With signed contracts now in hand, I can happily announce that there's going to be a new, hardcover edition of Brooklyn Dreams coming out in the fall from those fine folks at IDW. Seems like a good time to share the following piece that was written two years ago for a French edition of BD.
In the mid-1980’s, I was writing a very strange, and deeply personal, space saga called Moonshadow for Marvel Comics’ groundbreaking Epic imprint. Moonshadow was the project that cracked me open as a writer, allowing me to step outside the confines of the Marvel and DC universes and be myself. For the first time I wasn’t “writing comic books,” I was just writing, exactly the way I wanted to, telling exactly the story I wanted to.
Moonshadow was, in many ways, an autobiographical work, but the autobiography was filtered through the phantasmagoria of Moon’s adventures. It was my life, shoved into the deepest waters of my unconscious and then yanked up from the depths: flapping like a fish, dripping with imagination and allegory. One of the reasons I re-cast my life as a work of fantasy was because I always viewed existence itself as a work of fantasy. I believed then—and believe even more now—that the best way to truly capture this fathomless, hallucinatory, profound, absurd and joyfully sacred thing we call Life is through stories of the fantastic. So-called “realistic fiction” often spends so much time dwelling on the details of the “real world” (something I maintain doesn’t even exist), studying that ashtray in the corner of the room or that childhood trauma in the corner of the mind, that it misses the infinite layers and levels of psychic and spiritual wonder we walk through, and interact with, every day. Put simply: If life is a dream—and I believe it is—you’d better write a dream. If life is a fairy tale—and, again, I believe it is—then you’d better write a fairy tale.
So why, then, did I write Brooklyn Dreams? It, after all, presents itself as the true-life adventures of a thinly-veiled version of myself, struggling through adolescence amidst the chaos and euphoria of an extraordinarily dysfunctional Brooklyn family: not a spaceship, ghost, magic book or super-hero in sight.
Despite my belief that tales of the fantastic are often the best doorways into the truth of our lives, I’m a great admirer of authors who can create stories about the allegedly real and then push so deep into the soil of that world that they come out the other end in Wonderland. Henry Miller could do that. My literary hero, Dostoyevsky. J.D. Salinger. Isaac Bashevis Singer. And, of course, my other literary hero, Ray Bradbury. What? You say Bradbury is a science-fiction writer? Well, yes, he’s been justifiably celebrated for his extraordinary, and extraordinarily poetic, tales of outer and inner space; but my favorite Bradbury book, one of my favorite books of all time, is Dandelion Wine: a simple novel that tells the simple tale of a single summer in the life of a twelve year old boy named Douglas Spaulding. Only it’s not simple: Bradbury fixes his X-ray eyes on the mundane aspects of Doug’s life, sees right through them and exposes the magic and wonder, the cosmic terror and cosmic joy, hiding beneath the surface.
As I finished work on the final issue of Moonshadow, I wondered if I could do the same with a coming-of-age saga of my own.
Of course I didn’t grow up in the well-scrubbed, All American Green Town of Bradbury’s youth. I grew up in the far noisier, messier and wildly unstable terrain of Brooklyn, New York, in an era—the late 1960’s and early 1970’s—when questioning the nature of reality was the order of the day. As much as I adore Dandelion Wine—it’s forever imprinted on my consciousness, swimming in my bloodstream—I saw my gestating story as a fusion of Woody Allen’s Radio Days and Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Mel Brooks meets Be Here Now.
I’d already attempted something like it, albeit on a small scale, with Moonshadow. Every issue included sequences that I referred to as “Brooklyn Interludes”: stories—some fabricated, some pulled directly from my own experiences, most of them a collision of the two—that detailed the life of Moon’s mother, Sheila Fay “Sunflower” Bernbaum. I loved writing those sequences, loved exploring the world of Sheila’s Brooklyn childhood, conjuring the spirits of her lunatic relatives. With Brooklyn Dreams I wanted to bring my own childhood, my own lunatic relatives, directly onto the stage, turning those interludes into the main act. Using the eyes of youth to expose the miracles hidden beneath the Brooklyn streets.
Whether I succeeded or failed is up to the reader to decide. One thing I think is beyond dispute, though, is the brilliance of Glenn Barr’s illustrations. I remember the book’s original editor, Mark Nevelow (who later turned the project over to Andy Helfer and Margaret Clark) showing me Glenn’s samples and my astonishment as I realized that this was the style I’d been envisioning for Brooklyn Dreams all along. I’d been seeing pictures in my head and there they were, in front of me: I knew immediately that I’d found my artist.
No matter what I asked of Glenn—and I asked plenty—he always rose to the challenge and, more often than not, not only met it but transcended it. His work was a breathtaking mixture of realism and cartoon, New York apartment buildings and surreal inner landscapes. Somehow—and in the end, it’s the will of the gods, we really had nothing to do with it—Glenn and I fused our visions seamlessly and the result was one of the most satisfying collaborations of my career. (A fellow writer once told me he’d always believed that the best graphic novels were birthed by a single creator, that a writer-artist team could never approach that kind of unified vision. Brooklyn Dreams changed his mind. And that’s a compliment I still treasure.) Writing the original four-volume series was both exhilarating and terrifying: I’d never exposed myself so nakedly in my work and I often felt like I was tottering on a high-wire, one trembling step away from falling. But, with a little luck and grace—and the safety net of Glenn’s illustrations—I made it across to the other side.
Every writer has favorite literary children. Looking back over a thirty year career, I can think of two or three other works that mean as much to me as Brooklyn Dreams. I can’t think of any that mean more.
© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis