Wednesday, October 16, 2019

STILL AMAZING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Insight Books has just released Matt Singer's Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular, an oversized art book that takes a detailed tour through Spidey's entire history.  I wrote the introduction and you can read it below.  Enjoy!



I was eight or nine years old when someone—I don’t recall who—showed me an early  issue of Amazing Spider-Man by the now-legendary team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.  I was a massive comic book fan—I became addicted to comics as soon as I could read—but my focus was primarily on the pristine, shiny heroes of DC Comics.  One look at Ditko’s art and I knew that this book wasn’t for me:  To my young eyes the style was weird, dark, disturbing—and the alleged hero of the book, with his eerie mask and bizarre, insectoid postures, seemed more like a monster than a man.  In the name of my own mental health, I avoided Spider-Man, and Marvel Comics, for a few more years.

(Contemporary comic book readers can’t possibly understand how different the Marvel books were in the 1960’s.
  DC’s comics—for all their imagination and artistic flair—were squeaky clean:  no rough edges, no raw emotions, nothing messy at all.  If you looked at the early Marvels—spearheaded by Lee, Ditko and the brilliant Jack Kirby—it was all mess:  lurid colors.  Captions screaming for your attention.  Artwork so powerful and primitive it was frightening.  Marvel Comics were dangerous.)

In Junior High School, as Marvel exploded across the newsstands—and as my friends began to rave about this new company that was changing the face of comics—I took my first tentative steps into the Marvel Universe.
  I remember standing in the local Brooklyn candy store where I bought all my comics and seeing the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39, which featured the Green Goblin dragging a bound Peter Parker through the skies above New York:  not the costumed hero but his alter ego, his Spider-Man costume exposed beneath his torn street clothes.  I’d never seen anything like it.

I resisted picking it up then—perhaps some residual fear from my first encounter with Spidey stayed my hand—but jumped in the following month for the story’s conclusion:
  I was floored.  Stan Lee’s story was so exciting, so nakedly emotional.  And John Romita, Sr’s art—with his dynamic layouts and impeccable storytelling—was irresistible.

Peter Parker entered my life then and, I’m happy to say, he’s never left.


As much as I loved Spider-Man as a reader—those Lee-Romita days
especially
—it was as a writer that I really fell in love with the character.  Peter Parker, as I’ve said many times before, is perhaps the most emotionally and psychologically authentic protagonist in any superhero universe.  Underneath that mask, he’s as confused, as flawed, as touchingly human, as the people who read, and write, about him.  The book may be called Spider-Man, but, mask on or off, it’s all about Peter Parker.  Most of us who have written the character for any length of time completely identify with Peter:  He’s just a regular guy who happens to have these extraordinary powers.  He’s always struggling to do the right thing—and sometimes failing spectacularly.  Take away the wall-crawling and you have a pretty good description of what it is to be human.

In my experience, the vast majority of people are decent and compassionate at heart:
  we want to be kind, to do what’s right, to treat others fairly and be treated fairly in return.  And, like Spider-Man, we do our share of failing, of not living up to our own ideals. What’s wonderful about Peter Parker is that, no matter how discouraged he may be, he always picks himself up and tries again; and every time Peter triumphs, it’s a triumph for the human spirit, because he’s such a wonderful example of that spirit at its best.  Spider-Man both mirrors our human weaknesses and inspires us to reach for our highest ideals—and that makes for a truly timeless character.

If I could travel back to the 1960s and tell the kid standing in that Brooklyn candy store that one day he’d be writing Spider-Man in both comic books and animation, building on the classic stories created by Lee, Ditko and Romita, Sr., I’m pretty sure that twelve year old boy would faint dead away from sheer delight.


It’s a delight I think you’ll share as you read this book and take a journey through the web-head’s amazing history.





©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

AS VAST AS SPACE AND AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY

In honor of The Twilight Zone's 60th anniversary month (it premiered October 2, 1959), I once again offer up my list—first presented here back in 2011—of ten favorite Zone episodes.  By the time I was done, I’d included sixteen episodes, but let’s all pretend it’s a top ten list.  It sounds better that way.


“Time Enough At Last” which is first on the list, is probably my all-time favorite, perhaps because it’s the first one I remember seeing; but, really, the numbering doesn't matter:  they all hold an equal place in my heart, continuing—even after all these years—to echo on in the deeps of my psyche and soul.


1)  “Time Enough At Last”
Written by Rod Serling.  As noted, the first episode I remember seeing—I think I was five or six—and one that’s never let me go.  Burgess Meredith is brilliant as the bookish Henry Bemis:  a man, abused by the world, who’s never happy unless he’s reading.  The ending is the most tragic, and unfair, in all the Zone; but what touched me as a child, and still does to this day, is Bemis’s love of literature and the strange charms of being the only person left alone in the world.  By becoming a professional writer—someone who spends a good part of his life alone with his own imagination—you could say I became a Henry Bemis myself.

2)  “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”/”Nick of Time”
Written by Richard Matheson.  Two classic episodes starring the incomparable William Shatner.  In “Nightmare...”, Shatner gives a career-defining performance as a passenger fighting for both his life and his sanity on an airplane.  It’s a tribute to Shatner, Matheson and director Richard Donner that the first time I ever got on a plane, the first thing I did was look out the window to check and see if there was anything...strange out there on the wing.  In “Nick of Time,” Shatner is equally terrific in another Matheson story, this one delicately, and brilliantly, walking a fine line between the supernatural and the psychological.  And who could forget that bobbing devil-head?

3)  “Walking Distance”
Written by Rod Serling.  “Walking Distance” owes something to the work of Ray Bradbury—filled as it is with a longing for a simpler age of childhood innocence and merry-go-rounds—but the bittersweet soul of the story is pure Serling.  Gig Young gives a heartfelt—and heartbreaking—performance as a desperate man seeking solace in his own fragile past.  As perfect a TZ as was ever filmed, this is Serling at the very top of his game, using the show’s format to explore the human condition with a power and eloquence rarely seen on television, then or now.



4)  “A Stop At Willoughby”
Written by Rod Serling.  A companion piece to “Walking Distance,” this wonderful episode features James Daley—who went on to appear in one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, “Requiem for Methuselah”—giving a superb performance as a businessman longing for escape from the pressures of his life.  He finds it in a place called Willoughby—which may very well be Heaven itself.  Despite hints of misogyny—there are one too many harpy wives in Serling’s work—this is a deeply moving, and deeply magical story, that manages to transform tragic death into eternal triumph.  Many a time I’ve been on an Amtrak train wondering if the conductor would shout out, “Willoughby!  This stop is Willoughby!”  If he did, would I get off?  Would you?

5)  “A World of Difference”
Written by Richard Matheson.  Another Matheson gem, one of the very best of the Zones that question both personal identity and the nature of reality.  
Howard Duff is perfectly cast as a man trying desperately to escape an existence he believes is a lie and return to a life that everyone else claims is a madman’s delusion.   The moment when Duff is sitting in his office at work and an offscreen voice yells, "Cut!"—revealing the world we've been watching to be a movie set—is one of the most thrilling and disturbing in the series.   

6)  “The After Hours”
Written by Rod Serling.  Another challenge to personal identity, perhaps to our humanity itself.  “The After Hours” terrified and fascinated me as a kid.  It also had me wondering, every time I passed a department store mannequin, if there was more to them, and to the universe, than met the eye.  That, to me, was the greatest gift of The Twilight Zone:  it exploded safe assumptions and challenged you to look, really look, and discover the miracles hidden just beneath the skin of the world.



7)  “The Purple Testament”/”A Quality of Mercy”
Written by Rod Serling.  This pair of superb episodes, both inspired by Serling’s experiences fighting in the Pacific during World War II, always seemed of a piece to me.  Both are resonant with sorrow, outrage and compassion—and could only have been created by a man who’d witnessed the horrors of war first hand.  “Mercy’s” ability to shift perspective, to let us see war from the enemy’s POV, was a real eye opener to me as a kid.  It broke apart the simplistic good guy/bad guy paradigm that mass media, and our political culture, had been feeding my young, impressionable mind and helped me to understand that all of us—so-called heroes and so-called villains alike—are united by our humanity.

8)  “King Nine Will Not Return”
Written by Rod Serling.  Only Twilight Zone could give you thirty minutes of Robert Cummings staggering around in the desert alone, speaking primarily through interior monologue, and make it a classic.  Cummings, who learned his craft in movies but became a household name as the star of amiable, unchallenging sitcoms, proved that his dramatic chops were still intact with this wonderful portrayal of a man caught between past and future, guilt and madness.  The sand in the shoe at the end was the icing on the cake.

9)  “The Eye of the Beholder”
Written by Rod Serling.  Okay, go to the mirror, pull down your bottom eyelids, push up your nose and scare the hell out of yourself the same way those doctors and nurses scared the hell of you the first time you saw this episode.  A perfect mix of the aural and the visual, “The Eye of the Beholder” is skillfully directed by Douglas Heyes and beautifully acted by Maxine Stewart, who, hidden as she is beneath bandages, gives what is essentially the greatest radio performance in the history of television.  (When the bandages come off at the end, it’s a little disconcerting to find Elly May Clampett underneath.)  Serling loved to rail against conformity and totalitarianism (among other things)—and sometimes the railing overwhelmed the writing.  Here everything is in perfect balance.  Yes, there’s a point to be made, but it’s the humanity of the story that stays with you. 



10) “The Odyssey of Flight 33”
Written by Rod Serling.  A simple, brilliant premise:  a passenger jet lost in time.  What’s amazing about the show is that—despite a few briefly-seen effects shots, some equally brief stock footage and a handful of passenger reactions—the bulk of the story takes place in the cockpit of the plane.  It’s all talk.  And yet Serling manages to make us believe that we’re trapped on that plane along with the crew and passengers, adrift in the timestream—and that we may never return.  That’s called great writing, folks.

11) “Night of the Meek”
Written by Rod Serling.  The great Art Carney as a down-on-his-luck boozer who, on a snowy December night, finds himself transformed into Santa Claus.  Be forewarned:  this is no Tim Allen Disney comedy.  It’s a genuinely moving tale of redemption:  Serling at his sweetest, but not losing his edge, either.  A show that demands re-watching every 25th of December.

12)  “It’s a Good Life”


Written by Rod Serling.  Billy Mumy wishing people into the cornfield.  What more needs to be said?  Just this:  the moment when Mumy’s six year old terror Anthony Fremont turns Don Keefer’s character, Dan Hollis, into a human jack-in-the-box is one of the most chilling moments ever broadcast on television.  And what makes it work is how little we actually see.  Most of what we get is shadow and suggestion, letting our imaginations fill in the horrifying details. 



13) “To Serve Man”
Written by Rod Serling.  Three little words:  “It’s a cookbook!”  Yes, it’s all a little goofy, and there are some obvious plot holes, but, c’mon, “It’s a cookbook!”

14) “Death Ship”
Written by Richard Matheson.  The best of the hour long episodes, “Death Ship” is another Matheson gem that—as Marc Scott Zicree points out in his wonderful book, The Twilight Zone Companion (still the best TZ book out there, if you ask me)—skillfully straddles the line between science fiction and horror.  The performances by Ross Martin, Fred Beir and Zone repeat offender Jack Klugman are uniformly excellent.  This one sends a chill down your spine and pierces your heart at the same time:  an uncommon feat.  But, then, Matheson is an uncommon writer.

There are so many other episodes I could write about—”A World of His Own, “ “Nothing in the Dark,” “The Midnight Sun, “ “The Trade Ins” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” spring immediately to mind—but I’ve got to stop somewhere.  And, since the entire series is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and a number of streaming platforms, you should have no trouble tracking any of them down and losing yourself in the wonders and terrors of The Twilight Zone.

All that said, I’m compelled to mention one more extraordinary episode that was part of the 1980’s reboot of the series.  (I sold my first television script to the 80’s Zone and I really should blog about that memorable experience one of these days.)  The episode, “Her Pilgrim Soul,” written by the brilliant Alan Brennert, isn’t just one of the finest episodes of any incarnation of the Zone—right up there with the best of Serling, Matheson and Charles Beaumont—it’s one of the finest pieces I’ve ever seen on television.  In fact, it’s so good, you’ve got to click on this link and watch it right now.




©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, October 7, 2019

KNIGHTS AND DRAGONS

Warner Brothers just announced a project I've been working on since last year:  Deathstroke: Knights and Dragons features the DC Comics mercenary created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and will, like Constantine: City of Demons before it, premiere as a twelve episode series on CW Seed in the first quarter of 2020.  (There will eventually be a DVD/Blu-ray feature-length release with fifteen or twenty minutes of extra story.)

The series stars The Shield's Michael Chiklis (who also made a memorable Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four movies) as Deathstroke and is directed by Sung Jin Ahn.  You can watch the teaser trailer below:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A WEE BIT OF SCOTLAND

I just returned from the MCM Comic Con in Glasgow, Scotland where I was one of four U.S. guests (the others were Ron Marz, Bart Sears and Rick Leonardi).  We all had a great time and I can't say enough nice things about the warm and open-hearted Glaswegians we met.  My wife and I also had a chance to tour the gorgeous Scottish countryside and get a sense of the heart and history of a wonderful country.

Rick and I did a panel together, discussing the creative process from both the writer's and artist's POV.  You can hear the audio of our talk below.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

AND NOW THE NEWS

Haven't posted in a while, so I thought I'd share some news updates from across the DeMatteisverse.


Both the Amazon Book Review and Barnes & Noble chose the collected edition of The Girl in the Bay as a top pick for the fall. Girl—with art by brilliant newcomer Corin Howell—is a supernatural murder mystery with a time travel twist, courtesy of Dark Horse/Berger Books.


June 12th saw the release of 
Moonshadow: The Definitive Editiona beautiful hardcover from Dark Horse, collecting the original twelve issue series and its sequel, Farewell, Moonshadow, along with a plethora of extras and a new introduction by yours truly. A review in the Library Journal called Moonshadow "a beloved masterpiece" and went on to say that "this new, definitive edition...is sure to enhance its reputation."


June 5th saw the release of the trade paperback of my recent IDW series Impossible Incorporatedwhich the Comic Crusaders website called "a head tripping tale of cosmic adventure and exploration...an exciting adventure filled with big, bold ideas." Co-creator Mike Cavallaro and I are hoping to tell many more tales of teen genius Number Horowitz and her team as they continue their journeys across time and space.


November will bring Marvel's X-Factor Epic Collection: X-Aminations, which collects the first part of my run on the book (along with the finale of Peter David's run).

In December comes DC's Scooby Apocalypse Volume Six, the grand finale of our recently concluded reimagining of the Scooby-Doo universe.

The same month will see the release of The Defenders Epic Collection: The End of All Songs, which features the entirety of my 1980's Gargoyle mini-series, one of my absolute favorite Marvel projects.
  

I've got several new comics projects in the works, but they're top secret for now.



Warner Brothers just announced the animated adaptation of Superman: Red Son.  Directed and produced by Sam Liu and written by yours truly, this is the first animated treatment of Mark Millar's classic Elseworlds saga.  The voice cast is headed by the great Jason Isaacs as Superman and the equally-great Diedrich Bader as Lex Luthor.

Season Two of Marvel’s Spider-Man has just kicked off, so keep your eye out for my episode "Bring On The Bad Guys." Spring 2020 will bring my Season Three episode, which is part of the “Maximum Venom” arc.

October 22nd will see the release of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, which features my DC Showcase: Death short. Produced and directed by Sam Liu, Death brings Neil Gaiman's classic Sandman character to animation for the first time.

Coming soon is my DC Showcase: Adam Strange short, produced and directed by Butch Lukic. It's an unconventional take on DC's classic space hero.


IMAGINATION  101

a three day writing workshop
with J.M. DeMatteis
My Imagination 101 writing workshop will be returning to Kingston, N.Y. November 8—10. It’s a fun, intimate weekend discussing the practicalities and metaphysics of writing comics, graphic novels and animation. The class is nearly full so, if you’re interested, email me at imaginationworkshops@gmail.com for more info.



It's been a busy, and very enjoyable, convention year, with Dallas's North Texas Comic Book Show, GalaxyCons in Raleigh and Richmond, Charlotte's HeroesCon and Atlanta's legendary DragonCon. Thanks to all the fans who took the time to stop by and say hello. It's always a genuine pleasure to meet the people who read, and enjoy, my work.

Just a couple of conventions left in 2019: September 28th and 29th I'll be at the MCM Comic Con in Glasgow, Scotland and November will bring my final convention of the year, the Louisville GalaxyCon, which runs from November 22—24.

And that's the latest news!  And now, here's Jimmy Olsen with the weather...

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACK!

As I've said before, if it wasn't for Jack Kirby—who was born on August 28, 1917—there might not even be a comic book business today.  Kirby's groundbreaking work with Joe Simon, Stan Lee and on his own continually defined, and redefined, what the medium could be.

Those of us working in this business today stand on the shoulders of giants—and Jack was the tallest of them all. 

Happy Birthday to the King!


Thursday, August 22, 2019

BRADBURY 99

Today would have been Ray Bradbury's 99th birthday.  (Read this post if you don't already know how exalted a place Ray B holds in my literary pantheon.)  To celebrate, here's one of my absolute favorite audio adaptations of a Bradbury story:  "Kaleidoscope"—from the brilliant public radio series Bradbury 13.

Happy birthday, Ray!  Your art continues to inspire and the strong beat of your open heart echoes on.




Wednesday, August 14, 2019

GALAXY TALK

Here are a couple of video clips from the recent GalaxyCon I attended in Raleigh.  In the first I talk about working with editors...



...and in the second I discuss writing for animation.



There are many more videos available on my YouTube channel, so click on over and subscribe!

Monday, August 5, 2019

IT'S ALL GEEK TO ME

I talk to the Geek Vibe Nations podcast about...lots of things.  Embedded below.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

SILENCE DAY 2019


"Things that are real are given and received in silence."—Avatar Meher Baba


BACK TO THE BAY

A gentle reminder that the collected edition of The Girl in the Bay will be on sale in August.  Here's an interview—from October's New York ComicCon—where my talented collaborator, Corin Howell, and I talk about our twisty tale of time travel, doppelgängers and murder.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A RISING MOON


Moonshadow: The Definitive Edition
hits comic book shops tomorrow, courtesy of Dark Horse and our devoted editor, Philip Simon.  The book is a beautiful hardcover, with lots of extras that showcase the development of the series.  I also wrote a new introduction for the collection and you can read it below.  Enjoy!


***

In my early years in comics I blundered along, trying desperately to find my own voice as a writer and ending up sounding like a damaged clone, created from the mixed DNA of Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Roy Thomas and half-a-dozen other comic book writers I admired.  It’s not that my work was bad—I poured heart and soul into those stories and I’m gratified that my runs on Defenders and Captain America are still held in high regard—it’s just that I hadn’t found the way to fully express myself in the form.  Looking back, I think I was trapped by the super-hero genre itself; unconsciously—and sometimes consciously—parroting stories and styles I’d been absorbing all my life.

Moonshadow
changed that—and changed the course of my creative life in the process.

Someone (and for the life of me, I can’t remember who!) once said that whatever story you’re working on should be written as if it’s the only one you’ll ever tell:  pouring all your thoughts, feelings, ideas, ideals, passions, philosophies, hopes and dreams—every iota of Who You Are—into it.  That’s what I did with Moonshadow.  It allowed me to step outside the Marvel-DC mindset and discover my own voice. Over the course of those twelve issues I stopped being a “comic book writer” and became a writer.

Of course it didn’t hurt that I was working with Jon J Muth, as brilliant an artist as the medium has ever seen.  The magic of our collaboration became evident to me at our first face-to-face meeting.  A mutual friend had given Jon a copy of my original Moonshadow proposal and the two of us met to discuss the project.  He arrived at my house with some preliminary sketches based on what he’d read and, as I looked them over, profoundly impressed, I observed: “These are very Dickensian.” “Well,” Jon responded, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “that’s what you wrote.”  And, of course, it was—but the truth is that, despite the many Dickens-like touches in my outline, I never consciously realized the influence until Jon pointed it out!  (Moon evolved into a series that allowed me to pay tribute to just about all of my literary heroes—from Dickens to Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger to William Blake, Dostoyevsky to Bradbury to L. Frank Baum.  They were all standing over my shoulder as I wrote, encouraging me to find my own unique way of telling a story.) 

Muth and I worked very closely:  I have warm memories of going out to breakfast at a local diner, discussing the outline I’d just written; Jon doing layouts as we spoke, sometimes on napkins!  We worked in a variety of ways over the next two years—Moonshadow was an untraditional story that required an untraditional approach—but always with a mutual respect, and mutual enthusiasm, that I think suffused the project.  Jon’s painted pages—which ranged from brooding romanticism to delightful whimsy and back again—always challenged me, dared me to reach beyond my comfort zone and be better than I’d ever been.  I hope my scripts did the same for him. 

Some necessary acknowledgements:  Jon and I had three wonderful editors watching our backs on the original Epic Comics series—Laurie Sutton, Margaret Clark and the late, great Archie Goodwin—all of whom allowed us to tell our story in exactly the way we wanted, providing tremendous support and encouragement throughout our entire run. (And let’s not forget Marvel Comics’ then editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, who gave my oddball pitch his approval, then sent me over to Archie G.) We also have to tip our hats to our extraordinary letterer, Kevin Nowlan, and two equally-extraordinary artists, Kent Williams and George Pratt, who pitched in to help Jon on the original series when deadlines got tight.

When, a decade later, we jumped ship to my old friend Karen Berger’s DC imprint, Vertigo, we worked with incomparable editor Shelly Bond on our sequel story, Farewell, Moonshadow:  a challenging blend of comics and prose—we didn’t want to go back to the same well and tell our story in the same way—that featured some of the most breathtaking art of Jon’s career.
 
The first issue of Moonshadow came out in January of 1985, which means that Moon, “Sunflower,” Ira, Frodo, the G’l-Doses, the Unkshuss family and all the rest are nearly thirty-five years old now.  I thank them, the amazing Mr. Muth and all the readers who took that magical journey with us. Moonshadow transformed me as a writer, changing the course of my career, opening new doors of opportunity, and I am forever grateful.
Pop!  Poof!  Ping!

©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

IMPOSSIBLE GALAXIES

The collected edition of Impossible Incorporated is on sale today.  A friend described this as "Fantastic Four meets Doctor Who meets Doc Savage"—and I'll take that as a huge compliment.  I hope you'll join seventeen year old girl genius Number Horowitz and her team as they journey through time, space, dimensions—and the depths of the human heart. 

Here's hoping the great Mike Cavallaro and I get to tell many more tales of Number and Company in the future.





***

This past weekend was the Richmond, Virginia GalaxyCon and I had a very nice time meeting the fans and hanging out with fellow pros like Jim Salicrup, Mark Bagley and, of course, The Great Giffen (among many others).  Some photos and video below.  (You can find more videos over at my Youtube Channel.)



In the photos below:  The "Writing For Comics" panel with Gary Cohn and Jim Salicrup, the "Spiderverse" panel with Robbi Rodriguez, Mark Bagley and Salicrup, and the Giffen-DeMatteis panel with...whatsisname.










Next stop:  HeroesCon!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

RETURN TO SHAMBALLA



A brand new,  oversized edition of Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa—the 1980s graphic novel I created with the great Dan Green—has just come out in Italy and I did an interview for the book.  Since most of you reading this don't live in Italy, or speak Italian, I thought I'd post the complete interview here.

And here's hoping Marvel gets around to publishing a new edition in English sooner than later.  The book has been out of print for a long time.

(By the way, some enterprising YouTuber has done a motion comic of Shamballa and you can watch it here.)


***


I know it's been a while... but do you remember the genesis of Into Shamballa and how it came to be?

I’ve always been a massive Doctor Strange fan.  I’d had the opportunity to write the character within the context of my run on the Defenders, but had never written a Strange solo tale.  Dan Green was a friend and neighbor and we were looking for the right project to work on together.  He shared my enthusiasm for Doc, we started bouncing around ideas…and we were off and running!  

One of the things that fascinates me about Strange is that his story is first and foremost a spiritual one.  It’s hidden behind magic spells, other dimensions and visual pyrotechnics, but Stephen Strange was a broken man who found redemption at the feet of an Eastern spiritual master.  You can't get more overtly spiritual than that!  That aspect of the character was sometimes lost and I wanted to do a story that put the emphasis squarely on the spiritual, while still giving the readers a big, cosmic adventure that addressed the mystical side of life and the inner journey that we’re all on, as individuals and as a planet.  Dan shared many of the same goals and had other elements that were important to him and the final story was a blend of our two visions.  As for how we put the book together…

Keep in mind it’s been decades and memories are fragile things, so take everything that follows with the proverbial grain of salt.  That said, Dan saved my outlines and scripts and many of his layouts and notes, so, using that as a kind of archaeological guide, I’ve tried to reconstruct the way we created Into Shamballa.  

Since Dan and I lived in the same town and we saw each other regularly, that allowed us to work very closely every step of the way, bouncing things back and forth, building the story together, brick by brick.  After we talked the story through and came up with a framework that excited us, we pitched it to Jim Shooter, who was editor in chief of Marvel at the time, and he had some very valuable insights that helped bring our story into deeper focus.  I then wrote up a five page story outline for our editor, Carl Potts, that we also shared with Roger Stern, who was writing the Strange monthly at the time.   We wanted to make sure that we weren’t stepping on Roger’s toes and that our story didn’t overlap with anything he was doing. 

From there Dan and I worked out more details of the story, discussed layouts, tone, etc.  Then, based on our conversations, I wrote up another outline, breaking the story down, which Dan used as a jumping off point, laying out the entire graphic novel and, I’m sure, adding new details along the way. 

I wrote my script from Dan’s layouts, but I was free to change things, make shifts, as I went along.  Dan recently unearthed lots of material that he’d saved and found some of my own layouts—and I use the term loosely!—that I’d do if, in the writing, my script deviated from what Dan had already done.  This way he had a sense of what I was seeing in my head as I was writing.  I also added some art notes to the script itself, something I’d forgotten until Dan showed me the old pages.

I’m sure Dan had feedback about the script that I then incorporated into a another draft and, with that in front of him, Dan worked out the final layouts.  I suspect we discussed that, making sure we were both happy, after which he went on to the finished art—which, all these years later, still stands as some of the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen in a comic book or graphic novel.  

This kind of back and forth is not the way the average comic book is done!  The fact that were were able to do so much work face to face, and that we had the extended deadline that graphic novels afford, allowed us to really collaborate in a way writers and artists in comics working on monthly comics just can’t.  It was a magical collaboration as befits such a magical character.


Into Shamballa is a perfect mix between a comic book and an illustrated novel. Where did this idea come from? Why did you choose not to use word balloons but only captions to tell the story?

Some people see comics as movies on paper.  I never have.  I think comics is a unique form that embraces film, poetry, music and prose.  The form can be anything we want it to be.  I especially wanted to explore the line between prose and comics:  telling a story with the pure visual impact we expect from the form, but also using prose to dive deeper, expand the storytelling out in ways that traditional comics storytelling can’t.  I was doing something similar with Moonshadow, which I was writing at the same time I was writing Shamballa. ( In fact Dan and Jon J Muth were sharing a studio at the time.) 

With Dan’s gorgeous art the graphic novel became a kind of mystical storybook.  A cosmic fairy tale.   

Dr. Strange, decades after his creation, keeps being an entertaining and fascinating character. What do you think is the secret of this success?

The magical characters—and Strange is foremost among them—allow us to tell stories that explore the personal and the cosmic, the psychological and the spiritual.  Reality itself can be bent back, folded, torn up and rearranged.  We get to ask the Big Questions:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is reality?  An incredible framework for investigating life on multiple layers and levels. 

But none of this would work if Strange himself wasn’t such a deep and fascinating character.  You can’t go big and cosmic unless it’s rooted in the human and Stephen Strange is a very human character.  Add to that the scope of his adventures—the endless dimensions, the cosmic grandeur, the otherworldly foes and allies—and you’ve got the perfect recipe for great comics.  Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created a perfect template.  All of us who’ve worked on the character are forever grateful to them.


What did you think of the cinematic version of Dr. Strange?

I really enjoyed it—Cumberbatch was perfect casting—and I hope they get cracking on a sequel ASAP.  I also loved the little nod to Into Shamballa that they threw into the mix!



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

GALACTIC

Friday kicks off GalaxyCon in Richmond, Virginia.  I'll be there all three days and doing  a panel each day.

FRIDAY MAY 31
Writing Comic Books
5 pm
Gary Cohn, J.M. DeMatteis, Matthew Rosenberg, Jim Salicrup
Hero Stage E-21 AC

SATURDAY JUNE 1
Giffen & DeMatteis
4 pm
J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen
Hero Stage E-21 AC

SUNDAY JUNE 2
Into The Spiderverse
Noon
Mark Bagley, J.M. DeMatteis, Robbi Rodriguez, Jim Salicrup
Hero Stage E-21 AC

If you're attending, stop by my table and say hello.

Looking forward to a fun weekend!


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

SPIDER TALK

I chat with the fine folks at The Amazing Spider-Talk podcast about...well, Spider-Man.  Specifically the tortured relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 26, 2019

IMAGINING

Just a short one to let folks know that—for the first time in a couple of years—I'll be doing one of my three day Imagination 101 writing workshops.  The dates are November 8—10, 2019, and if this sounds like an early warning...it's not:  folks are already registering so, if you're interested in attending, it can't hurt to sign up ASAP.

Forewarned is forearmed.

For more info click on over to the workshops sections of this site.

And come join us!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

THE BIG WHY

I chat with Comic Pop's Sal Crivelli about The Girl in the Bay, Impossible Incorporated, my Imagination 101 writing workshop, "The Big Why," and many other things.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

RETURN TO SOLITUDE

I had another fascinating conversation with Eric Anthony of the Cave of Solitude podcast.  We talk about The Girl in the Bay, Impossible Incorporated, the nature of reality and other fun things.  You can listen to it below.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 22, 2019

COMING SOON

Here's a gentle reminder that The Girl in the Bay #3—with art by the wonderful Corin Howell—is out from Dark Horse/Berger Books on April 3rd.


And, on that very same day, you can pick up the cosmic conclusion of IDW's Impossible, Incorporated, with art by one of my all-time favorite collaborators, Mike Cavallaro.


I'm very proud of both these series and I hope you'll check them out.  (And, yes, there will be collected editions coming soon:  I.I. in May and Girl in August.)  

Friday, March 1, 2019

CONSTANTALK

Just came across this Constantine: City of Demons interview from October's New York Comic Con.

You can watch the abbreviated version of City for free (yes, I said free) on the CW Seed app or buy the DVD—which is a longer cut with more story—right here.  It's also available for streaming on Amazon, Google Play and other platforms.

City of Demons is one of the finest animated projects I've ever been involved in and, if you're a John Constantine fan, I think you'll enjoy it.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AVATAR MEHER BABA!


"To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others, by expressing, in the world of forms, truth, love, purity and beauty — this is the sole game which has intrinsic and absolute worth. All other happenings, incidents and attainments in themselves can have no lasting importance."

Avatar Meher Baba

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A STRANGE LETTER

A kind soul on Twitter brought this to my attention:  a letter teenage JMD wrote to the Sub-Mariner comic in 1970.




I have no memory of this but, man, that kid was obsessed with Doctor Strange. (Guess it paid off in the end!)





Wednesday, February 20, 2019

DEFENSIVE

Speaking of podcasts:  I had a great time talking to novelists, and all-around good guys, Brian Keene and Christopher Golden for their Defenders Dialogue podcast.  We talked about, no surprise!, my 80s run on The Defenders—as well as Moonshadow, Blood: a tale, Kraven's Last Hunt, The Girl in the Bay and other fun things.  You can listen to our conversation right here:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

MORE RETRO

Here's part two of my interview with The Retro Project.  (You can find part one here.)  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

MORE GIRL, MORE BAY

It's been a little over a week since The Girl in the Bay debuted—I've been overwhelmed by the positive response the book has been getting—and I thought I'd share the essay I wrote for our first issue, which explores the origins of the story.

If you haven't read Girl, I hope this entices you to pick it up.  At the very least I hope you enjoy my musings on the creative process.


One thing I’ve learned in my years as a professional writer is that stories have lives of their own; that they exist independently, in another rarified sphere, and that some of us, for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, are chosen by those stories to be their vehicles, to share them with the world.  How many times have I found myself in bed or in the shower or just stretched out on my office floor, eyes closed, lost in a hypnogogic state, watching an entire movie play out in my head?  Images erupt, unbidden, dancing across the movie screen of my imagination.  It’s like a download from some cosmic computer:  worlds unfold, characters live and breathe, struggle, triumph and die, and I observe it all with curiosity, wonder and immense gratitude.

I don’t know where these mind-movies come from—some would say the unconscious, but I believe the unconscious is just a doorway to something bigger, more mysterious, and far more magical—and, really, I don’t want to know.  The fun is in the effort to translate that story-download into words, giving it life on the page.

A few years ago I was at a spiritual retreat center in South Carolina—a place I go regularly to slough off the world and sit in the silence—when the download started again.  This time it was the tale of a teenage girl, eighteen years old in 1969, who meets with a tragic death—and yet, impossibly, doesn’t die.  She’s resurrected, fifty years later (but mere minutes to her), in a world that is both familiar and terrifying:  the world of 2019.  I followed Kathy Sartori—the name came later—as she tried to solve the mystery of her own death and of the doppelgänger with her face and name who’d lived out Kathy’s life in the five decades that had passed.

Every day the download would begin again and every day I’d race back to my cabin, flip open my laptop, and, like a dutiful secretary, do my best to transcribe the information that had been dictated by the Story Gods.  By the time the retreat was over, I had pages and pages of notes.

Which I promptly forgot about.

That’s not unusual.  Ideas come and go in the writing life.  On occasion those ideas take root quickly and the stories find their way into the world with astonishing speed.  But, more often than not, they sit quietly in a file on my computer, gestating, evolving, waiting for me to periodically revisit them—adding details here, new characters there.  And that’s as it should be.  You see, another thing I’ve learned over the years is that stories don’t just have lives of their own, they have their own timing, as well; and, however anxious I may be to tell the story right now, I’ve learned to surrender and allow the tale unfold in its own way, on its own unique schedule.  It knows, even if I don’t, when all the elements are in place, when it’s exactly the right moment to be birthed, like Athena leaping from Zeus’s forehead.  That’s sometimes meant waiting years—on several occasions it’s been decades—till all the elements were in place. 

In the case of The Girl in the Bay, those elements were Karen Berger and Corin Howell.

Karen and I have a shared history that began on many of the same Brooklyn streets that Kathy Sartori walked.  My respect for KB, as both an editor and a friend, is boundless—and when she launched Berger Books, we both knew this was an opportunity to work together for the first time since the early, and creatively exhilarating, Vertigo days.  The first idea I pitched her didn’t resonate—she’s not an easy sell!—but when I shared Kathy’s tale, Karen responded enthusiastically, offering ideas and insights that helped me see my own story more clearly, the mark of a truly gifted editor. 

Karen also has a great eye for new talent and soon brought Corin Howell to my attention.  Corin’s relatively new to the business, but Karen had faith in her talent and, with each new character design, each stunning page Corin turned in, she proved that Karen’s faith wasn’t misplaced:  I can’t imagine The Girl in the Bay without her—or without the superb contributions of colorist James Devlin and letterer Clem Robins.  What was once my story alone is ours.  And now that you hold the book in your hands, it’s yours, too.

We hope you enjoy our tale of murder, time travel, personal identity and cosmic mystery.   And we look forward to more downloads, and more stories of Kathy Sartori, to come.

©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis