Tuesday, December 20, 2011


On television they’re trotting out Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, seemingly-infinite variations on A Christmas Carol  (none better than the 1951 version starring the incomparable Alastair Sim) and my absolute favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life (yes, I cry every time I see it.  That’s the sign of a great story: you're surprised and moved even when you know every beat).  

Here at Creation Point we have our own Yuletide tradition.  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.  Since then, I’ve been offering it annually as a kind of cyber Christmas present:  my way of wishing all of you who visit this site the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases.  I offer it again this year.  So grab a plate of Christmas cookies, pull a chair up close to the fireplace and enjoy. 

Here's to a new year filled with health, happiness, prosperity, abundance, creativity, magic—and love above all.  See you all in 2012.



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 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, December 16, 2011


Thanks to the kind folks at IDW Publishing, I just received an advance copy of the new hardcover edition of Brooklyn Dreams.  I'm happy to report that Chris Ryall, Justin Eisenger and their entire team have done a fantastic job.  Something about a hardcover adds a feeling of permanence to the book and the larger size—significantly bigger than the previous collection—really lets Glenn Barr's extraordinary art shine.

There are few projects of mine that mean as much to me as BD and none that mean more.  The IDW edition releases on January 11th:  a great start to the new year.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Frank Sinatra's always been there in my life.  My mother—who, as a teenager, would cut high school to go swoon over Sinatra at New York's Paramount theater—made sure his songs were playing constantly in our house.  (For the record:  My father loved Frankie just as much.  If you were Italian, you had to.  It was a genetic imperative.)  I may have been a child of the rock and roll generation, but I was always under Sinatra's spell; and the older I got, the more I came to love—make that revere—his mix of swagger and vulnerability, bravado and tenderness.  Most of all I came to appreciate the aching humanity in Frank Sinatra's music.  For all his Vegas, Rat Pack glamor, he was, beneath it all, a skinny kid from Hoboken who knew the same loneliness and despair, hope and joy, that we all do.  And he was blessed with an extraordinary voice that could express it in the most natural, and yet magical, of ways.

In honor of what would have been Frank Sinatra's 96th birthday, here are some classic moments—starting with a very young Sinatra singing what was then his signature song:

And now here's Frankie at the height of his powers, with the amazing Count Basie and his orchestra storming away behind him:

And, finally, Sinatra in the autumn of his years, voice waning (and all the more poignant for it), facing down the darkness with eloquence and heart.

Happy Birthday, Frank.  The song is you, indeed.

©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, December 9, 2011


I was ready to create a new Christmas post—something I try to do every year—when I came across a binder that contained the following piece that I wrote, four years ago, for my extinct—and utterly obliterated—Amazon blog.  Reading it, I realized that it said everything I want to say to you about this most magical of seasons.  (Thanks to my 2007 self for doing all the work!)  So here it is (with some minor editing):  a cyber-angel to top the Creation Point tree. 


How exactly does it happen?  One minute it’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving gallops past, Madison Avenue starts shoving Christmas commercials down our throats—and I find myself feeling impossibly older, wondering how another year could have gone by so blindingly fast.  I’m not remotely in the mood to deck any halls, let alone start shopping.  It may not be “Christmas—bah, Humbug!” but it’s certainly, “Christmas?  Not yet!”  And then, suddenly:

I’m channel surfing and happen upon the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol (on TCM, of course)—and, instantly, I’m eight years old again:  staying up late on Christmas Eve with my father and sister, watching both the ‘38 and (far superior) 1951 versions of ACC, which one of our local New York stations would play, over and over, all night long.  (At least that’s the way I remember it.  And the memory has more resonance than the reality, right?)

But it's not 1961 any more—and I’m sitting there, alone in my living room, completely enchanted by a story I’ve seen and read dozens...possibly hundreds...of times.  How is it that each new encounter with A Christmas Carol—each moment of dread and hope, terror and redemption—feels utterly new?  When it’s over (and by this time I’ve been joined by my wife and daughter) I sit there smiling:  soul uplifted, utterly content.

A couple of days later, my wife and I go out and buy a Christmas tree.  We angle it into the hatchback, head home, and the car starts to fill up with a distinctive scent of pine.  That extraordinary smell goes straight to my heart:  the next thing I know my eyes are thick with tears and I realize, without a doubt, that it really is Christmas.

Of course it wasn’t the scent of that particular tree that touched me so deeply, it was the scent of Christmas Itself:  every Christmas I’ve ever lived through, every Christmas that’s ever been.  The spirit of this season—when we celebrate the descent of God in human form—somehow transcends time and place, culture and religion, and calls forth the best of who we are as human beings on this planet.  I can try to analyze it, but, really, it’s magic. 

So no more grousing at commercials, no more ranting at Time for ripping through my life at warp speed.  No, I’m going to breathe in the pine, plug in the lights, open the doors of our home to friends and family—and invite the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to join us for a feast of the heart.  I’m going to embrace the magic of Christmas and let it transform me.

May it transform you, too—and may we all carry that magic into the New Year and use it to transform our world in amazing and miraculous ways.

Merry Christmas!

©copyright 2011  J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, November 28, 2011


We live in an age of play dates, where it sometimes seems that you can’t get two children together without parents sifting through overstuffed schedules (“How about three weeks from Thursday?”), plotting travel routes on the GPS, planning kids’ activities as if they’re military campaigns.  When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I lived in an apartment building—dozens of families with dozens of children inhabiting the same four story walk-up—which meant that the play date concept was utterly alien to me.  If I was bored after school, all I had to do was tromp down the stairs and open the front door to find a screaming horde of kids waiting to hurl themselves, often literally, into an afternoon of play.  Summer camp?  Who needed it when when I was permanently enrolled in Camp Ocean Avenue?  Summers, in fact, were the most intoxicating part of the year.  For one thing there was no school.  For another, those three months expanded out toward infinity, the vacation quite literally feeling as if it lasted thousands of years.  Our perception of time, or perhaps our ability to see through the illusion of time, was very different then.  Now I blink and a year passes; then you could stand on a mountaintop in June and never catch sight of September.  July and August were endless countries, far beyond the tyranny of clocks. 

My best friend, Bob Izzo, and I were both of the dreaming bent, storytelling came naturally to us, so the other kids often cast us—or perhaps we cast ourselves—in the role of Story Shamans, creating the worlds, the characters, the emotional premises for our collective adventures. (We didn’t realize what we were doing, of course, we just did it:  spontaneously, effortlessly.)  In essence, we were creating what we’d now call Role Playing Games.  Twin game masters, we constructed launching pads from which our rockets of imagination would blast heavenward, passing through dimensional barriers into a multiverse of imaginary worlds.  Weaving ancient spells, we shapeshifted our apartment house gang into cave men, cowboys, Civil Warriors; astronauts, pirates and knights of the realm.  These games would last for days, sometimes weeks; one summer saga went on for months as we acted out a sprawling tale about a band of rebels trying to overthrow a despotic king.  Bobby was the rebel leader, I was the prince, son of the despot, who, depending on my mood (and the plot twists required to keep things interesting) would either aid the rebels or betray them.  (This epic came complete with a musical soundtrack:  whenever he’d be engaged in a life-or-death duel—involving either imaginary swords or fallen branches—our friend Michael Todd would begin humming a score worthy of Bernard Herrmann or Erich Wolfgang Korngold.)

We wouldn’t always create new stories from the ground up, sometimes we’d take off on on a favorite movie (“Let’s play Robin Hood!”), a current book (when I was in the fifth grade, Izzo and I devoured, and then enacted, the James Bond series, except in our versions there were two dashing leads) or a familiar historical saga.  One true story we were obsessed with was the tale of the Alamo.  (What nine year old boy could resist a battle that combined Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and a desperate lost cause?  I must have read Robert Penn Warren’s book, Remember the Alamo!, half-a-dozen times).  We would reenact, and wildly embellish, that classic last stand over and over.  I was always Colonel Travis, drawing the line in the sand, telling the men that they were free to leave but, if they wanted to stay, they could cross that daunting line and remain with me—to die, heroically (or so it seemed to us then; we weren’t up on historical nuance) defending the fort.

Izzo and I created our own comic books, as well.  Shocking as it may sound to those of you familiar with the pacifist thread in my work, I was crazy for war comics (before I ever read Spider-Man, I was a devoted follower of Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and his DC predecessor, the equally-unshaven Sgt. Rock).  Working feverishly, Bobby and I produced two issues of The Daring Diamond Brothers:  the story of four siblings (one in the Navy, one in the Army, one in the Marines and one in the Air Force) fighting World War II.  Bob and I co-wrote the stories, I drew them (swiping as many images as I could from Fury, Rock, Johnny Cloud and the rest) and we both colored them with all the Crayola passion we could muster.  (In the second issue—titled “Death of a Diamond!”—P.T. Boat Captain Rob Diamond was killed in action and his brothers sought bloody revenge.  Perhaps because we never thought we could top such a masterpiece, that was the final issue of The Daring Diamond Brothers.)

Drawing and comic books were two of my primary passions and, being at heart a solitary kid—more than happy to keep my own company—I’d spend endless hours alone, on the living room floor, creating comics.  Sometimes I’d write and draw my own originals, sometimes—and I have incredibly clear memories of this—I’d take a comic I loved, place it next to me on the linoleum, then get out my paper and crayons and do my best to recreate that cover, line for line.  It was like a meditation:  concentrating on “Bob Kane’s” square-jawed Batman, time dissolved and—absorbed in a dimension of pure creativity, pure play—I was complete.

I bring all this up not for nostalgia’s sake, although the memories are wonderful ones, but because that purity of play is the heart and soul of the writing life—and something easily lost in the pressure cooker of the adult world.  Yes, I’m blessed, beyond words, to be paid for doing something I love, to continue in the role of Story Shaman that Bob Izzo and I first performed all those years ago.  On my best days, when that combination of innocence and imagination has me in its grip, I become less a writer than a channeler; a kid again, happily adrift in a world without time, all sense of self lost in the creative act.  But there are days—sometimes too many of them—when what I do can become a (dare I say it?) job and I look at my work with a weary, and occasionally cynical, eye.  When writing is reduced to merely work, something utterly essential is lost; and, in order to survive, to flourish, I have to, I must, reconnect with that little boy who journeyed to Mars and the Alamo, Sherwood Forest and Camelot. 

Last year I made a small poster and taped it to one of the book cases in my office.  On it is a magical formula:  Imagination + Creativity = PLAY.  Those words are accompanied by a picture of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (as pure an expression of imagination as I’ve ever come across), a spider (the Native American god of, among other things, writing and creation) and a couple of pictures of myself as an exceptionally-happy four year old.  It’s a way to remind myself to remain as innocent, as joyful, as connected to Cosmic Dreaming as that little boy was.  That’s the surest way to get out of a hole when a story I’m working on suddenly shrivels up and dies; when my characters stop talking to me; when editors, mortgage payments, rejections, deadlines and a mailbox full of bills conspire to crush my spirit.  If I listen carefully, I can hear Little Marc’s voice, offering the best advice a writer can get.  “It’s a game!” he says.  “Lighten up!  Have fun!  Play!”  

And when I follow those instructions, this is, bar none, the greatest job in any universe. 

©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Thought I'd share a few reflections on the first Imagination 101 workshop, generously provided by some of the students in the class.  And perhaps these comments will inspire you to sign up for the next workshop in the spring.  (Look for an announcement early in 2012.)

“What an amazing experience!  I know that there are hundreds who can benefit from your guidance in honoring our creative selves and I really hope they give themselves this chance to challenge themselves and to go beyond whatever held them back in the past.  This workshop deserves to be a top priority for any potential writer.  I can't thank you enough!“—Jeff Z

“Mr. DeMatteis taught us a great deal about how to write outlines, scripts (in different styles) and even how to collaborate with other creative minds. The weekend was also packed with precious inside knowledge and the no-pressure and always-positive environment he created has literally jump-started the hesitant writer inside of me.  Thanks, J.M., for encouraging me to write from within—and without fear.”—Rodrigo B  

“It was a great weekend! Can't recommend this class enough. Full of insights and inspiration. I've been writing like a maniac ever since.  Looking forward to Imagination 201, 301, and then sipping scotch on the veranda with the lads from the class as we celebrate our first published works."—Eruch A.

"J.M led the workshop with a patient enthusiasm... He made it so intriguing to learn just how his characters came to him, how to tell their stories and how we could tell our own characters' stories.  This was an imaginative, deep exploration into the creative process of character storytelling and creation that was both practical and inspiring. The group dynamic of creating our own storyline right alongside J.M himself was a thrill I will never forget. It was so much fun and went by so fast.  Thank you!"—Joshua K

"Imagine if you will, a place where you can become anyone...be anywhere...do anything. That's just what J.M. DeMatteis and his Imagination 101 workshop empowers you to do.  It's intense. It's laid back.  It's a weekend in an unassuming conference room, but you'll soon find out how to leave the conference room and create your own universe with the power of imagination and will. Also, cheese. Lots of cheese."—Adam M

This ends the workshop hype—at least until January, 2012!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This past weekend I launched the first Imagination 101 writing workshop and it exceeded all my expectations, primarily because the students that arrived on Friday night were so incredibly sincere, enthusiastic and talented.  They brought such an open-hearted, open-minded energy that it was easy for me to open up in return and, I hope, exceed their expectations as well.

We had a fantastic time talking about both the metaphysics of the writing life and the day-to-day practicalities.  There were philosophical discourses, nuts-and-bolts dissections of craft, and, perhaps best of all, a chance to sit as a group and create a story from the ground up.  By the time the workshop was over, we were already discussing the next level of class—Imagination 201:  four days of intensive writing, building on the groundwork of the 101 weekend.  With a little luck, I'll be launching that in May.

However much I prepared for Imagination 101, I really didn't know how it would play out; so thanks, deep thanks, to this extraordinary first class (you can see some, but not all, of them in the photo below) for giving me the gift of their enthusiasm and wisdom and making this event so memorable.

There's another 101 class coming up in Massachusetts in the spring—I'll make an announcement early in the new year—and I've got more planned here in upstate New York and elsewhere.  I can't wait to see what amazing future will grow from the seeds that we all just planted.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


If you missed my episode of Ben 10 last night, you can watch the first part below (and when that's done, you should be able to click on over to part two).  I'm very happy with the way the show turned out—but I wouldn't expect anything less from a series overseen by the extraordinarily talented, and sorely missed, Dwayne McDuffie.  Don't know how long this link will remain active, so get it while you can.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Some of you may have heard about a forthcoming book—by former editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Retorter, Army Parsons—that claims to be a tell-all about my long and tumultuous collaboration with Keith Giffen.  I'm happy to report that Keith and I have sued the company behind this four hundred page horror, Shlockmeister Press, and blocked publication of the book.  To give you an idea of the incendiary nature of this disgusting (and, I hate to admit, often accurate) piece of trash, I present an excerpt from...

