Tom King has burst onto the comics scene over the last year or so, first on “Grayson,” and then on “The Omega Men,” and the results have been nothing short of extraordinarily. We’ve gushed about “Grayson” in the past, but tomorrow sees the release of “The Omega Men” #3, and we wanted to take an opportunity to chat with King about the series, his co-creator on the book, artist Barnaby Bagenda, and how his past career has influenced his comics work.
Early on, “The Omega Man” has reminded us of the “Futures End” tie-in issue of “Grayson” in a lot of ways because there’s a lot of deception in the storytelling. You’re reading an issue, and you think one thing is happening. Then, at the end of it, it’s turned on its ear. You think you know what’s going on, but you’re not really sure. When you’re writing a script that is so cloaked in deception, what are some of the challenges in putting together a cohesive story that still manages to have a lot of twists and turns?
Tom King: Well, first of all, I think that’s a good observation because … First of all, I wrote the series of End issues on a 9 panel grid that I’m using for all of Omega Men. I think of it as sort of a prototype issue. Of the process I did for that, I’m putting and for the process of this where I’m actually doing because I typically do the layouts. In “Omega Man” I do those sort of layouts on this 9 panel grid. Yeah, this “Omega Men” comes right out of that issue.
As far as what the process is, comics have to surprise you right? Because they cost so much money compared to how much entertainment you get from them. To make that worth it to the reader, to make those fifteen minutes something substantial, something good, they have to come away from that comic and be able to talk about it; go on the internet, talk to their friends. “Can you believe this? You’re not going to believe this! What do they mean with that? Did you see that?” You have to add those layers because if it’s all surface, it’s not worth your money. It needs to be in there. I just feel its like you guys work hard for the money you spend on this thing, so it’s my job to do that.
That’s an excellent answer. Thank you for caring about my wallet more than I do.
TK: Dude, I buy a lot of comics man, so I care about my wallet. But I have kids …
So do I. I understand. Let’s talk about –
TK: Oh. I’m sorry.
That’s alright. Let’s talk about the 9 panel grid for a second. I love it. I think it’s a really, really cool approach to take. It feels very … I don’t want to say retro because that’s not the right word. But very reminiscent of comics past; very reverent to comics past. What is it about the 9 panel grid that for you works in this book?
TK: Yeah, I mean I worship “Watchmen” and “From Hell” and Giffen’s ‘Five Years Later’ “Legion [of Superheroes].” “V for Vendetta.” These comics that were written on this grid from my childhood that really sort of haunted me. I mean, at the time, I didn’t realize that they were using the grid. I sort of read them as they were. When I got into comics, and I went back and read those comics I was like, “How did he do that? How did he … ? How did they control the pacing so much?” It’s about pacing. Comics is all about how you control pacing from a script to a comic, and that’s kind of hard to do, because your script reads so much longer than your comic does once the picture comes in. So it’s sort of a way of controlling the pacing and controlling the beats. In “Omega Men,” where we have so much information to convey to the audience, we need to do a ton of stuff in the background and in the foreground and with the overlaps just to get the exposition across in a way that’s not laborious to the audience.Continued below
Kind of going off that question. What’s one of the interesting parts about the book as well is how there are large swaths of it that are dialogue free. Or English dialogue free as I should probably say as there’s a lot of alien language in there. Are there challenges to writing such a dialogue light script to still get across all the information that you want to get across?
TK: No. The challenge is actually the other way. I’m a thorough believer of comics exist to eliminate the adverb. You’re supposed to get out of the way of the artist. Barnaby [Bagenda, “The Omega Men” artist] is doing brilliant work here, and I don’t want my words to be over his pictures. I also think it’s a waste of your time for me to sort of write an interior monologue description about what’s happening in the character’s head when you can read it on their face or read it from the action that’s going on. That’s comics are supposed to be about. It’s a showing medium not a telling medium. But, on the other hand, you need the words to slow down the eye as it goes across the page – This is really nerdy stuff. You guys okay with this?
We love this stuff!
TK: Okay. You need the words to slow the eye down going across the page because if you have all silent grids, your eye goes really quickly. So you have to always be aware of like – it takes you 15 minutes to write a panel that’s completely silent. It takes a reader half a second to look at it. You have to sort of be aware of the difference between those two things. I find it easier to take dialogue out then put it in. Sometimes I think, “Oh I need to put more dialogue in here.” Not for the dialogue’s sake, but just to slow down the reader’s eye, so they take a second and look at that panel. Again, it’s all about the beats. How to make sort of the moments happen and feel natural in your head. That’s what haunts my life, really thinking about that. [Laughs]
I feel like this is a pretty popular comparison that gets made a lot. I couldn’t help but make it because I’m reading the books right now. I get a really Game of Thrones vibe from “The Omega Men” just with the amount of deception and political underpinning and all these inner factions interacting. You don’t really know who to trust. Is that an influence at all? Is that something you were conscious of? In the public consciousness?
TK: Yeah. Well, I worship the novels and the TV show as well. I did a signing next to George R. R. Martin once when our book first came out. His line was basically infinite, and my line was zero people. So we had a wonderful awkward hour long thing where I sort of sat there silently as more and more people came by. I had two or three come up to me just to ask if I was George R. R. Martin which was exciting, but I was like, “No, that’s the other line.”
Yeah. I think … Everybody knows this because he has this famous letter in the “Fantastic Four,” but George R. R. Martin comes from comic books and is a comic books fan. So I see him doing Game of Thrones as sort of taking a lot of comic books and putting them in there? This idea of these long stories and good guys and bad guys and things changing around. I see so many things that I loved about comics growing up in those books, that I think we’re influencing him more than he’s influencing us. Maybe. I just sort of think we’re all coming from the same source material.
He has the luxury of a big appendix at the end of his books where he can list all the characters and their relationships. You don’t really have that. How do go about telling the reader what they need to know in a limited space?Continued below
TK: I mean that’s a big question every time. I used to work for Chris Claremont. I was his assistant way back in the day. Claremont, in every single issue of “Uncanny X-Men,” you have Wolverine say, “I’m the best there is at what I do! I have adamantium claws!” Every single issue! That was Chris’s philosophy, and he pounded it into me. Every issue you have to explain every single thing again to the reader. I think that is true. I think that it is necessary. You have to do it as subtly as possible.
But man, it’s hard as a writer to write that exposition crud. Because in your head, you know all that stuff, and it feels very unnatural. In real life, I say your name at the beginning of this podcast, but I haven’t said it since right? In real life, you never say that. I never talk to my wife and say, “Colleen, how are the children today?” No, I say, “how are the children today?” But in comic books you have to constantly add, “Broot! Who is this person?” You have to add these weirdness, and it’s always a tough balance between what sounds natural and is necessary.
Nobody does this better than George R. R. Martin and his show. I’m always amazed at how they put the exposition in there in these weird sort of ways, and I watch this. Of course! That whole scene was about exposition, and I didn’t even notice!
Speaking of sort of bringing in information that maybe the reader isn’t aware of. How much of the original “Omega Men” series are you attempting to … I don’t want to say put into the book, but how much of that is an influence? Is there much consideration to the old stuff, or are you taking it from a completely new jumping on point where you’re not even referencing the old stuff?
TK:I mean the old stuff didn’t happen continuity wise. I’m not referencing it as if it was factual kind of thing? But I’m using it like as a load stone as in inspiration. The first 13 issues of that comic are really great. The Robert Slifer stuff before he left, and especially the first 4 when you had Keith Giffen and Mike on it, are really brilliant. I love the concepts, and the idea, which is the same idea as my comic, is this is rebels against the empire. It’s Star Wars, but it’s really brutal and violent Star Wars. I’m basically stealing their ideas without stealing it word for word. I mean, I’m being inspired. Not stealing.
Hey. Good artists borrow. Great artists steal. Don’t be afraid of that.
TK: Damn right! I mean, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
I think it would irresponsible of us to not speak about Barnaby’s work some more. He has been an absolute revelation from that first 8 page preview. Everything he’s done has been so pitch perfect and so unique. It helps to create this book that looks and feels like nothing else that DC is publishing at the moment. What is it for you, what is it he brings to the table that we aren’t noticing month to month?
TK: First of all, the guy’s from Indonesia, so he lives in a sort of different world than we live in. I think he brings that aesthetic to it. In Indonesia, there’s a complicated history and a complicated atmosphere and some of that stuff we’re trying to put into this book. So he’s coming at this from a different prospective, and that different perspective is key to the whole thing. Another thing I think he brings just the style to it. Barnaby, I’m not saying he can’t, but he doesn’t draw in sort of that classic Dan Jurgens way that I think of when I close my eyes and think of DC comics. Because of that, it makes the comics more interesting. It makes it more unique. We tried out a lot of guys, and they sort of drew very generic stuff. He drew stuff that was very grounded. It seemed very like real. It wasn’t really a tough choice to get this guy. I should say, for issue 4 and hopefully issue 9, we’ll have Toby Cypress.
Oh wow. Toby’s great!
TK: Toby is crazy, insanely good. The stuff he’s putting in is just amazing. This was totally planned and sort of part of the thing that we’re going to be – Did you read “Starman” back in the day?
Of course I read “Starman” back in the day!
TK: Yeah. How it had those separate issues of him on the boat kind of thing?
TK: So we’re doing one of those. That’s going to be issue 4. Toby Cypress is doing it. Sort of a special issue, or an issue where we go off the grid quite literally.
So, we know a bit about your past working with the CIA, and how that’s influenced particularly the stuff that’s recent.
TK: What do you know?! Who told you?!
We know they did happen. We know nothing else.
TK: Oh. I wondered if someone was talking.
We know especially that stuff influences your stuff with “Grayson.” Does that play into “The Omega Men” at all?
TK: Yeah. I mean it plays into basically everything I do. I spent seven years doing it, so it’s sort of like I can’t get rid of it? When you write, you have to put yourself in what you do. Yeah. “Omega Men” takes place in this world of the clash of these sort of extreme religions. I lived in that world for a little while, so I’m trying to bring some of that experience and some of those actions through metaphor into “The Omega Men.” Of what it was like to be in sort of an environment where it seemed very clear the good guys and the bad guys were and the closer you got to it it all got a little blurry.