Friday, January 19, 2018

SLUGGING IT OUT


I’ve written more than my share of superhero slugfests (in both comics and animation) and thoroughly enjoyed doing it.  I adore these larger-than-life characters and there’s much to be said about the mythic qualities Superman, Spider-Man and their brethren bring to the page and screen and the resonance of the symbolic conflicts that play out in their battles.  But there’s an inherent flaw in the capes-and-masks genre that was underscored—and I suspect it was intentional—in the first episode of the CW’s Black Lightning (which got off to a terrific start this past Tuesday.  If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to check it out).  Early in the episode, lead character Jefferson Pierce—who, some years earlier, turned his back on his career as a costumed crime-fighter—says that he’s done more to change lives in his time as a high school principal than he ever did in his time as a superhero:  a valuable insight about the power of focused compassion, of individual effort by average human beings, to change the world.  But, by the end of the episode, Pierce is back in costume zapping “bad guys” left and right, leaving a trail of bodies, some of them dead, in his wake.  The message appears to be:  This is the way you really change the world.  Compassion and kindness ultimately don’t work.  Violence, in the end, is the most effective solution.  

I’m sure this wasn’t the message the producers intended.  BL is an extremely thoughtful show, grappling with serious issues, and I look forward to seeing where things go from here.  Perhaps a major part of the ongoing story will be an exploration of this contradiction, examining the massive crack in the foundation of the entire superhero genre:  No matter how much these characters talk about high ideals, non-violence or the power of love, in the end it often comes down to two people in costumes dropping buildings on each other’s heads.  (And the more street level, the more realistic, your story is, the more difficult those scenes become:  A space battle against aliens plays out very differently than, say, Batman beating the hell out of a common criminal.)

I’ve wrestled with the question of superhero violence throughout my career, trying to find new ways to circumvent it and addressing it very directly in stories like The Life and Times of Savior 28.  There will always be a wide-eyed kid inside me who gets a primal thrill watching self-sacrificing heroes and crazed villains knocking each other across the city:  it’s exhilarating, it’s cathartic, it’s fun.  But there’s another part of me that would love to see Jefferson Pierce, after a few seasons of hard lessons, realize that he truly can impact the world more positively as an educator.  That violence is never a viable answer.

And, perhaps, ultimately, that’s the story Black Lightning will unfold.



©copyright 2018 J.M. DeMatteis 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy new year—filled with joy, creativity, abundance and love above all.  Here's to a magical 2018!


Thursday, December 28, 2017

IT'S STAN LEE'S BIRTHDAY!

Today a genuine living legend, the great Stan Lee, turns 95.

Contemporary comic book readers can’t possibly understand how different the 1960’s Marvel Comics were from everything else on the stands.  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 it all:  lurid colors.  Captions screaming for your attention.  Oversized word balloons with thick, black borders around them.  Artwork so primitive it was frightening.  The Marvel Universe was everything a twelve year old in love with super-heroes and science-fiction could ever ask for.  It exploded my imagination—and I’ve been picking up the pieces ever since.

There’s been much debate, down through the decades, about the relative contributions of Stan Lee (who was Marvel’s editor, art director, and head writer in that formative era) and his collaborators.  From my perspective, Stan’s contribution was incalculable.  Even if, hypothetically, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (both of whom were absolutely essential to the company’s success, it couldn’t have happened without them) 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 and, most important, heart.  Stan put his passion into those pages.  They clearly mattered to him, and so they mattered to us, as well. 


If Marvel hadn't cast its magic spell over the comic book industry, changing the creative rules of the game, there's a very good chance I would have left comics behind in junior high school (for the record, the first Marvels that hooked me were F.F. #54 and Spider-Man #40, at the tail end of the seventh grade) and never even considered writing them.  And I'm sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of comic book creators who would say something similar.  You simply can't underestimate the impact that Stan had—and still has, all these years later. 

Happy birthday, Stan...and thanks for everything!


©copyright 2017 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

THE TRUTH ABOUT SANTA CLAUS 2017

On television they're trotting out the Christmas classics, from The Grinch (he's a mean one, isn't he? Until he's not) to It's A Wonderful Life (yes, I still cry every time I see it) to seemingly-infinite versions of A Christmas Carol (my favorite, as you probably know by now, is the 1951 version starring the incomparable Alastair Sim).  

Here at Creation Point we have a long-standing Yuletide tradition, a short Christmas tale of mine called The Truth About Santa Claus—offered annually as a kind of cyber Christmas gift, 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 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.

Here's to a new year filled with health, happiness, prosperity, abundance, creativity, magic—and love above all.

See you all in 2018!

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 2017 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2017 Vassilis Gogtzilas

Monday, December 18, 2017

STARDUST MEMORIES

The new hardcover edition of The Stardust Kid comes out this Wednesday from the fine folks at Archaia.  Along with the five issue series illustrated by the legendary Mike Ploog (with amazing color by Nick Bell and Sumi Pak), it also features pitches, pencils, scripts, character designs and a new introduction by yours truly, which you can read below.  Enjoy!



Stories, as I’ve often observed, have lives of their own.  They’re living, breathing, independent entities and no matter how a writer may coax and cajole, sweet-talk and seduce, he can never truly control a story and he certainly can’t force it do something it doesn’t want to do.  They’re stubborn beasts, these tales, and, hard as this is to admit, they’re always right. 

Each story also has a unique timing:  like a human being, it needs to gestate in a womb (in this case, the womb of the unconscious, of the creative self).  The difference is that we generally know when a human is ready to be born:  stories, on the other hand, can leap, full-grown, into the world overnight or take their sweet time coming to red-faced, squalling life.  And the writer, poor fool, is like a 1950’s sitcom father, pacing in the hospital waiting room, wondering when the nurse will come bursting through the door with word of his child’s arrival.  That waiting can sometimes take decades.

Case in point:  The Stardust Kid.

The idea started brewing in my head in the early 1980’s when my son Cody was a toddler.  I was living in a very rural area of upstate New York and, as the story began forming in my head,  it became a way to mythologize our family’s life there, to reveal the magic and miracles at the heart of the everyday world, and, especially, to pay tribute to my son (renamed Cody DiMarco for the story) by making him the protagonist of an epic fantasy-adventure.  All these years later, I’m not sure what form The Stardust Kid (the title was there right from the start) first took—I may have planned it as a children’s book—but its first complete form was as a screenplay:  a Spielbergesque fantasy.  My agent at the time took the script out and we had a few wonderful rejections—yes, there are such things—as well as some serious interest that, ultimately, led nowhere (welcome to Hollywood).  Disappointed, I tucked SDK away, not knowing if I’d ever return to it.  

By the late 80s, my career in comic books was going strong and—perhaps reacting to the grim and gritty, “adult” sensibility that gripped the industry then—I became intrigued by the idea of doing comics geared for children and parents:  not adaptations of popular cartoons as was the norm, but (inspired by the books Cody and I devoured together, especially the Oz and Narnia series we both adored) a smart, beautifully-illustrated comic book that mirrored the best in children’s literature.  I’d just finished Moonshadow—a real breakthrough for me as a writer—and I wanted to take the lessons I’d learned crafting that series and apply them to a kid-friendly story.  

I pitched the idea to the late, great Dick Giordano and my old friend Karen Berger at DC Comics, they enthusiastically agreed to publish it and I went to work on the first few scripts.  As I recall, we had different artists attached at various times—I remember Joe Staton doing some wonderful character sketches—but, as I got deeper into the project, an unsettling realization set in:  Given the tenor of the industry, I couldn’t see a book like Stardust Kid, which was so different from most of the material coming out at the time, getting the support it needed.  After wrestling with the decision, which I’m sure I discussed at length with Karen, I decided to buy SDK back from DC and let it settle back into its womb, hoping it would be born another day.  (Looking back, I realize it wasn’t really my decision at all:  it was the story’s.  It knew the conditions it required for a proper birth and we just weren’t there yet.)

By the late-nineties my interest in doing comics for children had blossomed into an obsession.  The atmosphere in the business had, so I thought, shifted.  Thanks to the emergence of the independents and imprints like DC’s Vertigo, the parameters of what a comic book could be had broadened in the readers’ minds, so I decided to pitch an entire children’s line to a variety of publishers.  If memory serves, I came close with Marvel, but they were going through some seismic business shifts at the time and our talks collapsed.  Rather than continue beating my head against that particular wall, I decided to focus my energies on getting one single kid-friendly comic book into print.  That comic was, of course, The Stardust Kid.

Actually, it wasn’t.  It was another kid-friendly fantasy with the hard-to-pronounce title of Abadazad, which, in 2003, I sold to the short-lived but well-remembered publisher, CrossGen.  The behind-the-scenes Abadazad saga could fill a lengthy introduction of its own, but I’ll spare you those details and focus on the artist of that series: a genius illustrator, a master storyteller, named Mike Ploog.

Working with Mike on Abadazad  remains one of the highlights of my professional life.  Our collaboration was enchanted from the start:  we understood each other, shared a creative vision of what those stories should be, almost instantly.  I’d been carrying Abadazad around in my head for at least a decade before Mike came on board, but, once he did, it was impossible to imagine that universe without him.  To have the opportunity to collaborate with an artist I’d admired when I was just a wide-eyed fan was truly a gift from the comic book gods.  That Mike turned out to be such a splendid, and infinitely entertaining, human being was the icing on the cake. 

When CrossGen collapsed beneath our feet (I told you it was quite a saga), Mike and I found ourselves confused, depressed and hiring lawyers to try and get our property back, a process we knew could take years.  Creativity, I’ve always said, is the best revenge, so we decided to launch a new project, a new world, to fill the void Abadazad left in our hearts.  And I had just the thing. 