Giffen & DeMatteis:

Army Parsons

    In January of 2008, at the Lou Costello Memorial Trailer Park in Patterson, New Jersey, the prestigious Academy of Comedy Arts and Sciences presented their 54th Annual Pie In The Face Awards.  The centerpiece of the evening was—as it has always been—the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Over the years, the greats of comedy—from Jack Benny, George Burns and Groucho Marx to Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Yahoo Serious—have taken the stage to be applauded by their peers and acknowledged for their groundbreaking contributions to the art and craft of comedy.
    2008 was a banner year for the PITFs as it was the first time in the Academy’s history that the LAA was presented not to comedic performers, but to writers:  in this case, the number one comedy writing team of the latter half of the twentieth century,  Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.  (It’s true of course that Giffen & DeMatteis made two films together, the minor 1988 hit Bwah-ha-ha and the more recent, commercially disappointing, Bwah-ha-ha 2:  Aren’t We Too Old For This?—but it is their written work, far more than their amiable, albeit embarrassingly inept, movies, for which they are celebrated.)  
    It was nearly midnight when co-hosts William Shatner and Candice Bergen introduced comedy legend Shecky Hecky, who spoke at length about the Giffen/DeMatteis team and their profound influence on the landscape of modern humor.  “From the first time,” Hecky said, eyes misting over with tears, “I picked up a copy of Justice League and saw Batman take out Guy Gardner with one punch, I knew...I absolutely knew...that I was in the presence of genius.”   Forty minutes later, after two thirds of the audience, bored by Hecky’s tedious and self-aggrandizing introduction, had left the park, the “Bwah-ha-ha” boys themselves, Giffen & DeMatteis, took to the stage, accompanied by the man credited with rescuing them from a decade of hellish obscurity, publishing magnate Ross Richie. 
    The remaining audience members jumped to their feet for a deafening twelve second standing ovation while Keith and J.M. mugged and clowned, DeMatteis hitting Giffen over the head with a rubber chicken, Giffen playfully shattering DeMatteis’s ribs with a baseball bat.   Their acceptance speech was short and sweet: “Thank you,” a weeping DeMatteis said, while Richie phoned for an ambulance.  “Go to hell, all of you bastards,” Giffen added, with customary charm.
    An incredible ending to an incredible night; but, how, I wondered, had it all begun?
    l986.  Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Heehee’s was the preeminent comedy club of the day.  Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Anthony Hopkins and innumerable other young comics got their start at this cramped, smoky bistro.   Owner Sleazo Marx, briefly the adopted son of Zeppo Marx (I say briefly, because the adoption didn’t turn out well:   Sleazo was returned to the orphanage, for a full refund, after six weeks), recalled those heady days in his autobiography Sultan of Sleaze:  “The place was always packed and I was always drunk and broke.  Tuesday night was Open Mike Night...a chance for any kid with a dream (and twenty bucks) to step up and try out his stuff.  That’s how I first met those two jackasses.” 
    Giffen was a skinny kid from Queens with stars in his eyes and a chip on his shoulder.  His act consisted of foul-mouthed insults, machine-gunned at the audience with a rapid-fire delivery reminiscent of Bob Hope and Adolph Hitler.  He’d been coming to Open Mike Night for nearly a year...but his insult humor consistently failed to ignite the crowd.  “Every week,” Sleazo noted,  “the idiot would start a fist fight with somebody in the audience.   I remember this time six nuns visiting from Columbia beat the crap out of him.  He was a week away from being banned from Heehee’s forever when he and DeMatteis hooked up.”
    J.M. DeMatteis was a naive and idealistic kid from the slums of Flatbush.  Inspired by his heroes, Jack Benny, the Smothers Brothers and Huntz Hall, his was a style far more relaxed than his future partner’s.  J.M. would take to the stage and, accompanying himself on the electric banjo, sing Beatles songs in Esperanto.  Between numbers, he’d stand, with his mouth open (and occasionally drooling), staring blankly at the audience.  “I worked for years, in front of the bathroom mirror, perfecting that stare,” J.M. would later reminisce.  “I thought it was hilarious.”  Unfortunately, no one else did.
    Giffen and DeMatteis became friends during this time, often sitting out on the Brooklyn docks between sets, sharing their dreams, while Giffen indulged in his lifelong habit of chain-smoking french fries.  It was at this time that the two young men discovered their mutual love of comic books, specifically the work of innovator Stanley Myron Curbstone, creator of the classic, short-lived (it was canceled three weeks before he sold it to National Comics), 1940’s super-hero parody,  Super-Hero Parody.   “I’m tellin’ ya,” the young Giffen once observed, “if this comedy thing doesn’t work out...I might try writin’ comics.  I mean, how hard can it be puttin’ the words inside those little bubbles?”     
    “Never give up on your dreams,” DeMatteis (a long-time follower of Indian sailor-turned-guru Barnacle Baba) responded.  “You have to have faith, Keith—in yourself...and in the benevolence of the universe.  Close your eyes, go deep into your  soul.  Manifest your dreams in your mind first—and then you’ll be able to bring them into form on the material plane.”
     “I hate that spiritual crap,” Giffen replied, before kicking DeMatteis into the bay.

    Entertainment lightning struck on the night of October 25, 1986.  Giffen had already done his set—the response had been even worse than usual and, in retaliation, Keith urinated on the crowd—and DeMatteis was halfway through his routine, strumming away on his banjo, wailing an off-key, Esperanto rendition of “Helter Skelter.”
    That’s when someone in the audience—several witnesses claim it was Sleazo Marx himself—threw the brick, straight at J.M.’s head.
    The brick missed its mark but hit the banjo—a fifty dollar Sears Silvertone with an amplifier built into the case—and completely shattered it.  Panicked and shaken, DeMatteis stood there, staring at the audience and drooling prodigiously.
    “I was watching him,” Giffen recalled, in the 2002 HBO documentary, How They Became Nobodies, “standing up there like a deer in the headlights.  The audience was jeering and calling him names even I wouldn’t use.  I knew I had to do something.”  Jumping up onto a table directly in front of the stage, Giffen scratched his armpits like a monkey and shouted the first words that came into his head:  “Bwah-ha-ha!” “I don’t know why I said it,” Giffen told HBO.  “It didn’t have any special meaning.  It just kinda popped out.”  DeMatteis stopped drooling for a moment, focused on his friend and, without thinking, replied:  “Bwah-ha-HA?” 
    The audience laughed.
    “Bwah-HA-ha!” Giffen said in response.
    The audience howled.
    For the next forty-two minutes, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis kept repeating those three syllables, using every possible inflection, emphasis, and ersatz foreign accent they could think of:  “Bwah-ha-ha!” over and over again.
    The laughter was deafening—and a comedy legend was born.


    They’d been playing to packed houses at Heehee’s for six straight weeks when The Incident happened.  “Those morons were on the verge of incredible success,” Sleazo Marx wrote.  “They could’ve been the next Wayne and Shuster.”  Giffen & DeMatteis—that’s how they were now billed—were the hottest ticket in New York.  They’d acquired an eager young manager—pop culture maven and, ironically, future comic book editor Danny Fingeroth—and were two weeks away from a national tour of the nation’s foremost comedy clubs.  “Everywhere you went in New York,” Fingeroth told me, years later, the hurt and shock still evident in his eyes, “you could hear people on the street saying, ‘Bwah-ha-ha.’  I can’t believe that Giffen was dumb enough to throw it all away.”
    Accounts of the night’s events vary.  All that’s really known is that, halfway through the duo’s second set, at precisely eleven forty-five p.m., Keith Giffen did something so twisted, so unspeakable, so despicable and vile that nobody who was there will ever talk about it.  “Just you bringing it up,” Fingeroth told me, “makes me want to vomit repeatedly.”  Sleazo Marx, in his autobiography, would only write, “I’ve seen repulsive things in my life...but this was so sickening it nearly made me lose control of my bowels.” 
    In the HBO documentary, Giffen merely grins devilishly when asked about The Incident.  DeMatteis, on the other hand, breaks down in tears.  “Sleazo Marx,” he whimpers, “was so mad at us he immediately picked up the phone and called The King of Comedy himself, Milton Berle.  When Sleazo told Milton what happened, it was all over.  We were banned from show business forever.  We were finished.”


    DeMatteis spent the next several months hidden away in the attic of his parents’ house.  “I seriously considered going to India,” he recalled, “and spending the rest of my life in Barnacle Baba’s ashram.  But no matter how much I begged, my father wouldn’t give me the money.”
    Giffen was living in a basement apartment in Queens, working nights at Burger King and smoking far too many french fries.  “I’d steal them from the freezer and hide them under my shirt when I left work,” he once told me, in a rare display of vulnerability.  “I think if I would have gone on that way, I would have died.  Or gotten very fat.  That’s when I got the comic book idea.”
    When DeMatteis’s phone rang in early 1987 and he heard Giffen’s voice on the other end, J.M. slammed the receiver down in anger.  But Giffen kept calling and calling and, finally, DeMatteis’s mother—who desperately wanted her son out of the house—forced him to talk to Keith.  “The comic book idea,” as Giffen called it, was simple.  Take their unique brand of humor—The Bwah-ha-ha—and transport it to the printed page, following in the footsteps of their mutual idol, Stanley Myron Curbstone.  DeMatteis thought the idea was idiotic until Giffen pointed out that, if they were very lucky, they might be able to split twelve bucks a page.
    With dollar signs dancing in his eyes, DeMatteis agreed.


    The team’s first stop was Marvel Comics, where Managing Editor Tom DeFalco listened to Giffen’s pitch for one of the company’s lowest selling titles, The Defenders.  “Imagine this,” Giffen said, enthusiastically.  “Doctor Strange is Jack Benny, the Hulk is Curly Howard and the Sub-Mariner is Paul Lynde.” 
    “What about the Silver Surfer?” DeFalco asked. 
    “That’s the best part!” DeMatteis erupted, leaping to his feet.  “He doesn’t do anything!  Just hangs out on the beach with a bunch of surfer-dudes!”
    Tom DeFalco was a gentle, saintly man with infinite patience, but, after listening, with mounting disgust, to Giffen and DeMatteis’s plans for desecrating four of Marvel’s most-beloved characters, he got up from behind his desk, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to beat the team mercilessly.  Even Giffen, quite the scrapper himself, was helpless before DeFalco’s fury.  When the rampaging editor was done, bones were broken and copious blood had been spilled.  “Get these bums outta here!” DeFalco barked to his assistant—who then tossed the two unconscious comedians into the service elevator.
    When he regained consciousness, DeMatteis was, understandably, upset.  “Well,” he said to his partner, “here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” 
    Giffen was undeterred.  “C’mon,” he said, grabbing DeMatteis by the bloody nose and out onto the street, “we’re going uptown to DC!”
    The pair, having stopped to purchase crutches along the way, hobbled into the lobby of DC Comics at 3:45 on a Monday afternoon.  As fate would have it, this was exactly when editor Andy Helfer (a shrewd and dapper young playboy perhaps best known as the man who hired artist/writer Frank Miller for the wildly-successful revival of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen) was arriving for work, accompanied by his valet, Kevin Maguire.  (Maguire, born to humble farmers in Iowa, was an extraordinarily gifted young artist with dreams of becoming a comic book illustrator.  He hoped that working for the wealthy and influential Helfer would pave the way for a career in the business.)  The four stepped into an elevator together, unaware that Destiny had entered with them.
    Helfer, it turns out, was raised in Brooklyn and occasionally returned to his old stomping grounds.  He’d spent many a Saturday night at Heehee’s in Sheepshead Bay and, unknown to Keith and J.M., was a passionate and dedicated Giffen & DeMatteis fan.  Andy had been heartbroken when the team split and could hardly control his excitement when he realized that he was actually meeting his idols.
    The two aspiring comic book writers were equally excited when Helfer invited them into his office.  While Maguire dutifully tended to their wounds and set their broken bones, the editor explained that he’d recently been asked to revive DC’s flagship super-team book, Justice League of America—and he thought that the Giffen/DeMatteis touch was just what the series needed.
    DeMatteis, who had his heart set on a revival of Curbstone’s Super Hero Parody, refused at first (a reluctance that never fully abated.  He would, in fact, quit Justice League sixty-two times over the next five years), but Giffen, who sensed an opportunity for the pair to reinvent themselves, immediately agreed.  “Don’t you get it?” Giffen whispered to his partner.  “We can take our Defenders ideas, mix ‘em up a little, and use ‘em  here!  If the book’s a hit, they’ll let us do anything we want!” 
    DeMatteis was still uncertain; but, when he noticed Helfer’s valet doodling on the wall (an impressive series of drawings that depicted Superman and Captain Marvel having a lengthy conversation), he was struck by an idea that was truly inspired.  “I’ll do it,” DeMatteis announced,  “but only if Kevin Maguire draws the book!” 


Okay, so maybe there's no such book, and no such person as Army Parsons, and maybe the idiocy above is really a piece I wrote, a few years back, for the first Hero Squared trade paperback.  But most of it is true.  Really!  Y'know, except for the parts that aren't.  

Which would be all of it.

©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Okay, I know I said I wouldn't be back for a week or so, but I forgot to mention that this Sunday, October 30th, I'll be appearing at the Albany Comic Con in Albany, New York.  It's an intimate, one-day convention -- the polar opposite of mega-cons like SDCC and NYCC -- which allows fans and professionals to interact in a loose, informal atmosphere.  The guests include Ron Marz, Jim Starlin, Todd Dezago, Lee Moder, Matthew Dow Smith, living legends Dick Ayers and Joe Sinnott—and many more.  The best part?  Admission is only five dollars.  How can a comic book fan possibly go wrong?  Hope to see you there!


October has been a traveling month—ten days for a business trip to Los Angeles followed by a college-hunting journey with my wife and daughter—leaving very little time to nurse Creation Point along.  But I’m back in the cyber-saddle and should be up and blogging soon.  For now, though, I just want to say a quick hello and mention a few odds and ends that I hope you’ll find interesting.

First up:  a gentle suggestion to amble over to your local comic book shop today, pick up a copy of the just-released Spider-Man #19 and read a ten pager I wrote that teams Spidey and the Silver Surfer in a fun, all-ages adventure.  You can also hop over to Comic Book Resources where Sean T. Collins (who wrote the other story in the issue) and I have a lengthy and, I think, interesting talk about what it’s like writing the adventures of Peter Parker and Company.

Speaking of CBR, Brian Cronin, Lord and Master of the blog Comic Book Legends Revealed, is doing a Halloween-month survey of “the scariest comic books of all time.”  I was surprised to find a story of mine—a short and, I believed, utterly forgettable piece from very early in my career—called “Mikey’s Friend” included in the list.  I was even more surprised when I discovered that playwright, screenwriter and comic book scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa read “Mikey’s Friend” when he was a kid and that, for him, it was anything but forgettable; in fact it gave the poor guy nightmares off-and-on for twenty years!  Just goes to show you that the writer is often the last one to gauge the impact of his work.

I don't know what impact this will have on tender young psyches, but this Friday night at 7:30 (6:30 Central) my Ben-10 episode, "Ultimate Sacrifice," will be airing on Cartoon Network.  I worked on this story with the enormously-talented, and profoundly-missed, Dwayne McDuffie—who did such a spectacular job producing the show—so I'm both excited and saddened by the opportunity to see how the episode took shape under Dwayne's care.

Finally, a reminder that my weekend writing workshop, Imagination 101, is coming up soon and there’s still room in the class if you’d like to register.  (Zap an email to imaginationworkshops@gmail.com for more info.)  We’ll be exploring the World of Story from both the practical and metaphysical perspectives.  It’s going to be a fun, intimate three days of education and creative play.  Come join us if you can.

That’s it for now.  I’ll be back, in a week or so, with some thoughts about the value of simple human kindness in the writing life.

Friday, October 7, 2011


This Sunday, October 9th, is John Lennon's birthday:  his 71st, to be precise.  There always seems to be a new Lennon book out on this anniversary and this year it's Tim Riley's Lennon:  The Man, the Myth, the Music—The Definitive Life.  The buzz about the book is very good, but I doubt if it's definitive.  In fact, I doubt if any biography of any human being can ever be called definitive; and when you're dealing with a complex and mercurial character like Lennon, the definitive will always be elusive.  (I'll read it, of course:  how could I not?)

If there is a single definitive element about John Lennon's life, it's his music.  Here's one of his greatest—and most desperate—songs, performed live at Madison Square Garden in 1972.  (He did two shows that day, one in the afternoon, one at night:  I was in the audience for the evening show.)

Happy Birthday, John. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011


When I was at the Baltimore Comic Con last month, I was touched by the number of people who—despite the fact that it’s been five years since the last new Abadazad material was published—expressed their sadness and dismay over the demise of the series and their hope that, some day, some way, it can return. (Needless to say, I share their sentiments!)  So for all the loyal Zaddites out there, here’s a special gift:  something that sheds some light on the story’s roots and at least hints at where it was headed.  Consider it my "thank you" to all the people who have taken Kate Jameson and her friends into their hearts.

What you’ll find below is my original Abadazad proposal:  the one I sent to CrossGen Comics back in 2003.  The one that fired up editor Ian Feller and publisher Mark Alessi and lured the legendary Mike Ploog back into the comic book field.  (And thank goodness for that:  I can’t imagine Abadazad without our collaboration and friendship.  You're a good man, Mr. Ploog!)

Keep in mind that, by the time we actually started working on the comics, and the Hyperion book series that followed, a number of the ideas presented here were jettisoned:  most notably the scene of Kate sampling from her mother’s liquor cabinet.  (Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.)  This proposal was primarily a structure to hang the story on, a way to communicate, in a condensed form, how I saw the characters and what I hoped to do with the series.  If, as we hope, Abadazad does indeed return, the story will no doubt head in directions not hinted at below.

And, for the record:  Abadazad is © copyright 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 


An Outline
J. M. De Matteis

Once upon a time:

Twelve year old KATIE JAMESON takes her six year old brother, MATT, to a street fair in Brooklyn.  It’s instantly clear—in both the tender way Katie watches over her brother and the light in Matt’s eyes when he looks at his sister—that these two are joined by a profound bond of love.  Their father left years ago, their mother works two jobs...and these two have become partners in survival; seasoned soldiers in the Divorce Wars, who hold tight to each other as the bullets whiz over their heads.

Matt’s on a kiddie ride, Katie watching delightedly as he sails in circles in a mini-boat:  Matt sails around, happy...slips out of sight behind the center pole...sails back into view, happy...out of sight...sails back, happy...out of sight...and then the boat comes around again—

—and the boy is gone.  And he is nowhere to be found.  That day ...or any day thereafter.

Five years later:

FRANCES JAMESON, Katie and Matt’s mother, is a heavy drinker, who has never gotten over the loss of her son:  She still puts up posters in the neighborhood.  She’s got a closet filled with milk cartons with her son’s face on it.

Katie, now a surly teenager whose taste runs to black nails, gothic clothing, and Death Metal, has had enough of her mother’s clinging to the past.  Her oft-repeated—and shockingly heartless—advice to her mother:  “It’s been five years.  He’s dead.  Get over it.”  Frances is at a loss as to how to handle Kate.  (Which the girl now prefers to the more juvenile—or so she sees it—Katie.)  She keeps insisting that her daughter go to a therapist.  “I’d rather jump out a window,” Kate swears, “than go see some stupid shrink.”

But Kate’s cold cynicism masks a teenager in despair.  Riddled with guilt, wondering what she could have done to save her brother.

Frances finds relief (and a kind of sweet pain) in retreating into the Tales of Abadazad:  a series of children’s books—part Oz/part  Narnia/part Doctor Seuss— that she and Matt would read all the time.  Written, between l900 and l920, by Franklin O. Barrie, the twelve Abadazad books chronicled the adventures of a little Missouri girl named Martha, who journeyed, with the help of an Enchanted Blue Globe, into the fairyland of Abadazad.

(No, these books don’t really exist.  They’re my creation.)

Matt’s room, left untouched since his disappearance, is a virtual shrine to the series —with Abadazad dolls, plastic figures, games, cups, posters, calendars.  Thus the room itself becomes a kind of time-portal connecting Frances to her lost child.  To the joy and innocence they shared.

Kate tells her mother that keeping the room untouched is sick:  “Throw that junk out and get on with your life.  Abadazad’s just a load of mindless crap.  There’s no such thing as ‘happily ever after,’ Mother.  Haven’t you figured that out by now?”  But that doesn’t stop Kate from slipping into Matt’s room in the middle of the night, remembering hours spent under the covers with a flashlight, journeying to Abadazad with her brother.  To lock herself away in that room is one of the few joys—however bittersweet —of Kate’s wounded young life.

Meanwhile, the woman in the apartment upstairs, an old African American woman in her seventies named MARTHA, corrals Kate for tea.  Kate has always avoided the old woman (something about her gives Kate the creeps) but Martha’s invitation comes at a moment when Kate is feeling extremely lost and vulnerable—and she accepts.

Over tea, Kate notes a variety of Abadazad collectibles in Martha’s apartment.  Martha, with conspiratorial glee, tells Kate that they’re not collectibles...they’re the Real Thing.  “Straight from Queen Ija’s palace in Inconceivable.”  “Excuse me?” says Kate.  Martha, in fact, claims that she is the little girl from the books; that she related her adventures to the man her father worked for, Franklin O. Barrie, who then wrote up the tales, changing Martha from a little black girl to a little white girl because “let’s face it, no one in l900 would’ve bought it otherwise.”  According to the books, Martha—who was six years old in l900—should be over a hundred by now.  She’s not older, she insists, because Abadazad exists outside of time.  You don’t age while you’re there.  Eventually, Martha claims, the pull of adulthood, of life in the Real World, drew her away from Abadazad.  “But Queen Ija and the Two-Fold Witch told me that when my time came, I’d be with them again.  Reborn—a girl again!—in Abadazad.  And, oh,” says Martha, tears streaming down her cheeks, “how my heart longs for that day.”  

Kate is heading for the door, sure that she’s dealing with a certifiable lunatic, when Martha lurches after her, waving a bony finger in her face.  “Your brother,” the old woman insists, “is alive.  He’s been kidnapped by the Lanky Man.”   (One of the main villains of the Abadazad tales.)  “He’s found a way to cross over into our world...he’s been stealing children...pure-hearted children like your Matt...and heaven only knows what old Lanks intends to do with them!”  Martha says she only recently became aware of the Lanky Man’s excursions into The Real World —“If I was younger, I would’ve sniffed him out sooner!”—but she’s helpless to stop him.  “I’m too old,” she admits.  “But, you -- !  With my help you could cross-over to Abadazad, tell Queen Ija what’s happened.  She’ll help you find your brother and stop Lanky from -- “

Kate, cutting Martha off, thanks her for the information—and bolts.  This woman, she thinks, is totally bent.

Several days later, Martha passes away.

And leaves Kate the Blue Globe.  Martha’s note informs Kate that this is indeed the magical device that—according to the books—can transport a person into Abadazad.  Kate, of course, doesn’t take the thing to be real; just another reflection of the poor old woman’s lunacy.  And yet, something about that globe seems...strange.  Seductive.  Magical.  Kate, feeling like a fool for believing in the Globe for even a split second, stuffs the thing in the closet and forgets it.

Until one night—after a fight with her mother which ends with Frances, drunk and weeping, stumbling into bed—the Globe begins to glow...the light seeping out of the closet, flooding the apartment...drawing Kate to it.  And there, in the depths of the Globe, she sees her brother...and then she sees THE LANKY MAN (ten-foot long pipe-cleaner legs, eight bony arms, a top hat that rises into forever, and a nose so pointy you could sew with it), laughing at her.  She freaks, drops the Globe, it bounces away, then ricochets out the window into the alley below:  Shatters.

Kate decides to follow her mother’s lead.  Angry at Frances and herself and desperately trying to deny what she’s seen in the Blue Globe, she opens the liquor cabinet and attempts to get drunk.  Despite her look of Gothic Terror, Kate’s a pretty straight kid, not into drink or drugs:  One sip and she’s sick to her stomach.  In her disgust and confusion, she trips on a lamp-cord...topples out the window.

But she doesn’t fall.

Because the Blue Globe has re-formed itself...risen up out of the alley.  It bathes her in its blue light, holding her there, in mid-air, then sails through her bedroom window, carrying her safely inside.

Kate is awestruck.  Then, all at once, she remembers the words from the book, the magic words that, if one’s heart is pure enough, true enough, will get you into Abadazad:  She speaks the words.  And she’s sucked into the globe.  Into Abadazad!

In Abadazad, Kate meets Little Martha—who, after her death, was indeed reborn as a child in this magical land.  Martha takes Kate up the Living Staircase to Inconceivable—the airborne capital city of Abadazad—where she meets the miraculous, whimsical characters she’s read about for so many years, including:

MR. GLOOM:  part man, part dark and thunderous rain-cloud.  A powerful and intimidating figure, like a wild-eyed Old Testament prophet.  Everywhere he looks, everything he sees, is Gloom and Doom and End Of The World.  (His sentiments punctuated with thunder and lightning.)  Yet for all his gloomy talk, his actions are brave and idealistic.  He never gives up hope.
MARY ANNETTE:  A full-size, walking, talking marionette, long ago abandoned by the puppeteer that created her.  Though many assume she’s a brainless toy, Mary is shrewd and tough and cynical (far more cynical than she was ever portrayed in any of the books Kate read);  smarter than almost everyone in Abadazad.  But, despite her cynical exterior, in her heart, the puppet’s deepest longing is to be reunited with her mysterious, and long-missing, creator.

PROFESSOR HEADSTRONG:  An over-sized, bodiless head that rides in a clockwork cart.  He’s all logic and intellect; professorial pomposity and arrogance.  Or so he claims.  But he’s really such a sentimental sap that the littlest thing makes him weep like a baby.

QUEEN IJA:  An ageless beauty—like some sublime Hindu goddess—with  blue skin, silver hair, and a third eye, whose feet literally never touch the ground.  Whose winged throne floats and shimmers -- and who speaks, like all true oracles, in unfathomable riddles that ultimately contain the seeds of redemption.  Ija is the youngest daughter of THE FLOATING WARLOCK, Creator of Abadazad, who died, centuries before, during the Great War with the evil kingdom of Horrozad.  (Being dead, of course, hasn’t stopped him from making appearances in Abadazad -- where Floating Warlock sightings are as provocative, and as hotly debated, as UFO sightings are in our world.)

Kate isn’t sure if this is dream, delusion, or reality.  All she knows is that she’s delighted to be there.  And that the company of these odd, whimsical, innocent beings restores her faith and hope.  (Professor Headstrong theorizes that -- from Kate’s perspective, at least -- Abadazad exists on another plane, a dimension of mind and imagination, where thought possesses life and substance.  “What’s dreamed in your world, takes form here.  Of course,” he goes on, “from our perspective, we dreamed you.”)

But the dream is rudely interrupted when The Lanky Man—aware of Kate’s arrival in Abadazad, and sensing that she is a threat to his power—sends his allies, the explosively nasty Rocket-Heads, to attack Inconceivable.  The Rocket-Head army is repelled, but Kate, feeling responsible, sets off—accompanied by Martha, Mr. Gloom, Mary Annette, and Professor Headstrong—to find the Lanky Man and rescue Matt.

Amazing adventures follow (including an encounter with the Lanky Man’s scaled servant, THE BURPING DRAGON, and a glimpse of the Floating Warlock himself, sailing blithely past the moon) and the little group makes amazing progress as they wind their way through Abadazad toward The Wretchedly Awful City (a kind of Victorian nightmare, the industrial revolution gone mad) where The Lanky Man rules over a populace of enslaved, exploited children.

But the Lanky Man—who comes to Kate one night looking like her twin, claiming to be her unconscious mind given form—convinces Kate that all this is a delusion.  At the moment her belief and trust dissolve, so do her friends, so does Abadazad...and Kate finds herself back in the Real World, on the very night she left, feeling desperate, alone.  And uncertain about her own sanity.  She picks up The Blue Globe, speaks the magic words -- and nothing happens.  (Because she no longer has the conviction.)  She curls up on the floor -- and cries herself to sleep.

Kate  awakens in the morning to find her mother collecting the empty booze bottles and throwing them away.  Collecting all the Abadazad memorabilia, too, and packing it in trash bags (inadvertently stuffing an old creased school-portrait of Matt in one of the bags, as well).  She’s decided, she tells the amazed Kate, to take her advice.  She’s called her job and offered her resignation.  It’s time, she says to Kate, to put the past behind them.  They’re going to move:  out of this apartment, out of this city.

She takes the trash bags filled with Abadazad memorabilia—including the Blue Globe, Kate’s passport back to Abadazad—outside...just as the trash collectors arrive to take the garbage away.

But as the bags of trash are hauled toward the truck, one of them opens...and the photo of Matt flutters out, landing at Kate’s feet.  Kate kneels there, holding the picture in her hand, staring at that beautiful, innocent face...realizing that no matter what, she can’t give up on her brother.  Let the whole world call her insane, she cannot close her heart to the possibility that Magic Is Real.  That Abadazad Exists.

“Wait!” she roars, as the garbage truck starts up.  She leaps for it, rummaging, like a lunatic, through the bags, until she finds that precious Blue Globe.  Till she cradles it in her arms:  the Embodiment of Hope (however illogical).  The Doorway to Dreams (however absurd).

She looks over at the trash collectors—and sees, to her fear and amazement, that they’re Rocket-Heads...sent to our world to steal the Blue Globe and prevent Kate’s return to Abadazad.  They scramble toward Kate...

...but, with her faith and hope restored, she says the words...

...and flashes through the Globe...back to Abadazad.

Her companions, she discovers, have been caught by the Lanky Man; so she goes on alone to meet the Enemy...who’s got dozens of children working in a wild Dr. Seuss-like factory, constructing a Rube Goldberg-meets-Jack Kirby device with which he intends to invade and conquer the Real World.

The Lanky Man, we learn, has had his fill of making mischief in Abadazad, of being thwarted by Queen Ija and her allies.  So he’s decided to conquer a world without magic:  the so-called Real World.  The Earth.  But so far he’s only been able to manifest in the Real World for short times; and then, only because of children, like Matt, whose faith in the reality of Abadazad is so strong that he can tap into it, use it as a bridge.

Which is why he’s been kidnapping these children, plugging them in, like human batteries, to his World-Crossing Machine, using their belief to create the permanent bridge between Abadazad and Earth.  Once there, he and his minions will use their dark magic to take over the Real World.  And the machine is almost done.  The day of invasion is almost here.  

Aided by the Burping Dragon (who, we discover, loathes his master and has fallen head over heels in love with Kate), Kate finds Matt, plugged into the machine, unblinking, unseeing.  Beyond her reach (for the moment, at least).  She frees her Wonderful City friends—as well as Lanky Man’s most ferociously-guarded prisoner:  THE TWOFOLD WITCH (a two-headed enchantress—she may, or may not, be the wife of the Floating Warlock and mother of Queen Ija—who has been locked in Lanky Man’s dungeons for thirty years)...

...and ultimately faces Lanky Man himself:  Things don’t look good for Kate when Old Lanks traps her in The Bottle of Sorrows (in which she nearly drowns—quite literally—in her own liquified misery).  But she overcomes the wretchedness, the pain, the cynicism that has encrusted her heart, bursts free of the bottle—and defeats the Lanky Man, destroying his World-Crossing Device and freeing the children.

Freeing Matt.

Kate and her brother embrace—there’s a wave of blue light...

And Kate finds herself back in her apartment, without Matt, facing a very worried Frances.  Kate tells her mother everything.  “Oh, sweetheart,” a profoundly-moved Frances says, “don’t you see?  Your mind created this fantasy to free you of your guilt.  You felt powerless to save Matt, to help him...and so you constructed this fantasy to work it all out.”  “No, Mother,” Kate angrily protests, “you don’t understand.  It really happened!  And Matt, I saw him, he—”  “Come on,” Frances says, pulling her daughter toward the door, insisting that she go with her —right now!—to see a therapist.

Then they hear something in the other room.  They open the door --  and two dozen children come racing out, whooping, screaming, happy.  UNAGED.

Including Matt.

Frances’s jaw hits the floor.  She weeps, laughs uncontrollably.  Embraces her beloved son.

The Twofold Witch performs a spell.  The kids slowly begin to change...becoming the age they’re supposed to be in the Real World.

Martha and the Twofold Witch say they’ll get the other kids back to the homes they’ve been away from for so long.  The Witch asks Kate, Matt, and Frances to please keep the existence of Abadazad a secret.  They agree.  (Well, Kate and Matt agree.  Frances can barely grunt, she’s so stunned.)  “But come visit once in a while,” Martha says.  “You need it, you know—to keep you young.”

And off they go.  The Lost Kids swept off across the city, across the country, across the world, to be returned to their families.  We glimpse one of those families, grim and gloomy, sitting at dinner.  Then, to their astonishment, the window opens, by itself, and their long-missing daughter flies in, accompanied by Martha and the Two-Fold Witch:  Astonishment fades, replaced by recognition.  Gloom becomes radiant joy.

But there’s no joy greater than Kate’s—as she and Frances and eleven year old Matt begin their new life together.  And Kate knows—to the bottom of her heart, she knows!—that they’ll all live...

...happily ever after.

But must this be the end of the Tales of Abadazad?  No.  Because there are many more stories to tell.  From the starting point of Kate’s journey to save her brother, Abadazad can branch out in two clear directions.  First we have the past:  the twelve original Abadazad books (which, of course, have yet to be written!) created by “Franklin O. Barrie,” detailing Little Martha’s adventures.  And then we have the future:  The continuing exploits of Kate and Matt as they return to Abadazad, again and again, for new adventures.

This first story can be the launching pad for two independent series of tales.  And the magic of Abadazad can go on and on and on, stretching out, like the Living Staircase, as far as Imagination will allow.

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Abadazad's beginnings.  With Queen Ija's blessings, I'd like to share more hidden Zaddian treasures with you all in the future.  Time (that elusive illusion) will tell.

© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Friday night at 6 pm (5 Central), the last of my Batman: The Brave and the Bold episodes airs on Cartoon Network.  This is the final season of B & B and, as I've said here several times before, it was an absolute pleasure writing for the show and working with producers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic.  James, Michael and their incredible creative team managed to inject a much-needed note of fun into the Batman mythos, but always remained respectful of Bats and the innumerable DCU characters that popped up on the series.  (It's important to remember that, no matter what it says in the writing credits, when it comes to television, it's always a team effort.)

I enjoyed every story I wrote for B & B, but my three favorites are "The Eyes of Despero," "Hail the Tornado Tyrant" and this week's "Time Out for Vengeance"—which features the animated DCU version of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League.  It's the second time I've had a chance to write the JLI for Brave and the Bold and, despite the fact that Keith G, Kevin Maguire and I said a fond, and definite, farewell to the comic book incarnation of the team with last month's Justice League Retroactive, I'd jump at the chance to write the animated League again.  (I think it would make a great series:  Warner Bros., are you listening?) 

For now, though, this is goodbye to J'onn, Beetle, Booster, Fire, Ice and the rest.  I hope you enjoy "Time Out for Vengeance":  it really is a good one.  In fact, through the magic of YouTube, you can watch the first part of the episode—which should then lead you to part two—here.  That's right, you don't have to wait till Friday for this one.  (Hey, it's already been on iTunes for months!)  Enjoy one last "bwah-ha-ha" on me.     

Thursday, September 15, 2011


My Brave and the Bold episode "Scorn of the Star Sapphire," which features Batman teamed with Green Lantern, was scheduled to air back in May—but, for reasons that remain mysterious, the show was yanked at the last minute and B & B vanished from the airwaves for months.  The good news is that it's back—and the GL episode airs tomorrow night at 6 pm on Cartoon Network.  (I've embedded a teaser clip below.)  It's a fun episode, and if you're a Hal Jordan fan I suspect you'll enjoy it, but the one I'm really looking forward to is next week's, which once again teams Batman with the Justice League International—as they go on a time-hopping mission with Rip Hunter.  I think it's one of the very best of all the episodes I've written for the show.   Be sure to let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Having enjoyed my recent Masterclass experiences at the Ottawa Writer's Festival and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, I've put together a weekend workshop that I'm very excited about.  The first class will be in the fall and the official announcement is below.  Hope to see you there!

writing for comic books, graphic novels and animation
with J.M. DeMatteis

 Friday November 4th, 7 pm to 9 pm
              Saturday November 5th, 10 am to 5 pm (90 minute break for lunch)
              Sunday November 6th, 9 am to 1 pm
Martin Aaron Office Complex in Kingston, New York
              (two hours north of New York City)
Join master storyteller J.M. DeMatteis for a weekend exploring the realms of imagination, from the metaphysical to the practical.  We’ll ponder the big questions...

~ Where do ideas come from?
~ What part does will play in the creative process? 
~ Is the best writing actually an act of channeling?
~ Do we create the story or does the story create us?

...and tackle the day-to-day realities of a career writing superhero sagas, fantasy epics and animation:

~ What’s the difference between “Marvel style” and “full script”?
~ What’s the value of editors?
~ Are agents necessary?
~ How do you handle rejection without jumping out the nearest window?

Come prepared to listen—as JMD shares stories and insights gleaned from more than thirty years writing comics, television, film and novels—but be prepared to work:  you’ll pitch ideas, dialogue artwork and help create a story from the ground up.

Bring all your questions, too:  this won’t be a brief, two hour seminar.  You’ll have an entire weekend, in an intimate setting, to explore your own creativity with J.M. DeMatteis as your guide.

Cost $415.00
Class size is limited.  To guarantee your place, register now.

To register and for more more information about lodging and transportation:  imaginationworkshops@gmail.com

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I’m a huge fan of the original Star Trek (back in the 70’s, in those twilight years between the end of the show and the beginning of the film series, it seemed that just about everybody my age was).  In 1976—at the height of Trekmania—I attended a New York Star Trek convention (I’ve only been to two in my life and by the second one I’d had quite enough).  The entire cast was appearing at the con and the auditorium was packed to the point of discomfort.  Each actor came out to screams and applause and no one received a bigger ovation than the Captain himself, William Shatner (I was surprised at that:  I always thought the Trek fans were more devoted to Nimoy and Spock).

Shatner seemed a little on edge at first; but, as the questions flew back and forth, he loosened up.  Considerably.  Sat himself down in a mock-up of Kirk’s command chair, stretched out a bit—and began a one-man show.  Make no mistake about it, this was a real show:  a performance of note.

The other cast members had done their bit (Leonard Nimoy read poetry, Nichelle Nichols complained about having to say “hailing frequencies open” so many damn times), and quite nicely, but Shatner went beyond that, launching into a tale of his Shakespearean days in Canada, when, as an understudy for Christopher Plummer, he unexpectedly had to play the lead in Henry V.  Bounding back and forth across the stage, he acted out the part of Young Shatner, assumed the roles of his fellow actors, and brought the story to a rousing climax.

It was a lovely moment and one that transformed a fun but—let’s be honest— fundamentally kitschy experience into something approaching art.  That was when I realized that there was more to Shatner than the guy with the phaser and the velour shirt.

All this comes to mind because my wife, daughter and I have spent a good part of the week gobbling down DVD episodes of one of my all-time favorite television series, David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal.  (My wife bought me the entire set for my last birthday.)  There were many reasons to enjoy BL during its five year run—not the least the brilliant writing by Kelley and his staff—but I think everyone who watched the show agreed that the two primary reasons were James Spader and, yes, William Shatner.  The rest of the cast was amazing—Mark Valley, Julie Bowen, Christian Clemenson and, especially, Candice Bergen and Renee Aubjerjonois—but the relationship between Spader’s Alan Shore and Shatner’s Denny Crane was the heart and soul of the series:  without them, Boston Legal might have popped like a soap bubble.

Here were two characters—and two actors—as different as one could possibly imagine:  Shatner’s Crane was an ageing courtroom legend, a proud Republican, given to sexual recklessness and Alzheimer’s-induced buffoonery, while Spader’s Shore was an unabashed liberal, a brilliant, unconventional lawyer with a deeply troubled, one might even say twisted, soul.  Together they created one of the most memorable male friendships, and one of the most memorable acting teams, in television history:  the Kirk and Spock of the New Millennium.  Each week’s final scene—which featured Alan and Denny on the balcony of Crane, Poole & Schmidt sharing cigars, drinks and the weird passions of their souls—brought a transcendent shine to even the weaker episodes. 

One of Boston Legal’s hallmarks was its ability to shift from fourth-wall-breaking comedy to gripping drama.  A perfect example of the latter was an episode called “Son of the Defender”:  Kelley used footage from a fifty year old gem from the days of live television—a Studio One legal drama called “The Defender,” which starred veteran actor Ralph Bellamy and a twenty-six year old  Shatner—as a backdrop for a powerful exploration of the Denny Crane character.  The result—which concluded with perhaps the most poignant Shore-Crane balcony scene ever—was a magical hour of television.  By aligning the youthful Shatner of l957 with the septuagenerian of 2007, “Son of the Defender” wove a story that was as much a testament to the performer as it was to the character he played.  Shatner, who won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Crane, gave a performance that was profoundly moving:  Crane’s comic shell was stripped away and Shatner once again reminded me (as he did that day in 1976) that he’s not just a pop culture artifact, but an actor.  When he puts his mind to it—as he clearly did on BL—he’s one of our best.

William Shatner’s career has fascinated, befuddled and delighted me for years:  He began (as noted) on the Shakespearean stage, then moved on to award winning roles on Broadway, live television and in film.  His screen debut was in MGM’s adaptation of The Brothers Karamozov—my favorite novel—and  the role of the saintly Alexei was light years removed from Captain Kirk; but then so were most of the pre-Trek roles Shatner played (none moreso than Roger Corman’s The Intruder, a 1962 film about segregation that was so incendiary it was barely released.  Shatner played the lead, a charismatic racist agitator, with horrifying brilliance).  In the sixties, you could find Shatner on television constantly, giving memorable performances on The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, the Defenders (spun off from the Studio One play), The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare (he turned down the title role that made Richard Chamberlain's career), The Outer Limits and so many more. Then came his life-altering stint aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise:

The paradox of Star Trek is that it made Shatner a star and, simultaneously, torpedoed his career.  He was forever branded with the dreaded Science-Fiction Stamp.  He wasn’t perceived as a serious actor any more:  The world viewed him as a grandiose, outer-space ham.  And he could be a ham, chewing through scenery with manic intensity—but that was, and remains, part of his charm.  Shatner doesn’t just play a role, he attacks it (and, yes, sometimes rips it to unrecognizable shreds):  pouring all of his energy and enthusiasm into every word.  His portrayal of Kirk remains a TV classic.  At his best, he gave the character a perfect balance of inter-galactic melodrama and down-to-earth humanity.  But it did seem that the worse the scripts got, the more wildly exaggerated Shatner’s performances became, almost as if he was trying to compensate for the weak material.  This was most evident in Trek’s third season when it sometimes seemed as if the man had completely taken leave of his senses.

The seventies saw Shatner teeter-tottering between art (George C. Scott’s PBS production of The Andersonville Trial), camp (appearing in low-budget dreck like The Devil’s Rain and Impulse) and every conceivable permutation in between.  Despite the myth—much of it perpetuated by Shatner himself—that he couldn’t get a job after Trek’s cancellation, one look at the Internet Movie Database makes it clear that he was working constantly, doing guest-shots on established series and appearing in endless movies-of-the-week.  Had Star Trek not come back, he might have quietly transitioned into character roles and stumbled into a kind of Denny Crane-ish revival decades earlier.
  But the show was resurrected and Shatner was Captain Kirk again, starring in a series of successful films, giving performances that (Star Trek: The Motion Picture aside) were always interesting and, on occasion (The Wrath of Khan), truly exceptional.  But the movies also completed the typecasting cycle:  He became Kirk Forever.  Oh, sure, he played Aaron Spelling robo-cop T.J. Hooker for a few years and hosted Rescue 911; but, to most people, Shatner was, and always would be, the Captain of the Enterprise:  an indelible part of our pop culture.  No longer an actor, he became an icon.  Worse, he became a celebrity.  He played along, but you got the feeling, watching him, that he wasn’t entirely comfortable in that role.  Perhaps that’s why Shatner seemed the happiest spoofing himself—most memorably on Saturday Night Live and in the indie movie, Free Enterprise.  Those performances seemed to free his inner comedian.  When he was nominated for his first Emmy, it wasn’t for a dramatic role:  it was for playing The Big Giant Head on Third Rock From The Sun.

David E. Kelley, in creating Denny Crane—a character whose wild contradictions mirrored those of the actor who played him—gave Shatner back his gravitas.  Maybe Crane didn’t bury Captain Kirk, but he certainly nudged the old space dog into the wings.  At a time when many of his peers were in the Old Actors Home or, worse, Forest Lawn, the man was doing the finest work of his career.

As much as I love Trek and Kirk, for me Denny Crane will always be the defining performance of William Shatner's career—and the character I love above all others he’s portrayed.  Since Boston Legal’s cancellation, Shatner has been true to form, which means he’s been all over the map:  starring in a short-lived sit-com, hosting several talk shows, writing another book (the soon-to-be-released Shatner Rules), recording another album (I don’t know how Seeking Major Tom will turn out, but Shatner's 2004 album Has Been was brilliant—and, no, I don’t mean that ironically), directing two documentaries and touring in a one-man show:  quite a list of achievements for an eighty year old man.  I’m still waiting for a part that will rival Denny Crane, giving Shatner a character, and a script, that will once again raise his game. 

It was recently announced that Shatner will be guest-starring on USA’s Psych in the fall, but I’m hoping for a guest shot on 30 Rock:  William Shatner vs. Alec Baldwin, there’s a match-up I’d love to see.  Or how about a return to Broadway?  Shatner recently took part in a Shakespeare performance in L.A.—with a cast that included Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hanks and Martin Short:  he played Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s great fool (and great wise man), the forerunner, in many ways, of Denny Crane.  I’d pay good money to see that on the stage.  

Till then, at least, there are all those Boston Legal DVDs.  It doesn’t get much better than cigars and scotch on the balcony of Crane, Poole and Schmidt.

©copyright 2011  J.M. DeMatteis