Friday, November 22, 2013


I was in the fifth grade when John Kennedy was murdered.  It's not history to me, it's memory:  as strange, frightening and sad now as it was then.  The assassination wasn’t announced in school that day, but I remember someone telling me that they’d seen the Principal crying (which, when you’re nine years old, is a staggering thing to hear); someone else mentioning that the school flag was at half mast (I knew that had some military meaning, but wasn’t sure what). 

On the way home several people informed me the President had been shot, but no one had any details.  Had it really happened or was it just the kind of crazy rumor children routinely passed around?  If it was true, was he badly hurt?  Was he even alive?  When I walked into our apartment and saw my father and sister sitting, stunned, in front of the television set, a photo of JFK, with the words May 29, 1917—November 22, 1963 emblazoned below it, filling the screen, the sickening truth was confirmed.

The world stopped then—and we all stayed home, for days, glued to our TVs.  (It was the first 24 hour news event and, looking back, we were blessed to have men like Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley sifting through the details, instead of the bellowing, bloviating talking heads we have today.)  I didn’t see Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, but my best friend, Bob Izzo, did—and a group of us gathered around as he described television’s first live murder.  The universe had clearly tipped into madness—but the truth is, this wasn’t news to me.  That madness had been revealed, in all its lunatic horror, the year before when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the edge of nuclear devastation.  The world almost ended then—that’s not hyperbole, that’s fact—but somehow we survived, thanks, in no small part, to a President who refused to listen to war-hungry advisors.  Now, a little more than a year later, that President was dead and it seemed as if the world really was ending.    

Kennedy was the first President I was ever aware of—I was six when he was elected—and, as a result, he loomed large, like some handsome American demigod, in my young consciousness.  We all know now, of course, that he was was far from Deity Status:  his many flaws have been repeatedly, and often luridly, catalogued in the years since his death; but JFK was also man of intelligence and wit, passion and wisdom.  It’s the tension between the flaws and ideals, the “what was” and the “might have been,” that makes him such an intriguing figure.  I’ve read more-than my share of Kennedy books over the years, digested innumerable documentaries, and the fascination continues.  How could it not?  

The Kennedy assassination remains one of the defining world events of my childhood.  It echoes on in my mind and heart to this day.  To some, perhaps many, people born after the Kennedy era, all the attention focused on today’s fiftieth anniversary might seem excessive; but those of us who lived through those years will never stop reliving the experience. 

©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I'm often asked about script formats for comic books.  (I remember it being an unfathomable mystery to me before I entered the business.)  The answer is that—although there are general rules to adhere to—there are as many formats as there are writers and the template is evolving all the time.  When I started in the business at DC Comics, my first editor—the always wise and insightful Paul Levitz—handed me a sample script, explaining the way the page should be broken down:  I've pretty much followed that template ever since.   

In the end, it's easier to show than tell, so here are the first three story pages of one of my all-time favorite projects, The Life and Times of Savior 28.  (I pondered including the entire script, but it runs to nearly seventy pages, which seemed excessive.) Keep in mind that this is how I do it.  Other writers approach the script in different ways—but everyone is breaking the story down by page, panel, captions and dialogue. 

What you see below is called Full Script.  There's also the so-called Marvel Method, where the writer presents the artist with a detailed plot outline.  The artist then draws from the plot, the art goes back to the writer who then provides the dialogue and captions.  I'll post a few pages of plot soon and discuss that method in more detail.

The advantage of Full Script is that the writer is in complete control of the materials: the visuals and pacing, the flow and rhythm, of the story are in his hands.  But the truth is, however specific your script may be, ten different artists will turn that script into ten different reading experiences.  Some will raise your story up to heights you never dreamed of, others will drag it down and kick it in the head for good measure. A few will magically pull the pictures directly out of your head and draw them exactly as you imagined them.   There's nothing more exciting for a comic book writer than that moment when the art arrives and you see your story exploding across the page. (Savior 28 was illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, one of my favorite collaborators.  If you pick up the series, you'll see how brilliantly he brought this sequence to life.) 

Give the script a read and, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section.  

The Life and Times of Savior 28 is ©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


My next Teen Titans Go! episode—"No Power"—airs tonight, at 7:30 pm Eastern, on Cartoon Network.  I've embedded a preview below.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Today is the 86th birthday of one of most influential artists in the history of comics, Steve Ditko:  the visionary creator who pushed, some might say shattered, the boundaries of 60's mainstream comics with his work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.  I can't think of another artist of the era—aside from the King of all boundary-shatterers, Jack Kirby—whose work was more revolutionary and influential.

Ditko illustrated a couple of my early stories—including a Legion of Super Heroes issue that's considered one of the worst Legion tales of all time (my fault, not Steve's!)—back when I was starting out at DC Comics, and one day, when I wandered into the office of editor Jack C. Harris, there he was, the legend himself: an unassuming middle-aged man, dropping off his latest batch of pages.  Ditko is notoriously reclusive, the J.D. Salinger of comic books, so I was delighted—and perhaps a bit awed—to be standing in the same room with him, making (very) small talk.

Now imagine my excitement when I discovered that Ditko was leaving the office at the same time I was.  We hopped in the elevator, walked out of the building together, and headed off, side-by-side, in the same direction.  We talked a little (perhaps about the story we'd just worked on, I can't say for sure) and the twelve year old inside me was doing cartwheels.  Me and Steve Ditko, strolling down the avenue and chatting?  By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, I was in Comic Book Heaven.

I didn't stay there long.

We'd gone, perhaps, half a block, when I said something to the effect of, " you ever think you'll go back and draw Spider-Man again?"  In my defense, I don't think I realized that the subject of Spidey, of Ditko's Marvel work in general, was verboten—but I found out soon enough:  Within seconds of opening my ignorant mouth, Ditko wished me a good day, crossed the street and vanished into the crowd.  I felt like an idiot, but a lucky one:  I'd had my moment, however brief, with the elusive legend.  And, all these years later, I still treasure it.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ditko—and thanks for all the brilliant work. 

©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis