Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I've been fascinated with lucid dreaming—the idea that we can be aware that we're dreaming when we're dreaming and thus take command of our dreamworlds—for years; especially because it's such a powerful reminder of the fact we can be lucid here and now in this dream we’re dreaming in the so-called waking world.  But for all my fascination with the concept, I’d never actually experienced a lucid dream.  Until...

I woke up at five the other morning, my mind instantly deep in worry mode, endlessly dissecting a personal issue that had been weighing on me (I’ll save the details for my therapist).  I eventually jettisoned the worry and spent some time in prayer—which helped considerably—then slowly drifted back to sleep and had an astonishing dream (I’ll save those details for my therapist, too—but I will say that, for the most part, the events unfolded at the Meher Baba Center in South Carolina and included, among others, Disney’s Tinker Bell, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and a galloping creature out of Dr. Seuss).  At the climax of the dream I was in a museum, walking past a marble rack—Grecian in style—with a note Scotch-taped to it.  I studied the note—on closer inspection, I saw that it was some kind of receipt—and started to read the words on the paper.  And, as I was reading, something shifted in the core of my being and I suddenly understood:  This is a dream.  I'm dreaming.  And then the deeper, thunderous revelation:  And I can do ANYTHING.  I can FLY!  And, with that thought, I started to lift up, out of my dream-body (as if there was an astral body beneath the dream body), feeling exhilarated, extraordinarily powerful—and a little frightened, too, by the realization of the limitless power I possessed.  The world in front of me exploded into white light...

...and I awoke:  electrified, uplifted, consciousness expanded beyond all boundaries.  It was one of the most wonderful experiences, one of the most wonderful feelings, of my life; and, as I digested the experience, I realized that what was true in the dream is true here and now:  This is a dream.  I'm dreaming.  And I can do ANYTHING.  I can FLY!

Those words flooded my cells with magic, my heart with hope—and every fiber of my being with the certainty that, whatever our apparent troubles, this world is literally a dream of our own making; and, if we embrace our roles as lucid dreamers, we have the ability to change the dream, utterly transform it—and make it into anything we desire.  (Did I believe this before?  Yes.  Do I know it in a whole new way?  Absolutely.)  So now I have my new mantra, repeated, again and again, throughout the day:  This is a dream.  I'm dreaming.  And I can do ANYTHING.  I can FLY!

And so can you.

© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, April 18, 2011


Batman:  The Brave and the Bold returned to Cartoon Network a few weeks ago for its final season.  I've got three episodes coming up and the first one airs this Friday at 6:30 pm:  "Shadow of the Bat" features vampires, Jack Kirby's Demon, the Giffen-DeMatteis era JLI (well, the animated version, which uses the current Blue Beetle, Jamie Reyes, in place of our old friend Ted Kord) and it's one of my absolute favorites among the eight episodes I've written for the series. 

My final two episodes feature another round with the JLI (this time accompanied by Rip Hunter, so expect some time-traveling) and an adventure with Green Lantern (not unexpected given the coming movie).  It's been an absolute pleasure working on B & B—thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of producers Michael Jelenic and James Tucker.  Both as a writer and a viewer, I'm sorry to see the show reach its end.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


As a follow-up to my recent post about my first published comic book story, the not-exactly-classic “Blood Boat,” I thought I’d re-present the True Shocking Tale of how I made my first comic book sale.  (Okay, it’s not remotely shocking, but it is true.)  Enjoy...


A few years back, the New York Times ran an article about DC Comics’ then-new web venture, Zudacomics.com, described as a “virtual slush pile,” a place for new writers and artists to break into the business.  Near the end of the article I came across the following:
Like book publishing, the comic book industry has a history of authors who vaulted to prominence after their work was plucked from a heap of unsolicited manuscripts. “One of my proudest moments as an editor was buying a Marc DeMatteis story out of a slush pile,” said Mr. Levitz of DC.  Mr. DeMatteis has gone on to write countless titles for DC, Marvel and other publishers.

