Saturday, January 30, 2010


“There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady.  Don’t you know that?  Don’t you know that goddamn secret yet?  And don’t you know—listen to me now—don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is?...Ah, buddy.  Ah, buddy.  It’s Christ Himself.  Christ Himself, buddy.”
     J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

I was nineteen or twenty when I first read Franny and Zooey.  The book had been sitting on my shelf for months—I don’t recall who’d recommended it—and I’d actually tried to read it a few times, but each attempt was a dismal failure:  a page or two in and my mind would just white out.  Then, one night, I came home late, feeling—for reasons that escape me now—unsettled, anxious, maybe a little depressed, and I looked over at the bookcase.  Without thinking, I grabbed F and Z off the shelf and started reading:  it was as if my previous attempts had never happened.  From the first word I was hooked by Salinger’s rich characters, his flowing language, his extraordinary ear for dialogue (I spent quite a few years after that writing failed short stories stuffed with Salingerspeak), his effortless ability as a storyteller.  His compassion most of all.  Those two interlocking tales of the Glass family settled into my cells, into my soul, and left an imprint that remains just as deep, just as true, more than thirty years later.  Franny and Zooey instantly became one of my Favorite Books of All Time—and it remains so to this day.

I went on to devour the amazing Nine Stories (which includes “Teddy”—as perfect a short story as has ever been written), Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour:  An Introduction  (flawed, yes, but absolutely essential) and, of course, the much-acclaimed The Catcher in the Rye (which, oddly, is my least favorite of JDS’s books.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it; but Catcher never touched me in the same way Salinger’s other stories did).  Still, Franny and Zooey is the book I kept returning to; and now, with word of J.D. Salinger’s passing, I think I’ll return to it again.  And I think I’ll return to “Teddy,” as well:  a story that—much like the F and Z excerpt I began with—contains as perfect a definition of life, the universe and everything as I’ve ever come across.  This is Teddy himself talking, a Boddhisatva in a ten year old New Yorker’s body: 

“My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God.  I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”

I do indeed.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis     

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Just for fun:  a short excerpt from the fourth—never-published—Abadazad book:  Historcery.  (For the record:  Abadazad is ©copyright 2010 Disney Publishing.) 

Our protagonist, Kate Jameson, is aboard a boat with an old spider named Imaginalia Webster, sailing through Abadazad’s past, in hopes of discovering how the villain of the series, the Lanky Man, came to be.  The following exchange happens just after Kate witnesses the creation of Zad and discovers that Mrs. Webster herself—under the guidance of the mysterious Floating Warlock—was the one who wove the entire kingdom into being. 


    “You created Inconceivable?” I asked Mrs. Webster.   
    “No,” she corrected me.  “The Warlock created it.  I simply...followed his blueprint.  First for the city...and then for all of Abadazad.”
    It was an incredible thing to see...and  a part of me could have stayed there and watched Mrs. Webster weave every rock, every tree, every river and blade of grass.  I wanted to—but I couldn’t...’cause I hadn’t come all that way to sit around in a boat.  I was there to find out about the Lanky Man.  I was there to help my brother.  “Imaginalia,” I said, “what has all this got to do with—”
    Before the words were out of my mouth, the city in the sky vanished.  The webs dissolved.  The Warlock wavered for a few seconds like he was made of smoke and then just...disappeared.  Now there was just the two of us...sailing across an ocean that had suddenly become covered in thick fog.  I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of the boat.  “What happened?” I asked.  “Did I...did I say something wrong?”
    “No,” Mrs. Webster answered—but she sounded so sad I couldn’t help feeling that I had.  “What you said was exactly right.  And to answer your question:  This has everything to do with the Lanky Man.” 
    “You’ve seen,” she said, “how the Floating Warlock dreamed Abadazad to life—but what you don’t know...what you need to that it wasn’t the first time he’d done it. ”
    “Wait a minute,” I said.  “Are you saying that what we just saw wasn’t the real creation of Abadazad?”
    “It was...a creation, Kate.  There were others before this.”
    “What happened to them?  The other Abadazads?”
     “He had to...un-dream them.”
    “What do you mean?” I asked.
    “Think of the Warlock,” Mrs. W said, while our boat sailed on through the fog, “as an author.  Writing the tale of Abadazad a dozen times—a thousand times—over till it’s as perfect as he can make it.  He creates a draft and then throws it away...keeping the sections he the parts he doesn’t.”
    “But why would he do that?  I mean, he’s the Floating Warlock!  He should get it right the first time!”
     “It should be that way,” Imaginalia answered, tapping her fingers (and she sure had a lot of them) together, “but it isn’t.  You see, Kate, stories...and the characters in them...have lives of their own—even though they’ve sprung from the writer’s imagination.  And sometimes the story gets away from the author...rears right up like a wild horse and just gallops off in an unexpected direction—and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.”
    “But that can be a good thing, can’t it?”
    “It can,” she  said—and something in the way she said it sent a shiver up my spine.
    “What happened?” I asked.
    “It’s not for me to say, Kate—it’s the Warlock’s tale, after all—but he knew that...after the Terrible Thing happened...he had to un-dream the story and start it over again.  The poor man un-dreamed it...and re-dreamed it...over and over.  And every matter how hard he tried to give the story a happy ending...the Terrible Thing happened again.”  She turned away from me, gazed out into the fog. “But...finally...he found a way to make it work.”
    “But then—why did the Warlock look so unhappy when he first came up out of the ocean?”
    Mrs. Webster turned back to face me. “In order to stop the Terrible Thing,” she said, “there were characters that he had to abandon...erase from the story.  Characters that he very much.”  Her voice was all choked up.  She could hardly talk.  “And that broke his heart.”
    “Then why did he do it?”
    “For the good of the story, Kate.  But even when the changes serve the greater good...well, it can be a painful thing.  A painful thing indeed.”


As I read through this segment for the first time in years, I realized that it very much encapsulated my experience of dreaming the Abadazad stories into being—as well as my hopes for re-dreaming them in the future. 

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis  

Saturday, January 23, 2010


When I was seventeen, it was a very good year.  Well, actually, it was an awful year—filled with angst, agony and a desperate search for Cosmic Answers—but it did lead me to an experience of the Divine—detailed, in slightly-fictionalized form, in Brooklyn Dreams—that profoundly altered my consciousness and forever changed my perception of myself, the universe and...well, everything.  That small taste of the the infinite plunged me into an even deeper exploration of All Things Spiritual, and, two years later,  that exploration led me to an Indian spiritual master named Avatar Meher Baba.  The story of my discovery of Meher Baba, and the soul-exploding impact he had on my life, will have to wait for another time.  What you need to know right now is that, for me, Meher Baba’s path isn't about rites and rituals, meditations and mantras, wearing special clothes, paying dues or attending regular meetings:  it’s about embracing the divinity at the core of all paths.  Most of all, it’s about a deeply personal inner connection to God.  (Which is a good thing, since I’m not very fond of groups.  Even today, when I have cherished Baba-companions all over the world, I generally steer clear of anything vaguely resembling formal meetings.  As Groucho Marx observed:  “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”)  From the night in 1973 when he first made his presence known to me, MB became the embodiment of the answers I’d been seeking:  spiritual guide, best friend, Self of all selves.  It didn’t matter that he’d passed away—or “dropped his body” as the Indians like to say—in 1969.  He was very much a living presence in my life and, more important, in my heart, nudging me along the path and, when nudging didn’t work, aiming an occasional boot at my ass. 

Now let’s jump ahead from 1973 to l985.  That was the year my twelve-issue graphic novel, Moonshadow, was published under Marvel’s Epic imprint.  Done in collaboration with a brilliant artist named Jon J Muth, Moon was, up to that point, the finest piece of creative work I’d ever been involved with.  It was my attempt to tell, with humor and, I hope, a bit of wisdom, the tale of a teenage boy’s spiritual awakening, the first giant step in his soul’s journey.  (You could say it was Brooklyn Dreams recast as intergalactic fantasy—although BD wouldn’t be published for another ten years.)  When a project turns out the way Moonshadow did, when it transcends my own self-imposed belief in what I can (or can’t) accomplish, it becomes clear that “I” have precious little to do with the work.  And that’s one of the reasons I dedicated the first issue of Moonshadow to Meher Baba (and to my father, who’d died six months before its publication):  the first time I’d ever done that. 

A year later Marvel published my graphic novel, Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa (co-plotted and beautifully illustrated by my old friend Dan Green).  As many of you know, Doctor Strange is a long-standing Marvel character, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko:  a spell-weaving mystic whose departed master was called the Ancient One.  (Strangely, Meher Baba sometimes referred to himself as the Ancient One.  I’ve often wondered if either Lee or Ditko knew something about MB and if my master somehow provided the name for Doc’s.)  Into Shamballa begins with Stephen Strange returning to the Ancient One’s Himalayan ashram on the anniversary of the master's death, where he discovers...well, here’s how the story's narrator put it:  “A gift from the Master, left by him—for you!—years before his passing, with instructions for its presentation on this day alone.”  The opening of that gift, the unlocking of its mysteries, transforms Stephen Strange’s life and, by the end of the story, the entire world.  It seemed fitting that I dedicate a story of cosmic adventure and spiritual transformation to Meher Baba...and so I did.

Now jump ahead to 1987.  It was another very wretched year.  I was in the process of a divorce that pretty much shredded my soul to pieces and, in the process, opened the gates of my unconscious, unleashing some fairly ferocious childhood demons that I’d spent most of my life avoiding.  (If my projects from this period—Kraven’s Last Hunt springs immediately to mind—seem especially dark, now you know why.)  But through it all, a part of me—the deepest part—held tight to Meher Baba:  to light and hope and the knowledge that there was much more to this dream than what it appeared to be.  In fact, after fourteen years with Baba, I was on my way—for the first time—to visit his Tomb-Shrine, on a hilltop in India.  Amazingly, I’d never been out of the country (aside from an afternoon in Tijuana in 1976) and so the upcoming solo journey—from my home in upstate New York to New York City,  NYC to Paris, Frankfurt to Mumbai (it was still called Bombay then), Mumbai to Pune (which was then called Poona), Pune to Meherabad,
Meher Baba’s ashram, just outside a small city called Ahmednagar—was both an exciting and unnerving one.

I hadn’t slept much the night before I left—I was too excited—and by the time our New York flight landed in Frankfurt, I was deep-fried and crispy.  Changing planes for the Frankfurt-Bombay leg, I noticed that most of my fellow passengers were Indian.  (This may not sound surprising to you, or to me looking back, but, for some reason, this fact surprised and astounded me at the time.)  There were just a few Westerners on board—I took special notice of one couple, drawn, for some reason, by the woman’s big, floppy hat—but, lost in my own amazed, bewildered and desperately exhausted brain, I didn’t make any contact with them. 

We got into Bombay around two in the morning and I had a connecting flight to Poona six or seven hours later.  Instead of killing time at a recommended hotel, the Centaur (where, I later learned, some of those same Westerners, including the lady with the floppy hat and her husband, were waiting for their morning flight), I took a shuttle through the nearby slums and passed another sleepless night in the sweltering domestic airport, feeling like an insecure and ugly American.  The next morning, I found myself sitting on a small, propeller-driven plane next to Mrs. Floppy Hat’s husband.  Despite the fact that we were, again, among the few Westerners on an otherwise all-Indian Bombay-Poona flight, we didn’t say a single word to each other.  Not even a nod or a muttered hello.  

I noticed that Mr. Floppy Hat was busy taking pictures of the rain storm outside.  “Hmmm,” I decided, “anyone who takes pictures of the rain must be a professional photographer.”  (That’s a huge leap in logic, I know, but the combination of sleep-deprivation, moving through multiple time-zones and, possibly, divine intervention made it seem hugely plausible to me.)  After hearing him mention a previous trip to India to his wife, I assumed that Mr. Photographer was there on assignment—perhaps taking pictures for some travel magazine—and sank back into my state of neurotic, sleepless lunacy.

After we landed, off I went, into the colorful madness that is Poona—it was my first view of India in the daylight and I might as well have landed on Mars—where I found that another recommended hotel, the Blue Diamond, was filled up for a month.  I took this as an indication that I should plunge on, so I hopped a rickshaw to the nearest cab stand and hired a taxi to take me on to Ahmednagar.   (The photographer and his wife, I later learned, spent the night at—where else?—the Hotel Blue Diamond.  They obviously had the sense to make a reservation.)  When, some hours later, I reached the Meher Baba Trust office in ‘Nagar—my consciousness roughly the consistency of broken glass—I found that, since I’d arrived a day earlier than expected, there was no room for me at the nearby Meher Pilgrim Center (where visitors to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine often stay).  I was packed off to a place called Viloo’s Villa, run by an old disciple of Baba’s, where I was well-fed and sent off to bed:  I slept like death.

The next day I threw my bag in a rickshaw and rattled out to Meherabad, where I checked in at the Pilgrim Center.  After walking up the hill to pay my respects at Meher Baba’s Tomb (in my experience, one of the most spiritually powerful—and profoundly magical—places on the planet), I returned to my room to settle in.  (It was a double, which was a relief; some of the rooms slept six and I don’t do well with crowds, especially at bed time.)  A little while later, my roommate walked in the door.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing:  it was Mr. Photographer—whose name, I learned, was Bill Gibson.  Talk about bizarre coincidences:  all that traveling time without talking to each other and it turned out we were headed for the same destination.  Not only that, we ended up in the same room.  (I later learned that, on the plane from Bombay, Bill assumed I was going off to an ashram in Poona—one that had a somewhat controversial reputation—and decided it would be best not to talk to me.  He even noticed a small Meher Baba button on my bag, but, for some reason, assumed I was a devotee of the Poona guru...disguised as a follower of Meher Baba.  Sounds absurd—and it is—but Meher Baba, who has a well-developed sense of humor, clearly didn’t want us talking to each other...yet.)

We had a laugh about our situation as Bill began to unpack.  Out came his shirts, socks, pants and underwear—followed by all twelve issues of Moonshadow and a copy of Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa.  I saw it, but it simply didn’t register—in fact, it felt as if my brain had imploded, then exploded, then imploded again.  I wouldn’t have been more stunned if Bill had pulled out a framed photo of my mother.  I looked one more time, just to make sure this wasn’t an acid flashback or a hallucination created by my time-warped senses, and then, with all the calm at my command, shrieked like a banshee:  “What are you doing with that?!  Where did you get that?!”  Bill—perhaps thinking he was sharing his room with an escaped maniac (which, in a way, he was)—looked at me blankly.  “I wrote those books!” I wailed.

And that’s when I learned that a friend of Bill and Denise’s (Denise was Bill’s wife, the woman with the arresting hat) back home in Denver had come across Moonshadow and Shamballa and, noting the dedications, wrote to Eruch Jessawalla—one of Meher Baba’s closest disciples—to tell him about it.  Eruch, intrigued, asked the friend if he could collect the comics together and send them off to the Trust office in India.  (No one at Meherazad, where MB’s surviving disciples lived, knew anything about me or my literary career.  I’d been involved with Meher Baba’s path for well over a decade, but I’d kept pretty much to myself.  Despite retreat time spent at the Meher Spiritual Center in South Carolina, I wasn’t plugged-in to the global Meher Baba community.)  So Bill’s friend did as he was asked but, rather than mail the comics, he gave them to Bill, who just “happened” to be traveling to Meherabad at the same time as the author of those comics; just “happened” to be traveling on the same planes with said author; just “happened” to end up in the same room.

Call it cosmic synchronicity or, as I prefer, God’s grace—but it was an astonishing event.  A day or so later, when a group of us staying at the Pilgrim Center took a bus to Meherazad to visit with Eruch and several other of MB’s close companions, the guy who didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member found himself very publicly presenting the comics to Eruch, posing beside him while Bill, of course, stood nearby taking pictures.  Given my somewhat reclusive nature, given the kind of wretched year I was having, I would have spent the next few weeks hanging out on the fringes of Meherabad life.  This “coincidence” brought me right into the middle of things and, for the first time, into the loving embrace of my Baba family.  I was welcomed home in a way that I could never have imagined.  It was as if Meher Baba, with loving attention, had orchestrated every detail.

That would have been enough to sustain me for the rest of my visit, but there was one more comic book miracle to come.  While staying at the Pilgrim Center, I met the lawyer for the Avatar Meher Baba Trust, a guy named Jack Small, and we quickly became buddies.  (It didn’t hurt that Jack was a fellow comic book geek.  He was delighted when, a year or so later, he ended up in the pages of DC’s Doctor Fate as a beleaguered supporting character.)  One day Jack showed up in my room with a treasure:  a small package of prasad (prasad is a gift, often a piece of fruit, given directly by the master to his disciples; said to carry the seed of his love.  Eating prasad is literally eating grace), in the form of crushed orange candies.  But this was very special prasad; put aside, I learned—reading the typewritten sheet that was presented to me—by Meher Baba himself, years before, for his lovers of the future, knowing the precise moment when each heart would need, and receive, it.  Sound familiar?  It was exactly like the mysterious gift that the Ancient One left for Doctor Strange.  “A gift from the master...left by him—for you!—years before his passing, with instructions for its presentation on this day alone.”  (And, before you ask, no—I’d never heard anything about this secret stash of MB’s prasad.  It was news to me.)  

There I was, living out my own version of Strange’s journey, receiving my own predestined gift, walking inside my own story.  I didn’t understand it, but I accepted that gift with incredible gratitude.  

The two weeks that followed—and the seven trips back to India that I’ve taken over the years—were filled with that kind of soul-opening enchantment.  I could write a book about those journeys, and maybe one day I will; but the reason I’m writing about this now isn’t to convince anybody to become a follower of Meher Baba.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you call the God-We-All-Are Meher Baba, Jesus, Divine Mother, Krishna, Fred, Ethel or if you believe in God at all.  I’m writing this to remind you, to remind me, that whether you’re on a hill in India or sitting in your own living room, the line between Storyteller and story, between so-called fantasy and so-called reality, is an illusion.  The borders that separate the possible from the impossible are nothing but a dream.  This life we’re all living is magic:  rich with synchronicities, miracles and, most important of all, love beyond imagining.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, January 15, 2010


A campaign to raise money for the victims of the Haitian earthquake has been launched by a group of artists, including my friend and collaborator Mike Cavallaro.  Click here for details.  As I've said before, the microcosm is the macrocosm and, at a time like this, even the smallest contribution can make a tremendous difference.

And never underestimate the power of one silent, heartfelt prayer.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Newsarama is running an interview with yours truly—and some guy named Giffen—talking about our upcoming stint on Booster Gold.  It's filled with profound insights and mind-boggling observations about life, the universe and everything, so you won't want to miss it.  Okay, it's mostly just hype—but it's good, clean, All-American hype.  If you're a fan of the Giffen-DeMatteis brand of super-heroic hijinks, I think you'll enjoy it.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Here's a link to a Savior 28 interview Mike Cavallaro and I did with Comic Related's Russ Burlingame. You'll notice that my name isn't mentioned on the page or in the intro to the podcast—but I'm there nonetheless, blathering away.  Enjoy (I hope)!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Writing about my favorites of the just-concluded decade made me take a look at a list of all-time favorite books, movies, etc., that I posted on my old Amazon blog back in 2007.  I present an edited version of it here—with the promise that this will be the last list you’ll see on this blog (well, for at least six months).  Some of the following lists will be long, some short—no rules, no regs, no limitations—and, for the most part, I won’t be mentioning anything covered in the 00’s lists.

Favorite Fiction
1.  The Brothers Karamozov, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot by Dostoyevsky  (The Brothers K is the best novel ever.  Don’t even try to argue with me.)
2.  Dandelion Wine and The Stories of Ray Bradbury by Ray Bradbury  (No writer, in any era, any genre, has inspired me more.  “The April Witch” is one of my two favorite short stories of all time.)
3.  God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
4.  Ubik  by Philip K. Dick
5.  Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (My other favorite short story?  “Teddy.”)
6.  Siddhartha and Journey To The East by Hermann Hesse
7.  David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
8.  The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
9.  Sexus by Henry Miller
10. The Holy Land by Par Lagerkvist
11.  Moby Dick, Benito Cereno and “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville  (The funny thing is, I don’t adore Melville the way I do most of the other writers on this list, in fact I find him a little cold and off-putting; but this novel, novella and short story are three of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered.)
12.  Lost Horizon by James Hilton  (I don’t claim that Hilton was one of our great writers, but Lost Horizon is a book that  utterly captured my soul and swept me off into another dimension.  I will love it, unconditionally, forever.)

Favorite Children’s Books

1)  The “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum
2)  The “Narnia” books by C.S. Lewis
3)  The “Wrinkle In Time” trilogy by Madelaine L’Engle  (I don’t really count the fourth book, Many Waters, because it doesn’t focus on Meg and Charles Wallace.)
4)  The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman  (One of the greatest fantasy novels of the past twenty-five years.  The other two books in the “His Dark Materials” series are wonderful, too—but they don’t reach the level of TGC.)
5) The “Mary Poppins” books by  P.L. Travers  (If all you know is the Disney movie, treat yourself to these books:  they’re extraordinary.)
6) The “Winnie The Pooh” books A.A. Milne  (Ditto.)
7)  Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie  (Ever notice how most of these children’s book writers go by their initials?  Maybe I should consider that.)

Favorite Poet

William Blake (I have a long-standing affection for Shelly, Keats, Byron and Yeats but Blake’s in a league, make that a universe, of his own.)

Favorite Books of Spirit

1.  Anything by or about Avatar Meher Baba  (My favorites:  Listen, Humanity and Life At Its Best by Meher Baba, As Only God Can Love by Darwin Shaw, Avatar by Jean Adriel and Love Personified, edited by Laurence Reiter.)
2.  The Ramayana  (as previously noted, I love the versions by Ashok Banker and Ramesh Menon, but any telling of this ancient Hindu epic will shower magic on your soul.)
3.  Anything by Ernest Holmes
4.  Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogananda
5.  Anything by or about Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
6.  Anything by or about Sri Ramana Maharshi
7.  Be Here Now by Ram Dass
8.  This Is It by Alan Watts
9.  The Bhagavad Gita  (Pick your favorite translation.)
10. The Tao Te Ching  (Ditto.)
11. The Superbeings by John Randolph Price

Favorite Comic Books

1.  Stan Lee and John Buscema’s Silver Surfer (best single issue:  #3, “The Power and The Prize!”)
2.  Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” material (New Gods, Forever People, Mr. Miracle and, yes, even Jimmy Olsen)
3.  A Contract With God by Will Eisner  (You can't go wrong with anything by Eisner, but Contract is his masterpiece.)
4.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four (best single issue:  #51, “This Man...This Monster!”) and Thor (Greek gods!  The High Evolutionary!  Ego, The Living Planet!  How did these guys do it?)
5.  Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr.’s Spider-Man (Ditko created the template, but I have an inordinate amount of love for the Romita, Sr. issues...especially his first year on the book)
6.  Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (especially in the l980's)
7.  Steve Gerber’s l970’s Marvel work (especially Man-Thing with that Ploog guy)
8.  Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing
9.  Justice League of America (especially the Gardner Fox, Len Wein and Steve Englehart eras)
10.  Anything with Doctor Strange in it (but especially the Lee-Ditko run and the Steve Englehart and Roger Stern eras)
11.  Roy Thomas and Barry Smith’s Conan
12.  Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow

Favorite Movies

1.  It’s a Wonderful Life
2.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(My two absolute favorite movies of all-time.  Interesting in that the first movie is about—among other things—the value of family and the second is about—among other things—leaving family behind for journeys across the cosmos.  I’ve found, in my own wonderful life, that being grounded in family actually frees you to take those cosmic journeys.)
3.  Walt Disney’s Pinocchio
(As I’ve said before:  it’s the Citizen Kane of animated films.)
4.  The Wizard of Oz
5.  Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Radio Days 
6.  Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Chimes at Midnight
(Hey, if Pinocchio is the Citizen Kane of animated films, is Citizen Kane the Pinocchio of live-action films?)
7.  Duck Soup/The Producers (1968 version)/Monty Python’s Life of Brian
(The three funniest movies ever made.)
8.  Singin’ In The Rain
(The greatest musical of all time.)
9.  Akira Kurasawa’s Ikiru
10. The Sixth Sense
11. The James Cagney trinity:  Angels With Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mr. Roberts
12.  Anything with Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in it.
13.  A Little Princess (l995)
(If you’ve got a daughter, I defy you to watch this movie with her and not weep uncontrollably)
14.  Groundhog Day
(As my old friend Herb Fillmore once observed, GD is the It’s A Wonderful Life of the Baby Boom generation)

Favorite Science Fiction Movies

1.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(It’s so good it deserves to be on two lists.)
2.  Start Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan
(Star Trek at its best.)
3.  The Day The Earth Stood Still
(The 50’s original.  “Gort!  Klaatu Barada Nikto!”)
4.  The Matrix
5.  Forbidden Planet
6.  Time After Time  
(Somebody should let the amazing Nicholas Meyer—who directed this and Wrath of Khan—get behind a camera again.)

Favorite Television Shows

1.  Twilight Zone
(But you already knew that.)
2.  Star Trek
(The original.  But you already knew that, too.)
3.  M*A*S*H
(It got unbearably sincere and preachy in its final seasons, but, for most of its run, M*A*S*H was smart, angry, heartfelt and consistently funny)
4.  I Love Lucy
5.  The Dick Van Dyke Show
6.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7.  All In The Family
(Taken together, these four shows illustrate the evolution of the sitcom—and the evolution of America—from the 50’s to the 70s.  More important:  they still make me laugh.)
8.  The X-Files
9.  Seinfeld
10.  Leave It To Beaver 
(What can I say?  I love that kid!)
11.  I, Claudius/The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII (See?  I don’t just watch pop culture trash.  I watch PBS!)

Favorite Music I Grew Up On

1. The Beatles
(Excuse me a moment while I bow my head in awe.)
2.  Solo John Lennon
(I won’t bore you by singing Lennon’s praises again.)
3.  The Who—Tommy/Who’s Next
4.  Peter Townshend—Who Came First/Empty Glass
(As much as I like the Who—Tommy blew my fifteen year old mind to smithereeens—Townshend’s best solo work has a naked honesty, and an accessibility, that the Who never quite achieved.)
5.  David Bowie—Hunky Dory
6.  Derek & The Dominoes—Layla
7.  Bob Dylan
(I’m not that big a fan of Dylan the personality or Dylan the performer but Dylan the songwriter is a force of nature.  My favorite album?  Blood On The Tracks—because it’s his most honest and least cryptic.)
8.  Cat Stevens—Tea For The Tillerman
9.  Bruce Springsteen—Born To Run/Darkness On The Edge of Town
(Best live concert I’ve ever seen?  Bruce at the The Bottom Line in New York, summer of l975)
10.  Neil Young—After The Goldrush
11.  Joni Mitchell—Blue
12.  Paul Simon—There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
13.  Paul McCartney—Band On The Run
(McCartney’s solo work is always worth listening to—the man’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time—but much of it just doesn’t have the depth or emotional intensity that Lennon’s solo catalogue offers.  That said, some other excellent McCartney efforts include Tug of War, Flowers In The Dirt, Flaming Pie and Memory Almost Full.)

Favorite Music My Parents Loved

1. Frank Sinatra
(A genre, and a musical law, unto himself.  Recommended:  The Song Is You (with Tommy Dorsey), The Best of The Columbia Years, The Capital Years, The Reprise Collection and the amazing Sinatra At The Sands—one of the greatest live albums ever.)
2. Bing Crosby
(Recommended:  Bing:  His Legendary Years.)
3. Dean Martin
4. Perry Como
(I grew up watching both of these guys on TV every week.  They always felt like a couple of my Italian uncles:  part of the family.)
5.  Al Jolson
(The first pop superstar.  His music is hopelessly out of date.  And inexplicably wonderful)

Other Musical Favorites

I’m far from a classical aficionado, but my iTunes library has its fair share of Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Mussoursky.  I’m also a nut for Eastern, and Eastern-flavored, music.  Recommended:  Ravi Shankar—In Celebration, As Night Falls On The Silk Road by Ghazal, Krishna Das’s Live On Earth and Tulku’s Transcendence.

Now let’s end this seemingly-endless listing on an appropriately absurd note:

Favorite People Who Make Me Laugh

1.  Jack Benny
(Go to the Old Time Radio Network or and treat yourself to a sampling of the old Benny radio shows, especially the ones from the mid-l940’s on:  some of the flat-out funniest, and sharpest, comedy ever.  There’s nothing on television today that’s better—and most of it’s not even close)
2.  Woody Allen
3.  The Marx Brothers
4.  Mel Brooks
5.  Monty Python
6.  Abbott and Costello
(It’s true that they made their share of wretched movies, but Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and The Time of their Lives are classics; and their television series was a)  totally deranged and b) a major inspiration for Seinfeld.)
7.  The Little Rascals
(Spanky and Alfalfa were one of the movies' great comedy teams—and it was all over by the time they were ten!)
8.  Keith Giffen
(Okay, he’s never been in the movies or on television, but when Keith squirts me with seltzer and then hits me on the head with that rubber chicken, there’s nobody funnier)

Favorite Lists

Just checking to see if you’re still awake.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Time to wrap up this self-indulgent and totally unnecessary exploration of my favorite pop culture fixes of the 00’s, with a look at TV and music—starting with three television shows that never...well, rarely...failed to engage and entertain me.

1)  Scrubs
30 Rock is terrific, Arrested Development inspires manic loyalty, but Scrubs was the sit-com of the decade for me.  Sure it’s stumbled in recent years (the current season, which is really a new show going under an old name, hasn’t yet found its footing), but, for most of its run, Scrubs—with an amazing cast led by Zach Braff and John C. “Why hasn’t this man won an Emmy?” McGinley—was a perfect balance of cartoon nonsense and heartfelt humanity.  Laugh out loud funny and deeply touching.  A rare mix. 

2)  Boston Legal
Well, maybe not that rare.  If Scrubs was a comedy with a dramatic heart, Boston Legal was a drama with a comedic soul.  It matched Scrubs’ mix of nonsense and humanity then added a healthy dose of political passion and some outraged howls in the name of social justice.  But the heart and soul of BL—which was my absolute favorite show of the decade—was the relationship between James Spader’s Alan Shore and William Shatner’s Denny Crane:  as honest and intimate a depiction of male friendship as television has ever seen.  God, I miss those guys.

3)  Lost
I almost bailed during the third season, but Lindeloff and Cuse turned things around so brilliantly—especially with their end of the year, flash-forward mindwarp—that I became a born-again Lostie.  If, in the upcoming final season, these two amazingly talented writer-producers manage to complete their story in a coherent and satisfying way, Lost will go down as one of the greatest shows in television history.  And, hey, even if they totally screw up the finale, it won’t change the fact that Lost redefined the one-hour drama and entertained the hell out of me for a good part of the decade.

And let’s not forget the two most trusted men in news:  Countdown’s Keith Olbermann and The Daily Show’s John Stewart.  Olbermann’s a serious newsman with a comedian’s anarchic spirit (Edward R. Murrow meets Steve Allen) while Stewart is a class clown with the soul of a media sage (Jerry Lewis meets Walter Cronkite).  No one speaks truth to power better than Olbermann and no one nails the political hypocrites better than Stewart.  


Finally, some of my favorite music from the decade that saw the crash of the CD and the rise of the MP3.

1)  The Postal Service:  Give Up/Death Cab for Cutie:  Transatlanticism
The problem with Give Up was that I couldn’t:  I kept listening to this Death Cab for Cutie spin-off band over and over and over and over, entranced by smart lyrics and captivating melodies floating against a backdrop of odd, playful—but always grounded—electronica.   Speaking of Death Cab:  they were one of my favorite bands of the 00’s.  They’ve done a number of first-rate albums, but Transatlanticism was the one that introduced me to DCFC, so it gets a special place of honor. 

2)  Dirty Projectors:  Bitte Orca  

It sounds like everything you’ve ever listened to and nothing you’ve ever heard before.  Brain-rattling time jumps, shimmering guitars, circular melodies, voices like demented angels.  It’s all brilliant...and just a little disturbing.  (That’s a good thing, believe me.) 

3)  William Shatner:  Has Been
You’re only laughing if you haven’t heard it.  Thirty-five years after the relentlessly ridiculed Transformed Man, Shatner—with more-than-a-little-help from Ben Folds and friends—surprised the mockers by producing this honest, funny, and moving musical autobiography.  Worth hearing, even if you don’t give a damn about James T. Kirk or Denny Crane.

4)  Sigur Ros:  Ágætis Byrjun 
Listening to this astounding Icelandic band is like taking a journey to the farthest edge of the universe and discovering you’ve ended up in the center of your own soul.  An experience both cosmic and intimate.

5)  Asha Bosle and the Kronos Quartet:  You’ve Stolen My Heart
Bollywood pop that transcends itself and becomes so much more:  earthy, celestial, mournful, joyful and exhilarating.  If this was an old-fashioned record (any of you remember those?), I would’ve worn out the grooves.

6)  Múm:  Finally We Are No One
Imagine being abducted by alien musicians who then spend fifty-six minutes flooding your mind with their other-dimensional compositions.  Spacey—in the most magical sense of the word.

I also spent considerable time with Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full, Feist’s Let It Die and The Reminder and just about everything by the Album Leaf; enjoyed the soundtracks from Slumdog Millionaire and Om Shanti Om, Deuter’s meditative soundscapes, Arcade Fire's wall of sound and—

Nope.  I’m stopping right here.  If I don’t, this could go on till 2020.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Yesterday it was favorite movies of the 00’s, today books and comics.   Problem is when it came time to list my favorite books of the decade, I realized that the vast majority of the mind-opening, soul-nurturing books I’ve devoured these past ten years were published before 2000.  A good thing, then, that I happened upon the first volume of Ashok Banker’s stunning Ramayana series during a trip to India in 2005, not long after it was published.

Some would call Banker’s reimagining of the ancient Hindu epic a work of fantasy, others would call it historical fiction or spiritual metaphor.  It’s all of that and so much more—but you don’t have to be an Indiaphile to enjoy this enthralling six book odyssey.  I adored the entire series—Prince of Ayhodhya, Siege of Mithila, Demons of Chitrakut, Armies of Hanuman, Bridge of Rama and King of Ayodhya—but Prince and Siege captured my heart, soul and imagination in a way that reminded me of being fifteen and encountering Lord of the Rings for the first time.  Truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever read LOTR again, but there’s a very good chance I’ll return to this magnificent series.  A transporting, transcendent experience.  (I was also enraptured by a very different take on the same classic story, published around the same time as Banker’s:  Ramesh Menon’s The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic.)

Three of my pop culture heroes had new biographies in the bookstores in the 00’s:  John Lennon:  The Life by Philip Norman, Walt Disney:  The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neil Gabler and Orson Welles:  Hello, Americans by Simon Callow (I suggest you read Callow’s first volume on Welles, 1995’s The Road to Xanadu, before diving into this).  Not one of these was definitive—that would be impossible, really—but all of them were thorough, compassionate, fascinating and great fun.

And now a shameful admission:  I don’t really read a lot of comic books and haven’t for some time.  (I’ll wait a moment while your jaws hit the floor.)  That said, two comics that found their way to me and knocked my proverbial socks off were David Mack’s Kabuki  (a dizzying meditation on life, the universe and everything.  It’s as if Mack jacks his head directly into the drawing board, turns a switch and lets his unconscious mind bleed out onto the page.  Unclassifiably weird and absolutely wonderful) and Godland  by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Jack Kirby meets Philip K Dick in a comic book that explodes in your face every time you turn the page.  Casey and Scioli transcend their influences and create a work of unbounded imagination and great fun).

I’m also a big fan of a couple of all-ages comics:  Spider-Girl, by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema (a good old-fashioned Marvel Comic, done with intelligence, skill and heart) and Lions, Tigers and Bears, by Mike Bullock, Jack Lawrence and Friends (those three words—intelligence, skill and heart—come to mind again).  

And let’s not forget those amazing web-comics from Mike Cavallaro, Dean Haspiel, Tim Hamilton and all their supernaturally talented cohorts at Act-i-Vate. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of comics and it’s just a click of the mouse away.

As for comic books on film, the hands-down winners were Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man.  The former perfectly captured the essence of my old friend Peter Parker and the latter was the first super-hero movie that I actually liked more than the source material.

Tomorrow?  Music and television.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, January 4, 2010


Everyone and his mother (and brother and sister) is compiling “best of the decade” lists (and, yes, I know that, technically, the decade’s not really over yet) and I couldn’t resist adding my own to the mix.  Problem is a)  I'm not sure if we really need any more lists and b)  I can’t use the word best, since, really, how do I know what’s best and what’s not?

Let's start with my favorite movies of the past ten years.  If I don't totally bore myself (and you!), I'll follow up with books, television shows, music and, of course, comics.  No set number of selections here and no particular order.

1)  The New World
Director Terrence Malick’s lyrical and exhilarating meditation on the lives of...John Smith and Pocahontas?  No, I’m not kidding.

2)  Matchstick Men
The much-mocked Nicholas Cage gives a brilliant, touching performance in a brilliant, touching film.

3)  Catch Me If You Can
Spielberg, Hanks and DeCaprio come together in a movie that reminds us that Hollywood really can still make them like they used to.

4)  King of California
An overlooked gem, with Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood letter-perfect as a modern-day Don Quixote and his Sancho Panza daughter.

5)  Monsters, Inc.
I adored Pixar's Up and Toy Story 2 and thought Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride was a perfect little gem, but MI stole my heart:  it’s not just my favorite animated film of the decade, it’s one of my favorite animated films ever.  I watched it again recently and it’s every bit as good as I remembered.

6)  Lagaan/Om Shanti Om
Two of the most genuinely entertaining movies I'ver ever seen: 
Bollywood at its very best.  If you’re looking for restraint, try Lagaan; if you want pure Mumbai excess, go with Om Shanti Om.

7)  Enchanted
Enchanting.  Old school Disney magic with a new millennium twist.

8)  Wristcutters  A Love Story
The best indie movie you’ve never heard of.  Don't ask me how a movie about suicide and a grey, dismal afterlife ends up being so life affirming, but it does.

9)  Shadow Magic
The (fictional) story of the first Westerner to bring movies to China becomes a celebration of the power of both film itself and the human imagination.

10) Water
As far from Bollywood as you can get:  a devastating—and unforgettable—look at the treatment of women in India.

My favorite new director of the decade was Tom Tykwer.  If I had to pick one of his films for this list, it would probably be Heaven—with the great Cate Blanchette—but it’s more the collective impact of his work that has stayed with me.

And I suspect that, once the smoke clears, both District 9 and Avatar will stand as my favorite science-fiction films of the past ten years.  Star Trek fans, you may commence firing.

More tomorrow.  Maybe.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis