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.)


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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!



11 comments:

  1. But... How do the lights shine there?




    Jack

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    1. I was actually afraid that one wouldn't land.


      Jack

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    2. Or... and stay with me, because I know this is a crazy theory... you also remember the song.

      No, that is ridiculous. My apologies for spreading such bizarre conspiracy theories.

      Jack

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    3. Fascinating interview. Maybe Marvel will re-issue this around the time DOCSTOR STRANGE 2 is released. I think they timed the Lee/Ditko omnibus around the first film's release. But I'm the guy who thought a JMD/Buscema PPTSSM Omnibus would be forthcoming with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, so clearly what do I know?

      On another note, I've got a soft spot for the character Judas Traveller and think there's a lot of untapped potential there. Maybe he'd make an interesting adversary for Doctor Strange.

      Keep in mind I'm talking about a Judas Traveller fully powered, not the guy who deluded himself into thinking he was a mystic but was really being manipulated by Scrier. (Not a bad twist, mind you, but I personally see more potential in Judas being closer to what he claims he is.) Who knows, it's comics, maybe Judas Traveller manipulated Scrier into thinking he'd manipulated him to examine the nature of manipulative cultists...

      Maybe he's even THAT Judas, which now that I think about it, makes him an interesting counterpoint to Phantom Stranger. Instead of trying to atone he distances himself from his guilt, attempting dispassionate observation.

      Apologies for the rant!

      David

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    4. I would love to revisit Judas Traveler, David. Loved cooking that character up and, yes, that's a very cool way to bring him back. If Marvel calls, I'm there!

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  2. Hey Dematteis, would you mind if I made a Spider-Man based recommendation?

    Well, another one. I am the one that tricked you into seeing Into the Spider-Verse.


    Jack

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    1. Actually, it was my eight year old nephew who did that. But, sure, make the recommendation!

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    2. That is just how ingeniously Machiavellian my trickery is, daddy-O.

      I was working so subtlety influencing you and making almost unrecognizable moves.

      Your brain had been so warped that you had no choice but to go, you just needed a trigger,

      If you think back, the lad probably didn't even mention the movie, He was talking about spiders, or a man, or... verses.

      Before you knew it you were buying tickets.

      And you are welcome for that mental manipulation.

      Jack

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    3. Thanks for clearing that up, Jack! : )

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