Talking Comics with Tim | Matt D. Wilson on ‘The Supervillain Field Manual’
If you’re shopping for a gift for that special evil family member or friend, I have the deal for you: The latest and greatest self-help book for supervillains goes on sale today in the form of The Supervillain Field Manual: How to Conquer (Super) Friends and Incinerate People by King Oblivion, who had a little help from ghost writer Matt D. Wilson and illustrator Adam Wallenta.
Because I didn’t trust King enough to give him my my email address, I contacted Wilson to see if he was forced to do the book against his will or simply embarked on the marginally evil project of his own free will. Fortunately, Wilson seemed to have enjoyed himself and was more than willing to share insight on the guidebook to becoming an effective supervillain. He wasn’t all about enabling evil, by the way; toward the end of the interview he shares tips on comics he’s currently enjoying.
Tim O’Shea: Let’s go back to your first self-help supervillain book (2012’s The Supervillain Handbook). How did you come to decide there might be a market for evil-comedy instruction books?
Matt D. Wilson: You’re probably giving me a little too much credit there in terms of business sense. It’s not so much that I thought there was a market; I just kind of felt compelled and figured it’d be a fun thing to do. I actually wrote that first book back in 2009 or so, and it took three-plus years to get it published anywhere.
Here’s the whole story: I had been writing for Cracked and some other comedy sites before that. I eventually parted ways with them and started my own site, which I called the International Society of Supervillains. My day job was at a newspaper at the time, and rather than risk my job, I wrote under the pseudonym of King Oblivion Ph.D. It was a way to write satirical stuff with a little more of an edge to it. Eventually, though, he sort of became his own character with his own voice, a voice I was really comfortable and familiar with. I discovered I had a lot to say as this guy, and just had a great time writing as him. So that’s how it happened. Getting someone to agree with me that this was a good idea for a book was the hard part.
Part of the comedy in the Field Manual can be found in the art by Adam Wallenta. How did the two of you go about deciding what illustrations needed to be developed?
Adam is terrific. He did the illustrations for the Supervillain Handbook, too. What we did there was sort of create this whole side-story in the illustrations, the supervillain progression of this guy named Max Badguy. The way it worked both times was that I sent him a list of illustrations that sort of went along with that little mini-story, and he’d write back to me with feedback and ideas for other stuff that might work, too. It was a real collaboration. I’m incredibly lucky I got to work with him both times on this.
What was the key to finding his voice when you were writing King Oblivion?
King Oblivion is like three parts sardonic and two parts bombastic. He can turn his Dr. Doom-style Big Pronouncements on and off, but he’s always got a cutting edge to him, even when he’s very obviously misinformed or outright lying. He’s really just an amplification of my own comedic voice — which is a big stew of all my comedic influences, like Mad Magazine, Steve Martin, David Letterman, The Simpsons, Jay Pinkerton, the list could go on forever — minus any tact or morality, plus tons of ego. It’s a surprisingly easy voice to slip in and out of.
In terms of writing the comedy, how hard was it to decide, oh, I want to do this joke in the text of the book versus relegating some of the comedy to footnotes?
It’s all about the flow of the text. King Oblivion digresses basically all the time. He just can’t stop himself from telling this stories of being a supervillain 50 years ago, or trashing some other supervillain he hates. I’d hate to leave that stuff out, but it really doesn’t fit in the context of explaining how to break out of Laser Jail or something like that. So that goes in the footnotes.
I will say some of my favorite stuff is in the footnotes. Those are the places where King O. can just let loose.
I love the chapter titles. How proud in particular were you of the chapter title “When the Carnage Happens”?
Thanks! I’m a sucker for a well-organized book, so when I was laying out the chapter structure for this one, I put in a bunch of chapters that are flip-sides of the same coin: making and dissolving alliances, losing and winning, building up power then having to actually rule. “When the Carnage Happens” is the companion to “Preparing for Destruction.” I feel like bad guys spend all their time figuring out how to blow stuff up, but then never really consider what’s going to come after that. That was the idea. I do like that one. It paints a picture, doesn’t it?
Who are some of King Oblivion’s evil idols, folks he aspires to be (from the characters of comics)?
He is pretty unabashedly a Dr. Doom analogue. Mask, hood, ruler of a fictional nation, graduate degree. It’s all there. It’s about as unsubtle as it can be without infringing on some copyrights, I think. He likes to play mind games, too, though, so there’s a little bit of Joker or Riddler in there as well.
How early in the development of the book did you realize it needed the (hilarious) appendix?
The original pitch for this book was to make it the “Supervillain’s Guide to Infamy,” where it’d be a lot more about public image. It still is, quite a bit. The idea of helping bad guys understand the media is kind of a holdover from that idea.
Do you think King Oblivion ever feels any guilt for how evil he is?
If he ever feels guilt over anything, it’s that maybe he wasn’t evil enough at one time or another.
What was your favorite chapter to write?
It’s probably between the “Dissolving Alliances” chapter and “The Daring Escape.” Both of those gave me lots of opportunities to create crazy, over-the-top scenarios for getting out of weird situations. I love solving those puzzles.
Any chance you will make a third supervillain self-help book, so it can be a trilogy?
I certainly have some ideas for a third part. I hope so.
What did I forget to ask you about?
I’m a Gemini.
But really, I guess I’ll take a minute to list some of the comics I’m reading: I’m really into Daredevil and Hawkeye right now, as any good comics reader should be. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake is awesome. I’m getting hooked on Dream Thief from Dark Horse. Archer and Armstrong is wonderful. I just picked up Zander Cannon’s Heck from Top Shelf. It’s fantastic. The Manhattan Projects is right up my alley. The first Mind MGMT hardcover blew my mind. That’s enough listing comics, probably.