Friday, June 24, 2011

REMEMBERING COLAN



Gene Colan, one of the giants of the comic book industry, passed away today. 

One of my first jobs at Marvel Comics was a black and white Hulk story drawn by Colan:  I couldn't believe my good luck.  I didn't know him personally—beyond a short phone chat when we worked on that story—but his art is woven into my consciousness.  Gene's work on Captain America, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and, especially, Howard the Duck and Tomb of Dracula—two of the greatest comics of the 70’s—is Colan at his finest:  radiant with mood, texture, humanity and a reality all its own.  Gene was totally unlike any other artist working in comics at the time—he was a genre unto himself; in the mainstream but with one foot always outside of it—and there’s still no one who can touch him.

My heartfelt sympathies to Gene’s family and friends.



KNOCK KNOCK KNOCKING

Apologies for the last-minute notice, but the National Audio Theater Festival's production of my play "Knocking on Heaven's Door" will be streamed live tonight at 7:30 Central Time/8:30 Eastern on KDY-FM.  (You can also listen at the NATF site:  a stream link should appear at 7:15). "Knocking..." is a half hour, Twilight Zone-ish fantasy about the afterlife.  If you've followed this blog for any length of time you know what a lover of old time radio I am, so you can imagine what a kick it was writing my first audio drama.  There'll be two more plays on after mine, one of which was written by fellow comics scribe—and co-creator of Starstruck—Elaine Lee.  Please listen, if you're so inclined!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIR PAUL

If I was going to list the creative titans whose work—in any artistic field—has entertained, uplifted and inspired me, Paul McCartney would be near the top of the list.  From the moment the Beatles stepped onto the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show and electrified my ten year old brain, McCartney's music, with and without the Beatles, has provided an ongoing soundtrack for my life.  Yes, it's true I'm a hard-core Lennon fan, and, overall, I prefer John's work to Paul's; but that's like saying I prefer breathing to the beating of my heart:  both are essential for survival.  

In honor of Paul's 69th birthday, here's a classic clip of the Beatles performing his greatest song (hell, it's one of the greatest songs ever written):  "Hey Jude."


And here's a shimmering gem from McCartney's extraordinary solo catalog; one of his most beautiful, and moving, ballads:  "Waterfalls."


If you're not familiar with McCartney's non-Beatles work, I'd recommend four albums that feature Paul at the height of his creative powers:  Band on the Run, Tug of War, Flaming Pie and Memory Almost Full.

Happy birthday, Paul.  And here's to many more years of heartfelt, transcendent music.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WHO'S DREAMING WHO?

In the third of Hyperion’s Abadazad books—The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—Zad’s resident genius, Professor Headstrong, gave a little discourse on the nature of reality:  “I am thoroughly convinced,” he said, “that Abadazad exists on a dimensional plane wholly separate from...but intersecting with...Earth.  Now ours being a realm composed primarily of mind and imagination—where thought and, more important, belief possess malleability, it is highly likely that inspirations and assumptions, ideas and ideals, from your world are constantly seeping into our dimension and taking form.  This suggests that the dreams of Earth might literally have created Abadazad, and that Abadazadian dreams—which are, by definition, monumentally potent—have manifested on Earth.”

If you’re a follower of this blog, then you know how fascinated I am with the creative act:  specifically, those sublime moments when the stories I write appear to come from someplace far beyond that limited terrain known as the self; when the Cosmic Download kicks in and dialogue, scenes, sometimes entire epics, beam down from the ethers, manifesting like holograms in my head; when it seems as if these fantastical worlds exist, as Headstrong said, on another vibrational plane and I’ve been chosen to chronicle their histories.  I certainly felt that way when I was writing Abadazad and, most memorably, when I was writing the third issue of the CrossGen comic book series that predated the Hyperion trilogy. 

At that point, the Abadazad concept had been years in development—many a holographic movie had been watched in the theater of my mind—and I had a very clear idea of where the story was going:  I’d mapped out Kate Jameson’s quest, I knew how it was going to end and I knew everyone she was going to encounter along the way.  Mike Ploog—who was surely experiencing cosmic downloads of his own—had done detailed sketches of the characters, bringing them to perfect visual life.  After only two issues we were caught up in a heady rush of collaborative energy, the kind of creative symmetry between writer and artist that you can’t consciously manifest:  it’s either there or it isn’t.  (With Mike it was there from the first time we spoke on the phone.)

I was excited about our third installment because it was going to introduce a new group of characters:  the Knights of Abadazad, a collection of completely inept and utterly unthreatening bunglers who were charged—or so they believed—with guarding Queen Ija’s palace.  (Ija was more than capable of guarding her kingdom without their help, but she just didn’t have the heart to tell them.)  I’d spent time figuring out who each knight was, what his role would be, and Mike had done a wonderful job designing them.  But when I sat down to write the issue, something very odd happened.

I was crafting one of the prose sequences that ran throughout the series:  excerpts from the original Abadazad novels that were published in the early 1900’s.  Of course there were no original Abadazad novels—I made them up—but I loved putting myself in the place of Zad’s alleged creator, Franklin O. Barrie (he morphed into Franklin O. Davies in the Hyperion series) and writing in the formal-but-playful style of the children’s books of the era.  I tended to just flow with these sequences, putting down whatever popped into my head and then shaping it as I went along.  These were the first words I typed (keep in mind that—since this was supposed to be a random page taken from one of Davies’ books—I began in mid-sentence):

weeping violently.  “Don’t cry, Master Wix,” Little Martha told him.  “Be brave.”  



Wix looked at her through his paraffin tears and mustered a courageous, heartfelt, and utterly pathetic smile.   “If you say so,” he whimpered, allowing the girl to dab at his cheeks with the hem of her dress; “but,” he continued, “I really don’t see why I should stop.  We are doomed, after all.”


Nothing odd or unusual in that—except for the fact that, until the name “Master Wix” showed up in that first sentence, I had never heard of him.  In all the preliminary work I'd done—all the biographies, back stories, histories—the vaguest concept of this character (a self-styled tough guy with a soft heart and a candle head) had never so much as flitted across my mind.  I wasn’t even thinking about him while I was typing:  the words tumbled out and Wix simply appeared, new born and full grown, on my computer screen—as if he’d been plucked out of a magician’s hat (or, in this case, a magician’s head).
 

Open as I am to happy accidents and cosmic surprises, and finding Wix an intriguing character, I pondered fitting him into the Zad saga somewhere down the line, then finished off the prose section and moved on with the story of Kate’s adventure with the Knights of Abadazad.  Problem was, no matter how hard I tried to wrestle that beast to the ground, it kept swatting me off and thrashing wildly out of control.  I don’t know how long I kept struggling with the story, trying to get it to do what I wanted, before I realized what was happening.  I could feel it, feel him, in the back of my head:  Master Wix.  He wanted to be in that story, in that particular issue of the comic book.  “But I can’t do that,” I protested.  “I’ve got this issue all worked out.”  He made his request again.  “Okay, okay,” I replied, “maybe I’ll give you a little cameo, but later.  First I’ve got to get this sequence with the Knights to work.”  Only it wasn’t working:  it was falling to pieces and it felt as if Abadazad, my beloved dream project, was falling to pieces with it.  I, of course, leaped to conclusion that any neurotic writer would:  “I’ve blown it, I’m a failure, everyone loved the first two issues but now they’re all going to see what an utter fraud I am.”  But then Wix returned, more insistent:  “Just put me into the story.  Put me in now.  I promise you, it will all work out.”

There was really no choice:  I took a deep breath, tossed the Knights of Abadazad out on their armored butts, and brought Wix into the story right at the beginning.  As soon as I did what he requested—no, what he demanded—the third chapter started flowing. All the pieces came together easily, effortlessly and joyfully.  By the time I was done with the issue, I’d realized that Wix was incredibly important not just to that sequence but to the entire series.  As for the Knights of Abadazad:  they’d been booted clear out of Zad.  I think the point Wix was making was that they’d never belonged there in the first place. 

As noted, I’d been channeling plenty of holographic movies from Abadazad—sent, no doubt, via the Blue Globe, direct from Queen Ija’s palace in the city of Inconceivable—but somehow, in all the mass of characters and events, I’d missed Master Wix and downloaded these other characters, these comical knights, from a totally different universe.  Happily, the gods of Zad wouldn’t let me turn their story upside down.  They made sure Wix came through, loud and clear.  They made sure he assumed his important role in the Abadazad tapestry.

Mystics have said that all we can imagine exists somewhere on another dimensional plane, all our thoughts and dreams, fears and nightmares, playing out in the astral realms.  But, as Professor Headstrong suggested (and who am I to gainsay his wisdom?), it might also work the other way around:  perhaps Abadazad  existed long before I was born and some confluence of cosmic forces brought us together.  All I can say for sure is that, in that magical moment on that magical day, Master Wix and the Abadazadians made it clear to me just how deep and wonderfully unfathomable our creative union was.  



So I ask:  Who created Master Wix?  For that matter, who really wrote the story of Abadazad?  Did I dream Zad, did Zad dream me, did we simultaneously dream each other?  If I had to pick one theory, that last one would be it:  dreamer creating dream, dream creating dreamer, all at the same time. 

If you have a hard time believing that, I suggest you talk to my old friend Wixy:  I’m sure he’ll convince you that it’s true.


©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

Sunday, June 5, 2011

THE SHOWS THAT WEREN'T THERE

Last week, while exploring the mystery of the vanishing Batman:  The Brave and the Bold episode, I discovered that—despite being yanked from the schedule at the last minute—my Green Lantern story, "Scorn of the Star Sapphire," was available for download at the iTunes store.  Today I discovered that my next scheduled episode, "Time Out for Vengeance"—which was originally supposed to air this past Friday—is also on iTunes.  "Time Out," which features Batman, the JLI and Rip Hunter (as well as a cameo by the Creeper) is a fairly epic time-travel story and, having just watched it, it's instantly become one of my favorites of all the B & B episodes I've written.  Producers Michael Jelenic and James Tucker, director Michael Goguen and the whole Batman team did an incredible job with this one.  (One of these days—soon, I hope—I'll devote a post to explaining what it's like, from a freelancer's perspective, writing for these animated shows.)

Both "Scorn of the Star Sapphire" and "Time Out for Vengeance" will air sometime in the near future, but if you want to see them now, hop on over to iTunes and hit that download button.