“Mr. Levitz” would be Paul Levitz, DC’s president and publisher.  Aside from being both delighted and deeply touched by Paul’s comment, his words got me thinking about the fact that I sold Paul my very first comic book script in December of l977.  Which means that I’ve been at this game for more than thirty years.  It’s true that it took a few more years of struggle, elation, depression and head-banging to get regular work that I could actually depend on, but that first script was the Big Breakthrough.

Comic books were a passion that grabbed me at a very early age (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  I don’t recall a time when I didn’t read comics) and never let go.  Sure, I moved on to Dostoyevsky, Bradbury, Hesse and Vonnegut but I never abandoned Lee, Kirby, Broome, Kane and the other comic book masters who inspired and nurtured me growing up.

I was always creative, obsessed with drawing, playing guitar, writing stories and songs.  In many ways, these things weren’t just my passions, they were what defined me.  They were me.  Which meant I didn't just want to read comics, I wanted to write them—as desperately as I wanted to be a rock and roll star.  (I’ll save the story of my musical adventures for another time, but if anyone’s interested in hearing some of my songs, feel free to click here or here to check out my l997 CD, How Many Lifetimes?)  

I made several aborted attempts to enter the comic book business before my success with the legendary Mr. Levitz (who was, I think, all of  twenty at the time.  He’d been working at DC since high school):  Five years earlier, I’d written a script sample and sent it to Marvel Comics.  I had no clue what a comic book script looked like and I’m sure that what I submitted was less-than brilliant.  The assistant editor who read my sample thought so, too, and told me just that, in no uncertain terms.  (I’ve learned, over the years, that it’s important to encourage new talent regardless of the face value of their work.  Even if the samples you’re evaluating are abysmal, you have to find something encouraging to say.  Humans—especially the sensitive, neurotic, artistic variety—desperately need encouragement.  The smallest crumb of kindness becomes a mountain of hope.  I suspect that nameless assistant editor was overwhelmed, having a rough day, and he simply couldn’t bear to plow through yet another wretched submission.  But he could have made my day much brighter by simply saying, “You’re not there yet, kid, but keep at it.  Don’t give up.”)

A year or two later, DC began a short-lived apprentice program:  a rare opportunity for novices to be trained by seasoned pros in the craft of writing for comics.  Aspiring writers were encouraged  to submit their work and those with the best submissions would be chosen for the program.  (David Michelinie—a wonderful writer who went on to script Spider-Man, Iron Man, Avengers, Superman and many other titles—got his start as a DC apprentice).  I decided to write a Justice League script, a fact I now find hilarious:  Team books are difficult for even the most experienced writer—I don’t think I’ve ever mastered the form—but there I was, nineteen years old, and ready to give it my all.

I didn’t make it into the program—frankly, I didn’t deserve to—but I received some extremely helpful feedback from a woman on the DC staff named Val Eades.  It was the first time I was encouraged by a professional and it meant the world to me.  Understand:  I was just some kid from Brooklyn who grew up in a lower middle class family.  My father worked for the New York City Parks Department, raking leaves and shoveling snow in a local park.  My mother was a switchboard operator.  Growing up, I’d never encountered anyone even vaguely resembling a professional writer or artist.  (My best friend’s older brother was a working musician, part of a Las Vegas lounge act:  that was the closest I ever came to hobnobbing with the rich and famous.)  Making it as a writer seemed about as easy as scaling the Monolith from Kubrick’s 2001.  Which is why that small encouragement from Val Eades was so important to me.  (Ms. Eades, if you’re out there, God bless you!)

A few years later, a fellow student, and comic book fanatic, at Brooklyn College—his name was Warren Reece—actually made it over the Monolith:  he got a job at Marvel, working in the production department.  Warren, very kindly, submitted some of my material to the folks at Marvel Editorial, but I never received a response (which, in some ways, was worse than being rejected).  Warren then encouraged me to submit some samples to Crazy magazine (Marvel’s attempt at a Mad-style humor publication...although I don’t think Mad was worried).  Truth is, I had no interest in writing for Crazy—I possessed zero skills in that arena—but, miraculously, editor Paul Laikin bought one of my pitches and, even more miraculously, I got a check in the mail with Spider-Man’s picture on it.  (So blessings to Mr. Laikin and Mr. Reece both.)  I’d hoped that selling something to Crazy would get me an “in” with the comic book side of Marvel, but it didn’t.  Still, it allowed me to say that I was a (kinda/sorta/maybe/but not really) professional.

