Thursday, March 10, 2011


Over at Comic Book Resources, they've posted the first six pages of my very first published comic book story, a Weird War Tales piece called "The Blood Boat."  WWT—which was captained by a way-too-young editor named Paul Levitz—was just what the title implied:  war stories infused with horror elements.  This particular story was—to put it in Hollywood parlance—PT 109 meets Dracula

Although it was the first of my comics stories to see print, "Blood Boat" wasn't the first one I sold.  That honor goes to a House of Mystery story with an almost unforgivable title:  "The Lady Killer Craves Blood."  (Yes, it's another vampire story.  I wrote lots of them in those days—for the astounding rate of thirteen dollars a page.)  I sold "Lady Killer" in December of 1977, just as I was turning twenty-four, and, as I've said elsewhere, working on DC's horror anthologies (actually, they didn't use the word horror back then, they called them "mystery books") was a fantastic way to learn my craft. 
(It helped that I had wonderful teachers like Paul, Jack Harris and Len Wein—who became a mentor to me, encouraging and developing my talent in a way no one else had—showing me the ropes.)  Those anthologies were the vaudeville of comics:  so under-the-radar of the average super-hero reader that I never had to worry about my work being noticed, or savaged, by the fan press.  It was a safe place to try out material, fail spectacularly, and get up again, wiser for the experience.  And a thrilling experience it was:  I didn't care about the money, I didn't even care if anyone was reading the stories, I was working in comics, I was part of the business, and that was what mattered.

A final note about "The Blood Boat":  I actually sold that story three times, taking the basic premise and re-working it into a science fiction story ("Howl" in Mystery in Space #112) and again for a Joseph Conrad-lite saga of the high seas ("The Seas Run Red" in House of Mystery #291).   Hey, at thirteen bucks a page, you did what you had to to survive!

The first page of "The Blood Boat" is below.  Hop on over to CBR for the rest.

© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. That's a great post, J.M. And a fun read. I gotta see if I can find this issue. I gots to know how it ends, man! I gots to! : )
    A question for you, in case you know: Do you know why Superman or Wonder Woman (at least to my knowledge) have not made an appearance on "Batman: Brave and the Bold" TV series? I'm rather curious about that. Thanks again.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, A. Jaye.

    I have no answer re: Superman -- although I've heard rumors that he'll be appearing in the final season which, I believe, starts up in a couple of weeks on Cartoon Network. As for Wonder Woman, I KNOW she'll be appearing because I wrote her in the teaser for one of my upcoming episodes. It's just a short appearance -- she's not in the main story -- but she's there!

  3. When I saw the story on CBR, I knew you would mention it here. I am glad I checked your blog because you added some nice extra information.

    If you haven't already, I suggest you read the comments on that CBR story. You get a lot of well deserved praise.

  4. Thanks, Quique, I'll check those comments out!

  5. I miss DC's genre anthologies. I'd love to see a new one with sci-fi, horror, western, AND romance, all in the same book. Probably never happen, tho. :)

  6. I love anthologies, too, Rob...but they don't seem to sell very well these days. Back in the old days, those DC anthologies sold incredibly well...and not to the hard core superhero fans. I remember Paul Levitz telling me he had NO IDEA who was buying them!

  7. I remember being at the SDCC one year and attending the DC panel, and one of the people on stage (don't remember who) was talking about finding new talent and admitted "We don't have time to develop people anymore. We're looking for the next Frank Miller or Mike Mignola right out of the box."

    My friends and I found that comment depressing, and also very unrealistic: Frank Miller wasn't FRANK MILLER right off the, er, bat. Mike Mignola did a ton of stuff before Hellboy.

    A good way to develop talent is to let people get good at whatever it is they're doing, and anthologies were great at that.

  8. It's too bad there isn't as much of a market for anthologies these days. It is a fantastic way to hone your craft; you have to sell your world, your characters, and the "twist" in such a short time. It's hard to believe, for instance, that Spider-Man's debut was something like 15 pages. There really is something to the idea that "brevity is the soul of wit." If the Clone Saga crew had been able to get Ben Reilly in the Spider-Man costume by ASM 400, I suspect he'd still be alive...

    And with a done in one have the added bonus that if the story flops, you've long since moved on to the next one: the kind of liberty you don't have with an epic storyline that spans several issues!

    I always feel like your writing swings for the fences, JMD, and it's got a lot of bang for the buck. Perhaps that has something to do with your love of anthology work...

  9. I agree, Rob: there's really no place any more for new talent to be nurtured and taught. Most new writers or artists are told that the best way to get attention from Marvel/DC is to go off and do their own creator-owned series, which, I think, is not the best advice available. (To say the least!) As if I could have gone off and done MOONSHADOW when I was still learning how to write "The Blood Boat."

  10. There's a lot to be said, David, for learning how to pack a ton of story and character into eight pages. (Some of those anthology stories I wrote were only FIVE pages. You needed a really strong idea to get to eight!)

    There are many multi-issue "epics" out there that could probably be done in that framework.
    And, as I've said many times before, by being given limitations, a writer is really forced to boil things down and discover the essence of his or her story.

  11. Yeah, the industry really does need to focus on mentorship more. You don't see a lot of hospitals saying, "You can intern with us AFTER you've performed your first open heart surgery..."

    It's the old "need credit to get credit" paradox...

  12. Your hospital analogy is perfect, David. I can't add a thing to it!