With the launch of The Supervillain Field Manual this month, Matt D. Wilson has now provided the world with two sets of notes for supervillains looking to take over the world, conquer any hero who gets in the way, and earn the respect of a petrified general public. The book, written through the voice of Wilson’s villainous pseudonym King Oblivion, bills itself as a guide for supervillains looking to make their way up the chain. It’s also very funny.
As this is his second book in a row offering such advice, I felt it high time to have a chat with Wilson about the books, how they came about…. and if they aren’t all just a coded way for him to announce his deep-rooted inclination to one day rule the world himself?
Steve: This is your second book, following last year’s The Supervillain Handbook. What is it about villains which makes them so much fun to read about, do you think?
Matt: It’s a few things. Their incredible egotism in the face of near-certain, constant defeat for one. They just have this beautiful lack of self-awareness (though King Oblivion Ph.D. tends to have a little more than most).
Another part of it – and I harp on this a lot, but it’s important – is theatricality. Regular crimes are often mundane and sad, but super-crime is all about achieving ridiculously huge goals by the most circuitous and unnecessarily complex means. Taking control of a city by turning all the concrete and asphalt into glue or something like that, then talking for half an hour about what a genius you are for coming up with this ludicrous plan. There’s almost this unwritten rule (until I wrote it anyway) to not just achieve your lofty criminal goals, but make it entertaining, too.
Steve: How did you first plan out the style of the book – which is essentially a how-to guide for supervillains?
Matt: The character came first. I’ve been writing as King Oblivion for something like six years now. I had a comedy website for a while where I wanted to write under a name that wasn’t my own – didn’t want to lose my newspaper job at the time – and that could take shots at cultural targets. Eventually, I realized I had a lot to say as this guy, and it was mostly about supervillainy as a field. It was his area of expertise, so it’d make sense that’d be the book he’d write, even though he may have…ulterior motives.
Steve: How did King Oblivion move from being a pseudonym-of-sorts to becoming a character of his own? Do you think he still retains any of your own personality at this point (for better or worse)?
Matt: Oh, he’s mostly me, just amplified a whole lot. The voice is really easy to fall into.
Basically, I just take all my comedic influences, particularly the sarcastic or sardonic ones like David Letterman and The Simpsons, add in a ton of ego and subtract all the morality or empathy. That’s him, pretty much. That plus a ton of possibly made-up stories about the last 100 years of supervillainy. He’s not a very reliable narrator.
Steve: Were there any particular villains you had in mind when building up the King Oblivion character?
Matt: Dr. Doom more than anyone. You may have noticed by virtue of the fact that he’s the monarch of a made-up country, wears a mask, has a doctorate and loves to make big, all-caps pronouncements at times. There are some differences, though. He’s got that biting sarcasm. He’s a huckster, too. He loves playing mind games. Almost like a Riddler or someone like that.
Steve: Do you ever have to stop and cancel a grandstanding monologue from the character, before he goes ‘too big’ – or do you let yourself run free with the role? Can he keep topping himself?
Matt: I don’t think you can ever really go too big with him, but I also think there’s an element to him where some of that stuff is an act. He’s doing theatre. If he’s to be believed, all supervillains are.
Steve: You’re joined on the book, as with the first, by illustrator Adam Wallenta. What does he bring to the book, as an artist? Has his work helped influence the way you see the world of King Oblivion?
Matt: When we were pulling together the art for the Supervillain Handbook, I came up with this pretty nutty idea to tell a whole side-story in the illustrations, about this character named Max Badguy. He would go from fast-food-employee slob up to supervillain through the illustrations. Adam got what I was trying to do right away, and really told the story of Max Badguy in just a handful of images. It blew me away.
His vision of the world lined right up with mine. There’s an illustration in the Field Manual, in the “accusations” chapter, where a bunch of detached arms are pointing upward toward Max Badguy. It’s hilarious. I initially pitched that illustration to him as “a bunch of disembodied hands pointing toward” him. I meant their bodies wouldn’t be visible; he made them actual, severed arms. It was genius. He does exactly what I hoped for – his style is realistic and cartoonish at the same time. That’s what King Oblivion is, too.
