MICHAEL OEMING ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Michael Oeming’s art makes me smile. I never tire of his attack – he always looks like he’s having too much fun. He wears his influences on his sleeve, yet makes his art his own. I respect that. He also draws the coolest looking warrior mice on the planet.
I’ve been a fan since Bulletproof Monk, and I have enjoyed watching him grow and mature with every project since then. Michael is able to adapt his storytelling to so many different genres and yet his art style never looks out of place. Don’t believe me? Check out Bastard Samurai, Mice Templar, 86 Voltz: The Dead Girl, Quixote and Powers and then come back and talk to me.
A gallery of Mike’s super cool art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Michael Oeming: As a kid, I had moved from New Jersey, where I was raised, to Texas, where I was born. I lived there a few times for a few years during rough patches with my family. I couldn’t really adjust to life in the south. One day I found some comics at a flea market and just submerged myself in it. I was pretty much hooked from the start and just began tracing everything.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
MO: None really. I got a degree at the Art Instruction School of Minneapolis, Minnesota, by correspondence but I never even finished high school and we couldn’t afford art college. Luckily I met a few other local artists by going to cons and that became my art school.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
MO: Milton Caniff, Winsor McCay, but it was clearly perfected by Eisner and Kirby. Lots of other names there but I think those are the major landmarks.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
MO: Anything that tells a story with two or more panels of visuals.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
MO: Pretty limitless. I could tell the same story three different times and never draw the same thing twice. There are so many choices. Do you want to approach a story really simply and straight forward? Do you want to take a more adventurous approach and find ways to break storytelling rules while creating new ones? What about the mood? What parts of the story do you want to emphasize? There are so many choices in telling a story and I love that. Only time and energy are constraints.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
MO: The ability to lead the reader’s eye, to invite the reader into visually reading a clear sequence of events. If you can tell a good story in your rough thumbnails without needing to use the art to “sell” it then that’s a good storyteller.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
MO: I usually begin by breaking the panels down as a small thumbnail – like on the script as I read it. Then I do my breakdowns on 11×17 photocopy paper or, sometimes, in my sketchbook. I’ll tighten them up with a ball point pen. It’s all about leading the eye and pacing, clarity. Once I have those, I’ll scan those into my computer, touch it up, print it out in non repro blue and ink the pages.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
MO: On a good day, I draw all day. That’s what I like to do. Really, the more hours I can work, the better. But I’ve also been known to get a lot done when I know I only have three of four hours to work. My work schedule and workspace is pretty random. I also like to work on the floor, in coffee shops, in bars and while traveling.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
MO: Oh, yeah. Lots of struggle. I had some inking gigs at small companies and I would find work here and there. It was hard. At the time, I had been with someone who was very understanding and believed in my art. That sure helped, otherwise I would had to have gotten a job during the really hard times and that would have severely interfered with my growth as an artist.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
MO: My failures. Failures to meet deadlines, or to say “no” to large workloads, or failure to be disciplined and stay at my desk. Those are the most important lessons – mainly so I don’t repeat them, or repeat them as little as possible.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
MO: Besides actual art, I’m inspired by artists and their view of art. Guys like Alex Toth lived and breathed his art as much as any classical painter. Seeing how passionate artists like Eric Canete, Francesco Francavilla, Paul Pope, David Mack and others are about their art and their life. For me, the art dictates how I live my life, so that inspires me when I see it in others.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
MO: Not just a good thing, it’s a great thing. We have long been strangled by a single distribution system and plagued by companies ripping creators off or making horrible business choices. Digital comics are a way for creators and companies to speak directly to their fans and a way that fans can once again afford to buy comics. One day I hope I can sell all of my creator-owned work directly to my readers digitally, with print-on-demand as an option for physical print, without a company or distributor. But that is still a long way off.
It doesn’t kill print. I don’t think print will ever die; it will just become more boutique, like vinyl. Stores will continue to sell comics as long as store owners can create a place people want to come to buy, discuss and interact with others about comics. I’m not saying it will be easy for them or that the best days are ahead for comics stores, I’m just saying it will be different. I also like the fact that I can travel with most of my comics in my bag, instead of only being able to carry one or two trades with me. I love print, I love the feel of it. Digital comics are a different beast, and I think the world is big enough for both.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
MO: I’m not a businessman but I say we are plagued with really bad business choices because most of us are fanboys, not businessmen. If I could wave a magic wand, I would want to make comics cheaper so average people would want to read them again, I’d have a competitive distribution system and digital comics would be as easy to find as the digital movies they are based on. Why can I buy Batman on iTunes but not get the Batman comics on the same page? Joe Schmoe is riding the bus to work, downloading the Captain America movie, but doesn’t even KNOW he can also get the comic on the same device. Stuff like that. But I have no magic wand and I know for each of these issues, there are larger issues that need to be addressed.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
MO: Oh, man, that’s a good one! Maybe John Buscema. He was more dynamic than Toth or Eisner, was just as good at storytelling, but also had a softer more artistic tough than the dynamic Jack Kirby. Of course there are all of the European artists to consider…. but I think John Buscema is the best, most rounded of any comic artist I can think of. And I understand he was also a great teacher to those that knew him.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
MO: I want to make a living from doing purely creator-owned work. Also, I’d love to draw a Daredevil issue.