Not long after that, I sent another batch of samples to DC.  (I still have them filed away in my office:  a Superman script, a Plastic Man script, and an original piece called Stardust—which was a very raw prototype for what would, seven or eight years later, evolve into Moonshadow.)  I got a letter back from Somebody's Assistant saying, "We're not going to buy Superman scripts from a writer we've never heard of, but Paul Levitz is looking for material for House of Mystery and Weird War Tales." These were two of the many anthology comics that DC was publishing then.  I never read those titles, hardly knew they existed, but you can bet I ran out and bought a stack of them, devoured them, and quickly (perhaps too quickly) developed some story ideas that I mailed off to Paul.

Paul’s reply, dated August 22, 1977 (yep, that's still in the files, too), very politely, succinctly—and accurately—tore my stories to shreds.  The last line was a classic:  "You’re welcome to submit more ideas in the future, but I suggest you use a professional typing service or type more slowly.  The physical presentation of your manuscripts leaves something to be desired.”  He was right:  This was the troglodytic era before computers and, in my hunger and enthusiasm, I had crossed things out, scrawled in the margins, written up and down the sides of the paper.

Paul’s criticism didn’t bother me.  The only thing that mattered was that wondrous phrase, “You’re welcome to submit more ideas in the future.”  Which is what I immediately did:  submitted again (and again) until, finally—this must have been November of that year—I made an appointment to go up to the DC offices (a thrill in itself) and meet with Paul.  I remember sitting across the desk from him, nervous and intimidated, pitching ideas.  When Paul actually liked one of my stories and asked me to work up a draft, I  had a moment of dizzying, euphoric confusion:  Wait a minute...WAIT a minute!  Is he saying he actually wants me to WRITE THIS?!

The story in question—which eventually saw print in House of Mystery—was called (brace yourselves) "The Lady Killer Craves Blood."  (I warned you.)  It was based on the Son of Sam killings that had traumatized New York the previous summer.  In my version, the Sam-like maniac murders a woman, not knowing that her husband is a (what a brilliant twist!) vampire.  The vampire then hunts down the serial killer and, still mourning his lost love, submits himself to the obliterating rays of the morning sun.  All in eight pages!

A week or so later, back to DC I went, script in hand, ready for Paul's dissection of my work.  "No more than five panels per page," he wrote, on a piece of yellow lined paper (I've got that in the files, too), "no more than thirty-five words per panel, no more than two sentences per caption, clear transitional captions, don't forget your splash panel."  I raced home, wrote another draft, incorporating Paul’s suggestions (well, as far as I was concerned, they were orders.  My philosophy in those early days was simple:  the editor is always right.  I didn’t want to argue, I wanted to learn) and then, to my astonishment and delight,  the next time we met, he bought it.  What came next was one of the greatest moments of my professional life:  Paul shook my hand, looked me square in the eye and said, "Welcome to the business."

I didn't need the D-train.  I could have floated back to Brooklyn.

So here I sit, more than thirty years on, looking back on a career that has allowed me to write most of Marvel and DC’s iconic characters (from Spider-Man to the Justice League) and birth original visions from the deepest, truest parts of my soul (from Moonshadow to Brooklyn Dreams).  Just as important, my work in comics has opened magical doors into the worlds of television, film and children’s books.  The journey hasn’t always been easy—some of it has been incredibly difficult—but I’m grateful for every bit of it.  All of which, I suppose, is my long-winded way of reiterating advice I've offered before (and I'll no doubt offer again):

Don’t get sidetracked by practicality. You’re a writer. If you were practical you’d be doing something else. Let your passions carry you forward and don’t listen to the Naysayers and the Practical People who are always around to tell you exactly why your dreams can never be realized. I’m here to tell you that your dreams CAN be realized, if you pursue them with all your heart. FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.

If it worked for this clueless kid from Brooklyn, it’ll work for anyone.

