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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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How Powerful The Imagination Is?
J.M. DeMatteis interviewed by Jonathan Ellis.

Heís written titles like MOONSHADOW, BROOKLYN DREAMS, MAN-THING, SEEKERS INTO MYSTERY, DR. FATE, and all the big players including Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. Now J.M. Dematteis takes a reality bending step through the world of the wraith of God, The Spectre.

Now the previous Spectre was limited by his humanity and the imagination of his human side, considering Hal Jordanís powers incidentally were imagination based - what sort of 'out there' stuff can we expect from this new incarnation?

The idea of just how powerful will and imagination are is at the core of the Green Lantern: Willworld graphic novel Iím doing with Seth Fisher. And the concept will certainly crop up in Spectre. Hal, after all, is dead. He has experienced the dream-like nature of both life and the Afterlife. One of the bookís themes will be: What is dream and what is reality? And how are we, as individuals, creating and manifesting that dream/reality? This isnít an issue that will necessarily take center-stage... but it will certainly weave through our stories.

Like that old theory of 'God was a simultaneous subconscious creation of mankind utilizing the 90% of our brains we don't use'? Will it center around how much of our lives are dream or reality OR how much of the universe is really dream or reality?

I'd rather put it that WE are thought-forms in the mind of God. We are, quite literally, the dream He/She is dreaming. At the same time, we are God Him/Herself dreaming the dream, unconsciously acting out the parts of all the players in this Divine Dream that we take to be reality. Part of the game is waking up to the fact that we're not who we think we are... we're God DREAMING that we are who we think we are. Of course, once we begin to realize that, we have permission to enjoy the dream to the fullest. (I'd need ten pages, at least, to really get into this!)

That said, this is just an underlying theme is the series. It's not what the Spectre is about! The Spectre is about Hal Jordan and his search for redemption... and where that search leads him.

What's the premise behind the Willworld story? I'm tempted to guess a classic Hal Jordan tale, but knowing your writing I feel 'galactic soul-searching' would be more appropriate. Having Seth on board has certainly piqued my interest.

This is anything BUT a "classic Hal Jordan tale." It takes place in the early days of Hal's career in the Corps. -- but it's not 60's science-fiction/superheroics. Let's call it Green Lantern meets Little Nemo in Quantum Wonderland. A playful, surreal, quantum physics fairytale.

Seth's work is absolutely magical. I don't think there's anybody out there that could have done a better job; he was perfectly suited to the story. And, being a 96 page hardcover, the format will really do justice to Seth's art.

Since the Spectre is a 'servent' to God, can we expect a lot of mythological and spiritual storylines, or are you more intent in getting down to the nitty gritty archetypal superheroics?

Absolutely. Spectre is a book about the quest for redemption... for Hal Jordan and for humankind. The basic premise is mythic, spiritual, and-obviously-these are the kinds of stories I love. There arenít many mainstream superhero comics where I can write about the nature of God, the nature of reality, sin and redemption; all these wonderful themes. On The Spectre, editor Dan Raspler has encouraged to explore these things.

That said, the book grows first and foremost out of character. Itís Halís book, Halís journey. And Hal is deeply connected to the DCU. So the book wonít just be out there on the metaphysical fringes. Weíll deal with those Big Themes, absolutely-but weíll also be seeing Superman and Batman (who show up in issue #2 and return shortly thereafter for a major story) and other DC heroes. And Iím not adverse to using established DCU villains, either. (Michael Zulli suggested bringing in Two-Face... and Iíd love to do it.) Or having guys in costumes drop buildings on each other. When I worked on Doctor Fate years ago, we had a little of everything: metaphysics, psychology, comedy, superheroics, romance, you name it. Iíd like The Spectre to evolve into that kind of book. And as long as Halís journey remains the central focus, I think we can do it.

Mentioning Dr. Fate, I can't help but think of fate walking around in an overcoat and how much he looked like John Constantine. Thus creating the question: Considering Spectre isn't really part of the whole spandex scene, could you see him interacting more with some of the Vertigo characters, Swamp Thing for instance?

Yes, absolutely. In fact, Swamp Thing's a great idea (he said, filing it away in the back of his brain). I think the Spectre will be able to move into any realm in the DC/Vertigo universes; we've got Superman and Batman appearing early on. But I want to stress that this ISN'T a Vertigo-style "mature readers" book. Meaning no graphic language, sex, or violence.

It's a clichť, but 'power corrupts, and absolute powerÖ', and I understand you're already hitting up this angle, is it better for you to just get that story out of the way, or will it be an aspect continuously underlining the character?

We do explore that in the Legends of the DCU arc. The theme will certainly recur-after all, abuse of power is what got Hal into this mess in the first place-but it will not be something that weíll be beating anyone over the head with. Thereís too much other fun stuff to explore.

Now your writing style is all over the place, your work is not only talented but diverse as well, never reserved to one genre. Are there any stories you enjoy writing more then others?

In general, I enjoy any story that ignites my passion; that involves me emotionally and philosophically. That really reflects what Iím thinking and feeling and what I care about. Obviously, projects like Moonshadow and Brooklyn Dreams and Seekers Into Mystery are going to be more natural vehicles for that kind of personal tale. But Iíve certainly been able to do that with characters like Dr. Fate, Batman, Spider-ManÖ

How did you break into the Biz...?

I knew a guy in college who was working in production at Marvel in the seventies. Through him-and I am forever grateful-I sold a couple of pieces to Marvelís Mad-knockoff, Crazy. It was the first time I was ever paid for writing something-and Spider-Manís picture was on the check! Incredible! But those pieces hardly ignited my career.

After that, I went through a process of submitting ideas to Paul Levitz at DC, banging my head against that door till it cracked and he started buying stuff for the now-defunct anthology books: House of Mystery, Weird War Tales, House of Secrets, etc. The first story I ever sold Paul was an eight-page vampire/serial killer story called ďThe Lady Killer Craves Blood.Ē Classic! Iíll never forget Paul-who was, I think, all of twenty years old at the time!-shaking my hand and saying ďWelcome to the business...Ē It was a dream-come-true. From there I moved up the DC ladder, graduating to short super-hero stories, then full-length tales. After a year or two of that, Jim Shooter asked me to jump over to Marvel-and Iíve been jumping back and forth ever since.

Recently you worked on Superman, an icon, an archetype, and yet you were still able to bring a fresh view to the title. What was it like taking on the character and what were the deciding factors leading up to your departure from the 'Adventures ofÖ' title?

I donít think that I was able to bring a fresh view to the monthly Superman book. My frustration (and my editorís) on Adventures of Superman was that I felt constrained by the continuity... by having to work within very specific structures, constantly addressing ongoing plot-lines that werenít my own. I think there was, maybe, one issue where I wasnít including some plot thread or crossover element that really didnít interest me. (That said, I loved the Arkham/Emperor Joker summer crossover. Thought it was just about the best crossover I was ever involved in.) Now thatís just me. I think Loeb and Kelly and Shultz are doing incredible work. Their books are wonderful. But I just canít do it. I tried-but it really didnít work.

I love Superman, though. I didnít realize till I wrote the final issue of Man of Tomorrow (a story I like better than my entire run on Adventures) just how much I love Superman. Icon of icons. The Ultimate Decent Man. So I look forward to working with Eddie Berganza, and others, on future Superman stories. Iím currently working on a Superman graphic novel, with Liam Sharp on the art, called Where Is Thy Sting? For better or worse, itís a very singular, very DeMatteis kind of story. And Eddie and I are talking about a big project after that. So, with luck, Iíll be flying with the Man of Steel for some time.

'Where is THY sting?' - This should also be interesting. I haven't seen Liam do anything up to par with his work on Man-Thing since the end of the series. Can you reveal to us the story behind the GN? And the big project for that matter?

It's a stand alone, 64 page book... filled with all the themes and obsessions that fascinate me... and we can just step outside the monthly square and do it the way we want to do it. Liam's work here is definitely on par with what he was doing on MAN-THING. He's wonderfully inventive and one of my all-time favorite collaborators.

The other in-the-works Superman project hasn't been officially approved yet by the Powers That Be, so I can't say too much. I CAN say that it deals with a famous UFO sighting outside Smallville, Kansas... thirty or so years ago. And it grows from there...

So how does a day in the life of 'J.M. DeMatteis' work out?

In general: Iím up early to help get my daughter off to school, cooking breakfast for the family, helping move things along. Then itís up to my office where Iíll spend quiet time at my prayer table, maybe play the guitar a while, do Tai Chi, and then check my E-Mail (which inevitably leads to some mind-numbing, time-wasting activity on the Net).

Then, depending on my state of mind, Iíll either jump in immediately and start the dayís work... or spend several hours agonizing and then jump in and blitz through the work. (It often seems that the mental preparation is where the real writing gets done. Once I start to type-especially when the work is flowing on a story that really connects with my heart-it can seem like Iím taking dictation.) Itís a rare day when I sit down and realize that the writing just isnít going to happen. But when that does come up, I have to respect it and walk away.

The fun of being a freelancer, of course, is that I can take a day off in the middle of the week and spend it with my family... and then make up for it by working on Saturday or Sunday. Hell, I can lay on the floor drooling and staring at the ceiling for days on end and nobody cares as long as the work gets in on time.

I rarely work past four in the afternoon. Then itís time to hang out with my family.

Most influential author? Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Ray Bradbury.
Favorite old school artist? Writer? Lee & Kirby, hands down.
Best Kirby Creation? The Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four is classic, of course. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the New Gods/Mr. Miracle/Forever People material. Itís all over the map... but itís pure genius.

Proudest body of work? Looking over 20+ years of stories, Iíd say my favorite ďchildrenĒ are Brooklyn Dreams, The Complete Moonshadow, Seekers Into The Mystery, and Doctor Fate. My favorite amoung the straight-ahead super-hero material Iíve written is a Legends of the Dark Knight arc I did called ďGoing Sane.Ē But, having done this for so long, I have many favorites: too many to list here.

Advice to those trying to make it in the Biz today? Itís become a cliche, but ďFollow your blissĒ is the best advice any writer or artist could ever get.

Comics code, we want to get rid of it, you in?

I have no problem with the comics code. I think the problem is with publishers who arenít sure if theyíre publishing for kids, adults, general audiences. Select your audience... and if youíre aiming at kids and young adults, keep the comics code. If youíre aiming at a different audience, then donít worry about it.

What comic titles are you reading now?

DC sends me everything so Iíll always look through the stuff...if something catches my eye, Iíll read it (and despite all the gloom and doom, Iím always impressed with how good so much of the material is)... but I really donít read anything REGULARLY. Iím thrilled that DC is reprinting all the Eisner stuff and Iíll just gobble that up immediately.

Comics journalism, in any form, how important is it?

Iím always interested in an intelligent opinion. I love reading reviews-even reviews that, gasp! Criticize me, when the reviewer has really taken the time to think things through and present his or her views with care and depth. Just slapping down an opinion means nothing. ďAngry young manĒ ranting means nothing. Respect for the people whose work youíre reviewing... and dedication to an intelligent exchange of ideas means something. Everyone has an opinion. That doesnít mean everyone is Pauline Kael.

Whatís your dream project?

Comics-wise, what Iíd love to do more than anything right now is launch a line of intelligent, poetically-written, beautifully illustrated childrenís comics. The graphic novel equivalent of the Oz books, the Narnia books, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter. What a disservice-to ourselves as an industry and to the children and young adults out there who arenít reading comics-not to address that audience. The best childrenís books are rich with ideas and emotion and imagination and appeal to kids and to adults. (In fact, the only people that donít seem to respond to them are adolescents who think theyíre far too hip and cynical to even look at that kind of material. Which, I guess, is as it should be.)

But doing that would require vision and financing and courage on the part of the publishers. Iíve been crusading for this for years now. I think itís the single most important thing we as an industry can do. ďChildrenís comicsĒ doesnít have to mean ďbased on the hit cartoon.Ē Iíd love to see the childrenís equivalent of a Vertigo line. Books like Sandman and Moonshadow were, in essence, childrenís books for adults. Why canít we see that same kind of care and passion lavished on material for kids and young adults? Weíd need to explore new formats, new methods of distribution, but I think this could be one way of reinvigorating the industry.

And on a purely personal level, nothing would give me more pleasure, more joy, than to nourish young hearts and minds and imaginations the way that L. Frank Baum and C.S. Lewis and Doctor Suess and A.A. Milne (to name just a few) have been doing for generations. Isnít that what comics used to do?

You've just been given a chance to rework the industry, starting with the major publishers and distribution companies, what do you do, what DO you do?

First and foremost, start publishing intelligent material for children and young adults. If we donít bring in new generations of readers, the comic book business is going to continue to dwindle and dwindle until itís down to a dozen forty year olds complaining about how Spider-Man isnít as good as it used to be when they were ten. New material must be nurtured and given time to grow an audience. The publishers must have the courage to put money behind their new ventures, to step outside the square, to explore beyond the safe and secure world of the comics shops.

This means, among other things, re-evaluating the package. I think that comics will go on forever. I donít think the current thirty-two page creature we call a comicbook will. We need to aggressively push into new formats, new venues, new ways of delivering the material. The Internet? Sure. But people will always want to hold a book in their hands and read. So I donít think the Internet will replace printed material. It will certainly enhance it.

I could go on about this all day, but the bottom line is the industry is in deep trouble. The ship is sinking. That doesnít mean comics are dead. (Far from it.) It just means we need to find a new ship. The old models arenít working any more.

But can we really do that? Speaking for myself, growing up, our tastes were constantly changing - but there was still an underlying fascination with ANYTHING we hadn't read yet. One week we'd be into knights and sorcerers, the next week The Great Pumpkin adventure, and then maybe Calvin and Hobbes. Whereas today things just stay the same - Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Ranchers - they don't really stray far from each other. When I was a kid, hand me Hulk, hand me Thor, Hand me Transformers, or something with a ninja in it - it's all good. Today, if it's not one thing - it seems to be quickly dismissed. That is of course, my short Pessimistic view but do you really see the kids today picking up a story that's new or original?

God, I hope so. Look: I'm a father, I've got two kids, and I know the power of a Grand Tale. Oz, Narnia, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Winnie-the-Pooh, Wind In The Willows, Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter. These kinds of stories are reinvented generation after generation and as long as there are kids there'll be a hunger for intelligent, magical, imaginative fantasies. (If there wasn't, Disney would have been out of business a long time ago!)

I'm actually trying to get ONE of these projects off the ground at DC. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed.) If not there, I'll try elsewhere. And if I can't get some comics publisher interested, I'll probably just go off and start writing real, honest-to-L. Frank Baum children's books. (Which I'm probably gonna do anyway. In fact, I'm working on one now.)

Finsish these sentences;
Right now we need more:
Diversity. Comics for kids, comics for adults. Comics for everyone. Movies arenít limited to any given genre or style... theyíre sound and image in whatever form the creators choose. Comics should be the same.

And less: of the same old, same old, same old. I have tremendous affection for super-heroes. I find it amazing that, after all these years, I can still get excited/delighted/thrilled about writing a Batman story... a Superman story... a Green Lantern story. But weíve got to break out of this long-underwear ghetto.

Before we go, tell us something no one else knows. Something you've never told anyone...

I save those kinds of confessions for my wife.

And now...
Plug time! This is where you plug as many things as you want, comics, websites, movies, Charities, prints, J.M. DeMattie Phatties, novels, anything old, new, current and upcoming, sporks, shiny sporks... Ahhhhhhh, scripts, and whatever else. Anything that could somehow lead to an excess of cash in your wallet, lots of cash, and a really big wallet, really big, huge! A big freakin' huge wallet! Abso-freakin-lutely Huge! It'll have to be to hold all that cash.

The one thing I would love to shamelessly plug is a CD I did about three years ago. It's called "How Many Lifetimes?" and it's, for lack of a better tag, spiritual rock and roll. These are all songs I wrote and performed (with a terrific group of Chicago-area musicians). Rock and roll in the Beatles/Who tradition. Raw rock, "Abbey Road" production numbers, gentle ballads... the gamut... all concerned with the spiritual search and my nearly thirty-year connection with Meher Baba.

I poured my heart and soul into this project and I'm as proud of it as I am of any creative work I've ever produced. I don't know if I ever had a better time... creatively-speaking... than I did when we were recording it. An absolute joy.

"How Many Lifetimes?" is available at Amazon.Com. Just go to the music section... Keyword: DeMatteis. You can also go to www.oasiscd.com/DeMatteis.

JMD

Thanks JM
Keep an eye out for Spectre # 1 coming out in January, written by J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Ryan Sook: ďHe was one of the greatest super-heroes the world had ever known. As Green Lantern of Sector 2814, fearless Hal Jordan was a bright and shining star, a true hero beyond measure -- until one moment of madness caused his star to fall. In a courageous effort to atone for his sins, he sacrificed his life to save the world. Now Hal has returned, whether he likes it or not, as the Spirit of Vengeance, the Spectre -- and he'll face dark forces that will stop at nothing to usher in global chaos. Spinning out of events from Day of Judgment and the recent arc in Legends of the DC Universe #33-36, the adventure continues in the ongoing monthly. To better learn the true meaning of retribution and to understand the nature of his cruel cosmic duty, the Spectre travels to Hell -- only to find it's not at all what he expected. What effect will the ultimate place of punishment have upon our fallen hero? Thus begins one man's long path to enlightenment, as Hal undergoes some surprising transformations over the course of the series. It's the start of something bigger than the DCU itself.Ē


Jonathan Ellis is Interviews Editor for PopImage.

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