Monday, May 15, 2023


Had a great time talking to Professor Terence Dollard for his PBS show Comic Culture and you can watch it below.

Thursday, May 11, 2023


Way back in 2010—seems like a century ago, doesn't it?—I wrote an essay for Rob Kelly's wonderful anthology, Hey Kids, Comics! and published an excerpt here.  Came across the essay this morning, and thought it would be fun to post the entire thing.  Enjoy!


Portals to Other Dimensions—Ten Cents Each!

I've said this before, and it's true:  I don't remember ever not reading comic books.  I can’t say for sure who first exposed me to them, but I do recall a married couple that lived in my apartment building (the kind of adults you’d expect to be reading comics in the late 50's and early 60's:  smiley, rotund, slightly odd people) and they had a treasure trove of comics—stacks and stacks of them—they’d often share with me.  I also remember a cousin giving me what must have been twenty or so comics (to my young eyes, they seemed more like twenty thousand).  There was something deeply satisfying in spreading them all out on the floor—like a four-color carpet—not to be read, but to be stared at, studied, absorbed to the deeps of my soul.  I enjoyed comic book covers as much as I enjoyed reading the stories.  I could sit there, in a quasi-hypnotic state, and study the illustrations for hours:  they were like cosmic portals, opening up doorways to other dimensions; colorful parallel universes far preferable to the one I inhabited.

The best covers communicated an entire story in one image and my mind would wander off and run the story in my head like a movie (which was often far different from the one that unfolded inside the books:  sometimes it was better).  Drawing was one of my great obsessions as a kid and I could spend an entire afternoon on the living room floor, with pencil and paper, studying a Batman cover—I’m talking about the Dick Sprang-era, square-jawed, fun-loving Bats, not the ultra-serious Dark Knight of today—and trying to replicate it, line-for-line, freehand.  (Tracing, of course, was verboten.)  

My family didn’t have much money—we were lower middle class, my father worked for the New York City Parks Department (he was the guy who raked the leaves and shoveled the snow) and my mother was a switchboard operator for the New York State Parole Board—but I never felt materially deprived.  My parents were always incredibly generous.  And they generously indulged my passion for comics.

I have very vivid memories of being six, seven years old and taking walks with my father on summer evenings after dinner:  We'd head for the local candy store, which—in Brooklyn, at least—was its own magic world, with a long soda fountain inevitably presided over by an elderly Jewish wizard who could magically conjure egg creams (if you’ve never had one, you have my sincere condolences); more comics, newspapers and magazines than you could count; every gloriously trashy candy bar in existence; and an odd assortment of toys, from Duncan Yo-Yos to that lost ancient artifact, the Pensy Pinky.  My father would buy a newspaper for himself and a comic book for me.   A comic was ten cents in those days—which was probably more than my dad’s New York Daily News cost—but it was still a bargain.  (When my best friend, Bob Izzo, was going to the hospital for minor surgery—I think he was having a mole removed—his mother gave him an entire dollar and he bought ten comic books.  I was paralyzed with envy.)

I was seven when, after three decades, the price jumped from ten to twelve cents:  I walked into the candy store with my mother one afternoon and Eva—the not-to-be-trifled-with wife of the egg cream making wizard—was in shock, ranting about this outrageous price hike.  My mother was equally irate.  “Twelve cents,” she gasped, “for a comic book?” 

To my immense relief, the extra two cents didn’t dissuade my parents from buying me comics—and I continued to consume them.  It didn’t matter what the comic book was, I read everything—from Hot Stuff and Casper to Sad Sack and Bob Hope (given the current comic book market, it’s astonishing to realize that the Bob Hope series ran for eighteen years.  The Adventures of Jerry Lewis lasted even longer).  Today the super hero dominates the mainstream market, but, back then, the variety of comic books—all of them kid-friendly—was astounding.  Still, to a boy raised on George Reeves flying across his black and white television screen, the DC super hero comics were the Holy Grail.

We took it for granted that every male under the age of twelve worshipped Superman and Batman—and most of them
did—but each of us had our special favorites.  Mine were Justice League (all the DC heroes together in one book?  How could you beat that?) and Green Lantern.  GL was the perfect vehicle to capture the mind of a child.  The concept was as elegant as it was simple:  the hero just thought of something—brought his will and imagination to bear—and he manifested it.  (Even as an adult the concept still works:  I think it’s a perfect metaphor for the way we should all live our lives.)   John Broome’s wonderful stories spanned the galaxies—his place in Comic Book Heaven is secure—but, for me, the the primal enchantment came from Gil Kane's extraordinary artwork.  Before I discovered the force of nature that was Jack Kirby, Kane was the artist whose work meant the most to me:  a mixture of elegance, power and crystal clear storytelling.  As noted, drawing was my childhood obsession and one of my absolute favorite things to draw was Kane’s flying figure of Green Lantern, ring-hand confidently outthrust, one leg cocked back (almost as if it was amputated).

When I was in Junior High School, I underwent a religious conversion.  No, I didn’t suddenly become a Hindu or a Born-Again Christian:  I converted from DC to Marvel.  Contemporary comic book readers can’t possibly understand how different Stan Lee’s Marvel books were in the 1960’s.  DC’s comics—for all their imagination and artistic flair—were pristine and sculpted, All-American and squeaky clean to the point of being nearly antiseptic:  no rough edges, no raw emotions, nothing messy at all.  If you looked at the Marvel books, especially in the early days of the line, it was all mess.  The covers said everything:  lurid colors.  Captions screaming for your attention.  Oversized word balloons with thick, black borders around them.  Artwork so primitive it was frightening.  Marvel Comics were dangerous.

A few years before my conversion, on a whim (or perhaps out of desperation), I’d picked up the first issue of
Marvel Tales, which reprinted the origin stories of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and Ant Man.  Imagine a young mind accustomed to the gentle elegance of Curt Swan suddenly encountering the wonderful weirdness that was Steve Ditko and the dynamic lunacy of Jack Kirby.  Reading the Hulk origin, I was certain that General “Thunderbolt” Ross had to be the one who was going to turn into a monster because—the way Kirby drew him—he already looked like one.  There was a panel of Ross yelling at Bruce Banner and the old man’s mouth was so impossibly wide I was sure he was going to eat Banner alive.

At that point in my evolution I wasn’t ready for Marvel:  the stories were simply too intense for my tender psyche, so I put the books aside and returned to the more comforting confines of the DC Universe—until, in 1966, Marvelmania swept through the halls of Ditmas Junior High.  Among my crowd of comics cognoscenti, you were looked down upon if you still read Superman (which I, of course, did).  I resisted the tide—no way was I giving up on GL and the League—but by May or June of that year (and, yes, I’m sure peer pressure had something to do with it) I decided to once again investigate this strange Marvel phenomenon.  The first comics I picked up were Fantastic Four #54, Daredevil #19 and Spider-Man #40.  After reading those three issues—I still have a clear memory of sitting on the steps of the massive Catholic church across the street from my apartment house (the appropriate place for a religious conversion) and devouring the Daredevil story “Alone Against the Underworld!”, entranced by Stan Lee’s hyperbolic intensity and John Romita’s muscular grace—Marvel had me.  Peer pressure may have piqued my curiosity, but what sold me was the quality of the stories:  the creative audacity that exploded across every page.

There’s been much debate, down through the decades, about the relative contributions of Stan Lee and his collaborators.
  From my perspective, Stan’s contribution was incalculable.  Even if, hypothetically, Kirby and Ditko plotted every single one of those stories on their own, Stan created the vibe and the mythos of Marvel Comics.  He did it with cocky cover copy and the warmth of the Bullpen Bulletins pages, the hilarious footnotes and scripts that managed to be absurdly pseudo-Shakespearean and yet utterly down to earth at the same time.  Most important were the absolutely relatable (especially to a boy on the verge of adolescence) characters, constructed of equal parts angst and humor.   As others have said, with Stan at the door of the Marvel Universe, you really felt as if you were being welcomed into a unique club that was tailored just for you by the coolest uncle anyone ever had.  Add in the quirky individuality of Ditko and the cosmic genius of Kirby (if anyone in the history of comics can be called a genius, Jack’s the guy) and you had something new and vibrant that comics had never seen before.   (Here’s how much I loved those 60’s Marvel Comics:  In the ninth grade I had pneumonia, ordered by our doctor not to leave the house for three weeks.  One Sunday night, about two weeks into my sentence, I couldn’t take it any more:  my parents had gone out for dinner, so I threw on my winter coat—did I mention it was dead of winter?—and, risking my fragile lungs, raced the four blocks to the candy store and grabbed the latest issue of Fantastic Four.) 

I remained Marvel-exclusive until 1970 when Jack Kirby returned to DC:  hey, if Superman & Company were good enough for the King, they were certainly good enough for me.  Kirby’s brilliant New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle convinced me I’d made the right decision.  That same year I had my first encounter with the subversive genius of R. Crumb (“Meatball,” anyone?) and my idea of what a comic book could, and couldn’t, be was forever demolished.  Loyalty to any one company, or any one form of graphic storytelling, suddenly seemed ridiculous. 

As I grew older, as I fell prey to exploding hormones and the lunacy of teenage life, becoming immersed in rock and roll, “serious” literature, the spiritual search (and other, less savory, pursuits), I never let go of comic books.  Most of my contemporaries grew out of their obsession, but I didn't.  Why would I turn away from a cosmic portal that expanded my mind, deepened my soul and, most important, made me happy.   

You can’t put a cover price on that.

© copyright 2023 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Last week Marvel announced my latest project, a four issue mini-series—brought to brilliant visual life by Todd Nauck—called Magneto, taking place during the time Erik Lehnsherr was headmaster of the Xavier Institute.  
As I said over on  

“Magneto may be the single most complex character in the Marvel Universe:  a man of dizzying contradictions who has endured, and caused, extraordinary suffering. Who’s been both villain and hero. Whose long, tangled history invites endless exploration.

“Our new Magneto series allows us to look at all aspects of Erik Lehnsherr’s soul and psyche—at a period when he was trying to put his life as a so-called ‘evil’ mutant behind him and step, somewhat reluctantly, into Charles Xavier’s shoes, attempting to guide a new generation of mutants. We also get to look back at the early days of the X-Men—one of my favorite periods in Marvel history—and introduce a new villain, born in the cauldron of Magneto’s dark past.”

Magneto #1 will be out in August!

Monday, April 24, 2023


We wrapped the DeMultiverse Kickstarter at the beginning of November and now, as spring rears its charming head, the books are starting to arrive on the doorsteps of our backers. I'm delighted that folks will finally get a chance to read these stories and travel through the new worlds of the DeMultiverse. And I'm really looking forward to the vote, when we discover which of our series will be the first to continue!

Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Back in 1979 or so, when I was first getting my foot in the door at Marvel, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter came to me and asked if I’d be up for doing a Captain America story, in the then-popular Treasury Edition format, that tied in to the upcoming second Captain America TV movie, starring actor Reb Brown as a version of Cap that had very little to do with the character we know and love.  

Let’s be honest: it was a weird premise. But I was brand new to the business, hungry to make my mark, and there was no way I was turning this gig down. So I went off, pondered, and came up with a pretty solid story—I’m sure Shooter had significant input—writing a detailed plot that featured Cap teaming up with Brown (not with the television version of Captain America, but with the actor himself) in an adventure that involved the making of the movie and a sinister plot by the Red Skull. 

Someone up the food chain thought things through and decided that crossing over with the movies wasn’t a very good idea (they were right) and the plug was pulled on the Treasury. I was disappointed—this would have been my first printed work at Marvel—but I was paid and, by doing work that pleased Shooter, the door into the House of Ideas was opened a little wider.

Time passed and, by 1981, I was a contracted freelancer at the company. Jim Salicrup, who was editing the Cap monthly at the time, asked me about the derailed Treasury edition, wondering if I could toss out the TV movie tie-in and come up with a story that would work in the ongoing title. I went back to the Treasury plot, deleted the Reb Brown-related material, did some rewriting and restructuring, and came up with the three-part story that ended up becoming my Captain America debut, in issues 261—263. 

That Red Skull trilogy became a kind of audition and, as a result, I was hired on as Cap’s regular writer: the beginning of a very enjoyable three-year run, in tandem with the extraordinary art team of Mike Zeck and John Beatty and, later, British superstar Paul Neary.

Which is why I tell my writing students that, when you’re starting out, the operative answer to any job offer is a wildly-enthusiastic
“Yes!” You really don’t know where an assignment—however odd or ridiculous it might seem—will lead. At the very least, the challenge will help you learn and grow. At best…well, you might find yourself chronicling the ongoing adventures of one of the greatest comic book characters of all time.

©copyright 2023 J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, March 16, 2023


In less than a week, the final issue of Spider-Man: The Lost Hunt hits shops. It's a three-way showdown between Spidey, Gregor, and Aja Orisha. No, make that four way—because Mary Jane isn't one to stand on the sidelines.

I've had a blast with this series and I hope you enjoy our concluding chapter. (Will there be more new Spidey tales ahead for me? Time will tell...)

Monday, March 6, 2023


Had a very lengthy, deep-dive conversation with comic book great Mark Millar for his Millar Time podcast. We went down some familiar roads—talking about my career and favorite projects—and some unexpected: discussing God, life, the universe, and everything. Big thanks to Mark for a delightful conversation. Hope you all enjoy it!