J.M DeMatteis is a comic-book writer famous for the influential, classic ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ storyline that ran through all the Spider-Man titles of those days, now-legendary ‘Justice League’ work with constant collaborator (or partner-in-crime, really) Keith Giffen, with whom he’s written ‘Justice League 3000’, and more recently DC’s ‘Scooby Apocalypse’, and ‘Blue Beetle’. He also has the excellent ‘Adventures of Augusta Wind: The Last Story’ out at IDW, amongst other cool stuff.
Comic-Book 101 caught up with DeMatteis, and herewith are excerpts from the chat:
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
My personal favorite of your work remains the 1st issue of Justice League International. How did you and co-creator Keith Giffen find your now-legendary chemistry?
J.M DeMatteis: You can’t “find” chemistry. It’s either there or it’s not. And with Keith it was there from the very beginning, even though we didn’t consciously realize it. I give the lion’s share of the credit to our editor, Andy Helfer, for being smart enough to pair us up and then bring in Kevin Maguire as the icing on the cake.
Still on your chemistry with Giffen. Do you guys still get offered new books together, and do you get asked to do ‘another Justice League’?
JMD: We’ve been working together on and off since the JLI days (I think my favorite project out of all we’ve done is Hero Squared for Boom! Studios). At the moment we’re co-writing both Scooby Apocalypse and Blue Beetle for DC.
Another JLI? Well, we did Justice League 3000/3001 for a couple of years and—since this is the 30th anniversary of the JLI—it would be fun to return to that world, with Kevin on art, for one more adventure. But that’s in DC’s court, not ours.
Now that the Justice League is 30 years old, do you still have stories to tell in that world?
JMD: We always say we’re done, we’ll never write those characters again, and then something pulls us back in.
When writing with another person (OK, with Keith), how do you work it all out, considering location, and other factors?
JMD: I like to say that we work in glorious isolation. Keith creates the brilliant plots, draws them out as little mini-comics, and then I’m set loose on the script. It’s not like we’re sitting in the same room, hashing things out. Yes, we talk about the stories—these days I probably talk to Keith a couple of times a week—but the fun of what we do is that Keith will then go off and do whatever the hell he likes and, when it’s my turn at bat, I do the same.
The goal is to surprise each other. I can, and do, add character and story elements in my script that were never there in Keith’s plot. And Keith does the same, spinning the stories in directions that always surprise me. After all these years, we totally trust each other and each of us builds on the surprises the other throws in.
We hear you’re planning a major project with old pal and editor extraordinaire Karen Berger. Care to share?
JMD: I’m very excited about Karen’s new line for Dark Horse, but she’s just getting up and running and there’s nothing definite in the works. That said, I’d love to work with her again. Aside from being one of the best editors in the business, she is, as you note, one of my oldest and dearest friends.
What characters/property would you like to work on the most?
JMD: Between my comics and animation work I’ve written many, if not most, of the Marvel-DC icons. That said, at Marvel I’d love to return to Doctor Strange or Silver Surfer. I think the Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire team would be perfect for Fantastic Four. I’d write Ben Reilly again in a heartbeat.
At DC I love all the supernatural characters (I had a blast writing Justice League Dark and Phantom Stranger a couple of years ago). And I love Martian Manhunter as much now as I did in the 80s. That’s a character I’d love to return to.
How do you get yourself ready to begin writing?
JMD: You know when a dog walks in circles and circles and circles before it curls up on the floor? That’s me before I start writing. I circle around the story for a while, letting my unconscious do its work. That’s really the heavy lifting: the unconscious chewing on the story. Sitting down and physically writing is the result of the hard work the unconscious has done.
What would you say are the basics of comic-book writing, the 101 of it if you will?
JMD: It’s all about the story, it’s not about you. You have to follow the story, follow your characters, where they lead you. You can’t try to control it, you have to surrender. Imagine you’re riding a horse, you have a specific destination in mind, and you keep trying to force the horse to go your way when it clearly wants to go another. Chances are the horse is going to throw you off, and you’ll end up on the ground with a broken leg. But if you let the horse lead you, you’ll find yourself in places you never expected. Reach destinations greater than the one you had in mind. That horse is the story and you have to let it rear up and lead you. Same with the characters themselves: let them surprise you. Because if they surprise you, then your readers will be surprised, as well.
Many of your projects have a slant of spirituality to them. Why is this so?
JMD: It’s a reflection of how I live my life. The things that fascinate me are the big questions: Why are we here? What’s our purpose? What’s the meaning of it all? These questions, in my experience, have both spiritual and psychological answers and those are the two realms that fascinate me the most, both in my personal and professional lives. It’s only natural that these obsessions would be reflected in my stories.
You’ve travelled to India many times, physically and within your work. Why is it so important to you?
JMD: This goes back to the earlier question about spirituality. My personal inner search eventually led me to an Indian spiritual master named Avatar Meher Baba. My connection to Him has been the center of my life since I was nineteen years old. It’s also led me to India, where Meher Baba’s tomb-shrine is: a place that, for me, is the spiritual heart of the world. Although Meher Baba’s teachings transcend any one particular culture or religion, India—and that magical tomb-shrine on a hill—is a place that resonates in my heart.
You’re also known for writing for younger readers, or all ages. What’s the creative process for those like, and do you approach it differently than how you do, say, Vertigo stuff like ‘Mercy’?
JMD: Some people have this idea that you should “dumb down” stories for younger readers. Nothing’s further from the truth. You can go very deep—emotionally, psychologically and spiritually—with stories for younger readers. Just look at the best children’s literature. These are stories created to delight both a ten year old and an adult, so, if anything, the story has to be more universal, which can make it more powerful.
I just finished my second Augusta Wind series for IDW—The Adventures of Augusta Wind: The Last Story (collected edition out in April!)—and that’s as good a reflection of my views on life, the universe and everything as anything I’ve ever written.
Speaking of young readers, are you having a blast on Scooby Apocalypse?
JMD: Yes! This was a book I never expected to be working on and we’re having a fantastic time with it every month.
Your ‘Imagination 101’ workshops are pretty popular. Do you have plans for more in 2017?
JMD: I’m planning them out right now, probably for June or July. Folks who are interested should check the “workshops” section of my website: jmdematteis.com.
You have had some awesome creator-owned stuff done over the years. Do you have something in the works?
JMD: As noted, I just finished the new Augusta Wind series for IDW and I’ve got another creator-owned series for IDW in the works now. Impossible, Inc. is a series I cooked up with my friend, and Savior 28 collaborator, Mike Cavallaro and it should be out in the fall. I’ve got other creator-owned series circling the airport. We’ll see when they land.
Which single comic-book has impressed you the most recently, and why?
JMD: Truth is, I don’t read many contemporary comics unless friends send them to me or they’re related to projects I’m working on. For instance, in preparation for taking on Blue Beetle, I read the OMAC series that Keith [Giffen] did with Dan Didio—and really enjoyed it. A friend sent me the first trade of Marvel’s recent Vision series and I thoroughly enjoyed that, as well.
You’ve worked with a ton of legendary artists. Are we good to hope you have a favorite you could share with us?
JMD: I’ve worked with so many extraordinary artists that singling one out just wouldn’t be fair. And honestly I don’t know if I could.
At the end of April, DeMatteis will be appearing at the East Coast Comic Con, where he’ll be signing comics and meeting fans, as well as taking part in two special panels, the first of which will celebrate 30 years of Justice League International, joined by Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire. The second panel will celebrate 30 years of the aforementioned ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ and he will be joined by one of the greatest superhero artists in the history of comics, Mike Zeck, inker Bob McLeod and editor Jim Salicrup.