Barnaby Bagenda Talks About the Art of ‘Omega Men’ [Interview]
UPDATE: DC has reversed its decision to cancel Omega Men with issue #7, and will now keep its initial promise to let the series run until at least its twelfth issue. DC co-publisher Jim Lee broke the news on Twtter on Friday night, with his fellow co-publisher Dan DiDio responding that "folks were right" to say DC should uphold its commitment. Our original article continues below: Barnaby Bagenda, Romulo Fajardo Jr, and Tom King's The Omega Men from DC Comics has become a critics' favorite since its debut in June, though it unfortunately never found the audience it deserved. The book is filled with twists, turns, questions of morality, questions of politics --- and some absolutely gorgeous art and colors. Omega Men has helped elevate the profile of penciller and inker Barnaby Bagenda, making him one of the artists to watch out for in 2016. ComicsAlliance sat down with Bagenda to hear about his inspirations and his thoughts on structure. ComicsAlliance: There’s been a lot of buzz about The Omega Men just in regards to its structure --- specifically, the nine panel grid. Tom King spoke to Multiversity Comics about the significance of that visual design to him, and related it to some classic comics: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc. I’m most interested in what a nine panel grid means for you as an artist. How is it limiting and how is it freeing? Barnaby Bagenda: Funny thing is I’ve read most of Alan Moore’s books and wasn’t paying attention much to the nine panel grid. It wasn’t until I worked on The Omega Menthat I realized the magic of it. It was a really fun thing to do for me especially when it comes to the pacing.
The limit is obvious of course. Sometimes you can’t put too much information in one small panel, otherwise it would look cramped. So it’s your job as an artist to put away --- or to put in --- something that is essential to the story. CA: I think I also want to know --- why The Omega Men? It’s kind of the question I want to ask everyone involved. Even though I’m eternally grateful to have this book every month, it wasn’t an obvious title for DC’s editorial to resurrect, so I’m really curious about how the conversation got started. Why was The Omega Men right for you and why were you right for it? BB: I think DC and Tom were already planning to resurrect The Omega Men in the first place. I’m just lucky that I showed up in the right time! Sci-fi has always been my favorite genre --- not just in comics but in books, video games and movies as well. When I got the gig I was really excited, since The Omega Men is in the sci-fi genre. And The Omega Menhas this unique appeal that I like which makes them differ from any other superhero team. They are more like a politically-driven superhero team.
CA: An Omega Men ongoing hasn’t been seen since the mid-1980s, so this book is also about bringing the team into the present while past, present, and future are all being touched upon at once. Do you have any thoughts about compression of time in comics and in The Omega Men in particular? BB: I didn’t change much of the original character design. Primus, Tigorr and Broot --- they are still pretty much the same design. I just tweaked and modernized a bit. That’s also my way to preserve the past for the older fans and modernize it to attract new younger readers. Doc and Kalista may have a more drastic change but still have some elements from the original designs if you look closely. CA: I’m getting to enjoy the story and characters as you and the rest of the team tell it precisely because I haven’t read any of the previous Omega Men iterations. Did you read the previous runs before starting the project? BB: Honestly, I’d never heard of The Omega Men, let alone read it before I started the project. But I when did get to work on it, I did a lot of research about the original series, their appearance on the Adam Strange miniseries and the [Andersen] Gabrych/[Henry] Flint run. What’s interesting is that every creative team has their own unique vision for the team. I want to do that myself by injecting my influences from '80s sci-fi European comic combined with Yukio Futatsugivideo game design.
CA: I’m consistently in awe of your teamwork with Romulo Fajardo Jr. How do the two of you work together? What are some of the themes you’re trying to pull out in the art? I’m really interested in, for example, the lined and faded panels that imply surveillance of some kind and, in turn, the choice of perspective, of who is watching and where. BB: All the special effects you see in the book are Rom’s work! I’m very fortunate to be able to work with him. He’s a professional. So I don’t want to interfere or anything with his working process. I give him creative freedom with my lines. Without him, the book would not be as good as it is. CA: Much of King’s personal history --- at least in terms of his previous work in the CIA --- is visible in the politics and storytelling of The Omega Men. With fiction, it’s almost impossible not to put a little bit of yourself or your experiences into your work, even in disguise. How much of your personal background made it onto the page? BB: Well I’m just an ordinary guy. I have no interesting personal history or background to share. Maybe artistically, since I’ve put all my experience working on the graphic industry into trying to come up with the best book I can with The Omega Men.
CA: I’ve said to a few people that the last page of issue #2 is the best single page I’ve seen this year. [See above.] Could you give us a breakdown of the ideas behind it and how it was formulated? What was your process? BB: When I designed Kyle’s costume, Tom wanted a Green Lantern logo drawn by Kyle on his chest. Later on, Tom realized that the GL logo had a similar shape to the Omega symbol if you put it one on top of the other. So that’s where the idea comes from. Working on that page itself was easy because the idea was already good and solid. But I was surprised when Tom decided to make Kyle draw the symbol with his blood. That’s Tom for you…He’s a genius, and always full of great ideas. CA: That last page of issue #2 is my favorite. Which page is your favorite? BB: That would be page two on issue #2. [See below.] No particular reason --- I just like the look of it.
Final order cutoff for The Omega Men #5 is today, September 14th. Contact your local comic book store for further details. The series' final issue will be #7.