How Powerful The Imagination
DeMatteis interviewed by Jonathan Ellis.
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.
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?
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
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?
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!)
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
did you break into the Biz...?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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...
how does a day in the life of 'J.M. DeMatteis' work out?
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
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.
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.
work past four in the afternoon. Then itís time to hang out with
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
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.
code, we want to get rid of it, you in?
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.
comic titles are you reading now?
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
journalism, in any form, how important is it?
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.
your dream project?
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.)
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!)
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.)
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.
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.
we go, tell us something no one else knows. Something you've never
those kinds of confessions for my wife.
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.
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
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.
Many Lifetimes?" is available at Amazon.Com.
Just go to the music section... Keyword: DeMatteis. You can also
go to www.oasiscd.com/DeMatteis.
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
Ellis is Interviews Editor for PopImage.
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