I emailed Mike a more recent incarnation of my Stardust Kid screenplay (I’d been playing with the story on and off over the years), he gobbled it up and, applying a story-sense honed by years in comics and film, gave me invaluable feedback that helped me shape what was now our story in new, and better, ways.  Even more valuable were the astonishing character designs Mike started barraging me with—visions that had been floating in his head for as long as SDK had been floating in mine—hoping I could somehow weave them into Cody DiMarco’s tale.  Many, perhaps most, of those Ploog Creatures never made it into the book, but what they did do was inspire and excite me, helping to create a visual map for the Kid’s rich fantasy world. 

As we’d done with Abadazad, Mike and I began refining our main characters—I’d write descriptions, he’d whip up designs and we’d bat those back and forth, molding and shaping Cody, Paul, Alana, the Dark Woman and the rest of our magical cast.  I put together a proposal, which we pitched along with Mike’s beautiful sketches, and, with surprising swiftness (y’know, if you discount the preceding twenty-plus years of development), the project was sold and we got to work.  Labor had finally started, the long-gestating baby was about to be born and I was one happy father. 

In more ways than one.  

When the five-issue mini-series was done, our first collected edition was edited by a young Boom! Studios employee named Cody DeMatteis.  The cosmic symmetry was as mind-boggling as it was heartwarming:  here was my son, the toddler who sparked The Stardust Kid’s long and winding creative journey, now fully grown and leaving his imprint on the story he’d inspired all those years before. 

It’s enough to make you believe in miracles.  And the magic of story.

I hope that magic fills your heart and soul as you read the tale that follows.


Introduction ©copyright 2017 J.M. DeMatteis/Stardust Kid ©copyright 2017 J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Ploog 




Friday, December 8, 2017

THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES

On the night of December 8, 1980 my son, eight months old at the time, was asleep in his crib, my wife—now ex-wife—was out with a friend and I was...well, I don't recall what I was doing.  Maybe working on a script (I don't write much at night these days, but in '80 all-nighters were still commonplace) or just puttering around the apartment.  What I do remember is the phone ringing, some time after ten o'clock:  It was my  friend Karen Berger calling to tell me that John Lennon had been shot.  "Is he okay?" I asked.  "He's dead," she replied—and it was clear from her tone that she knew it was true, but couldn't digest that awful reality.

I got off the phone, switched on the television—and the global mourning ritual soon began.  At first I was taken aback by the public displays of grief.  Strange as it sounds, my connection to John Lennon—to his extraordinary life and music—ran so deep that his death felt profoundly personal.  It was as if I'd lost one of my dearest friends.  I couldn't quite wrap my head around the fact that millions of people around the world had lost one of their dearest friends, as well.

Perhaps it wasn't so strange at all.  Lennon lived his life openly, nakedly; raw emotion poured equally into songs and interviews.  This was a man who, almost compulsively, shared the deeps of his heart—the highest qualities and the lowest—seemingly without reservation.  I'm sure that quality was hard for some people to take, but that's what drew me to Lennon, almost instinctively, from the first time I saw John, Paul, George and Ringo perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.  I crave honesty, the raw core of the soul, in art —and John Lennon delivered that in spades, first as a member of the Beatles and then, with even more soul-baring honesty, in his solo career.  A career I'd expected to follow for many more years.

"He's dead."  Those words still resonate in my mind and heart.  Thirty-seven years ago?  It feels like thirty-seven minutes.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A CHRISTMAS THOUGHT

Yes, this is the season of Christmas feasts and gifts piled high under the tree, but it’s also the season of giving to those in need.  Of course, when many people find it a struggle just to meet the monthly bills—let alone provide a memorable Christmas for their families—it can be hard to find the extra cash to contribute to a worthy charity; which is why I want to draw your attention to The Hunger Site, a truly wonderful website that allows you to help bring food to those who desperately need it—just by clicking a mouse.  Want more information?  Here it is, directly from the site itself:

The Hunger Site was founded to focus the power of the Internet on a specific humanitarian need; the eradication of world hunger. Since its launch in June 1999, the site has established itself as a leader in online activism, helping to feed the world's hungry and food insecure. On average, over 220,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the yellow "Click Here to Give - it's FREE" button. Its grassroots popularity has been recognized with Web awards in the activism category — a Cool Site of the Year Award and a People's Voice winner at the Webby Awards. Since its inception, visitors at The Hunger Site and shoppers at The Hunger Site store have given more than 671 million cups of food.
 
The staple food funded by clicks at The Hunger Site is paid for by site sponsors and distributed to those in need by Mercy Corps, Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), and Millennium Promise. 100% of sponsor advertising fees goes to our charitable partners. Funds are split between these organizations and go to the aid of hungry people in over 74 countries, including those in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America.
 
Got that?  You click, they feed.  Simple, elegant—and something that could only happen in this Internet Age.  If you’re so inclined, click over to The Hunger Site not just at Christmastime—but every day.