©copyright 2011  J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, April 7, 2011


In early May, I’ll be flying to Canada to participate in the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival.  Along with speaking—and reading—at a variety of local schools to promote Imaginalis, I’ll be joining fellow novelist and comic book scribe Mike Carey (perhaps best known for his much-praised Vertigo books Lucifer and The Unwritten) for a talk at the Ottawa Public Library called Worlds Within Worlds:  A Masterclass on Novels and Graphic Novels.  (Mike C and I have both done promotional interviews with poet and blogger Rob McLennan.  You can read mine here and Mike’s here.)  I’ve been to the OIWF before and it was a wonderful experience.  I suspect the second visit will be even better.  Please join us if you can.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Now that DC has officially announced its "Retro-Active" one-shots—including a Justice League International story which reunites the Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire team—I thought it would be fun to resurrect a JLI essay from the Great Lost Amazon Archives (thus saving it from disintegrating in the bowels of cyber-space).  Hope you enjoy this look back at one of the most purely delightful gigs of my comics career.


I didn’t want to do it.  Really.  It was late 1986 and I’d just completed the four-part “End of the Justice League of America”—wrapping up the infamous Justice League Detroit era and clearing the path for a JLA reboot—and  I was anxious to move on to More Important Personal Projects.  But Andy Helfer—one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with (which makes sense since he grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood I did)—kept saying, “Yeah, well, I might need you to dialogue the new Justice League book.”  “But Andy,” I said, “I don’t want to dialogue the new Justice League book.”  Andy nodded, puffed out a stream of cigarette smoke and smiled.

Just a little thing, that smile.  But it spoke volumes.  “I’ve got you, DeMatteis,” that smile said.  “You’re mine.”

And, somehow, he did get me.  Andy gave me copies of the first issue pencils, done by some new kid named Kevin Maguire.  He just wanted me to look it over, he said.  Keith Giffen—who plotted the story—had already dialogued it, but  neither Andy nor Keith (who, in those days, was primarily known as an artist) was pleased with the finished product, he said.  I protested.  “Just look at it,” quoth the Helfer.  And he smiled again.

So I looked it over.  This Maguire, whoever he was, was pretty damn good—Andy had Terry Austin lined up to ink, so I knew this was going to be a beautiful-looking book.  (For the record:  Kevin, Master of the Expressive Face, was in no small part responsible for the new League’s instant popularity.  He set the tone for all the artists to follow.)  Despite what I’d been told, I thought Keith had done a great job on the dialogue.   It was fast and funny and yet the characters seemed three-dimensional and real.  “Andy,” I said, “you don’t need me.  Keith’s doing a terrific job and—”  “Keith doesn’t think he can do it every month.  He’s afraid he’ll choke up.”  “But—”  He smiled again.

So there I was, rewriting Keith’s script.  I didn’t know why I was doing it—I don’t remember ever actually agreeing to do it—but there I was.  And maybe, just maybe, it was fun.  Kinda.  Not that I was going to admit it to that bum, Helfer.  Anyway, I was sure I could weasel out after the first issue.

But, somehow, the second issue plot arrived at my door.  No script from Keith this time, just his delightful, Harvey Kurtzman-like layouts, with the foundation of the story mapped out in fairly succinct word balloons.  Well, I thought, the story’s pretty good.  And Keith’s situations are pretty funny.  And he’s sure got some terrific one-liners in here.  And...

Five years went by.  Five years of what evolved into one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever had in comics.  Every month I’d get another Giffen plot dropped into my lap, I’d write the first—and very often the silliest—things that would pop into my head, filling up the pages with all the fast-and-loose repartee I could muster, and Helfer and Giffen would tell me what a terrific job I’d done:  This wasn’t work, this was play.  And they were paying me for it.  And not only that:

An odd thing began to happen.  Our outrageous—some would say obnoxious—cast of characters began to (I know it’s a cliche, folks, but it’s true) come alive for us.  Something about those Martians and ice-goddesses and time travelers was very real.  Far more real, I think, than many—if not most—of the ever-so-serious super-heroes out there in Angst Land (and keep in mind that this observation is coming from a writer who’s made his reputation trafficking in angst).  Most people would say that the key to the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League’s success was its humor; that people read it for the goofy dialogue and the wild situations.  And that’s certainly a large part of it.  But the humor wouldn’t have worked if we—readers and creators alike—hadn’t believed in those characters.

The Leaguers reminded me of the gang of friends I grew up with in Brooklyn, sitting around on Saturday nights, putting our feet up, dropping our defenses, ragging on each other, sharing our problems.  Just being ourselves, without the pressures of the world intruding.  Justice League became my comic book Saturday night.  A place I could go to drop the Serious Writer mask and just write for the sheer fun of it.  Keith and Andy had the real headaches:  they had to make up the stories!  I just had to put words in the mouths of my friends.  No problem.

Another wonderful thing that began to happen was the chemistry between myself and Mr. Giffen.  Ours was (and remains) a collaboration based on two ingredients:  spontaneity—people don’t believe me, but I often had no idea what was coming up in the next issue until Keith’s plot arrived—and trust.  The trust was the key, I think.  No, I never knew what to expect in a given month, but I knew that Keith—one of the most purely creative human beings I’ve ever met; the guy comes up with more viable story ideas in a day than I do all year—would deliver the goods.  And Keith—the fool!—trusted me enough to give me all the rope I needed to hang myself.  Sometimes I stayed tightly within the parameters of the Giffen universe, but other times I took off for universes of my own.  Whole new relationships and plot twists emerged in the dialogue.  What saw print was sometimes far removed from Keith’s intentions.  And never once did Keith complain.  Never once did even a hint of ego arise.  Writing Justice League was like a relaxed game of tennis:  Keith would lob the ball to me, I’d lob it back to him, he’d lob it back again, and, with each whack of the racket, the stories would grow far beyond what either of us intended.

And all the while that guy Helfer would sit in the bleachers, coaching us, cheering us, occasionally chewing us out, and always puffing on that cigarette, smiling that devilish smile.

At the end of five years (during which we also worked on a seemingly-endless array of JL-related spin-offs) Keith, Andy and I were all exhausted and pretty much done with the League.  I continued to work with Helfer on projects—Brooklyn Dreams was done for DC’s ahead-of-its-time Paradox Press imprint, which Andy supervised—but Keith and I rarely saw each other:  our creative paths just didn’t cross.  Over the years, there was occasional talk of a reunion project, but I don’t think any of us—and that included the folks at DC—were all that enthusiastic about it.  We’d moved on.  The past was the past.

In 2003, editor Dan Raspler managed to convince both Keith and the Powers That Be at DC that a Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire reunion would be a good thing.  I wasn’t so sure.  In fact, I was afraid that the result would be just the opposite.  My mind was flooded with visions of all those execrable TV reunion movies (y’know, Mary, Rhoda and Gilligan Return To Mayberry?):  embarrassing endeavors that only ended up tarnishing the reputations of everyone involved.  But it had been more than ten years since I’d worked with Keith and I was eager to collaborate again, so I took a deep breath and agreed.

I received Keith’s plot for the first issue and it was, unsurprisingly, terrific.  I, on the other hand, felt myself stumbling and stalling as I scripted the first five or six pages.  But then a funny thing happened:  the characters began talking—to each other and to me—the words started spilling across the page and it was 1987 all over again.  Only better.  The result, perfectly visualized by Kevin Maguire, was Formerly Known As The Justice League, which won the 2004 Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication.  But, for me, the real award was the startling revelation that Keith and I were a damn good writing team.  That may sound strange—okay, it is strange—but I swear it wasn’t until we worked on that reunion series that the two of us realized just how special our collaboration is.

Back in the 80’s we were two freelancers recruited by a brilliant and crafty editor to do a job.  We did it, we had fun—but it was Just Another Gig to us.  With Formerly Known As and its sequel, I Can’t Believe Its Not The Justice League, we were old (but not too old) and wise (but not too wise) enough to finally understand that, however good we were individually, something unique happened when we put our two warped and graying heads together.

Andy Helfer knew it right from the start.  I guess that’s why he was smiling.

© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis