal stories and make them the focus. Too often, comics takes themes of drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse, child molestation and simplifies them, gives them easy or expected answers. Comics shouldn't approach these issues as a short cut to thinking, they should be deep wells of many dimensions. And most importantly, not all of the answers should be satisfying, because that is the truth of the world: you rarely get the answers you want in life. It's how you deal with them that matters.

The wonderful thing about Super Heroes are they give such a rich venue to tell these stories with new angles. And I keep going back to the idea of the Iconology of heroes. There is so much value there, so much we keep pulling from it, I just think we need to do more than tell "cops and robbers" stories with them. Some books, not enough, DO do that, even at Marvel and DC which I think people are way to jaded about.

Geek: What’s your artistic approach here? Looking over some of the pages, it seems like it’s a bit of an evolution of your style…

MO: Thanks. I'm definitely doing some different things here. Colorist Nick Filardi (of Powers and Takio) is a big part of that. We work on the look of the different scenes very closely together and there is no other colorist who could pull of what he does. Part of that comes from our long working relationship, the other part is Nick is brilliant, he can read my mind and give me much more than what I wanted.

I'm trying to push my boundaries not only with my writing and storytelling, but with my art as well. I'm breaking up scenes into slightly different styles to reflect the aesthetic of the scene way more then I ever have before, even to the point it might not always work. I've even scanned in some of my layouts directly onto the page to echo the feelings of anxiety and panic that I've experienced. I don't think you can express true anxiety and panic attacks in any way other than a visual so kinetic it feels like a camera in an earthquake. I cant do that with a clean Powers style and yet I don't want to throw the audience for too large of a curve ball, so after I do what I want, express it how I want, I go back into it to see if I have to reel it in some to make it palpable for other people to experience. My editor Scott Allie at Dark Horse has been amazing at keeping that focus thought the series.

Geek: Where are the Victories going next? Will we see you exorcising more of your demons using this world, or are you done with it after this mini?

MO: I want to tell more Victories stories to explore the other characters. Those stories will be less about my issues and more exploration into other themes that I think will translate into super heroes well. Like I said, I just don't think we use super heroes to their fullest extent. But I have lots of other stories I want to tell as well, so we'll see how it goes. If it does well enough, we can do more and see if the seeds I plant here for larger stories pan out like I hope. If not, I have a life time of stories to tell, so there is always something new.

The Victories #1 hits comic book stores from Dark Horse on August 14th. Check out three EXCLUSIVE pages from issue #2, below: