Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Toon alert:  My next episode of Batman:  the Brave and the Bold—"Revenge of the Reach"—will air this weekend on Cartoon Network.  You can see it either Friday night at 7:30 or Saturday night night at 8:30.  The story features Batman teaming up with Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner and the entire Green Lantern Corps. against the intergalactic threat of the Reach.  If you're an animation fan, I think you'll enjoy it.

And a very happy new year to one and all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


A few years ago—born out of my inordinate love for this heart-filling, soul-transforming, sacred and transcendent season—I wrote a short Christmas tale called The Truth About Santa Claus.  It’s never appeared anywhere before now and I offer it here as cyber Christmas present:  my way of wishing all of you the happiest of holidays, the merriest of Christmases.  

Here’s to a magical, miraculous 2010:  God knows, we could all use one.



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...


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.


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—


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...   


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.

© copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


In case you missed The Life and Times of Savior 28 the first time around, the collected edition will be hitting stores today.  It's a very nice package (if I say so myself), which includes all the amazing covers by 28 illustrator Mike Cavallaro, all the alternative covers (by Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnot, Mike Ploog,  Shawn McManus, Don Perlin and Kevin Maguire.  Quite a line-up, isn't it?), pin-ups by Dean Haspiel, Simon Fraser, Tim Hamilton and Michael Fiffe (another great line-up) and excerpts from my original script.

As we rapidly approach the end of the 00's and I look back on all the stories I've written these past ten years, I can honestly say that The Life and Times of Savior 28 was one of the most challenging—and creatively satisfying—pieces I've worked on, right up there alongside Abadazad.   (I'd include Hero Squared, as well; but working on that with my old buddy Keith Giffen felt more like play than work.) You can find S-28 at your local comic shop or, if you prefer buying online, you can click right here.  But keep in mind that Amazon won't have it till early in the new year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


On Thursday, President Obama gave a powerful and eloquent speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.  Much like the extraordinary speech on race in America that he delivered during the presidential campaign, this one looked at the issue of war and peace wisely, intelligently and compassionately, from all sides.  At the core of Obama’s address was the idea that peace should always be the ultimate goal, but that war is sometimes not just “necessary” but “morally justified.”

I voted for Barack Obama and I have the greatest respect for him.  He’s spoken to the world, both our allies and those who oppose us, with a respect and compassion rare in an American president.  I applaud his dedication to healing global rifts (especially those with the Muslim world), to eliminating nuclear weapons.  If there was a new election held tomorrow, I’d vote for him again.

And yet...

“Necessary”  “Morally justified”?  When I listen to the president—when I listen to any political leader—talk about “just” and “necessary” wars, my hackles go up.  To me, this thinking reflects an incredibly limited mind-set; one locked in the past.  “We must begin,” Obama stated, “by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.”  Hard to argue with that when you view life through the lens of what I call the CNN Reality.  If we focus exclusively on the way things have always been, if we lock ourselves into the vision of a world where hideous violence is an acceptable form of problem solving, then that’s the world we’re going to get.  But experience has shown me that there is a deeper, a truer, reality beneath the skin of the world.  One that has the potential to transform both the individual soul and the entire planet.

Looking through the lens of that Deeper Reality has shown me that the universe begins inside our own heads, hearts and souls; that we’re all living in a dream, projected from both the personal and collective unconscious.  (In the end, I don’t think there’s any difference between the personal and the collective, but that’s another discussion for another time.)  The microcosm, as they say, is the macrocosm:  The smallest acts of kindness and compassion can act as a bridge between those inner and outer universes, rippling out and transforming the world.  The old model—the one that clings to the concept of war as just and necessary—can collapse in the time it takes us to change our minds.  To change our dreams.

Compassion, it seems to  me, is the key:  seeing people—however despicable their actions may be—not as “enemies” or “evil,” but as flawed human beings, worthy, at the very least, of an attempt to understand what made them that way.  “Make no mistake,” the president explained, “evil does exist in the world.”  But evil, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder.  To Muslim extremists, we’re evil.  George W. Bush saw the Iraqis, the Koreans and the Iranians as an “axis of evil.”  When we (and when I say “we,” I mean humanity as a whole, not just the United States) define our opponents as one-dimensional villains out of a 1940's comic book, we transform them into caricatures that can be obliterated without guilt or shame.  If we continue to paint them as evil, war as just and necessary, then those opponents will continue do the same—and the cycle of violence will go on and on, till the end of the world.

“The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King,” the president stated, “may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached—their faith in human progress—must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”  But how can anyone follow the North Star of King and Gandhi while justifying conflicts that brutalize and demean humanity?  I wonder how many men told Gandhi that violence was “just” in the name of a free India, how many urged King on to “necessary” violence in the name of civil rights for African Americans.   “A nonviolent movement,” Obama went on, “could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms.”  No, but who’s to say what acts of wisdom and compassion could have prevented Hitler’s rise to power or transformed the twisted, fundamentalist rage of men who thought blowing up innocents—and themselves with them—was some kind of doorway to Heaven?

Look:  I’m not a politician or a diplomat whose job is to deal with the so-called harsh realities of life.  I am, by trade and nature, a dreamer, and it’s my job to ask:  Why do we have to accept the Harsh Reality?  Why can’t we manifest a new, a better, one?  We can keep regurgitating the old models—from a thousand years ago, seven decades ago or the recent past—and hold them up as examples of the way things have always been, the way things have to be, or we can refuse to buy into those myths.  December 13, 2009 isn’t December 7, 1941, it isn’t September 11, 2001, it isn’t even yesterday:  it’s a new world right now.

Maybe our political leaders will never embrace the idea that peace is possible, that war isn’t a viable option—maybe, given the harrowing issues they have to deal with on a daily basis, they simply can’t—but we can dream that dream into being today.  You can call this unrealistic—starry-eyed idealism or crackpot mysticism—and, viewed from the realist’s perspective, it absolutely is.  But why not aim for the stars?  Why not project—and believe, to the bottom of our souls—that peace, both personal and global, is possible this very moment?

And if I’m wrong?  If I really am nothing but a starry-eyed, crackpot dreamer?  Well, I still think my life, and the lives of those around me, will be better for having chosen to believe.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"The trouble with reality is it leaves a lot to the imagination."
John Lennon

This morning I was driving to an appointment, listening to a local radio station, when the DJ played a clip from John Lennon's December 9, 1974 conversation with Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.  He followed that with Cosell's announcement of Lennon's murder, six years later (almost to the day).  I was astonished to find my eyes filling with tears, and a massive sadness gripping my soul, as if I was hearing about this tragedy for the very first time.

Twenty-nine years after his passing, this reality remains all the poorer for John Lennon’s absence.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Sunday, December 6, 2009


One of the questions writers often get—from both interviewers and fans—is “Of all the things you’ve worked on, what’s your favorite?”  Well, if you’ve only been a professional writer for a few years, that’s probably an easy question to answer.  If you’ve been doing it for more than thirty years, as I have, it’s a little harder to winnow things down.

