I had an interesting chat with the fine folks from the Previously On X-Men podcast, discussing Iceman, X-Factor, creative collaboration, the value of great lettering, and other fun things. You can listen below. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 29, 2023
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
The collected edition of Spider-Man: The Lost Hunt is on sale now...featuring a powerless Peter Parker. a very pregnant Mary Jane, a threat from Spider-Man's past, and the secret origin of Kraven the Hunter! Art by Eder Messias & Belardino Brabo, Kyle Hotz, Marguerite Sauvage, and more.
Very happy with the way this one turned out. Hope you all enjoy it!
Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Sunday, June 25, 2023
My old friend Shelly Bond recently Kickstarted a wonderful book—Fast Times in Comic Book Editing—that looks back at her career working on DC'S classic Vertigo line. She asked me to write an essay about my Vertigo experiences and you can read it below.
Karen was seventeen then, just out of high school. I was an ancient twenty-one, part of a rambunctious group of Brooklyn friends—imagine the Giffen-DeMatteis JLI without super powers—that had been together since… Well, I first met them in high school, but some in the group had literally been together since nursery school. A couple of my buddies had met Karen and two of her closest friends at a party and the three new recruits were effortlessly absorbed into our quirky confederation. I could write an entire essay about that magical summer—among other things, Karen and I got to witness Bruce Springsteen’s jaw-dropping performance at New York’s Bottom Line, a week or so before Born to Run was unleashed on the world—but I’ll save that for my autobiography.
Karen quickly became a dear and treasured friend and, in the course of that friendship, I became her guide into the weird world of comics. (I was the only one in our group addicted to superheroes and muck monsters and sorcerers supreme. My friends tolerated, but really couldn’t fathom, my obsession.) This was a period when I was playing music gigs both solo and in rock and roll bands at night and writing feverishly during the day, mailing out a stream of short stories to magazines (remember those?) and being rejected on a regular basis. (Karen, even then, would read my work and critique it: our shared destiny was clearly written in the stars.) I was also writing music reviews and interviews for a variety of newspapers (remember those?)—but I also dreamed of a career writing comics. That dream came true when I sold my first script to DC in December of 1977—it was purchased by an infuriatingly young, and infuriatingly brilliant, editor named Paul Levitz—and it came crashing down during the infamous DC Implosion in June of ‘78.
But ten or so months later the doors to DC reopened and I started getting regular assignments, working with Paul, the always-enthusiastic Jack Harris, and the late, great Len Wein. As I was gaining a foothold in the business, Karen was wrapping up a journalism degree at Brooklyn College (I’d attended BC as well, although I probably spent more time on the quad playing guitar than I did in class) and, soon after graduation, she was out in the Real World job hunting. Around the same time, the aforementioned Mr. Levitz told me he was looking for an assistant to help him with his duties as DC’s editorial coordinator (that meant he was responsible for making sure the trains ran on time) and I instantly thought of Karen. I sang her praises to Paul, he told me to send her up to meet him, and the rest is, quite literally, history.
This should be the part where I take credit for Karen’s success—but I can’t. Yes, I opened a door for her, but the truth is she could have flamed out and been fired in a few months, or hated the job and quit, or stuck around and gone on to an utterly unremarkable career. But Karen, being Karen, took the opportunity and ran with it, becoming, with alarming speed, an incredibly skilled editor with a voice unique in the industry. And she did it all on her own.
About that unique voice: It eventually led to a stable of equally-unique comic books that pretty much demanded its own imprint. I clearly remember Karen bouncing around possible names for the imprint and how Vertigo seemed the absolute best of the bunch. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Vertigo launch, in a wonderfully roundabout way. Karen’s former assistant, Art Young, was working for Disney Publishing in L.A., tasked with creating Touchmark, a line of mature readers comics in the mold of the work he and Karen had been doing for DC. Art put together a fairly stunning list of creators—including Grant Morrison, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Milligan, and many others—and all was going well until someone at Disney woke up one morning and decided this was a very bad idea: How could the Mouse House publish this strange, disturbing stuff? Touchmark was quickly torched.
The timing, though, was perfect: Karen was about to launch Vertigo, Art was welcomed back to the DC fold, and a number of the Touchmark books—including Mercy, a graphic novel I did in collaboration with artist Paul Johnson—became part of Vertigo’s first wave.
The next wave brought us Shelly Bond.
I was working on my second Vertigo project—a mini-series called The Last One, about an immortal, gender-fluid being, exhausted by their immortality—when I first encountered Shelly. The experience was similar to meeting Karen, in that there didn’t seem to be any great transition: one day Shelly wasn’t there, the next she was—and it felt as if she’d been there forever. She wasn’t just a faceless assistant getting coffee and making copies, she was a smart, enthusiastic collaborator: an integral part of the creative process from the start.
It wasn’t long before Shelly, deservedly, became a full editor, and she was soon overseeing one of my all-time favorite projects, Seekers Into The Mystery, the two of us juggling multiple artists (Jon J Muth, Michael Zulli, Glenn Barr, Jill Thompson, John Bolton. What a line-up!) and building an idiosyncratic, deeply personal storyline. Shelly always gave me the creative freedom I needed to tell my story in my own way: She wasn’t the kind of editor who sliced and diced every plot point and sentence, trying to leave her mark on the book. But she was always there to offer wise counsel and, if she saw me going off the rails—and we all go off the rails periodically, no matter how talented we are (or think we are!)—she always pulled me back and got me on the right track. If the phone rang and it was Shelly, telling me something in my script wasn’t working, I listened and, as soon as I hung up, I got to work fixing the problem.
(Shelly also oversaw the reprinting of Blood: a tale and Moonshadow—both of which had originally been done for Marvel’s groundbreaking Epic Comics line—and edited the Moonshadow sequel, Farewell, Moonshadow, which I still consider one of the finest pieces of writing in my entire career. It also featured some Jon J Muth’s most beautiful art.)
Vertigo, for me, was very much a family affair—quite literally, since my son, Cody, did two memorable internships there, one for Karen and one for Shelly. My wife, Diane, and I were married just a few months after Vertigo started and our daughter, Katie, was born in ‘94 (if memory serves, Neil Gaiman and his wife had a baby on the same day and Karen B gave birth on that date a year later. That must have some profound cosmic significance, although I’m not sure what!). These was the times before email and texting devoured most of our communications, when your editor would call you regularly, sometimes two or three times a day, and you developed a genuine relationship (or learned, early on, that you shouldn’t be working together). Yes, we had endless discussions about story and art, but we also discussed the ups and downs of our lives. We weren’t just business associates, we were all friends.
But all good things, as they say, and, by the late 90s—as the comic book business went through some brutal, seismic changes—my Vertigo days came to a close. Nothing dramatic happened—no arguments, no creative disagreements: work just led me in other directions and Vertigo, too, found new directions and new voices. Despite the fact that Karen has remained one of my dearest friends, we didn’t actually work together again till the launch of Berger Books in 2019. “Time is a jet plane,” as Bob Dylan observed, “it moves too fast.”
Shelly and I kept in touch for a while but, as happens, life and business carried us off in different directions (in Shelly’s case, it carried her across the country). But here we are, all these years later, uncorking a bottle of warm memories and toasting to the Vertigo days that were.
And, I hope, the even better days ahead.
©copyright 2023 J.M. DeMatteis
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Just heard the heartbreaking news that John Romita Sr. has died. John was the artist who introduced me to Peter Parker's world with his classic Green Goblin story in Amazing Spider-Man #s 39 and 40 (still my favorite Spidey story of all time). I also adored his work on Daredevil, Captain America and, well, pretty much everything he touched.
One of the great joys of my career was working with John on a story called "The Kiss." He put such love and care into that story and it was clear he was an artist who never stopped challenging himself, never stopped evolving.