Later in the day, Julián wrote to me again to say that he'd come across another letter, this one from Amazing #82. Some months have passed, I'm now fifteen— embarrassingly so—and filled to the brim with the 60's ideals that, for better or worse, still infuse my personal philosophy, and my work, in many ways. (I just express them a little more eloquently now: for one thing, I stopped saying "dig it" at least six months ago and I only shout "give peace a chance" on John Lennon's birthday.)
I wrote to many Marvel comics in the following years—and kept on writing till I was in my early twenties (my last published letter was in an issue of Master of Kung Fu, simultaneously singing the praises of Doug Moench and Jack Kerouac)—but I'd love to go back in time, tap that fourteen year old on the shoulder and say, "Pssst. Kid. I know you're not gonna believe this, but one day you'll be writing Amazing Spider-Man!" I'd love to see Little Marc's jaw drop and his eyes bug out and then I'd like to give him a hug and tell him to keep chasing his dreams—because they really do come true.
Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, Julián.
Then the fourteen year-old says, "yeah right old man. I'll be writing songs with John Lennon touring all over the world, and writing the GREATEST of great American novels when I'm not on tour!" as he stomps on your foot and takes the 5 dollars in your hand.ReplyDelete
After which you hold your foot in pain, shaking your other fist as you yell, "DEMAAAAATTTTEIIIIS! YOU NO GOOD LITTLE PUNK BA... wait a minute."
Suddenly all of those identity crises you write about make much more sense.
I am a tad more interested in that Kerouac Master of Kung Fu letter. I have to know what that is a bout.
You can find that MOKF letter right here, Jack:Delete
Rereading, I see that it's just a passing reference to Kerouac's ON THE ROAD, but it's certainly an accurate reflection of my twenty-two year old mindset during the summer of '76.
I love these! You were definitely quite bold and sharp at 14 and 15! Man do I miss letter columns. I guess the internet has very much filled that need in a much more immediate way, but I always enjoyed the letters and responses in those columns almost as much as the comics themselves. Even now when I reread old comics I much prefer reading the original comics over collections so that I can read the letter column. I always feel like I'm missing something when I get to the end of modern comics and there isn't two pages of letters and responses about that particular series. Also - seeing my name in print in an issue of JLI was a highlight of my childhood.ReplyDelete
I miss them, too, Drew. In fact, I'd often read the letters columns BEFORE reading the comic. (It's a weird habit I have: I like to read magazines from the back, too.) As instant and intimate as the internet can be, there was something magical about those letters page.Delete
That said, the fact that you once had a letter printed in JLI and here we are conversing via a technology we never dreamed of back then is pretty cool.
Reading from back to front is obviously an expression of your Jewish half.ReplyDelete
I had one letter printed during the Gruenwald run of Captain America. I think it was in response to a previous issue's letter with someone complaining about the violence in comic books. I'd have to look to remember. Anyway, I remember that Mark sent me the actual cut and paste board from that issue. I still have that and figured that I had reached the peak of letter writing with my first attempt and never did it again. Now I just bother writers on their webpage. :)ReplyDelete
NEVER a bother, Douglas. In fact, it's a delight.Delete
Mark Gruenwald was a wonderful guy and a huge talent. He was also my friend and he's still sorely missed.
It is always a kick reading comics new or old, when you spot a letter from near where you live, even if you have no idea who it is.ReplyDelete
It's especially fun when you're a young fan, feeling isolated in your love of comics.Delete
I didn't know anyone else who read comics when I was young. None of my friends read comics. I remember the very early days of the internet and how amazing (almost surreal) it was when I came across other fans that read comics (including JLI) and talked about them. For me comic books were definitely my own isolated little world. I felt like I was in on a secret that all of my friends were just missing out on.Delete
I understand. When I was a kid, pretty much everyone read comics, but, by the time I was fourteen or so, most of them stopped and I was alone with my obsession. I very rarely ran into another comic book reader.Delete
And there was a kind of quiet joy in that. It was MY thing. And, of course, the letters pages let me know that there were other weirdos like me out there in the universe, so I wasn't really alone.
I had two friends who read comics. One, who who was older and every so often we would swap a huge, brown paper bag of comics so we bought less comics that way. Another buddy of mine was a total DC nerd while I was a Marvel Zombie so we rarely read each others comics. I was the only one who subscribed to a comic. And, yes, it was Howard The Duck.Delete
There was a time, Douglas, when HOWARD THE DUCK was my absolute favorite comic book on the planet. Each issue was an eagerly-anticipated revelation.Delete
I haven't looked at Gerber's HTD in years, but I'm thinking a collection would be a nice Christmas present to myself.
Howard the Duck was also (as far as I know) the only Marvel comics mentioned by Philip K. Dick in his work.Delete
I have a vague memory of that—and also a vague memory that PKD got the dates wrong somehow. Having people read HOWARD when there weren't any HTD comics. Or something like that.Delete
Honestly, I don't remember which book it was. A SCANNER DARKLY, perhaps?
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The main character. Angel, made reference to reading it several times. The book opens in 1980, and talks about events in the 60s and 70s. The dates are fuzzy to me, and Wikipedia was no help, I do remember mentioning it before Jeff died, so that is probably the key to knowing.Delete
It is also interesting that it won the Nebula award, but whether or not there was anything fantasy or Science fiction related is somewhat up in the air. Actually no, just Fantasy, I can't think of any Sci-Fi elements.
Yeah, that sounds familiar. I'd have to look at the book to see exactly where the disconnect was. Honestly don't remember much about it beyond the fact that I liked it.Delete
On the same subject: just read TIME OUT OF JOINT for the first time in decades (my son and I have an unofficial PKD book club, so we read these things together) and really loved it.
A Scanner Darkly ws not originally supposed to be a sci-fi book.
I love this letter, and yes, it's amazing that one day you'd write for severalReplyDelete
Spider-Man titles. I hope you haven't stopped saying "dig." Though I'm not
a member of your generation, I'm a Deadhead, and I use that word all the time.
Glad you dug the letter, man! Keep truckin' on! : )Delete
But, seriously, thanks for checking in, Mike. And glad you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane.
Right on, man! Thanks for the Truckin' comment. It means a lotDelete
coming from a Beatles dude (as well as a Meher Baba person. By
the way, because of you, I've read two introductory works on Baba--Listen, Humanity and Mastery of Consciousness. Someday I want
to check out Discourses and God Speaks).
Looking forward to your next post. I hope your holidays are great!
And VERY Happy Holidays to you, too, Mike.Delete
I didn't know MASTERY OF CONSCIOUSNESS was still in print. It was a favorite of mine, years back.
If you're interested in MB and ever have the chance, I'd suggest a trip to the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach. It's a truly magical place.
Justice League Dark #36. Never would have believed I could feel sorry for Felix Faust. Damn you DeMatteis! Great issue.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Douglas. This may be my favorite of my JLD issues so far. VERY glad you enjoyed it!Delete
Okay Dematteis, at the end of all things people look at your work, would you rather say you were a great artist or a great storyteller? No both, it is either or.ReplyDelete
Tough one? I don't you tell me.
VERY tough. Ideally you want both artistry and the ability to tell a compelling story...but if I have to choose one (for today, anyway) it would be storytelling.Delete
I will say this, art is subjective but everyone loves a good story. Good stories even transcend rules. Think of Tolkien. He was a bad writer. Really bad. However he was a great storyteller, and that is why his books continue to last.Delete
What prompted this was a review I read of a work Stan Lee and Conway did together where the said that they were less art and more storyteller in nature. This sort of reminded me of the previous discussion here about Denny O'Neil and a little sub-point about how some look at that era which did so much as more "fun, but no real substance."
Honestly though the two thoughts on that are:
a) Shouldn't every writer strive to be a storyteller first.
b) How can you define just what "artistic" is.
c)critic seems like a really weird job to me.
People have been trying to define "art" as long as art has existed. In the end, we can only come up with our own personal definitions.Delete
Should every writer strive to be a storyteller first? For me the answer is yes, but not all fiction is story-driven. (One could argue that PKD was sometimes lacking as a storyteller, but the concepts in the work, and the mind-altering effects of the prose, transcended story.)
For me, if something touches my heart, lifts my consciousness, makes me stop and think, it's art. And I prefer my art in the body of a great story.
Please, people already know what art is, it is paintings of trees. No more no less.Delete
It is odd you don't strongly think of PKD as a storyteller. I do. This is largely based off of feeling though. The feeling that if I am reading a book of his before I go to sleep, I will often pop back up and have to read more to see what happens next. I need to continue the story. Not very academic though.
Personally, I don't even think of the word art. I just think do I like it or not? Then ask why, because isn't that the more interesting question/
A guy I know who does some painting, sometimes for sale and sometimes not, summed it up well. He said, "there are two types of art fans... art fans and 'art fans.' There are the people who will get a picture and really enjoy it whether is is a painting or a print, bought at a gallery, or a garage sale, and just love the hell out of it. They don't care if it is tacky of cheap or by a master, as long as they like to look at it. then there are the ones who need to know about the artist, the strokes, the history, and a whole load of other shit before they can even give you an opinion."
I'd rather be the previous than the latter myself. Of course J.M Demattteis has to make sure that he isn't wasting his time on trash. Its a master in everyone's eyes, a literary illuminate to all, or belongs in a used bookstore or garage sale, rotting away with now defunct atlases, Conan pulp reprints, and black light Elvis posters. Its sad really.
That's why I think it's deeply personal. One man's art is another man's trash and vice-versa. I've encountered "great art" that left me cold and "trash" that lifted my soul...and that's the way it should be.Delete
And how many great artists—like Van Gogh or Melville—were unrecognized, or, worse, derided, in their time and only became "artists" after they were dead. In the end, we should embrace art where we find it and the hell with what other people think.
You also mentioned something about critics: I was one, once, and decided the suit didn't fit me; but I really appreciate an intelligent, insightful, compassionate critic. One who's not out to score points for cleverness, but who looks at a book, a film, a comic book, whatever, and illuminates it. My least favorite kinds of critics: the ones who traffic in snark. (I was guilty of that once or twice in my younger days, so I can't play holier than thou. But, as I said, that suit didn't fit me: I decided I'd much rather be the guy creating the work and being criticized than the guy passing judgement.)Delete
I paint...sometimes. I make mini comics...a lot. I write fiction and, sometimes, no fiction and have my own zine that I have published since 1988. I also am a potter and play the saxaphone. The older I get the more I realize that I have no choice in doing these things. It's just how I express myself and make myself happy.Delete
That being said; Storytelling is an art. No question about it.
I love what you say about having no choice in the matter, Douglas. I think that's true of most creative people: call it a Divine Compulsion.Delete
That's funny. My zine is called Divine Exploitation.Delete
I really enjoyed your letter to Defenders. Now that guy would be truly baffled and delighted to find he'd be writing said series! Did you come back to Baby Face's work at any point before or during your three year tenure? I also thought I caught an echo of Dave Kraft's Scorpio in some of your villains. (I actually loved that Ringer/Nighthawk story afterwards.) And holy cats, were you reading when your future collaborator drew the series? (I imagine so!) I recall Gerber blew letter-writer you away. Any thoughts on Kraft's run or Steve Gerber's imprint on that series, JM?ReplyDelete
Fourteen year-old John Marc couldn't know he would write an as-yet-non-existent Marvel Team-Up starring Spider-Man...much less that he'd write an all-time signature arc in "Kraven's Last Hunt." I thought you caught Spidey's voice rather well. Your philosophical and humorous MTU's delighted me. The melodrama of Dr. Faustus was a masterpiece to me when I caught up with it a couple years later.
Now you of course don't have to do say yes- the idea only hit me when I came over here to see if you had any comments on your Secret Empire Defenders arc, which I just got to read yesterday-but would you care to talk to me about Scooby Doo if I catch up down at What If? Comics and Collectibles in Rome, GA? I did a delightful interview with Jan (Hexer Dusk) Duursema that went 4600 words and dug way into her creative process- I can pass the abbreviated version to you (w/ more upon the arrival of HD #1) Outright Geekery printed if you want to mull it over. It's to her credit she was so free with detailed insights. Bet you can relate to this: Hexer Dusk began as one of her dreams, of two cities in the sky waging a tragic war of mutual demise!!
I write interviews in my main "day job" (including some rock'n'roll ones, like you did!). I just got my first comics and cartoon scripting jobs, too, if you want to send some lucky gris-gris or Oreos this way. I have some awesome folks (Nicola Scott, Cullen Bunn, Ariel *Xena* Medel) lined up post Comic Con. If you had time, I would never ever forget it. (*Makes huge puppy dog eyes*)
Steve Gerber was a HUGE influence on all my early comic book work, Cecil. His writing touched and inspired me in so many ways.Delete
Re: an interview. Feel free to use the address in the WORKSHOPS section of this site and email me to talk about it!
From my favorite Ted Kord writer, if nothing else-I'll really be honored!ReplyDelete