Sunday, January 26, 2020

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAL BUSCEMA!

Today is Sal Buscema's birthday—so let's celebrate an extraordinary artist, a wonderful collaborator, and a truly good guy. Happy Birthday, Sal!

In Mr. B's honor, here's an essay I wrote, back in 2013, celebrating the joys of working with one of the true Marvel greats. Enjoy!

***

There are two basic ways that comic books are written.  The first is full script (that’s where the writer lays out the whole story page by page, panel by panel, including camera-angles, captions and dialogue) and the other is plot-first (the writer creates a detailed plot outline which then goes to the artist.

When the writer gets the pencilled pages back, he then adds the dialogue and captions).  Both approaches have their strengths and I enjoy working either way.  The challenge of a full script is that every element of the story is in your hands. You're in full control of the material.  The challenge of plot-first, of course, is that you’re often surprised by what your artist does—and your scripting is directly influenced by it.  Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing, sometimes not.  There are some artists who can draw very well but have yet to master the art of visual storytelling—and it can be difficult (to say the least) trying to make up for their shortcomings via dialogue and captions.  But when “Marvel style”—another popular name for the plot-first method—works, it’s magical.  

One of the most magical experiences I had was back in the 90’s when I was collaborating with the great Sal Buscema on Spectacular Spider-Man.  Sal and I hit it off from the first panel of our first story and my admiration for him remains boundless.  He can draw beautifully, he’s an impeccable visual storyteller and a total professional.  Add to that the fact that Sal is a truly good person—I’d go so far as to use an old-fashioned word and call him a gentleman—and you can understand why I loved working with him.

My plots were usually very tight—page by page, panel by panel, crammed with camera angles, psychological shading and rough-draft dialogue—but whatever was on the page, Sal was always able to take it to another level and do things that many other artists couldn’t.  Case in point:  Spectacular Spider-Man #200, which featured the death of Harry Osborn (who was then making no end of trouble as the Green Goblin). 

There was a sequence at the end of that story (perhaps my favorite out of all the Spider-Man tales I’ve written) where Harry, realizing that he loved Peter Parker too much to let him die, saves a drugged, weak Spidey from a death-trap.  Peter, his wife Mary Jane and Harry’s son, Norman, all stand by, shocked and heartbroken, as Harry then collapses, overcome by the toxic Goblin formula.  

On the final two pages, Spidey accompanies Harry into an ambulance, they drive off and Harry passes away, leaving Peter Parker to his grief and memories.  When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, it falls to Spider-Man to tell Mary Jane and Norman that Harry’s gone.  They react, we cut to a photo of Peter and Harry in happier days...and the story ends. The sequence was small, quiet, but, on an emotional level, it was massive.  

I did everything I could to communicate the power of those last pages to Sal in the plot—along with my thoughts on how the sequence would be handled in the final script.  My intention was to verbally milk the pages for all they were worth, wringing out every last drop of emotion; going big and melodramatic via captions, inner monologues from Peter or dialogue between the characters. (Another benefit of "Marvel style":  I didn't have to decide then, I could make up my mind when the art was done.)

Then Sal’s pages came in:  It was one of his finest hours.  The panel to panel flow was cinematic and crystal clear, the characters dramatic and achingly human. And those final two pages?  Perfection!  At first—locked into my original vision—I began writing captions and dialogue for the end-sequence, but it quickly became clear that everything I wanted to say had already been said, and better, by Sal.  It was all there in the pictures.  He had translated my plot so expertly that words would have capsized the sequence and destroyed the emotional power of the moment.  So I shut my big mouth and let Harry Osborn die in silence, with his best friend by his side.

That, too, is part of a writer’s work—especially in comics:  deciding when to speak and when to shut up.  Deciding whether to go for a barrage of machine-gun dialogue, a series of powerful captions or to surrender to equally-powerful silence.  Whether we’re working full-script of plot-first, we make those decisions on every panel of every page.  

And it certainly helps the process when you’ve got an artist like Sal Buscema bringing your story to life.  Take a look at the images below and you'll see what I mean.






©copyright 2020 J.M. DeMatteis

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

KNIGHTS & DRAGONS

My latest animated project, Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons, started streaming yesterday on CW Seed and you can watch it, free, right here. This is Part One and the conclusion will arrive later in the year. That will be followed by the DVD/Blu-ray/streaming release of the full-length Knights & Dragons movie, which will include fifteen or so extra minutes of story.  But, for now, I hope you enjoy this animated translation of the classic Marv Wolfman-George Perez character.  

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

ANOTHER YEAR OVER...AND A NEW ONE JUST BEGUN



Happy New Year, Creation Pointers!  May the year ahead bring health, happiness, abundance, prosperity, magic, miracles...and, above all else, love.

Friday, December 20, 2019

AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

Here at Creation Point we have an annual Yuletide offering, a short Christmas tale of mine called "The Truth About Santa Claus": offered annually as a kind of cyber Christmas present. My way of wishing all of you the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases. I offer it again this year—along with three wonderful illustrations by my friend and Augusta Wind collaborator Vassilis Gogtzilas. So grab a plate of Christmas cookies, pull a chair up close to the fireplace and enjoy.

THE TRUTH ABOUT
SANTA CLAUS

“THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!”

He’d been thinking about it for days—ever since he heard Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo announce it on the school bus—and he didn’t believe a word of it, not one word.  (Well, maybe ONE.)  But Cody had to be sure, absolutely, positively sure—

—and that’s why he was hiding behind the couch at midnight on Christmas Eve.



His mother was there, asleep in his dad’s old easy chair, the reds and blues of the Christmas tree lights making her look peaceful and happy and impossibly young.

The tree, by the way, had not ONE SINGLE PRESENT underneath it.

That didn’t make sense.  If there WAS no Santa Claus, if his mother was the one who bought the presents, wrapped the presents, stacked them under the tree, then how come she hadn’t done it?  How come she wasn’t awake RIGHT NOW arranging them all?

He got scared.  Maybe there wasn’t going to BE a Christmas this year.  Maybe Mom had lost her job and they didn’t have any money and so she COULDN’T buy him any presents and—

And then Cody glanced over at the windows and noticed that it was snowing.

Or was it?

If that was snow, it was the WHITEST snow he’d ever seen.  It was snow as bright as moonbeams, as bright as sunlight, as bright as...

Stardust.

Quickly, but quietly (he didn’t want to wake his mother), he scurried to the window and looked out.

It was coming down and coming down and COMING DOWN all across town, whirling and whipping, spinning and gyrating, out of the night sky.  Glowing so brightly that it almost hurt his eyes to look at it.  And Cody saw that it certainly wasn’t snow, and it absolutely wasn’t rain, it wasn’t ANYTHING he’d ever seen before.  But each drop, no...each flake, no... each BALL of glowing WHATEVER IT WAS, seemed to pulse and spin, soar and vibrate, as if it were alive.

And the stuff, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS (and he knew now that it was magic.  He just KNEW), wasn’t collecting on the streets, wasn’t piling up on the rooftops.  It was MELTING INTO (that’s the only way he could put it:  MELTING INTO) every house (no matter how small) and apartment building (no matter how big).




EVERY house and apartment building.

EVERY.

He looked up.

And there it was:  coming RIGHT THROUGH THE CEILING of Apartment 3F, HIS apartment, swirling, like a tornado of light, around the chandelier and then down, down, down—

—STRAIGHT FOR HIS MOTHER.

At first he almost yelled out a warning, “Mom!  Wake up!  MOM!”  But something made him stop.

Instead of yelling he ducked back behind the couch and watched, eyes peering over the top.

Watched as the light-tornado wheeled around his mother, so fast, so bright, that he could hardly even SEE her.  But he COULD see her.  Most of her, anyway.

And what he SAW...

The light poured in through the top of her head, through her eyes, through her chest, through her toes.  It lifted her up—still sleeping!—and carried her out of her chair and across the room.  And as she floated—

—she started to change:

Her hair became white, her nose became red, her belly ballooned like the most pregnant woman in the history of the world.  Her feet grew boots, her head grew a hat, her nightgown grew fur.  An overstuffed sack sprouted, like a lumpy angel’s wing, from her shoulder.  And then—

AndthenandthenandTHEN, it wasn’t his mother there at all, it was him, it was SANTA CLAUS!  STANDING RIGHT THERE IN CODY’S LIVING ROOM!  Santa Claus who, with a laugh (exactly like the laugh Cody always knew he had, only better) and a twinkle in his eyes (exactly like the twinkle he’d always imagined, ONLY BETTER) reached into his sack and pulled out package after package, present after present, and placed them, carefully, like some  Great Artist contemplating his masterpiece, under the tree.

When he was done, Santa Claus stood there, grinning and shaking his head, as if he couldn’t BELIEVE what a beautiful tree this was, how wonderful the presents looked beneath it.  As if this moment was the greatest moment in the history of Christmas, as if this apartment was the only place in all the universes that such a Christmas could ever POSSIBLY happen.

And then the MOST amazing thing happened:

Santa Claus turned.

He turned slowly.  So slowly Cody couldn’t even tell at first that he was moving at all.  And—slowly, SLOWLY—those twinkling eyes, that Smile of smiles, fixed itself on the two boy-eyes peering, in wonder, over the top of the couch.


And what Cody felt then he could never really say:  only that it was better than any present anyone could ever get.  Only that it made his heart so warm it melted like magical WHATEVER IT WAS, trickling down through his whole body.  Only that it made him want to reach out his arms and hug Santa Claus, hug his mother, hug his father (and FORGIVE him too, for running out on them) and his aunts and uncles and cousins (even his Cousin Erskine who was SUCH a pain) and Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo (who really wasn’t so bad most of the time) and all his  friends and teachers and the kid in his karate class who always smelled SO BAD and, embarrassing as it sounds, it made him want to hug everyone and everything in the whole world including rabbits and snakes and trees and lizards and grass and lions and mountains and, yes, the EARTH HERSELF.

Cody wanted to hold that gaze, to keep his eyes locked on Santa’s, forever. (Or longer, if he could.)  Wanted to swim in that incredible feeling, drown in it, till GOD HIMSELF came down to say:  “Enough!”

Except that he blinked.  Just once.  But in that wink of an eye, Santa was gone.  Cody’s mother was asleep in the chair again and, for one terrible moment, the boy thought that the whole thing must have been a dream.

Except, under the tree:  THERE WERE THE PRESENTS.

Except, out the window:  THERE WAS THE SNOW, the rain, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS, shooting up, like a blizzard in reverse, from every house, every apartment building.  Shooting up into the heavens, gathering together like a fireball, like a white-hot comet—

—and fading away into the night:  going, going...

Gone.

Without so much as a tinkling sleigh-bell or a “Ho-ho-ho.”

Not that it mattered.

Cody looked at his mom.

Cody kissed her.

“I love you,” he said.  And he was crying.  Happy tears.  Christmas tears.  Like moonbeams, like sunlight.  Like stardust.

Mom stirred in the chair, smiled the softest sweetest smile Cody had ever seen. “I love you, too,” she said.

And then she drifted back to sleep.

Cody sat at her feet, warming himself, warming his SOUL, by the lights of the tree.

And soon, he, too, was drifting off to sleep.  And as he drifted, a wonderful thought rose up, like a balloon, inside him.  Rose, then POPPED—spreading the thought to every corner of his mind.  Giving him great comfort.  Great delight:

“One day,” the thought whispered, “when you’re all grown-up, when you have children of your own.  ONE DAY,” the thought went on...

“It will be YOUR TURN.”

Merry Christmas.

Story ©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2019 Vassilis Gogtzilas

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

GOD BLESS US, EVERY ONE!

Long-time readers of this blog know that a) I love Christmas and b) there's no Christmas story—in some ways, there's no story for any time of the year—that I love more than Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and c) my favorite filmed version of that tale is the 1951 classic starring the extraordinary Alastair Sim, in one of the screen's great performances, as Scrooge.  So, as we sail our sleds down a snowy hill toward Christmas, I present the movie in full.  May your heart be warmed, your soul uplifted, by a story that only grows more relevant with time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

HERE COMES THE SON

Coming soon to a streaming platform/DVD-Blu-ray player near you:  Superman: Red Son—produced by Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg, directed by Sam Liu, and written by yours truly.  Here's the first trailer.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRANKIE!

My mother used to tell me tales of cutting school and going to see Sinatra at the Paramount in New York, when Frank was at the height of his crooner phase:  a one-man Beatles, thousands of girls screaming and fainting at the sound of his voice.  Mom passed her love of Sinatra on to me and it's never abated. 

His music is pure heart, pure soul, pure sorrow, pure joy.