"Michael Avon Oeming Interview"

MAR 2001 Product

Click on graphics to view a larger version.

In is comics career, Michael Avon Oeming has drawn such comics as Foot Soldiers (Dark Horse), Ship of Fools (Caliber), and Powers (Image). This month, he and Mark Wheatley bring us Hammer of the Gods, a 4-issue mini-series from Insight Studios Group. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Oeming about

Westfield: What can you tell us about Hammer of the Gods?

Michael Avon Oeming: I started Hammer of the Gods quite a while back, probably about 2 years ago. It was just something I wanted to do for myself. I knew eventually I would publish it, but I didn’t put any pressures on myself. Usually when you come up with a project, you have some sort of schedule in mind. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I just wanted to enjoy drawing it. So some of it I actually drew quite a while ago, and then a large part of it I drew when I kind of took a recess from comics because I was really tired of the industry, especially with mainstream comics. It was really getting on my nerves. Dealing with editors. The larger companies can be really aggravating sometimes. So I took a break from comics and a lot of time I spent doing this. Eventually, as things started coming back together, and I started coming back into comics with Powers and stuff like that, I knew it was the right time to finish it up.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story?

Oeming: The most basic part of the story is very Joseph Campbell-like. It’s got your basic study of the world mythos, the journey of man, questioning God, that kind of thing. I think largely what it is, is that it has a lot to do with questioning God and why bad things happen. Everybody has that fake fantasy in their heads of almost confronting God. “Why did you let this happen? Why’d you let my mother die?” So it deals a lot with that, but that’s the heavier subtext. On the surface, it’s just a lot of fun. We don’t want to be heavy handed with anything. I’d say the feel of the book is somewhere between Jack Kirby’s Thor and P. Craig Russell’s Ring of the Nibelung. It’s more operatic and more true to the mythology than the Marvel comics ever were, but we’re definitely having a lot of fun with it. Whenever it seems to take itself too seriously, we have a lot fun with killing giants and stuff like that.

Westfield: Who are some of the characters in the book?

Oeming: The main character is a Viking named Modi. The name Modi comes from one of the sons of Thor. Thor had two children in Norse mythology, Modi and Magni. Magni would have been a more appropriate name, it literally means strength, and our character, without giving anything away, is very, very strong. He’s almost invincible. There’s reasons for it that tie-in with the gods and why things are going wrong. But I named him Modi because it sounds better than Magni [laughter]. He’s living with a dual blessing and curse. He’s the strongest human, he’s the most invulnerable warrior that ever could be, yet he’s cursed with not being allowed to pick up a weapon and wield it. If he does, he’s gonna lose his soul. He’s got the makings of a great warrior, but he can’t do the basic things that Vikings or Norsemen were known to do which was pick up a sword and be a hero. Part of how you die and go to Valhalla is you’re supposed to die with a sword in your hand. If you’re dying from old age, what they call the straw death, you want your sword in your hand, that will help you get into Valhalla. Or better yet, to die on the battlefield. But Modi can’t do either. He can’t really pick up a sword and fight because he’ll lose his soul from this curse, and he also can’t die on the battlefield because nobody can kick his butt. That’s all for reasons that tie into what’s going on with the world. We didn’t want to make him invulnerable, this kind of super man, without there really being a reason and an ultimate drawback to it.

Exclusive Worlds of Westfield Cover by Oeming & WheatleyWestfield: On a lot of the preview art for the book, including our cover, there’s also a female character. Is there anything you’d can tell us about her?

Oeming: She’s hot. She’ll melt snow. Snow touches her and it just melts. [laughter] The valkyrie character is one of the most interesting characters, I think, in all of mythology. A lot of the Norse mythology is so male ego driven, including the legend of the valkyrie. You die on the field in battle and this beautiful woman comes and she picks you up and she takes you off to Heaven and she serves you beer for the rest of your life. And, of course, valkyrie fight. But there’s always something attractive about a strong female character who’s as strong as a man and can kick a man’s butt, yet is still a woman at the same time. We really don’t delve too deeply into that aspect in the story, so we’ll learn more about her if we get to do more series. Right now, she’s helping Modi get back to the gods because she’s kind of a fallen angel sort of character. While Modi wants to confront the gods and even destroy them out of revenge, she has the same sort of motivation where she sees how things have gone up in Valhalla and she’s quite rebellious herself. The two of them are on a big revenge trip, which all goes wrong once they get up there, but that’s where it gets interesting.

Westfield: You obviously do have plans for this past the initial mini-series.

Oeming: Yeah. No immediate plans. This story will definitely stand on its own. You can read it without having to follow through with anything else. We leave it open for more stories. There’s definitely more stories that we want to do. We’ll just see how it goes.

Westfield: How much research did you do for Hammer of the Gods? It sounds like you’ve done a lot.

Oeming: Yeah. I’ve done tons of research, but it’s really difficult to do research on Norse mythology because there’s a lot of inconsistencies in it because most of the mythology wasn’t written down. Most of it was actually written down by Christian monks who changed and altered some things to fit their views and you have conflicting stories. The most difficult part of reading Norse mythology are the names. Most of them are just impossible to pronounce. They don’t even sound right. We had a lot of trouble finding names for characters like Modi and Skogul, who’s the female character, the valkyrie, because the names are just so bizarre. I’ll give you an example. I’m opening up to a random page in my dictionary of Norse myth and legend. Here’s one of the entries. I can’t even pronounce this. It says hvergelmir and it means bubbling, boiling spring. Even a lot of the sources, the poetic epics they come from, such as Grimnsismal, are impossible to remember. Some of them are really, really long and ridiculous. Here’s another example. Kormak Ogmundarson. That’s the kind of stuff you have to deal with when you’re trying to read this stuff. It’s difficult to remember things when you have no idea how to pronounce the words. It can be pretty aggravating.

            I’ve studied it for about 2 or 3 years, probably longer because I’ve always been interested in Norse mythology. One of the first stories I ever drew in high school was a story with Loki, Thor and Odin. I’ve always been interested in the basic stories of the mythology.

Westfield: How did Mark Wheatley become involved with the project?

Exclusive Hammer of the Gods PrintOeming: Mark I’ve known for a while. I’ve been loosely associated with him through friends over the years and I’ve done some work with him through Insight and we did a proposal together at one point for a series. I’ve known him for a while and I also know that he knew about Norse mythology. In fact, I believe he wrote for a television series in Denmark about trolls and such that also dealt with Norse mythology. So he was perfect because I knew that if I talked to him about this, he would allow me to be creative. A lot of times when you’re an artist and you have an idea and bring in a writer, the idea radically changes. Usually it’s for the best because as an artist you’re thinking purely visual and not enough on the story. But Mark was really great in guiding the story to make sure that it tied up right and made sense. He’s a great storyteller. He knew exactly the kind of atmosphere that it needed and his knowledge of Norse mythology is extensive. So he was great.

Westfield: Frank Cho is doing the cover for the first issue. Do you have other guest artists doing covers for the other 3 issues?

Oeming: Confirmed we have Mike Mignola doing issue 3. I love Mike. His stuff is just so amazing. In fact, in the daily strips that I’m doing, we’re doing some daily strips for Hammer of the Gods, you’ll definitely be able to see the influence coming through on those. I was just having fun and had to move through them quickly, so a lot of my Mignola influences came through there. The other two people I can’t confirm right now because one of them we want to make sure he has time to actually get the cover done and the other one has to get permission from DC because he’s under exclusive contract with them. They’re both really big names and for one of them, everybody will go “Oh! He’s absolutely perfect. Of course you’d get him to do a Norse mythology cover.” So we’re hoping that works out.

Westfield: What other projects are you working on? You mentioned a Hammer of the Gods daily strip?

Oeming: When Powers first came out, we did a weekly strip in Comic Shop News. I got in touch with them and they said they’d love to do something, but they were changing the format. So we’re going to do a full page Hammer of the Gods story the week of November 22nd, or just after that. Just when the solicitation hits for Hammer of the Gods. So either late November or early December. We’ll have a full page there which leads into, I believe, about a weeks worth of daily strips on the CSN Web site that only they will have. That is a prologue to a month long daily strip that will run on the Insight Studios Web site, www.SunnyFundays.com, and something I believe is called the Toon Cast network. So basically, we can share the daily strip with anyone who wants to carry it.

            That’s mainly what’s going on right now. Of course Powers is still monthly. Since most of the work on Hammer of the Gods has already been done, it’s not interfering with Powers at all. It’s a bimonthly schedule on Hammer, so we have plenty of time for me to finish up whatever has to be done. But it’s still a lot of work to do a monthly book that I’m pencilling and inking and a mini-series that I’m penciling and inking. Doctor Cyborg, which I also do on the Insight Studios site, is another daily strip that I’m doing. So that’s basically it right now. There are some other things looming on the horizon. One that is definite and probably won’t happen until the springtime is an Ultimate Marvel with Brian Bendis featuring Captain America and Spider-Man, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.

Westfield: Anything else you’d like to say about Powers?

Oeming: It’s still going strong. I’m really, really grateful and amazed and astounded that we’re having the success that we are. I couldn’t be more grateful for it, so I’m not gonna go anywhere. A lot of times, as soon as creator-owned books become popular, they disappear because all these offers are pouring in from different places and it distracts you from the book. I’m making sure any extra-curricular stuff I do doesn’t interfere with Powers. Powers comes first. I want to make it like Nexus where Nexus had the longest run of Mike Baron and Steve Rude just doing the best comics ever. That’s what I want to attempt to live up to.