That said, I’ve decided to indulge myself and compile a Top Ten list.  Keep in mind these aren’t necessarily the best things I’ve ever done (I’ll leave that for other people to decide):  These are the projects that brought me the most joy, the most creative challenges.  That stretched me—as both a craftsman and an artist.  That were just plain fun.

Here they are, in no particular order:


I won’t say much about this one—mainly because I wrote at length about it in previous posts.  I will say again that Mike Ploog is one of the greatest fantasy illustrators, and one of the nicest guys, on the planet and that Abadazad—perhaps because I never got to complete the story—touches my heart in a way no other project on this list does.  I still nurture hopes of rescuing Kate and Matt from literary limbo and bringing their adventure to a satisfying conclusion.

Speaking of Mike Ploog:  if there was a #11 on this list, it would almost certainly be filled by Stardust Kid, another all-ages fantasy the estimable Mr. P and I collaborated on.  If Mike is up for it, I’d love to return to the SDK universe one day.

In my early years in comics I blundered along, trying desperately to find my own voice as a writer and ending up sounding like a damaged clone, created from the badly-mixed DNA of Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Roy Thomas and half-a-dozen other comic book writers I admired.  It’s not that my work was bad—well, actually, some of it was fairly horrendous—it’s just that I hadn’t found the way to fully express myself in the form.  Looking back, I think I was trapped by the super-hero genre itself.  As long as I was writing about the Defenders or Captain America, I would, in some way, be parroting stories, and styles, I’d been absorbing all my life.

Moonshadow changed that.

Someone (and for the life of me, I can’t remember who!) once said that whatever story you’re working on should be written as if it’s the only one you’ll ever tell—pouring all your thoughts, feelings, ideas, ideals, passions, philosophies, hopes and dreams...every iota of Who You Are...into it.  That’s what I did with Moonshadow.  And it allowed me to step outside the Marvel-DC mindset and discover my own voice.

Of course it didn’t hurt that I was working with Jon J Muth, as brilliant an artist as the medium has ever seen.  His work always challenged me.  Dared me to be better.  I hope I did the same for him.

Nearly ten years after the original Moonshadow series saw print, Muth and I reunited for a one-shot graphic novel called Farewell, Moonshadow that I think is even better than the original run.  Both the twelve issue series and the graphic novel are available in a hefty collection called The Compleat Moonshadow

If I was forced to pick a single favorite on this list, it would probably be Brooklyn Dreams.  In an odd way it’s the same story as the one I told in Moonshadow, only it’s not presented as a fairy tale set in the far reaches of’s a (very) thinly-disguised autobiography that takes place on the streets of Brooklyn.  I remember working on the script and feeling scared to death because BD was the single most personal piece I’d ever attempted.  The main character’s name may have been different, but it was my life I was writing about, in shameless, intimate detail.  I’ve learned, over the years, that being terrified is usually a sign that I’m on to something good.  It was certainly true in this case. 

When I was developing Brooklyn Dreams, I had a certain art style in my head.  In fact I knew exactly how I wanted the book to look, exactly how the drawing should interpret my elliptical, and time-jumping, story.  When I first laid eyes on Glenn Barr’s work, my head nearly exploded:  What was there on the page was what I’d been seeing in my mind all along.  And Glenn’s uncanny resonance with the story remained, and deepened, throughout our collaboration.

Chemistry between a writer and artist can’t be created.  It’s either there or it’s not. I’ve worked on projects where the script was strong, the art was strong, but that indefinable magic between writer and illustrator simply wasn’t there...and the story just died on the page.  Not so with Glenn Barr.  Our collaboration was instant magic...and, for that, I am forever grateful.

4)  DR. FATE
Dr. Fate is a DC Comics character who’s been around since the l940’s.  In l987, I revamped the character—with considerable help from the frighteningly-creative Keith Giffen—for a mini-series and then, some months later, continued the story in an ongoing series, wonderfully illustrated, with both humor and humanity, by Shawn McManus.  I’d hazard a guess that most comics fans have never read our Dr. Fate run...and that many who did were baffled by it.  I understand their confusion:  Our Fate series wove together mysticism, sit-com silliness, super-hero action, romance, Eastern philosophy, infantile toilet jokes and Serious Musings On The Nature Of Existence.  But that’s exactly why I loved working on it. 

It’s a rare occasion when you can work on a preexisting DC or Marvel character and be allowed to completely stamp it with your own unique, and very personal, vision.  It couldn’t have happened with one of the Major Icons, and I’m not sure it could happen at all in today’s comic book climate.  But the 80’s were the “anything goes” era in modern comics.  Writers, artists and editors were willing to push the boundaries to wonderful (and sometimes ludicrous) extremes.   It was an exciting time—and Dr. Fate was an exciting project.  My editors—Karen Berger and Art Young—gave me the freedom to follow my muse wherever it led me.  And, no matter what bizarre twists and turns the scripts took, Shawn was always there to bring them to vibrant life.

When people talk to me about my super-hero stories, they inevitably bring up Kraven’s Last Hunt as an example of my finest work—and who am I to argue?

Well, I guess I have to.

I think the best super-hero story I ever wrote was “Going Sane,” which originally ran in four issues of DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight.   Here’s the premise:  The Joker kills Batman—at least he believes he does—and, with the primary reason for his existence eliminated, the villain’s mind snaps.  Of course the Joker is already insane, so when he snaps...he goes sane.  Joe Kerr soon creates a new life for himself, complete with an office job and a loving fiancĂ©.  Batman, meanwhile, finds himself recuperating in a small town, far away from the madness of Gotham—and has to reassess his life and his identity.  When the two finally come back together at the story’s end, well...if you’re as sentimental as I am, you just might find yourself shedding a tear for the Joker.

Again, no comic book story can succeed without the artwork—and the amazing Joe Staton (the guy has drawn everything from Scooby-Doo to Green Lantern) turned in some of the finest work of his career.  


I’ve written more Spider-Man stories than I’d care to count.  No matter how many times I walk away from the character, I keep coming back...because he’s real to me.  I don’t think there’s a character, in any super-hero universe, more psychologically nuanced, emotionally-compelling and wonderfully-neurotic than Peter Parker.  To this day I don’t think of Peter as a fictional character:  I think of him as an old friend.

As you can see, I cheated here.  I didn’t select one story, I selected five.  (I could easily have added more:  Spider-Man:  The Lost Years comes immediately to mind.)  The multi-part story collected as Kraven’s Last Hunt—illustrated by Mike Zeck, at the top of his form—was the first super-hero story I wrote that allowed me to bring the lessons I’d learned writing Moonshadow over to the Marvel/DC mainstream.  (I wrote a lengthy, and, I hope, interesting introduction for the collected edition, detailing the story’s genesis.)   “Best of Enemies” was the culmination of a two year storyline (and a two-year collaboration with one of my personal comic book heroes, Sal Buscema) exploring the relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn—and it’s my single favorite Spidey tale.  “The Gift”—illustrated by one of the all-time great Spider-artists, Mark Bagley—featured the death of Aunt May (don’t worry, she got better) and its publication resulted in one of the highlights of my career:  a phone call from comics legend John Romita, Sr. telling me that the story had moved him to tears.  “The Kiss” topped that, because I actually got to collaborate with Romita, Sr—on a short, sweet story about the last night Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy spent together.

In the 90’s I did a number of projects for DC’S Vertigo line...but I can’t think of one that means more to me than Seekers Into The Mystery.  This was another case where the comics industry—specifically, editors Karen Berger and Shelly Bond—gave me a chance to write exactly what I wanted, in exactly the way I wanted.  No constraints, no directives.  And I got to do it in collaboration with the cream of the Vertigo crop:  Glenn Barr, Jon J Muth, Sandman’s Michael Zulli and Scary Godmother’s Jill Thompson.  The series—centered on a soul-sick, failed screenwriter named Lucas Hart—touched on everything from the toxic effects of sexual abuse to the omnijective reality of UFOs; from the pain of divorce to the descent of the God-Man.  If I was listing these projects in order of preference, Seekers would be very close to the top of the list, which is why I was delighted when, earlier this year, Boom! Studios put out a collected edition of Seekers’ first five issues.  (I can’t say for sure if we’ll be seeing future volumes, but I remain hopeful.)

Remember when I said that Moonshadow was the first project that allowed me to find my own voice as a writer?  Well, I lied.  (Or, as Mr. Spock might say, I exaggerated.)  A couple of years before Moonshadow, I did a story for Marvel’s black and white anthology magazine, Bizarre Adventures, about a reclusive Jewish horror writer who also happened to be a vampire.  I’d toyed with the idea as both a short story and a screenplay, which may explain why the characters hit the page fully alive and acting like, well, real people.  There was none of the clunky dialogue that was littering my super-hero stories.  Folks around the Marvel office responded very nicely to the story (which was beautifully illustrated by Steve Leialoha) but it was a one-shot deal...and I quickly went back to scripting earnest-but-awkward super-hero stories.  (The problem certainly wasn’t my passion:  I was pouring my heart into those stories.  It’s just that my craft hadn't yet caught up to my aspirations.)

Then came Moonshadow and the breakthrough that saved me as a writer.

Around the same time, I was renegotiating my contract with Marvel and I asked then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter if I could do an Oscar Greenberg graphic novel.  He said yes (I’m sure he was just being nice.  He couldn’t have possibly believed that a story that was a cross between Portnoy’s Complaint and Dracula—I didn’t come up with that description, Dwayne McDuffie did—would sell).  I called up a young artist named Mark Badger (at the time, we were working together on a mini-series called The Gargoyle—which just missed making this list) and Mark happily signed on.  Badger went on to become one of my favorite collaborators ever.  He’s a unique talent, a brilliant storyteller...and his work on Greenberg was superb.

Greenberg didn’t sell much...more than two decades have gone by and I have yet to see a royalty check...but it was another project that allowed me to get in my little boat and push out into uncharted waters.  To try new things, explore new voices. 

I’m hoping that, once they’ve completely exhausted their stock of characters for movie adaptations, someone at Marvel Films will realize that they own Greenberg the Vampire and...

Okay, it’s a ridiculous thought—but allow me my delusions.

Back in the 1980’s, when I was writing Captain America, I hatched a story that would have seen a disgusted Cap turn his back on violence and begin a new life as a global peace activist.  Marvel, unsurprisingly (well, it’s unsurprising in retrospect, it shocked me at the time) said no and I filed the idea away; returning to it periodically over the years.  Freed from the confines of the Marvel Universe, the idea slowly—very slowly, it took twenty-five years!—evolved into a saga, spanning seven decades of American pop culture and politics, called The Life and Times of Savior 28.  Illustrated by the amazing Mike Cavallaro—an artist who was every bit as passionate about the story as I was—S-28 became one of the single most challenging, and rewarding, comic book projects of my career.

I think the story is far more relevant now, at the end of the Age of Bush, and the dawn of the Age of Obama, than it would have been had it come out in the Reagan Era.  Comic books (and pop culture in general) have become far more violent.  The spandex mindset that, however much we struggle to disguise it, says “All problems are ultimately solved by dropping a building on a so-called bad guy’s head” has become even more dangerous—especially in a post-9/11 world where terrible damage has been done by global leaders who simplistically divide humanity into “true believers” and “infidels,” “good guys” and “evil-doers.”

In the end, though, The Life and Times of Savior 28 isn’t really a story about politics, it’s about one flawed man’s attempt to change himself and the way he sees the world.  

Okay, so this one’s another cheat:  I’m collapsing my entire collaboration with Keith Giffen into one; but it really feels as if all our work together—from the 80’s Justice League to Boom!’s Hero Squared (which, I’m happy to report, is currently being developed as a live-action TV movie) and our current work on
Metal Men—is all of a piece.  And that piece exists in its own little universe, far, far away from everything else I’ve done.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating:  Keith Giffen is as generous and gifted (well, gifted is too small a word.  Someone once called Keith the Jack Kirby of my generation and I couldn’t agree more) a collaborator as I’ve ever worked with.  If he called me up tomorrow and asked me to co-write a Millie the Model revival, I’d say yes without hesitation.  When I work with Giffen, it’s not about the particular project, it’s about the collaboration itself—and the tremendous fun we have together.  We’ve been going at this, on and off, for more than twenty years.  I don’t see any reason to stop now.


I don’t want to end this without mentioning a few of the genuine turkeys I’ve birthed over the years.  Like the Marvel Team-Up issue featuring Spider-Man and Robert E. Howard’s King Kull.  (“Hiya, Kingsy,” a time-traveling Spidey exclaims, “what’s the haps?”)  Or the Defenders-Squadron Supreme epic that made almost no sense.  Or the Spider-Man annual that tried to tie up loose ends from my canceled Man-Thing series (another favorite that almost made the Top Ten) and ended up making even less sense than the Squadron Supreme story.  Or the Iceman mini-series that got off to a promising start and shattered into a thousand pathetic pieces before my horrified eyes.  Or...

Well, I think you get the idea. 

The good news is that the failures can be as important as the successes.  (Although they’re definitely not as much fun.)  When you try something new and fall on your face you exercise creative muscles you never knew you had.  And then you can use those muscles, with far more skill, on the next project.  Of course, sometimes a bad story’s just a bad story—but I have to believe that even the genuine stinkers help us to become better writers.

The truth is that—with rare, and miraculous, exceptions—it’s pretty much impossible to judge your own work objectively.  Some of the stories I’ve listed here might be the genuine turkeys...and some of those stinkers I’m trying to forget might be sitting at the top of someone else’s Top Ten List. 

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I’ve been writing professionally now for more than thirty years and you would think (well, I would) that, after all this time, the business of writing would get easier; that I’d be able to walk into my office every morning, sit down at the computer and just start working.

You’d think that—but it’s not true.

Even after three decades, every time I begin a new project it’s as if I’ve never written before.  As if I have no idea how to put two words together, let alone craft a plot, weave a theme, build a character.  I stare at the blank computer screen, then retreat to the kitchen for a snack.  I stare at the screen some more, then decide to clear off my desk.  I go for a walk, then come back and surf on over to Google to see what people are saying about me (sometimes a pleasant experience and sometimes a truly depressing one).

Eventually something shifts and I start slapping ideas down on the page.  Eventually, those ideas become a story.  And then the story—as has been discussed before on this blog—begins to take on its own life, begins telling itself, and, yes, miraculously, it often does become easy.

But starting?  It’s a nightmare.  The Terrible Business of Beginning can take hours, sometimes days, and, on rare occasions, it can take weeks of feeling like a half-insane trapped animal.  I keep looking for ways to bypass this particularly unpleasant experience, but, after years of angst and torment, I’m convinced that my seeming avoidance is a pivotal part of the creative process.  That those hours, days, weeks when my conscious mind thinks that it’s blocked, my unconscious is working away feverishly, prying open the door between the apparently real and the apparently imaginary:  tuning the psychic radio to precisely the right station so that the signals from the Land of Story will beam in loud and clear.

So I’ve learned, grudgingly (very grudgingly), to honor the process.  Doesn’t mean I like it; but I’ve at least reached the point in my life where I can recognize that those moments when I’m convinced that I’ve spent thirty years fooling my audience (and myself along with them) and that I’ll never be able to write again, are actually moments of genuine grace.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


In my role as editor-in-chief of upstart publisher Ardden Entertainment, I feel it is my sworn duty to alert you to the fact that Flash Gordon:  The Mercy Wars—which collects the acclaimed (and not just by me!) six-issue mini-series by Brendan Deneen and Paul Green—will soon be available.  It was a delight to edit the series and to watch Brendan and Paul breathe new life into Alex Raymond’s classic characters.  

Also coming your way is Flash Gordon:  The Secret History of Mongo.  This is an anthology of all-new adventures, exploring the rich mythology of Raymond’s universe, with stories provided by yours truly and Shawn McManus, Tom DeFalco and Joe Staton, Joe Casey and Omaha Perez, Denny O’Neil and Mike Cavallaro, Len Wein and Shanth Enjeti, Jim Kreuger and Pedro Delgado and the aforementioned team of Deneen and Green.  If you’re a fan of character-driven space opera, I think you’ll enjoy both these collections. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Yes, I know I promised I'd have the first part of my "Meeting Lennon" adventure up by Thanksgiving, and that's just two days away, but this past week I've been having some minor (but annoying) health problems that have slowed me down considerably.  Profound, and heartfelt, apologies for not living up to my promise.  I'll try to get to the Lennon post as soon as possible:  I've been writing it in my head, it's just a question of getting it down on (cyber) paper.

While you're waiting, check out this link.  The video, of John Lennon performing "Stand By Me," was done for a British television show called The Old Grey Whistle Test—the host, Bob Harris, introduces the clip, putting it in historical context—but it was filmed in New York, at a recording studio called the Record Plant.  The picture below was taken that day and the guy playing piano is an old Brooklyn buddy of mine named Jon Cobert.

And guess who was sitting on the other side of the glass, in the producer's booth, watching the whole thing?

Enjoy!  And have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


There's an excellent Beatles documentary, directed by Bob Smeaton (who also directed The Beatles Anthology), coming up later this month on the History Channel; but, of course, in the age of the internet, you don't have to wait that long to see The Beatles On Record:  it's right here for your listening and dancing pleasure.  There's nothing new or surprising, but there's lots of wonderful footage and in-studio chatter.  Better yet, the film doesn't dwell on behind-the-scenes melodrama:  the focus is strictly on the music, year by year, from "Love Me Do" to Abbey Road.   If you're a Beatles fanatic—and I know there are many of you out there—I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


As I think I’ve mentioned here before, my son Cody is a very skilled comic book editor, currently working for Devil’s Due, where his Major Project of the moment is a continuation of the cult-favorite Jericho TV series.  Jericho, Season Three:  Civil War is a six-issue mini that comes out November 25th:  the first issue—co-written by Jericho writer/producer Dan Shotz and another of the show’s writers, Robert Levine—continues exactly where the series left off when it was unceremoniously yanked by CBS a couple of years back.  I’ve been privy to the unfolding creative process and I can safely say that, if you’re one of the millions of hardcore fans of the show, you will love this.  The interior art is by Alejandro F. Giraldo.  Below is the first issue cover by Scott West.


While I’m plugging away, I should also mention that the first issue of Casper and the Spectrals, the Casper update I’m editing for Ardden Entertainment, hit the stores this past week.  It’s a fresh, fun reimagining of the Casper mythos, with a story by yours truly, Brendan Deneen and Todd Dezago, a terrific script by Todd and equally terrific art from Pedro Delgado.  We’ve worked hard to make our Casper a smart, all-ages comic book and I suspect that it will be enjoyed by kids—of any age—with a fondness for the Friendly Ghost.


Speaking of plugs—well, hair plugs—I recently stumbled across a site that may be one of the weirdest I’ve ever encountered on the web.  Yes, I know that’s saying a lot, but just click here and tell me that you don’t agree.  As this essay (one of the few posts from my Amazon Blog that hasn’t vanished into the merciless depths of cyber-space) will attest, I’m a total Shatnerd—but an entire website devoted to Shatner’s hairline?  As Kevin Costner observed in Oliver Stone’s JFK:  “We’re through the looking glass here, people.”

I’ve decided that the time has come to finally write about my long-ago encounters with John Lennon,  so be on the lookout for “Meeting Lennon, Part One,” which will be appearing here before Thanksgiving.   Promise! 

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Here's another piece from the Lost Amazon Archives that I thought was worth re-posting.


The older I get the more I realize that the most important thing any of us can do in life is strive to live compassionately, keeping our hearts open, treating others with understanding and, most important, simple human kindness.  “That which is most needed,” as Buddha said, in words that have echoed through my life for decades, “is a loving heart.”  I truly believe that the microcosm is the macrocosm.  That our smallest acts of compassion resonate across the planet.  That one heart can quite literally change the world.

Of course it’s one thing to make compassion an intention in our lives and quite another to live it.  Oh, I try, I honestly do, to be as good and decent a person as I can—I’ve been consciously working on myself, on my connection to the Divine, for more than thirty-five years—but the truth is, for all my work, for all my striving, I’m regularly astounded by my ability to say or do spectacularly stupid or hurtful things.

I’ve found that ninety-nine percent of the time, when I’ve done something to wound another person, I’ve done it unconsciously:  I was so clueless I wasn’t even aware of my idiotic actions.  When I discover my transgression, my response is usually the same:  guilt, misery, shame, and abject apologies.  (The first three, I’ve decided, are fairly useless.  The abject apologies are absolutely necessary.)  Then—what else can I do?—I get up out of my pool of self-pity and determine to be more conscious of my actions in the future, to open my heart a little wider, to be more aware.

That said, I think that no matter how hard we try to live our highest ideals, we are, at some point—and, I suspect, with some regularity—going to screw up:  say or do the wrong thing.  Make idiotic mistakes.  Hurt someone’s feelings.  The fact is we’re human—if we were meant to be pure and perfect angels we’d have been born with wings—so all we can do is our best.  Sometimes our best is extraordinary, sometimes it’s pathetic; but it’s the effort that counts, I think.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s wonderful 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (one of my all-time favorite books), the main character—a man who cares so much about his fellow humans that it’s driven him to the brink of madness—is asked to baptize newborn twins.  Eliot Rosewater then improvises a succinct, honest and heartfelt welcome to Planet Earth that concludes like this:  “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—:  ’God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

Those words, like Buddha’s request for a loving heart, have stayed with me for decades.  Neither quote is especially poetic, but both contain enough truth to change the world.

One heart at a time.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Saturday, November 7, 2009


In May of 2006, Mike Ploog and I were in Washington, D.C., riding high at Book Expo America.  Abadazad, our all-ages comic book series that nearly drowned in the tsunami that was the CrossGen collapse, had been miraculously resurrected as a children’s book series, thanks to the benevolent spirit of Walt Disney and the brilliant efforts of Hyperion Books for Children vice-president/editor-in-chief Brenda Bowen.  So there we were, walking up stairs decorated with Mike’s art, strolling beneath giant posters of Zad’s beautiful, blue-skinned Queen Ija, and marveling at the fact that almost everyone in the hall had an Abadazad lanyard around his or her neck.  Drunk with delight, we signed advance copies of the first two books in the series—we’d contracted for eight, with the possibility of even more—and listened, with equal joy, as a Hyperion  executive all-but guaranteed us a second printing.  (This, after being told that The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief had first printings of 100,000 copies each.)  The icing on the cake came at the Hyperion dinner on Saturday night, when we were approached by Michele Norris of NPR’s All Things Considered, who invited us to come on her show to talk about Abadazad.

The next few months found us finishing up work on the third book in the series—The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—traveling to Finland for the Helsinki Book Fair, doing signings and, finally, landing that NPR interview.  The night the interview aired, we watched, stunned, as Zad shot up the sales charts.  “Dreams come true and miracles happen,” as someone (I think it was me), once wrote in a song.

But by December of ’06, when I turned in the manuscript for the fourth book in the series, Historcery, we discovered that the good ship Abadazad had hit an iceberg—and we were sinking.  Sales, we were told, were disappointing (although healthy in the comic book market and with our friends in Finland and other Nordic countries) and it had been decided that The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—the best in the series, in my opinion—would only be published in England.  Brenda, who always believed in our story, and in us, was looking for ways to save Abadazad.  One thing she suggested was dumping the hybrid form—the books were part prose, part comics—and doing a straight-ahead prose novel (with new illustrations from Mike, of course).  Were we disappointed that the series hadn’t done better?  Absolutely.  Still, having seen Abadazad go through one death and resurrection, we were ready to see it rise again.  And the challenge of turning Kate Jameson's adventure into a novel—and actually finishing it in one volume—was a very exciting one.  But the excitement was short-lived—

—because, within a few months, Brenda Bowen—our champion, our guardian angel, our biggest booster—had departed the halls of Hyperion and we were left in the hands of...well, we weren't quite sure who.  Our spirits brightened when we learned that Brenda’s right-hand man. a smart young editor named Christian Trimmer, had taken Abadazad on:  Christian was a huge fan of our series and he very much wanted to see it continue; but, without a heavy-hitter like Brenda there to advocate for us, we didn’t know how far Christian’s enthusiasm would take us.

Our spirits brightened again when Christian told us that he’d spoken to Brenda's replacement (I honestly don’t remember the executive’s name), who, we were assured,
very much wanted to make Abadazad work.  After discussing different ways we could go with the series, what formats might be best, we were told to hang tight while The Powers That Be worked out a solution.  So, heartened and hopeful,  we waited.

And we waited.

And then, in the spring of 2007, the word came down:  No.  Just like that.  The gods of Hyperion had thought it over and decided, for reasons that never became clear, that they didn’t want to invest any more time and money in Abadazad.

We were finished.  Just like that!

Mike and I went through a shared grieving process, after which I, literally, slipped into my personal bed of despair.  In Victorian novels, there’s often talk of characters “taking to their beds”:  putting the back of a hand to the forehead, with a Lord Byron-like flourish, and collapsing among the covers, in a wasted, heaving heap.  Well, that’s pretty much what happened to me.  I had invested so much of myself, of my heart, hope and inspiration, in Abadazad that the cancellation of the series hit me like the death of a loved one.  Part of my depression certainly involved the loss of income.  As noted, we’d signed for eight books and those upcoming four were going to carry me—and my family—through the next year.  That’s not a small thing.  But that wasn’t the core of my despair.  What truly devastated me was the loss of those characters.  Characters?  No:  beloved friends.  I believed in Kate and Matt Jameson, Professor Headstrong, Queen Ija and all the rest.  Believed in them with every cell in my body, every vibrating particle of my consciousness.  With all my heart.  And now, I thought, they’re gone.  Trapped in some literary limbo, beyond my reach.  How will Kate ever rescue Matt from the Lanky Man, how will—


Characters trapped in limbo?

What a fantastic idea for a story!

That concept smacked me across the face, grabbed me by the throat and dragged me out of my bed and into my office, where I found myself typing furiously, outlining the tale of a twelve year old girl—Mehera Crosby—whose life is upended when her favorite book series is canceled; upended even more when she discovers that the characters she so loves are alive, trapped in a strange and deadly limbo—and it’s up to her to rescue them.  I called the story Mundus Imaginalis and writing that outline totally dissolved my foul mood.

For a few hours, anyway.

Once I was done detailing the major beats of the story, exhilaration passed and I crawled, exhausted, back to bed, wrapping myself tight in a cocoon of misery for a few more days.  Then I got up and went back to work.  Really, what choice did I have?  My ability to create goes to the heart of who I am.  No matter what projects may explode in my hands, what doors may slam in my face, I can always (well, once I lick my wounds) pick myself up and begin again.  As a writer I live, not from logic, but from imagination.  From a profound belief in the power of the impossible.  And, in the end, faith in the impossible is all I need.  (You can bet my buddy Mike Ploog feels the same way:  he’s rocketed on to other projects, bringing to them the same passion and brilliance he brought to Abadazad.)

Some weeks after Zad’s death, I found out that Brenda Bowen had landed safely at HarperCollins, where she was starting up a new imprint, the Bowen Press.  Contractual obligations prevented Brenda from discussing new material with me—or anyone she’d worked with at Disney—until the beginning of 2008, but, when Brenda and I finally got together over lunch in January of that year, one of the several ideas I handed her was Mundus Imaginalis.  

And that, I’m happy to report, was the one she loved.  

It took months—as it usually does—for the contracts to be ironed out but, eventually, I was off, starting work on a novel—the title wisely shortened to Imaginalis—that’s now completed and awaiting its June, 2010 release from the HC imprint Katherine Tegen Books.  (What happened to the Bowen Press?  In yet another twist in the tale, Brenda ended up leaving HarperCollins.  She’s now a literary agent, working for Sanford J. Greenburger Associates—and, I’m certain, doing it with skill, wisdom and extraordinary grace.)

I’d love to tell you that I know—to the bottom of my soul—that Imaginalis will be a spectacular success; but, if the preceding tale makes anything clear, it's that the only thing I know for sure is I don’t know a thing.  I certainly hope that Imaginalis does well, that it transforms my career, and my life, in magical, miraculous ways; but, if it doesn’t, I’ll take to my bed for a few days, bang my head against the wall, rail at the gods, whimper pathetically—and then get back to work, setting my sights on the next impossible goal.

Because I’m a writer—and that’s what I do.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Several years back, I was away on retreat at a spiritual center in South Carolina and I had a glimpse—just a glimpse—of how much of an illusion (what the Hindus would call Maya) this world really is.  Everything around me felt as insubstantial as heat trails wavering on the highway on a hot summer day.  The people I encountered seemed like they were weightless, unreal:  made of morning mist—or perhaps pixie dust.  I mention this because I’ve been reworking an old story of mine that deals with the idea that this life we’re living is as much a dream as the ones that fill our heads when we’re asleep; that, in fact, we’re asleep and dreaming right now—and, if we knew that, really knew it, we could become lucid dreamers and transform our world.

If this is true—and the older I get, the truer it becomes, not just philosophically but experientially—then it means I’m dreaming everything around me.  The entire universe (including all of you reading this) doesn’t really exist, any more than the people and things you encounter in a dream exist.  You are all reflections of my consciousness, of my vision of the world, of my vision of my Self.  A movie projected from my unconscious mind.  And here’s the paradox:

The same is true for you.
  Everything you see, everything you experience, is a dream dreamed just for you, for your amusement and unfoldment, for your awakening and ultimate joy.  I am just a dream you have dreamed.  This blog is just a dream you have dreamed.

And here’s the kicker:  You don’t exist.  And neither do I.  We’re both thoughts floating in the mind of the One Dreamer, the Only Dreamer, God Himself.  (I say He, but I could just as easily say She or It.)  It’s God’s dream, all of it, and He’s dreaming it through us and with us and—best of all—as us.

Think of it like this:  You’re writing a novel and become so immersed in your story, so in love with your characters, that you completely identify with your fictional world.  When you write the hero, you are the hero, when you write the villain, you are the villain.  Sometimes you even forget that you’re you, the writer, and that what you’re creating is just a story—and then the tale seems to start telling itself, your characters take on lives of their own.

This metaphor breaks down after a certain point, because—if a multitude of spiritual paths and traditions are to be believed—in the cosmic drama that is Creation, in the dream that the Only Dreamer is dreaming, the Divine Author doesn’t just imagine the tale, He consciously descends into his own story in order to awaken his characters to the truth that—much like a hologram—each one isn’t just a piece of the tale, each one is everyone and everything in the tale.  And more:  each one is the Author Himself, in an extremely clever disguise.  Some of the characters embrace what the Author is saying.  Some deny it.  Some hate the idea and oppose Him.  Yet, to the Author, it's all an essential part of a wonderful story.  Even the opposition.  Especially the opposition.  (Let’s face it, what good’s a story without a strong antagonist?  Well, I have a theory that it could be even better—but that’s another post for another time.)

If you accept this, even for a moment, the inevitable question that arises is:  What kind of dream are we choosing to dream right now (and if each one of us is the Dreamer, then it absolutely comes down to personal choice)—and what miraculous new dream can we manifest tomorrow?  Even if this is nonsense—the biggest load of pseudo-mystical, New Age, quasi-Eastern moonshine ever concocted—how much about ourselves and our world could we change if we lived as if we believed it was true?

This universe we inhabit is so unfathomably huge that no one perspective could ever capture more than a splinter of its magnificence (in other words:  everything I say is true—except when it’s not), so take the preceding as a Sunday morning brew of faith, hope and imagination.  I invite you to pour your own faith and imagination into the mix.  

And let’s see what miracles we can manifest, in this strange and wonderful dream we’re dreaming.

Next stop:  Imaginalis.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, October 26, 2009


The rest of my story about the demise of Abadazad and the birth of Imaginalis will have to wait until next week because I’m busy finishing up an animation script for a new series created by Samurai Jack’s Genndy Tartakovsky.  While you’re waiting—or even if you’re not—here’s something I think you’ll enjoy.

In 1937, Orson Welles—then a twenty-two year old force of nature who was transforming the American theater—adapted and directed a brilliant seven part radio version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  I think Les Miz is one of the most magnificent stories ever created:  a profound, deeply moving, tale of life, death, sin, redemption, war, revolution, true love and the majesty of God expressed through the humility of man.  The combination of Welles—if you’ve been reading The Life and Times of Savior 28, you know I’m a major Welles fanatic—and Hugo is something to be savored. And here’s the good news:  you can download all seven episodes for free—and, yes, it’s legal—right here at one of the internet’s most rewarding sites,

If you decide to give Orson and Victor a listen, take my advice:  Wait till you’re alone, preferably at night, stretch out on your bed or couch, shut off the lights, open your mind and just listen.  Radio drama was a unique and powerful art form that, for a few magnificent decades, dominated the American landscape—and Orson Welles was one of its absolute masters.  If you love having your imagination actively engaged by a wonderful story (and I suspect most of the people reading this fall into that category), you’re in for a great ride.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


Thursday, October 22, 2009


I want to write about the genesis of my upcoming fantasy novel, Imaginalis—and I will, very soon—but in order to do that, it's important for you to understand the long and tortuous journey of the project that preceded it, Abadazad—because it was Zad's demise that sparked the idea for the new book.  I'd love to just link you to a lengthy post I did, a few years back, on my blog, but, as I've mentioned before, Amazon has pretty much torched those archives.  What follows is a slightly-edited version of that post.  It ends on what was, at the time, a justifiably happy note.  When I continue the story, I'll fill you in on what happened after that initial rush of pre-publication joy and how Abadazad's crash and burn led to the birth of the kingdom of Imaginalis.  But, for now, let's go back in time to 2006 for the Semi-Secret History of Abadazad.


I've often quoted Joseph Campbell’s famous advice to “follow your bliss”:  In my experience, following your deepest passions may not lead you exactly where you want to go, but they'll always lead you someplace good; and sometimes your final destination will be better than the one you had in mind. 

Case in point:  Abadazad.

As many of you know, the first two books in the Abadazad series—The Road To Inconceivable and The Dream Thief—came out just about a month ago.  What many of you don’t know is how long it took to get here.  Looking back, it’s a lesson to me in how important it is to hold tight to our dreams...even when everyone around us is telling us to let them go.

Back in the mid-1980’s I had an idea for a story called “Silver Shoes.”  It was about a little girl, living with her abusive father, who’s befriended by an old woman named Dorothy.  Not just any Dorothy:  this old lady claims to be Dorothy Gale, from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.  After Dorothy passes away, the girl finds a gift the old woman has left behind for her:  a pair of silver shoes (that’s what they were in Baum’s book.  MGM magically transformed them into technicolor-friendly ruby slippers for the 1939 film) that the girl uses to escape her father and live happily ever after in Oz.  It was, I thought, a wonderful idea, but I never did much with it.  At the time I was fairly immersed in the Marvel and DC comic book universes and there was really no place for “Silver Shoes” in those worlds.  I recall pitching the idea to a television series called Tales From The Darkside...a kind of low-rent Twilight Zone...but they passed.  (I may have even pitched it to the revived Twilight Zone a few years later.  Trivia Fact Of The Day:  My first professional sale in that strange land called Hollywood was a 1986 Zone episode called “The Girl I Married.”)

Rejection is part and parcel of the freelance writer’s life, so I just sighed, filed the story away...and forgot about it.

For ten years.

In the mid-90’s I started toying with an idea about a mother who discovers that her abducted son has been taken to a magical world that—she’d assumed—only existed in books.  I named the world Abadazad—and began developing it as a movie treatment.  In fact, it was the comment of a producer I’d pitched the story to that led me to change the main character from a parent to an older sibling.  Without that offhand remark, Kate Jameson might never have been born.

The more I worked to flesh out the Abadazad concept, the more I was convinced it should be a comic book.  The comic book business had been exploding since the 80’s, opening the door on new—and far more challenging—content.  This growth allowed me to do projects like Moonshadow, Brooklyn Dreams,  and Seekers Into The Mystery—all aimed at an adult audience.  Unfortunately, this new direction left what was once the prime target audience for comic books...children...out in the cold.  As a parent—and, as a reader who’s taken many nurturing journeys to Oz, Wonderland, Neverland and Narnia—I found this a frustrating state of affairs (to say the least).  So I hatched a plan: 

My idea was to do smart, literate, beautifully-illustrated comics for kids .  The comic book equivalent of the finest in children’s literature.  (I’d actually attempted this once before, in the late 80’s, with a series called The Stardust Kid.  Took me more than fifteen years to get that one into print.)  At first—encouraged by my old friend, and Overseer of DC Comics’ Vertigo empire, Karen Berger—I tried to sell everyone from Marvel to Archie on a proposal for an entire line of sophisticated kids comics.  When that failed, I whittled the concept down to two titles:  one of them—The Life and Adventures of Skylar Orion—was a co-creation with Sandman illustrator Michael Zulli.  The other was Abadazad

Skylar almost got off the ground a couple of times, but never quite made it.  Michael and I put it aside—and I focused my energies on the Land of Zad.  By this time I’d begun weaving Abadazad into my daughter’s bedtime stories—and I was becoming obsessed with the idea of creating a comic book that I could share with her.

Out I went (again!) into the marketplace:  You can still hear the echo from all the doors that slammed in my face.

Nobody wanted it.  Nobody got it.  Well, that’s not completely true.  There were a few editors who understood what I was trying to do—Joey Cavalieri and Shelly Bond at DC, Philip Simon at Dark Horse—but  they weren’t the ones who made the Big Decisions.  Still, I’m forever grateful for their encouragement along the way.

Years were passing and the comic book landscape was changing rapidly, skewing ever older.  The notion of doing kid-friendly comics, at least for a mainstream audience, was looking more and more hopeless.  But the deeper I got into Abadazad, the more I fell in love with it.  The idea was pulsing through my blood, my bones, my soul.  I knew Kate, Matt, Queen Ija and The Lanky Man—and I had to tell their story.  Problem was, there really weren’t many avenues left open.

In 2003, I decided to give it a last shot with a relatively new company called CrossGen.  I didn’t know all that much about them, but they seemed interesting, forward-thinking.  And they had a new line called Code Six that seemed perfect for Abadazad.

My proposal arrived at the CrossGen office on a Wednesday.  Two days later I got a call from Code Six editor Ian Feller, who told me that he absolutely loved Abadazad—and so did CG’s owner and guiding light, Mark Alessi.  All the rejections had rattled my brain considerably, so I wasn’t quite sure I was hearing correctly:  “You actually want to do this?”  Ian assured me that they did.  (And, for that, both Ian and Mark have permanent plaques in my Hall of Gratitude.)

The enthusiasm at CrossGen was encouraging, to say the least—but I went from encouraged to completely blissed-out when Alessi recruited Mike Ploog to do the art for Abadazad.  Mike, if you don’t know, is one of the greatest fantasy illustrators on the planet.  He’d made his mark in comics in the l970’s and then (with a few rare and brilliant exceptions) left the business to focus on the world of film, where he’s done storyboarding and production design on everything from Superman II to Shrek.  Having been a huge fan of Mike’s work at Marvel, I was delighted—and really, that’s too small a word—that he’d chosen to return to full-time comic book illustrating with Abadazad.

Mike and I hit it off pretty much from our first phone conversation and the more we worked together, the better it got.  When we started out, I wrote detailed outlines/descriptions of the characters...and those went off to Mike (who lives in a hobbit-hole, somewhere in an English forest). He then did designs based on those notes. Sometimes Mike would give me exactly what I saw in my head, sometimes he went off in a new direction and came up with something better than I could have ever imagined...and sometimes I drove the poor guy crazy, making him redraw and redraw till the characters were just right.

The result was magical.  The kind of creative combustion I’d only seen happen a handful of times in my career.  With each issue we produced, Mike and I were pushing ourselves into new, and more creatively exhilarating, places:  We were flying high.

Then, after only three issues of Abadazad had seen print, our publisher crashed and burned:  CrossGen went bankrupt.  I don’t need to go into all the depressing details here but let me say that, by the summer of ‘04, The Esteemed Mr. Ploog and I had hired a lawyer in a bid to get Abadazad back.  We were hopeful—but we knew the process could take years.  Which meant that, for the moment at least, Abadazad was dead in the water.

Rather than sink into the quagmire of our misery (which was considerable), we decided to do the only thing we’re really any good at:  create.  I dusted off an old project of mine—the aforementioned Stardust Kid—and Mike told me, in about five minutes, how to make the story better than ever.  We corralled our Abadazad colorist, Nick Bell, and letterer Dave Lanphear—and we were off.

All the while Abadazad was hovering, a dark cloud, in the back of our minds.  (And the legal bills were piling up, too—which certainly didn’t help things.)  We’d heard about various companies sniffing around the CrossGen corpse—the name Disney came up once or twice—but these were just rumors, so we kept working on Stardust Kid and hoping for the best.

The best arrived in the form of an e-mail from Brenda Bowen, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books For Children.  Brenda told me how much she loved Abadazad and that she envisioned relaunching it as a series of children’s books.

There are moments in our lives when our intuition rocks us, when we can actually feel the universe shifting beneath our feet:  reading Brenda’s e-mail was one of those moments.   (A brief phone conversation with Brenda only deepened this feeling.)   I wasn’t sure where this contact would lead us, but I knew, with every fiber of my being, that this was a turning point.  More important:  the very fact that Brenda understood Abadazad...what it was and what it could be...gave me hope.

I forwarded the e-mail on to Mike, who was equally intrigued by Brenda’s enthusiasm and grasp of the material—as well as the opportunities that making a deal with Disney/Hyperion would offer.

Disney Publishing did win the bidding—and we were stunned to discover that the reason they went after CrossGen in the first place was because of Abadazad.  We were told, point blank, that Disney was going to walk away from the entire CrossGen deal if they couldn’t come to an agreement with us.

