For many comic book readers, the kind of story that made them fans of the four-color medium was fantasy. Whether it involved a boy who can fly or a god of thunder, these stories have their roots in the myths and fairy tales told to us as children. But where do the ideas for those fantasies come from? Do they exist in a magical place waiting for writers to discover them? Scribe J.M. DeMatteis ("Justice League," "Abadazad," "The Life and Times of Savior 28") believes they do, as that's where his latest project -- "The Adventures of Augusta Wind" -- originated from.
With art by Vassilis Gogtzilas, the five-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing follows young Augusta Wind as she leaves behind everything she knows in order to leap through magical worlds full of unbelievable creatures, high adventure and heroic mystery. The leap of faith Augusta takes in the story is similar to the one DeMatteis took when he first conceived his tale.
"The story developed when the name Augusta Wind dropped into my head one morning while I was sitting on the back porch with my wife. I had no idea who, or what, Augusta Wind was, so I tucked the name away in the back of my head," the author explained.
"As time passed, Augusta kept popping up in my consciousness, but I didn't have a sense of her story or history. That said, I had the feeling that, when the time was right, I'd get the details. After so many years of writing, I've really learned to trust my process: I may not be consciously working on a story, but I know it's back there, in the creative corners of my mind, growing and evolving.
"The first new elements to come were more names: a list of wonderful -- and peculiar -- names for characters that, just like my main character, I knew nothing about. But, eventually, details of the story began to form. The first thing that came clear was an image of Augusta in a Victorian-era dress, holding an umbrella. I knew she could ride on the wind and that she lived in the ruins of an old castle."
This magical girl "lived" in DeMatteis' mind for quite a while. Fortunately, the writer would soon come into contact with an artist who could help set her free. It just so happened, however, that this artist lived half a world away in Thessaloniki, Greece. Gogtzilas explained how the winds of fate brought them together.
"After working on the 'Popgun' anthology for Image Comics, I had tried out as an artist for a comic book featuring Chucky, the famous doll-monster," Gogtzilas told CBR. "The editor of this project was Mr. DeMatteis' son, and after asking if he could possibly pass along my greetings and my admiration to his father (who I was a huge fan of), I received his email address. I wrote to him and he kindly responded. I am grateful that he went on answering every new email of mine."
"Vassilis came on to the project in a magical way," DeMatteis confirmed. "I've had an ongoing correspondence with Vassilis since 2008, and he's been kind enough to share the evolution of his art with me. We talked about doing a project together, but nothing ever materialized.
"Then one afternoon I went to the mailbox and found a sketchbook Vassilis self-published called 'Splat!'" DeMatteis continued. "Leafing through it, I was especially intrigued by a particular drawing of a young girl holding an umbrella, with a castle far in the background. I was sitting by the piano at the time and, without really thinking about it, started to play and sing a song about Augusta Wind. As I was singing, I was gazing at the drawing of the umbrella-girl. Somewhere in the middle of the song I stopped -- my head practically exploding -- as I realized that the girl in the picture was Augusta Wind. Vassilis, who knew nothing of my new story or of my ideas about the character and her world, had sketched her and brought her to life. "I ran upstairs to my computer and sent Vassilis an email, telling him what had happened and asking if he'd work with me on 'The Adventures of Augusta Wind.' He quickly agreed, and we were off!"
From that point on, the two creators ventured down the creative "rabbit hole" together, but that isn't the only "Alice in Wonderland" analogy that can be found in this work. The tale features a young girl visiting a fantasy world, and looking at the cover of the first issue, it appears she has a rabbit as a companion. When asked about similarities between this story and Alice's, DeMatteis replied, "There's certainly an Alice element to it -- a girl and a rabbit (well, Mr. Snabbit is half-rabbit/half-snake) heading off on an adventure together. In fact, I consciously put in a few visual touchstones that link up with other classic children's stories. But 'The Adventures of Augusta Wind' evolves into a story very different in tone and theme from 'Alice in Wonderland.' It's very much its own creature, rich in myth and mysticism. This first miniseries is part one of a much larger story. As we learn more about Augusta and her origins, we'll discover that she's not an 'Alice' at all -- she's something very different. What I hope Augusta shares with Alice is a sense of wonder, whimsy and unbridled imagination."
This imagination can be seen in the cast assembled for this miniseries. The writer elaborated, "There's Augusta and her 'real world' family, the Websters, as well as the aforementioned Mr. Snabbit. Then there's the Omniphant, a creature who seems bent on Augusta's destruction. A cosmic librarian named Miss Information. A group of mysterious children who live in a place called Castle Zero on the island of Nowhere (which exists on the edge of a cosmic fog called The Swirl). There are also the demonic BaLLoonies who serve a mysterious entity called The Terriible Something...an ancient god called The Sleeper On The Ocean Of Story...and many more!"
From its description, the story sounds like a children's fantasy; however, some of the imagery appears almost "nightmarish," and considering one of the settings is a therapist's office, readers may wonder if the story is more of a bizarre children's fantasy or an exploration of a person's psyche. DeMatteis has a simple answer to this query.
"It's both, really -- and I think a good fantasy has to be both. The story plays with themes of reality versus fantasy -- who we think we are versus who we are. It's a story that's deeply personal and character-focused, but at the same time, it's a very big fantasy. There are worlds within worlds within worlds -- all peopled with fantastical characters.
"As for the nightmarish aspects of the story, many, if not most, memorable children's stories -- from Grimm fairy tales to Oz to Harry Potter -- deal with the darker aspects of our psyches and our world. That's part of the mythic journey, and our own journey through life, isn't it? To put it in Oz terms: you've got to face the Wicked Witch and melt her before the magic slippers can send you home."
Although he's written many well-known superhero comics, DeMatteis' resume also contains a number of fantasy books, including "Abadazad," "Moonshadow" and "Stardust Kid." While he enjoys both types of writing, DeMatteis says, "There's tremendous joy to be found playing in previously-established fantasy universes, but nothing beats building new worlds from the ground up.
"Once I uncork [the fantasy] part of my brain, I can't stop it. It's as if I'm channeling people and places that already exist on some other-dimensional plane and bringing them down into our world. I honestly believe that's the way it works: all of these stories are real, they're there, on other planes, in other worlds, and the stories themselves select us to transmit that information. We're dreaming the stories and the stories are dreaming us, simultaneously! "When I was working on 'Abadazad,' it felt like the characters had some kind of cosmic telegraph machine and they were tap-tap-tapping the stories across the universes and into my head. 'Incoming signal! Listen closely!' When that kind of thing happens -- and it's happening with Augusta Wind -- my job as a storyteller is the best job in any world.
"And when you add Vassilis' formidable imagination to the mix -- his ability to create stunning visuals and cook up astonishing creatures -- the creative process doesn't even feel like a process; we're two kids in the same sandbox playing together and having the time of our lives!"
As the two creators had to rely on email to communicate across continents, the potential existed that ideas or story specifics could have been misunderstood or lost. Luckily, this didn't seem to be an issue at all, which even surprised DeMatteis.
"What's amazing to me is how easy it's been. Then again, considering that Vassilis drew our main character before he ever heard about the project, maybe it's not so amazing! Vassilis is an artist with an extraordinary imagination. He keeps coming up with designs for the most incredible creatures -- some of them found in my scripts, some of them popping out of the top of his head. I'll open my email and discover three, four, five new sketches of creatures that Vassilis concocted just for the sheer creative fun of it. I'll look at one of those creatures and know, instantly, who it is and where it will fit in the structure of my story. That's the kind of collaboration that works so beautifully in comics: show me a picture and let it inspire me. Vassilis inspires me every single day. I'm incredibly grateful for this collaboration."
"I'm grateful for JM's kindness and patience in checking countless emails full of sketches and ideas," added Gogtzilas. "It is a bit strange, but every single time I read J.M.'s scripts, I instantly start to see all these images in my mind. I am trying to free those ideas on paper as fast as I can. I believe that sometimes a word can be the spark that starts a chain reaction of fantasy and creativity. That is unbelievably beautiful when it takes place."
Looking at his artwork, it's clear that Gogtzilas is able to draw from a creative and somewhat dark place in his artistic process. In discussing where he finds inspiration, he told CBR, "Sam Kieth and Bill Sienkiewicz are huge influences, but there are many more. I love Tom Sutton and the worlds Wally Wood created. I adore the polish of poster illustrators and the use of surrealism. My biggest influence, however, is the cinema. Artists like David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Fritz Lang and James Whale -- they are all true visionaries. With regard to my artistic approach, I try not to overthink things. I just try to use the purest lines as possible my ideas. I believe and humbly serve the basic values of drawing."
When it came to finally seeing print, while Augusta may have a hard time finding her true home in the story, "The Adventures of Augusta Wind" had no problem finding a home in IDW, according to DeMatteis.
"I'd worked with Chris Ryall and the IDW team on 'The Life and Times of Savior 28' -- a project I consider one of the best of my career -- and they recently did a hardcover reprinting of another of my favorite projects, 'Brooklyn Dreams,' that I was very pleased with. Once I wrote up a formal proposal for 'Augusta Wind,' IDW was the first company I brought it to. They responded with enthusiasm and we signed on."
From the start, the "Augusta Wind" partnership has gone extremely well for both writer and artist. While the two have future projects already in the pipeline (including a reunion of sorts for the "Abadazad" creative team), they indicated "Augusta Wind" could easily blow back into their lives.
"This first miniseries (coming this November) tells a complete story, but it also opens the door for more stories to follow," DeMatteis said. "This first mini is essentially Book One in what we see as a three-part novel. And who knows? As the story grows, it may become larger than that.
"As for other work, I just finished an episode of Cartoon Network's upcoming 'Teen Titans Go!' series, and I've got a story coming up in 'Amazing Spider-Man' #700 (the big anniversary issue) that I'm very pleased with. There are a number of other new projects -- in a variety of media -- that I'm cooking up, but I can't go into detail about them just yet.
"With regard to my old 'Abadazad' buddy, Mike Ploog, we've got a new project we're developing, but it's for a brand-new (and as-yet-unannounced) publisher, so all I can say about it is this: if you love the way Mike draws monsters -- and nobody does 'em better -- this project should make you very happy."
Gogtzilas' plate is a bit lighter than DeMatteis, but he's keeping busy as well and said, "I am drawing an independent comic book called 'Misery City' for Markosia. But in the future, I hope that we are going to have more adventures of Augusta Wind!"