Thursday, December 18, 2014

CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE AGAIN

On television they’re trotting out Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, It's a Wonderful Life and seemingly-infinite variations on A Christmas Carol.  Here at Creation Point we have our own Yuletide tradition, 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 who visit this site the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases.  I offer it again this year—along with a trio of wonderful illustrations by my friend and 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 2014 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2014 Vassilis Gogtzilas

Monday, December 15, 2014

PLOTTING IN THE DARK

In the previous post, we broke down an issue of Justice League 3000 and featured Keith Giffen's unique way of plotting (essentially drawing an entire mini-comic).  I thought it would be fun to see what a (somewhat) normal comic book plot looks like, so here's the first half of my plot for Justice League Dark #36.  Read it through, then look at the actual story to see how our wonderful artist, Andres Guinaldo, interpreted my plot.  You'll also get a sense of what it's like scripting from your own outline: dropping certain elements, adding others, discovering new wrinkles you didn't realize were there.  The heavy lifting is in the plotting, for sure, but scripting can be a real revelation and help you find the heart and soul of the story you thought you understood.  Enjoy!  (And let's not forget that Justice League Dark is ©copyright 2014 DC Comics.)



Justice League Dark #36:
The Amber of the Moment, Part Two:  
Long After Tomorrow
(22 pages)


Page One
Tier One:
Half pager.  A reverse angle of the last shot  in our previous issue:  “Camera” is behind Nightmare Nurse, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing and Andrew Bennett (all of them weak, weary, wasted) as they stand at the literal edge of the world:  it’s as if a giant hand came and snapped the edge of the planet away.  And beyond it?  Infinite blackness.  Asa realizes that the vortex that opened when the House of Wonders exploded (in the JLD Annual), has carried them to the very end of time.  The chunk of rock they’re standing on—let’s call it Nowhere Land (for our own reference, not for the story)—is all that’s left in all the universe.  And that chunk, Nurse senses, is being eaten away by Non-Time:  bit by bit by bit.  Soon it...and they...will be gone.

Tier Two:
Close four-shot of Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett:  stunned, confused...and, yes, afraid.  How the hell did this happen? they wonder.  How did they get here?  And where are Zatanna and the others?

Long shot—as they turn away from the edge and walk across this bizarre, barren landscape.  As we said last month: “...black, blasted rock as far as the eye can see.  Not a hint of foliage anywhere.  Mountains rise, sharp and jagged, like a shattered sword.  The sky above is pitch black:  no moon, no stars, not a hint of light.  The only illumination comes from cracks and gauges in the earth, spitting up a hellish light that casts shadows—they seem to be alive, creeping and slithering with will and determination—across the world.”  Bennett notes that this world...if they can even call it a world...has a rudimentary atmosphere.  There’s (barely) breathable air here.  And it’s bitterly cold—even for an undead vampire.  Nurse senses that the atmosphere isn’t natural...that it’s been magically created.  “By who?” Frank asks.

Very close on...something hidden in the shadows, watching Nurse and the others.  We can’t see anything except for two inhuman eyes, gleaming with madness, staring out.  (This, we’ll shortly learn, is the mutated Felix Faust—as seen on our wonderfully creepy cover.)

Page Two
Tier One:
Closer on Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett—as Swamp Thing suddenly weaves on his feet, staggers...

Closer still:  ...and falls.  The others whirl, concerned.

Two-shot of Swamp Thing and the Nurse—as Asa kneels beside Holland—who’s suddenly shriveling, growing thinner, his plant-flesh growing harder, crustier:  it’s as if the very life force is being drained from him.

Tier Two:
Close on Swamp Thing—even more shriveled.  His face sunken, his expression one of confusion and pain.  He looks like the plant equivalent of a cancer patient, days away from death.  “The Green,” Swampy gasps.  “I can’t feel the Green...”  And the reason for that is, on this world, there is no green.  (Well, for the most part:  there’s a twist coming later.)

Another angle—as Nurse calls up the Rod of Asclepius (see reference):  Asa holds the glowing rod in one hand while, with the other, she feeds Swampy healing magic that will keep him alive...but only for a time.

Looking up at Bennett, from Swamp Thing’s perspective—the vampire not just concerned about Holland, but about himself.  He needs blood to survive and, even though he’s fine now, the time will come when he’ll have to feed.  And what then?  There’s nothing to feed on here...except the other three.  And even if he’d consider feeding on them...they’re not alive, not human, in the conventional sense.

Page Three
Tier One:
Wider—as Frankenstein helps Swamp Thing to his feet (the Rod of Asclepius is gone now)...  

Another angle:  ...and the four of them walk on across this inhospitable landscape.

Tier Two:
Long shot of Nowhere Land hanging in the blackness of space (it’s about the size of Manhattan island):  one sliver of land in an absolutely dead cosmos.  The Heavens black as pitch, not a hint of life, of light, to be seen.  Time Itself, Nurse says (in caption), is closing in on this barren piece of rock, eating away at it.  “But to call it Time is a mistake.  It’s more...the absence of time.  Non-Time.”

Tier Three:
Back with our JLD-ers—as wings sprout from Andrew Bennett’s back (there’s a specific look for this so let’s get reference for Andres) and he tells the others that he’ll fly ahead, scout the area.  Perhaps there are other places on this god-forsaken rock that are more hospitable.  

Angle from behind the group—as Bennett flies off...and our shadowed figure (all we see here is the silhouette of Faust’s head) watches them from the foreground

Closer on Swampy, Nurse (backs still to “camera”) and Frankenstein—who whirls to face “camera,” hearing something skittering up behind them.  Frank’s expression makes it clear that, whatever he was expecting to see...it wasn’t this.  

Page Four
Full page splash.  Pull wide—as dozens of rat-sized creatures (Andres:  these creatures should look exactly like the Faust creature on our wonderfully creepy cover...but significantly smaller.  Faust himself will be along shortly) come swarming out of the shadows, skittering toward—and onto—our JLD threesome, overwhelming them: knocking them to the ground—those intestinal tentacles wrapping around Nurse, Frank and Swampy. 

                                                              Page Five
Tier One:
Angle on Frankenstein—as he uses his sword to hack away at the creatures.

Angle on Nurse—blasting some of the creatures away with a spell.

Tier Two:
Angle on Swampy—too weak to defend himself as—wrapped from head to toe in slimy tentacles...

Another behind Swamp Thing:  ...he’s dragged off...struggling vainly...across the hellish landscape, into the shadows.

Tier Three:
Angle on Nurse and Frank—as, free of the creatures, they race after Swampy.  Ahead of them we glimpse...something moving in the shadows.

Looking down at Nurse and Frank—as they, in turn, look up in amazement at the (off-panel) thing that’s emerged from the shadows.

Page Six
Tier One:
Half pager—revealing the full-sized Mutated Felix Faust (as he is on the cover) emerging from the shadows (hanging, suspended, from his web-like tentacles which are attached to an outcropping of rock):  Swamp Thing’s body is half in/half out of Mutated Faust’s body, caught in that disgusting web of intestines.  The Mini-Fausts are crawling all over their “father’s” body, scrambling back inside him.  (Yes, I know it’s disgusting.)

Tier Two:
Angle behind Nightmare Nurse as—Frankenstein yelling for her to stop—she runs toward Mutated Faust...

...and leaps into that mass of intestines...

...getting gobbled up alongside Swamp Thing.

Page Seven
Tier One:
Another angle—as an enraged Frankenstein takes a run at the monster (Faust grinning like a loon, eyes ablaze with triumph and lunacy), as...

Wider:  ...from another direction, a swarm of bats appears (it’s Bennett—who became aware that his partners were in trouble.  And let’s get reference for this transformation for Andres)...

Tier Two:
...attacking Faust (while Frank hacks away at him with his sword).   But it’s not doing any good...

...because Faust sprays a geyser of steaming poison from his mouth, directly in Frankenstein’s face:  the monster, his flesh burning, screams and falls back...

...after which Faust whirls, turning his attention to the bats, spraying more of the poison at them.  In response, the bats catch fire...

Tier Three:
...and the entire swarm falls, in flames, to the ground...

...becoming the collapsed figure of Andrew Bennett:  his body steaming, his flesh seared and scarred.

(Important to note that Faust isn’t just a monster, he’s a magician—and this mutated body is composed of magic.  Each tentacle is, in its way, a spell; that noxious spray he spews isn’t just physically painful, it’s composed of dark magic.  So he’s attacking on both a physical and metaphysical level.)

Page Eight
Tier One:
Wider—as Faust rears up over the fallen Frank and Bennett (Nurse and Swampy have, apparently been digested) ready to move in for the kill.  But...

Closer on Faust.  ...he stops suddenly, his expression changing to one of confusion...

Closer still.  ...and then absolute horror.

Tier Two:
Pull wide—as the Faust-thing explodes (having been blasted from within by one of Asa’s spells):  guts and gore spattering in all directions...Nightmare Nurse, holding Swamp Thing, expelled from the creature, tumbling directly toward “camera.” (Did I mention that this was disgusting?)

Page Nine
Tier One:
Angle on the four gore-covered, aching and weary, JLD-ers slowly getting to their feet.  But before they do...

...they begin gasping for breath.  Not just for breath:  they’re suddenly overcome with the sense that their very beings are being drained, bled out.  It’s hard to concentrate.   It’s as if their minds are dissolving into stardust and soon they’ll be swept away, into the infinite darkness beyond.  The atmosphere, they realize, is starting to collapse.  Their protection against the ravenous Non-Time will be gone in a few minutes and they’ll be devoured.

Closer—as Nurse turns to see Felix Faust’s head, severed from his worm-thing body, looking up at her:  weak, desperate, he informs the Nurse that he’s the one who created this protective bubble in the first place.  She has to help him, re-form him, or it’s the end for all of them. 

Tier Two:
On Nurse—as she hesitates, wondering if she could possibly trust this...whatever the hell it is.  But the truth is they’re going to be dead in a minute:  their choices are limited.  And so...

Wider:  ...with her last remaining strength, her last remaining magic, she unleashes wave after wave of healing light... 

Wider still:  ...restoring Faust, who lays, sprawled, across the ground, muttering incantations.  And, as he chants, the atmosphere is restored.  They all feel themselves being restored...for the moment, at least.  (Asa’s light also heals Frankenstein and Bennett’s burns.)

Page Ten
Nine panels.  Three tiers of three.  All of them CLOSE-UPS of Felix Faust.  In all of them Faust is looking directly at “camera.”

Tier One:
1)  Faust begins to calmly tell his tale, but...

2)  ...as he does...

3)  ...an expression of terrible fear contorts his face.

Tier Two:
4)  Fear slowly becomes sorrow...

5)  ...and the Faust-thing weeps...

6) ...tears (composed of that poisonous substance he spat at Frank and Bennett) streaming, and steaming, down his face.  He wails—giving voice to thousands of years of torment.

Tier Three:
7) The tears stop and Faust’s expression becomes one of agonized loneliness.  For a moment...

8)  ...sanity seems to return to those lunatic eyes.  And then...

9)  ...Faust hangs his head, gazing at the ground.  No longer looking “at camera.”

(And here we learn what’s happened to Felix Faust.   How his hunger for magical power, for eternal life, led him to eventually uncover a forbidden, and long-forgotten, magic that could corrupt God Himself:  Living on for age after age, Faust used the forbidden enchantments to evolve, mutate, in order to survive the harsh changes to the Earth—and, yes, that’s where we are:  Nowhere Land is the Earth, or what’s left of it, at the End of Time.  Humankind, we learn, long ago left the planet, moved off into the stars—but Faust remained, happy to be the Lord and Master of all that remained (what remained wasn’t much—but he was batshit crazy by this point).  Eventually consumed by a cosmic loneliness that drove him even farther over the edge, Faust then began to create these miniature versions of himself...out of his own flesh and consciousness...in order to have some semblance of companionship.  Time crawled on and on and, eventually, Death came to the universe.  All the life-forms on all the worlds were swept away as Time Itself died...and Non-Time began to consume all life.  Faust has struggled to keep this small remaining piece of Earth alive...but he knows that eventually all his struggles will be in vain.  Nowhere Land will be consumed, drowned in the Ocean of Non-Time.)

And, off that, we cut to:

Page Eleven
Tier One:
Panel one is a smaller panel INSET in the HALF-PAGE panel two.

1)  Inset.  The Beginning of Time.  Night.  Exterior shot—of the house we saw last issue:  Zatara’s house—which has been magically restored since its destruction by the Mome-Rath.  Weird lights flashing from within.  Then we’re...

2)  Half pager.  ...inside—where we find Zatanna in the living room, standing in the center of a magical star-shaped spell (see reference) that floats in the center of the room.  Zee, we learn via her first-person narration, has spent the equivalent of a year here (although time flows very differently at The Beginning), first lost in a kind of mad loneliness (that parallels Faust’s), then, finally, finding her center again, her purpose.  She’s determined to find a way out, a way home.

Tier Two:
3)  Closer—as the Star grows brighter and brighter and then...

4)  Another angle:  ...dissolves:  Zee gently wafting to the floor.  Sparks of light—like fireflies—swirling around her.

5)  On Zee—kneeling on the floor—an expression of concern on her face. 

(As she’s been probing the ethers, probing the deeps of Time Itself, Zatanna has become aware of some kind of as-yet-undefined disruption in the Timestream.  A kind of chronal aneurysm that may be about to burst.  Now, she realizes, this isn’t just about saving herself...this may very well be about saving everyone and everything.)  (I’m not sure how much of this I’ll give away here...it may be too soon.  In which case, I’ll hint at this without hitting it on the nose.) 

***


Hope you found that enlightening.  And if you'd like to know what a full script—art and dialogue, all of a piece—looks like, just click here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

BWAH-HA-HA

I thought it would be fun to take a peek behind the curtain and give you a sense of how an issue of Justice League 3000 takes shape.  (And let's not forget that JL3K is ©copyright 2014 DC Comics.)  

It all begins with the plot—and the formidable imagination of Keith Giffen.  As you'll see below, Keith doesn't type up his plots, he, essentially, draws mini comics (of such quality that they can stand on their own as entertaining reads), complete with story and dialogue notes.   

As far as I'm concerned, the hardest part of the job is the plotting and Keith is a master of the craft.  He's also one of the best visual storytellers this medium has ever seen.  





Keith's plot goes off to the amazing Howard Porter, who then translates Giffen's art breakdowns into the jaw-dropping pages JL3K fans marvel at month after month. The level of detail and emotion Howard gets into his pages never fails to astonish me—and the guy tops himself every single issue.





Once Howard is done, I sit down with Keith's plot on one side, Howard's art on the other and get the characters talking to each other.

There are times I hew so closely to Keith's plots that I feel guilty cashing the check (well, not that guilty), other times I veer wildly off into unexpected territory.  This sequence lands somewhere in the middle.

The important thing is that Keith has always encouraged me to play, have fun, not be bound by the plot.  Our collaboration is based on that sense of play.  Keith's plots always surprise and entertain me and I want my scripts to do the same for him.






I can't underestimate the contributions of our letterer, Rob Leigh (who can fit all that damn dialogue on the page and do it with genuine style and grace) and the coloring team at Hi-Fi, who bring new levels of depth, excitement and reality to Howard's pages.  And, of course, our editor, the wise and easy-going Harvey Richards, manages to work with all of us and stay sane, which is a masterful feat in itself! Just pick up the current issue of Justice League 3000 and you'll see how much these talented people add to our stories.  

This concludes our peek behind the curtain.  Any questions?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS

This morning Julián M. Clemente—author of the upcoming Spider-Man: The Untold Story, whose interview with me is just a couple of posts down the page—emailed me a scan of the letters page from Amazing Spider-Man #73, which features my first published letter to a comic book.  I was fourteen at the time and I marvel (no pun intended) at two things in the letter:  1)  I had the audacity to complain to Stan Lee and John Romita about "deteriorating plot and artwork" and 2) I was talking about Jim Mooney as if he was some hot, new talent—not realizing that I'd been seeing Mooney's DC work my entire life.  Here's the page (and please note that another future Marvel employee, Peter Sanderson, is also represented here):


  
Later in the day, Julián wrote to me again to say that he'd come across another letter, this one from Amazing #82.  Some months have passed, I'm now fifteen— embarrassingly so—and filled to the brim with the 60's ideals that, for better or worse, still infuse my personal philosophy, and my work, in many ways.  (I just express them a little more eloquently now:  for one thing, I stopped saying "dig it" at least six months ago and I only shout "give peace a chance" on John Lennon's birthday.)  



I wrote to many Marvel comics in the following years—and kept on writing till I was in my early twenties (my last published letter was in an issue of Master of Kung Fu, simultaneously singing the praises of Doug Moench and Jack Kerouac)—but I'd love to go back in time, tap that fourteen year old on the shoulder and say, "Pssst.  Kid. I know you're not gonna believe this, but one day you'll be writing Amazing Spider-Man!"  I'd love to see Little Marc's jaw drop and his eyes bug out and then I'd like to give him a hug and tell him to keep chasing his dreams—because they really do come true.

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, Julián.

Friday, November 14, 2014

SPEAKING OF INTERVIEWS...

Earlier this week I did an interview with the Geek Legacy Comic Corner podcast and you can listen to it here or just click on the player below:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN

I recently did an interview with Julián M. Clemente for his upcoming book
Spider-Man: La historia jamás contada (Spider-Man: The Untold Story), which
will be published by Panini Spain in the second quarter of 2015.  Julián has
given me permission to post an edited version of the interview here, for your
listening and dancing pleasure.  Enjoy!

***

Somebody told me that you used to write to the letters pages of the Spider-Man
books when you were a kid. Is that true?  As a reader, how did you discover the
character?

I did write to the letters pages, not just for Spider-Man, but for many Marvel 
comics.  In a way, the letters pages then provided the same kick, the same 
connection, that Twitter and Facebook provide now (although far less
immediate):  It gave you a sense that you were communicating with the
writers and artists whose work meant so much to you.
As for how I discovered Spider-Man:  I was aware of the character for 
years, but, in junior high school, I went through a kind of religious
conversion from DC to Marvel:  totally swept away by the universe that
Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Romita and the rest had created.  My first real exposure
to Spidey was the classic story where Norman Osborn is revealed as the
Green Goblin.  The first part has a cover featuring the Goblin, flying over
the city streets, dragging a bound, maskless Spidey behind him.  It
captivated me then and it remains one of my all-time favorite comic book
covers. 
As much as I loved Spidey as a reader—the Lee-Romita days especially
—it was as a writer that I really fell in love with the character.  Peter Parker, 
as I’ve said before, is one of the most psychologically real protagonists in
all of mainstream comics.  I believe in Peter.  I relate to him.  And I really
discovered that connection when I started writing his adventures.

Let's talk about your first Spider-Man assigment, Marvel Team-Up #101. How did that come about?

As I recall, Denny O’Neil asked me if I wanted to do an issue.  Simple as that.  Being a young, hungry writer, I immediately said yes.  I would have said yes if he’d asked me to write an issue of Millie the Model.

How was it working with Denny? 

Denny is a man of great intelligence and a deep, developed sense of what makes a good story.  I had tremendous respect for him before I ever walked in the room.  There’s not even a hint of “What can this guy teach me?” with an editor like Denny.  You  know you’re going to learn just by working with him.

Tom DeFalco was your editor in the early eighties and it seemed that, under his leadership, all the titles were strongly connected.  How was Tom to work with? Was it very difficult to coordinate with the rest of the writers?

Tom DeFalco’s one of my favorite people in the business.  A terrific writer, a superb editor and an all-around wonderful guy.  Working with him on MTU was a delight.  He certainly knew what he liked, and what he didn’t, but he was the kind of editor who’d pick up the phone, just to tell you that he’d read your latest script and how much he loved it…and, in the process, totally make your day.

As for the interconnectedness of the books:  Tom made sure we were all aware of what was going in in each Spidey book.  In fact, as I recall, each book was assigned a specific focus.  I enjoyed the character of Aunt May (another character I fell in love with after I began writing her) so Tom encouraged me to explore May…and the other folks in the nursing home. 

How did you deal with the inherent limitations of Marvel Team-Up?

By trying to make the stories matter.  I don't mean that they had to have a huge impact on the greater Marvel Universe, just that there had to be emotional and psychological stakes in the story.  The limitation, of course, was that every issue had to bring in another character for Spidey to team up with.  But, looking back, it wasn’t a limitation, it was a challenge.  “How can I do this and make it a story that means something for these characters?”  Again, I tried to make the stories matter.  I don’t know if I started out consciously doing that, but as my MTU run went along, that became my guiding light.


You used Vermin—a character you created (with Mike Zeck) in Captain America—in a Team Up story.  Did you realize his huge potential or he was just "another monster"?

I just thought he was an interesting character—but I didn’t know if I’d ever use him again.  I brought him back later in my Cap run and then in MTU and began to find the interesting layers and levels of Vermin’s psyche.  But I didn’t really realize just how deep the character ran till I used him in Kraven’s Last Hunt and then, later, in Spectacular Spider-Man. 

Was the structure of the series—bringing in a new guest in every issue—an advantage or a disadvantage? I’d imagine it was very difficult to use Peter Parker in MTU—but you introduced many significant moments for Peter.

I was recently on a panel at a convention talking about this point:  When you’re writing a Spidey book, you’re not writing about some hero named Spider-Man.  Mask on or mask off, the book is about Peter Parker.  I felt that way (more intuitively than consciously) right from the start.  Tom DeFalco really wanted MTU to be an integral part of the Spider-Man line, not just some oddball book off in the corner.  He wanted it to (there’s that word again) matter.

You’ve said that the series did not satisfy you until Herb Trimpe left and Kerry Gammill came aboard. How did that happen?

The shift had nothing to do with Herb, who did superb work.  (Trimpe is one of the great Marvel artists.  His run on Hulk remains a high point in the character’s history).  It just took me six or eight issues to really find the book, to understand what I wanted to do with it.  That shift coincided with Herb leaving and Kerry arriving.  I had nothing to do with that change:  As I recall, Herb decided to move on to another assignment and Tom hired Kerry to replace him.

I loved Kerry’s work.  He’s one of those artists who can do the big superhero slam and bang as good as anyone, but he never loses the humanity of the characters.  He could do the small intimate moments, the pivotal emotional beats, and really sell the heart and soul of the story. 


You wrote some touching stories about elderly people in MTU. The Gargoyle story was fantastic, and so were the Dominic Fortune and Watcher stories. You seemed to have great affection for Aunt May and the other characters from the Restwell Nursing Home. These kind of topics weren’t usually addressed at the time. Why did you find them so important?

Part of that came from the fact that I was given free reign to develop the Restwell characters.  Part of it came from my interest in the Aunt May character—who, once I started writing her, revealed herself to be deeper, and far more complex, than I’d ever imagined.  I don’t think I was consciously trying to focus on older characters.  The Gargoyle, a character I created (designed by my Defenders collaborator Don Perlin), was an eighty year old man in a gargoyle’s body:  certainly not the typical Marvel hero.  At the time, I just thought, “Well, that’s an interesting idea…”  but, looking back, I can see that there was something that drew me, fascinated me.  Focusing on older characters allowed me to ask questions about how we live our lives, how we face our deaths, who we are as we age.  We’re all dealing with our mortality from the moment we realize that our time on this planet is finite.  These characters allowed me to explore those issues.

Why did you leave MTU?

I was on the book for something like three years.  That’s a long time to write team-up stories.  I just felt that I’d said everything I could say on MTU and it was time to move on.

Now let's talk about Kraven Last's Hunt. How different from the final Spider-Man saga were your initial drafts of the Wonder Man and Batman ideas that preceded it? How much work did you do on the Batman graphic novel?

The Wonder Man story was just a pitch…based around the idea of Wonder Man’s brother, Grim Reaper, killing, and burying, Wonder Man (who, it was established, had the ability to regenerate).  In the WM version, it was something like six months later that he came up out of the grave.  He’d been robbed of six months of his life and he was pissed.  The emotional center of the story was the relationship between the two brothers:  hard-core enemies, but also family.  However much they loathed each other, they loved each other, too.  It was an interesting dynamic, but Tom DeFalco rejected the story…and a good thing he did.  If not, there would never have been a Kraven’s Last Hunt.  I really don’t think people would be talking about Grim Reaper’s Last Reap twenty-five years later.

The Batman story went through two versions, one with the Joker, one with Hugo Strange.  These were written pitches:  outlines of maybe two or three pages.  Both were rejected, one by Len Wein, one by Denny O’Neil (I only get rejected by the best in the business!). I remember that my friend Mark Badger—the wonderful artist I did Gargoyle and Greenberg, the Vampire with—did an illustration of Batman clawing his way out of the grave to accompany the Hugo Strange version. 

Seven or eight years later, I took the Joker elements of the pitch and turned it into a Legends of the Dark Knight arc called “Going Sane”—which I think is one of the best super hero stories I’ve ever done.  The Hugo Strange version became the template for KLH.  As I’ve said many times before, stories have lives of their own and you have to give them the time to grow and evolve.  In the end, KLH had to be about Peter Parker.  His unique psychology and, of course, his relationship with Mary Jane were so important to the story.  And Kraven was the key element that made the whole saga come together.  A character of such depth and pain, such wonderful contradictions—and a kind of depraved nobility.  I’m a huge Dostoyevsky fan and Kraven, as I envisioned him, could have stepped out of the pages of The Brothers Karamazov.  

I’m grateful for every rejection along the way that gave the story time to find its proper form.  Every element had to be right:  especially the extraordinary artwork of Mike Zeck.

Peter was just married:  What was your opinion about that? Did you think it would last twenty years? I feel that Mary Jane was a pivotal character in the Last Hunt. How did you envision the character of MJ?

You’re absolutely right.  The fact that Peter and MJ were married…newlyweds…was pivotal.  They loved each other passionately—and that love is what gave Peter the strength, the courage and the desire to come back.  His mind could have easily collapsed down in the darkness.  He could have been stuck in that grave and died there.  MJ was the light that guided him out of that darkness.

I know there are people who disliked the Peter-MJ marriage, but I wasn’t one of them.  I thought Mary Jane was a complex, fascinating woman.  MJ and Peter were a strong, and very real, couple.  The marriage deepened Peter as a human being and deepened the Spider-Man books.


My favorite quote from the saga comes from Peter, in Web #32: "Just a normal guy—who got tapped on the shoulder by fate.”  Is that how you see the character? 

Absolutely.  Peter is an everyman.  He’s me, he’s you.  He’s not “the chosen one.”  Not someone special.  What makes him such a memorable character is that he’s a decent human being, struggling, as I think we all do, to do the right thing in life; but like most of us, he often screws up—sometimes spectacularly.  He’s flawed, he fails.  But—and here’s where Peter does embody the best in us—he always faces those flaws, picks himself up and goes back out there again, continuing to do his best, striving to be a good man and live a decent, compassionate life.  But, again, this isn’t because he’s special, or “chosen,” it’s because he embodies qualities that we all have, struggles that we all face.  Maybe we don’t wear masks and shoot webbing, but I think most of us can relate to Peter, can see in him a mirror of ourselves.

About Spider-Man: Soul of the Hunter:  What were the origins of the story? Was it something you wanted to do or was Marvel looking for a sequel? It seemed like Kraven had some kind of redemption in the story, in a certain Christian way. Was that your intention?

What happened was that Marvel got some mail from a few people who thought that Kraven’s death was glorifying suicide, which was never my intention.  Kraven was tormented, his mind was shattered.  Insanity ran in his family.  (His mother died in a mental institution.)  His wasn’t an honorable death:  it was tragic.  I wanted to do a story to underscore that—and that’s how Soul of the Hunter came about.  I don’t know if it’s a story about Kraven’s redemption so much as it’s a story about Peter dealing with the guilt of letting Kraven die.  It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t know it was going to happen; but Peter being Peter, he feels responsible.  His encounter with Kraven’s spirit—if that truly was Kraven’s spirit—is what allows him to work through those feelings and come out healed and whole.

Kraven’s Last Hunt has been a favorite story for many Spidey fans. Is it one of your favorites, too? It seems this was the story that turned you into a star. What did it mean for you as a writer?

KLH has had a long healthy life and I’m very grateful that people are still reading it today, often discovering it for the first time.  It’s a difficult one for me because, at the time I wrote it, my life was in turmoil; I was in as much pain as the characters in the story—which is one of the reasons why I think the story has had such impact:  it was real.  Peter, Kraven and Vermin were all, in some way, reflecting what I was going through at the time.  But, because of that, it’s sometimes hard for me to look at the story objectively.  I read it and see a mirror of a period of my life that was difficult.

What I can look at objectively is the artwork.  Mike Zeck is such a wonderful artist, a magnificent storyteller.  If another artist had drawn that story…even if, panel by panel, it was essentially the same…it wouldn’t have been Kraven’s Last Hunt.  So much credit for the story’s success goes to Mike.

As for Kraven making me a star (whatever that means!):  I don’t know if that’s true.  I think the story has grown in stature over time.  It was certainly appreciated back in the day, but not as much as it is today.  The series that really turned things around for me was Moonshadow.  That was where I found my authentic voice as a writer and, for perhaps the first time, did work that I was truly proud of.  With Moon, I stepped out of the Marvel Universe and wrote as myself, unencumbered by the tropes of the genre.  That experience freed me and allowed me to step back into the MU and write something like Kraven.  If I hadn’t done Moonshadow, KLH wouldn’t have been half as good.  

And then, a few years later, you came back again, for your Spectacular run. Danny Fingeroth was your editor.  What was it like working with him?

Danny was great to work with.  He, like Tom DeFalco, remains one of my closest friends in the industry.  As an editor, Danny was the kind of guy who watched over every detail of the story and art like a hawk but, at the same time, gave me tremendous freedom to let me tell my stories the way I wanted to tell them.  Working on Spectacular Spider-Man I was able to create a kind of subset of the Spider-Man line—I think Danny jokingly called it the DeMatteisverse.  

That said, when Danny saw a story starting to slide off in the wrong direction, he would speak up, so I knew he was always there to backstop me and offer solutions.  When you worked with an editor like Danny—and I have to say all the Spider-Man editors I worked with, although they had different styles, were cut from a similar mold—who gave you that level of creative freedom, you paid very close attention when he told you something wasn’t working.  

There are certain editors who are desperate to put their own stamp on the book, who see the creative team as a kind of pipeline for the own ideas.  These kinds of editors are on top of you constantly, parsing each word and idea.  The best editors are guys who are secure enough in themselves and their skill to hire good people and let them do what they do best.  They’re smart enough to know when things are going well and, when they’re not, they’re there for you to work out the bumps in the story.  You can’t ask for anything more.

Sal Buscema was your artist on Spectacular.  How was that collaboration?

I can’t say enough good things about Sal—as both an artist and a man.  Chemistry between a writer and artist is a strange, ineffable thing.  You can’t force it, you can’t create it.  I’ve worked with wonderful artists, written terrific stories for them, and then watched the final product just…sit there.  There was no spark, no chemistry.  No magic.

With Sal, the magic was there from the first page, the first panel, of our Spectacular run.  We just clicked.  He brought my plots alive with impeccable storytelling, deep emotion, every subtlety I asked for and more.  Scripting from his art pages was effortless.  Our personal relationship was just as good.  I loved working with him, chatting on the phone.  A great artist and a true gentleman.

The topics you addressed in Spectacular were very deep. It was very different from the sort of stories told in Amazing. It seemed like Amazing was for kids, but Spectacular was for mature readers. Was that your intention?

No.  I was simply writing about stories and themes that interested me.
I always want to know what’s going on inside a character’s head, what the emotional and psychological demons driving him are.  I tend to write stories from the inside out and let the plot build around that.  

I don’t think the stories in Amazing and Spectacular were all that different, or that one was aimed at kids while the other was aimed at older readers; I just think that different writers have different voices, different approaches to storytelling.  And that's a good thing.  You shouldn’t pick up two different comics by two different writers and have them seem, essentially, the same.  You want a different flavor, a different—and unique—perspective from both.


Were you influenced by psychoanalysis in these stories? A lot of scenes with Peter, Harry and Vermin almost played like psychoanalytic sessions. 

As noted, I’m very much interested in what makes people tick, in the “why” or who we are and what drives us—not just in stories, but in life.  I’ve done my share of inner exploration, both psychological and spiritual, and that’s always been reflected in my stories.

In "The Child Within,” you used explored Peter's relationship with his parents, which nobody had used since Stan Lee, in Amazing Annual #5. Why did you decide to use them in that storyline? I remember the first time I read the story, I thought:  “Why is Peter so worried about his parents now?”

When we’re children, our parents are like gods to us and their impact on our lives is huge.  No one had ever really looked at the impact the loss of his parents had on Peter.  It was virgin ground, which gave me a lot of room to explore.

One of the ways small children find power in situations where they have no control is by taking on responsibility for the events around them:  My parents are getting divorced…my parents have died.…I’m being abused—whatever the case—so it must be my fault. In a strange way, this false sense of responsibility, this crushing guilt, gives the chaos a kind of twisted meaning, gives the child a kind of twisted power.  Peter’s parents died when he was young, but he was old enough to feel the loss, to be shipwrecked by it, and to internalize it…very deep in his psyche…as a sense of responsibility and guilt.  That guilt was only magnified, years later, by the death of Uncle Ben.

“The Child Within” dealt with those wounds that come when we’re so young that we’re not even conscious of them.  And yet, conscious or not, those wounds shape us.  Peter, Harry and Vermin were all dealing with these primal wounds and they continued to echo through their lives, years later.

You introduced Ashley Kafka in Spectacular Spider-Man #178. She was one of my favorite supporting characters of the time. How did you create her? With Ashley, you also introduced Ravencroft. Did you want to do a Marvel version of Arkham Asylum or did your have another intention?

Yes, I created Ashley, but Ravencroft was either a Terry Kavanaugh creation or a group decision at one of our Spider-Man writers meetings—I’m honestly not sure which.  And, yes, the goal, as I recall it, was to have the Marvel equivalent of Arkham Asylum.

As for Ashley:  she was a favorite of mine too, inspired by a therapist friend, whose last name is really Kafka.  I thought it would be interesting to have a character who could do what I, as a writer, loved to do:  bore down into the psyches of these fascinating characters and come up with unique perspectives on why they turned out the way they did. The traumas of their past, the demons that drove them.  I used her many times because I thought that—as both a person and a therapist—she was a valuable addition to Peter’s cast.

In "The Child Within" you started the story that ended with Harry's death in Spectacular #200. Was it always your intention to kill him at the end of the story? His character's arc was very, very tragic, like a Shakesperean drama, with the eternal shadow of Norman hiding in the background. I suppose that you never thought about resurrecting Norman in that time. What do you think about his subsequent comeback? 

I didn’t set out to kill Harry, the story just led me there.  That’s what the best stories do:  I may have plans, a blueprint for how I want things to go, but the characters lead me on to surprising places.  

And, yes, it was a tragic arc, but redemptive, too, in that the ending reaffirmed the depth of Peter and Harry’s friendship and the fact that love won out over hate. 

As for Norman’s return from the dead:  At the time, I wasn’t thrilled by it, but I understood the need to bring back this classic character.  It is comics, after all, and it seems everyone comes back from the dead eventually! 

In Spectacular #185 you used Frogman and The White Rabbit, from your old MTU issues. Were you trying for a comic break after "The Child..."?

That’s exactly right.  “Child Within” was six parts plus an epilogue and it was pretty heavy stuff.  I thought a healthy dose of goofiness was in order to change things up.

Then we've got "Funeral Arrangements,” the Vulture story, that reminded me of your MTU issues about old people. A great and touching story.  What do you recall about it?

What I recall most about it was Sal B’s amazing art.  He started playing with a new inking style on that story and it was some of the best work I’d ever seen him do.  

I loved writing stories that put the focus on Aunt May:  some people saw her as a cliched old worrywart, but I found her to be a complex, fascinating and incredibly strong woman.   “Funeral Arrangements” really brought that out.

Why did you leave Spectacular and how did you become the Amazing writer? What did it mean to you to write the "core" series?

I left Spectacular because, after two years, I thought I was done with Spider-Man and his world; but I soon realized that I really missed Peter—he felt more like a friend than a character—and when Danny Fingeroth invited me to come back and write Amazing, I couldn’t say no.

The biggest different between the two gigs was that Amazing was soon involved in the massive Clone Saga crossover, which meant that there was little or no room to go off and just tell my own stories, which is what I’d been doing with Spectacular. 

I loved the collaboration and the camaraderie between the writers as we put the story together—it was a fantastic group and I look back on those days and our many writers’ meetings with great fondness—but, when you find yourself writing Chapter Two of a four part story every month, it gets awfully frustrating.  Which is why I eventually left Amazing.  

A last question: Do you miss Peter? Would you like the chance to write the story of your Peter, exploring what happened to him or Mary Jane or any of the characters you wrote?

I wrote a short story in Amazing Spider-Man #700 that was my tribute to the character and his history.  It was kind of a fond farewell and, honestly, I don’t have much desire to write a new Spider-Man story.  That said, if I was asked, I suspect my unconscious mind would get cooking and I’d find myself bubbling over with Spidey ideas.  But it’s not a conscious desire at all.


The character I would love to write is Ben Reilly.  We’ve hardly scratched the surface with Ben and, if he came back, I’d be pounding on Marvel’s door, asking for the chance to continue Ben’s adventures.