Steve: Was it difficult to pitch the first book to publishers, or did you find that – with comics entering the mainstream more and more – they were actively looking for superhero-themed content?
Matt: I think it took a while for them to catch up to me. I actually wrote the first book several years ago and shopped it around to agents. Nobody bit. It took a serendipitous meeting with another Skyhorse writer, Scott Kenemore, who specializes in zombie stuff, to really get anyone to pay attention. That was two years later. Once Skyhorse knew of the book, they jumped on it. I got an approval email like a week after sending the manuscript. I think they were ready for me then.
Steve: With the success of the first book, how did you decide on the direction for this sequel? Do you have any plans for a third, if possible?
Matt: It was a discussion between me and my editor. I knew I wanted there to be an element of dealing with the media and building a public image in this one, but that’s not where the real action is. They suggested adding in more about the actual action on the ground – taking over cities and stuff. Now, I’m really glad all those topics are covered. It’s pretty thorough.
Steve: A surprising number of comic critics are involved in comedy – yourself and Chris Sims both first wrote for Cracked, and Brett White’s a member of Upright Citizen’s Brigade, for three examples. Do you think there’s a connection between comedy and capes?
Matt: I think you need a sense of humor, or at least a healthy sense of the absurd, to devote a lot of your time to reading these weird, floppy books about people in tight costumes, some of which look like American flags, punching each other on the moon. Not that those things can’t be capital-S Serious literature, but it’s a pretty absurd concept when you think about it. And I have spent, if you added it all up, probably years of my life on that stuff. Not that I regret it. Maybe “Rising Stars,” but not much else.
The other thing is, when you write about something, anything at all, for a living, the best way to get noticed is to do it with a voice. It needs to come across with personality. One of the easiest ways to to that is to have a comedic voice. It makes it distinctive.
Steve: On that note, I of course have to mention that you are a writer for the once-gone-newly-reborn Comics Alliance. When it looked like AOL were taking the site away, it felt like a steady blow for comics journalism/commentary as a whole. Being on the ground floor, so to speak, what were your thoughts at the time?
Matt: I was bummed out. It didn’t hit me as hard as it did the editors. I was (and am) a freelancer. That was their jobs. So I was way more upset for them than myself. But for comics in general, as a community, I did think it was a pretty big blow. I’m not going to talk up my contributions to the online comics dialectic or anything like that, but a lot of the writers there did some really thought-provoking and important writing. I mostly made fun of “Arrow.”
I’m glad it’s back, mostly because I get to read things by my colleagues again, and somewhat selfishly, because eventually I may get to make fun of “Arrow” again.
Steve: Did losing the job at CA and then regaining it put things into focus for you, at all, in terms of what you were writing and why? You now seem to split your time evenly between your own projects – like the podcasts War Rocket Ajax and Movie Fighters – and writing for sites like MTV or Comics Alliance.
Matt: I definitely learned putting my eggs all in one basket can be the cause of great calamity, but most of that stuff happened by accident. We started Movie Fighters – our one-dollar podcast version of the movie reviews we used to do at ComicsAlliance – because we thought CA wasn’t coming back. That’s the same reason I jumped over to MTV Geek. Those things probably wouldn’t have happened had CA not gone away or we knew it would return. But now I have those venues and I’m glad to have them.
Steve: What other projects do you have in the works at the moment? Where else can we find you online?
Matt: I’ve got a couple comics projects in the works, neither of which I can really talk about in specific terms right now, but one of which is definitely happening. Chris Sims and I still do War Rocket Ajax, our free comics and pop-culture podcast every week. I waste a lot of time telling jokes on Twitter. And I relaunched the old King Oblivion, Ph.D.-helmed comedy site, The International Society of Supervillains, as a Tumblr. That’s probably enough stuff to send people to.
Steve: One last question, unrelated to anything else – can’t we all agree that Generation X is the best X-Men film to date?
Matt: That depends on whether you consider the two-part pilot of “Mutant X” to be a film, Steve. I’m not sure we’ll all ever agree on even that.