Wait a minute?  Our little comic book?  The one nobody wanted to publish?  My head was spinning.

Long story short (well, shorter):  After some heated negotiating, an extremely satisfactory deal was struck and we were suddenly rocketed from Legal Limbo straight to the Magic Kingdom.  Was I happy?  Delirious.  I’m a Total Disnoid.  Walt Disney is one of my heroes:  it’s extraordinary what one man, armed only with will and imagination, accomplished. To have Abadazad become a part of that history, that legacy, is a genuine honor.

Now jump ahead to May, 2006:  I’m at Book Expo America in Washington, D.C.  The first two Abadazad books are days away from hitting book stores.  Mike Ploog and I walk in and receive our official BEA badge-lanyards.  What’s on them?  Our Abadazad logo.  We look at the stairs leading to the upper level:  they’re completely covered in gorgeous Ploog art.  We head for the stairs leading to the lower level...and there’s an enormous banner with Queen Ija’s face on it, hovering over the crowds like a victory banner.

I’d started out writing a fairy tale and now I was standing in the middle of it.

Twenty years since “Sliver Shoes” edged up through my unconscious.  Ten years since the first version of Kate Jameson’s odyssey took shape on paper.  Slammed doors.  Bankruptcies.  Lawsuits.  Despair.  And I’m grateful for all of it.  Because now I’m sitting here holding these two magical books in my hand.  An initial print-run of 100,000 for each book.  Starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.  And we’re just starting on this journey.

Inconceivable, isn’t it?

If I’ve learned anything from this wild ride, it’s that, yes, you have to follow your bliss—but you also have to know that your bliss might take you down a very long road.  And that you simply can’t give up.

Far more important:  Have faith.  In yourself and in the universe.  Because it’s just possible that every obstacle you encounter is really an opportunity in disguise.  That every door slamming in your face, every (apparently) awful thing that happens along the way—is leading you to a place far better than you could have ever dreamed.

So don’t just follow your bliss:  hang on to it for dear life.  And don’t let go.


That advice would serve me well in the following months, as Disney's Abadazad Ride went spinning out of control, crashing into Sleeping Beauty's Castle.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that, without the crash, I never would have discovered the dimensional doorway that led me from Abadazad to a new world called Imaginalis.  I'll share that story with you next week.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I’ve just launched a new business—but I’m not going to flog Creation Point Story Consultation here.  If you’re at all interested, just click on this link.

See?  I told you it would be short!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Today I found myself going through some old folders filled with amazing Mike Ploog art from our Abadazad series.  For those of you who never journeyed to Zad, this was a story that began life as a CrossGen comic book which—after CG's  collapse—morphed into a hybrid book series (part prose, part comics) published by Disney's Hyperion Books for Children.  It's been two years since Hyperion pulled the plug on the Abadazad books and, frankly, I still haven't gotten over it.  There are very few projects in my entire career that have meant as much to me.  (Interestingly, the demise of Abadazad led directly to the birth of my upcoming novel, Imaginalis—but that's another story for another time.)  I still miss Kate and Little Martha, Professor Headstrong, Queen Ija, Master Wix and all the rest and I never give up hope that we'll somehow be able to rescue them from the limbo they're trapped in and start the stories anew.

While going through the old files, I found three never-used covers for the Hyperion series (all of which are ©copyright Disney Publishing) that I thought I'd share with you.  There was some concern, once our initial sales figures came in, that Ploog's gorgeous covers—which featured jaw-dropping portraits of the characters—were, perhaps,  too quiet for our intended audience.  Our editor, the amazing Brenda Bowen, suggested a new approach (which included a prominent display of the Disney logo) and the Hyperion art department worked these covers up using preexisting Ploog art.  Here's the revised version of The Road To Inconceivable:


And here's the proposed cover for The Dream Thief:

And, finally, here's the alternate cover for the third book in the series:


The idea was eventually shelved and the axe fell not long after.  In fact the third book, which I think was the best in the series, only came out in England (under its original title, The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet:  you can still find copies on Amazon's UK site) with a cover even better than the one above.  Still, it's interesting—and a little sad—to look back at this group of mock-ups and wonder if they would have made any difference in our sales.

When I was in Baltimore last weekend, a number of people at the convention asked me about Abadazad's future.  I'll tell you what I told them:  I have this feeling (not based on anything logical, no messy facts involved.  It's purely intuitive) that Abadazad will be back one day.  I don't know why I feel that way, I just do.  This is a series with a life, and a heart, all its own.  The Zadians have defied the odds before—we were pretty much dead in the water after CrossGen folded—and I suspect they'll defy them again.  If that day comes, if I find myself once again writing the adventures of Kate and Company, I will be one very happy writer.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, October 15, 2009


1) I'd been planning to attend this weekend's Big Apple Convention in New York City, but I'm sorry to say that some last-minute snafus have forced a change of plans.  Given the guest-list and the venue, I suspect this new incarnation of Big Apple will be around for some time to come—so here's to next year.

2)  There's another article up about my Kaine story in the new Web of Spider-Man, this time at Newsarama.  Check it out if you're so inclined.

3)  Could somebody out there please explain to me why Levi Johnston—a kid whose greatest achievement is impregnating the unwed daughter of a politician—is considered a celebrity?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Well, I’ve had a few days to digest my trip to Baltimore.  As I said in a previous post, I’m not much of a convention goer and I tend to find more than an hour or two of crowds and noise incredibly draining, both physically and psychically.   That said, the Baltimore Comic-Con was one of the best I’ve ever been to.  For one thing, it was a comic book convention.  No video game companies, no porn stars, no Hollywood studios.   Everyone there was either a creator or a reader of comic books.  In fact, the only celebrity I glimpsed the whole time was 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit—who was there as a fan, walking the floor, talking to people, gentle and unassuming:  a fellow geek.  

That was the tone of the whole weekend:  gentle and unassuming.  All the folks who came to talk to me and have me sign their books were heartfelt and sincere—and their kind words left me profoundly moved.  Working away, alone in my office, it’s often hard to know if what I do really matters to anyone.  How nice to be reminded, by such nice people, that it does matter; that, in some small way, my words have opened minds and touched hearts.

Along with meeting the fans, I got to see old friends like Len Wein, Todd Dezago and Ross Richie, spend quality-time with my Savior 28 collaborator Mike Cavallaro (who was there with Dean Haspiel and the
ACT-I-VATE gang) and meet Steve Englehart—whose stellar work on titles like Doctor Strange, Captain America, Detective Comics and Justice League helped deepen and expand the super hero genre in the 70’s.  (I’m happy to report that Steve isn’t just a terrific writer, he’s an extremely nice guy.)   I even ran into one of the first editors I worked for, back when I was starting out at DC Comics:  Jack C. Harris.  We hadn't seen each other in...well, more years than I'd care to count.

So thanks to Marc Nathan, and everyone involved in putting the Baltimore Con together, for making this mildly neurotic, easily-overwhelmed writer feel very much at home. 

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis