Talking "Abadazad," "Hero Squared," Music and More with J.M DeMatteis

Mon, May 1st, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
David Moran, Guest Contributor

Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis at the New York Comic-Con in February, 2006.
A staple on the comic industry scene since the late '70s and arguably one of the "hottest" creators in all the field for much of the eighties with memorable stints on "Captain America," "Spider-Man," and various incarnations of the "Justice League," J.M. DeMatteis has consciously elected to shift gears in the last couple of years away from working on the continuing adventures of company-controlled characters at either Marvel or DC to penning the exploits of his (and his friends) own creations.

CBR News caught up with the busy scribe recently to talk about the myriad of upcoming projects currently conspiring to keep DeMatteis extraordinarily busy, and also to find out how he enjoys spending his (increasingly limited) free time when not writing.

CBR News: At the moment, J.M., you're comics related work seems to consist of "Hero Squared" and "The Stardust Kid," both at Boom!, and the "Abadazad" series of prose books that you and Mike Ploog are working on for Disney's Hyperion Books For Children imprint. Is there anything else that we're forgetting about here?

J.M. DeMatteis: You're forgetting about The "Hero Squared" spin-off, "Planetary Brigade," that Keith [Giffen] and I are also doing over at Boom! The first two-issue mini did very well and Keith and I have got two more minis in the planning stages.

CBR: That's excellent news. Thanks for the reminder. So, why don't you briefly run down each of these projects then?

JMD: "Hero Squared" is the first creator-owned series Keith and I have ever done. After all our years working for DC on the various incarnations of our "Justice League"...and with a little stopover at Marvel along the way on "Defenders"...we figured it was way past time to come up with something that would be ours and ours alone. The series is about Captain Valor...a hero from a parallel universe, one that's been destroyed by an insane super-villain (are there any other kind?) named Caliginous. Valor finds himself here, in our universe, with Caliginous on his trail. Needing help, he seeks out his doppelganger in our world...only to discover that a.) there are no super heroes here and b.) his double, Milo Stone, is an apathetic slacker who has a hard time believing the pompous guy in the costume is for real. There's a lot more to it...like the fact that Caliginous is Valor's girlfriend Stephie...but that's the basic premise. The first "Hero Squared" TPB (collecting the one-shot and the three issue mini) comes out this month, by the way...and the bi-monthly ongoing series launches right behind that.

"Planetary Brigade" tells the story of Valor's life before his world was destroyed, when he was part of a JLA/Avengers type team. Keith and I have had a blast creating a universe of new characters...and the response to Third Eye, Mauve Visitor, the Purring Pussycat and all the rest has been just fantastic. Which is why we've got more PB in the pipeline.

"Abadazad" is, of course, a series that Mike Ploog and I created for CrossGen. An attempt to do smart, literate, beautifully illustrated comic books that are accessible to children and enjoyable to adults. Long story short: When CrossGen went bankrupt, Disney, in the form of Hyperion Books For Children, stepped in and picked up the property. We're now re-launching it as a unique series of children's books. Unique because the books combine prose, illustration and sequential art in what we think is a new, and challenging way. The first two books in the series "Abadazad: The Road To Inconceivable" and "Abadazad: The Dream Thief" come out in June, with the third, "Abadazad: The Puppet, The Professor and The Prophet," scheduled for late '06/early '07. The series is envisioned as twelve books, with two or three books released each year. The pre-publication response from the major book chains has been fantastic and the folks at Disney are very excited about the series. You can pre-order the books from Amazon.com...and keep your eyes open for the official Abadazad website which should launch simultaneously with the books.

"Stardust Kid" is a project that Mike Ploog and I launched while we were awaiting the final fate of "Abadazad." It's another kid-friendly (and adult-friendly) fantasy series that we're both very proud of. The first three issues were published by Desperado/Image, but the final two are being released by Boom! Studios. SDK #4 comes out in May. The extra-sized final issue will probably be out some time in the fall.

CBR: How about a few hints/teases as to what readers can expect now that "Hero Squared" is going monthly?

JMD: What [Keith and I] are really enjoying about writing H2 is the relationships between the characters. We've got Valor, Milo, Caliginous and Stephie, all of whom relate to each other in radically different ways. This allows us to push the book in lots of different directions. One minute it's a buddy comedy, the next it's a romance, the next a straight super hero adventure and then it's a Marx Brothers farce. Which means we're never bored. The more we work on the series, the more real, and the deeper, these characters become to us. So for all the BWAH-HA-HA each issue delivers, there's a lot more going on as well. Which is why we decided that we needed an ongoing series that would allow us to continue to explore these unique characters and their unique world.

CBR: And how's working with Ross Richie and Boom! been thus far, since they are a relatively new publisher and sort of "just finding their feet," so to speak, in a very competitive industry? How do you feel about the exclamation point?

JMD: Ross Richie has been a delight since the first time we ever spoke to each other. He's smart, he's creative, he's got a big heart and, most important, he's an honorable man who can be trusted. It's been an incredible pleasure being a part of Boom!, watching the company come together. Ross has made it a real boutique imprint, somebody called it the Miramax of comics, and I think that's pretty accurate. Ross isn't trying to flood the market with product. He just wants to do good comics and carve out his own unique corner.

As for the exclamation point: love it!!!!!

CBR: Okay, Let's move over to the "Stardust Kid" now. After the five-issue mini concludes, do you ever foresee you and Mike Ploog returning to the world of that series, or will it just be the one mini and that'll be all she wrote?

JMD: The world that [Mike and I] have laid out in the "Stardust Kid" is ripe for exploration. If time allows, and time is getting more and more precious for us with all the work we've got to do on the "Abadazad" series these days, we'd love to see it continue. Maybe we'll go ahead and do another mini, but we're also talking about launching it as a hybrid book series, ala "Abadazad." Right now, though, we just want to finish the book up and then put out a nice collected edition. We'll make the decision about continuing the series after that.

CBR: How does yours and Keith's collaboration on "Hero Squared" work? Is it similar to the format the two of you employed for your "Justice League" run in the eighties, or something new entirely?

JMD: When we worked on JLA, things were incredibly spontaneous. Keith would write the plot and I wouldn't see it till it arrived at my door. Then I'd sit down to dialogue and pretty much write the first thing that came into my head, spinning the story off in whatever direction I felt like. Sometimes what I wrote hewed closely to Keith's plot and sometimes I created entirely new plotlines and character relationships that had nothing to do with what Keith had done. The real fun was watching Keith take the twists and turns that I'd injected into the story and build on them. Then he'd throw it all back in my face and I'd twist it again. It was an incredibly exhilarating way to work. No egos involved, we just kept trying to top each other.

On H2 and "Planetary Brigade," there's a lot more talking that goes on before Keith starts plotting. This is, after all, a new universe filled with new characters. So we'll get on the phone and discuss the characters, the stories, where we want them to go, what twists and turns we'd like the series to take, etc. But, the truth is, once Keith starts plotting he's going to do whatever the hell he feels like doing...and it may have nothing to do with what we've talked about. Same for me. Once I start scripting, I'll go off and follow the muse wherever it leads me. But that's the fun of it. Neither one of us ever really knows what the other one is going to do. I don't know if that kind of collaboration would work for other people, but it certainly works for us. We're having more fun now than ever before.

CBR: That's very good to hear. Should fans expect to see any new work at Marvel or DC on the horizon from you in the not-too-distant future?

JMD: Not for me. At this point in my career, I'd rather be creating my own material than writing other people's characters. I've been lucky enough to have a shot at almost all the major Marvel and DC icons and it's been both a joy and an honor. But I'm not all that interested in writing Superman or Spider-Man any more. Of course, you should never say never, right? Who knows, I could wake up tomorrow with the Greatest Spider-Man Idea of All Time and then I'd be off again!

CBR: Do you know if there're any plans in place at either Marvel or DC to collect any more of your Justice League or Spider-Man work into trades any time soon, since much of that stuff is considered "seminal" moments in the spans of both franchises by a large number of fans?

JMD: There's lots more JLA material out there waiting to be collected, and I think it would be great to see it. I would love to see some of that Spider-Man material collected as well, especially the run on "Spectacular Spider-Man" that I did with the amazing Sal Buscema. There's also a Batman story I did for "Legends of the Dark Knight" called "Going Sane" that I would love to see put out in a single volume. It's probably my favorite of all the super hero stories I've ever written. But that's not my call, is it?

CBR: A lot of people might not know this about you, J.M. but you're also something of a musician. What instruments can you play? Does that take up a lot of your time when you're not writing?

JMD: I play guitar and the piano. I sing, I write songs, and, back in the late '90s, I did an indie CD called "How Many Lifetimes?" It's been unavailable for a while, but I'm bringing it back out this year. You can get it now from CDBaby.com and, soon, from iTunes. I'm as proud of that CD as I am of anything I've ever done and I'm looking forward to (finally!) going back in the studio to do another one. God knows I've got enough material!

Music touches something in me that writing can't. I think the difference, ultimately, is that the joy of music is in the playing, the singing, the moment of creation. Writing is often hell in the creation stage and I don't get to enjoy it till the story is done. Then I can relax and appreciate what I've done. Sometimes the writing takes on the flow of a musical creation and I can just let it flow out of me without effort. That is a rare, and utterly magical, process. There are moments with "Abadazad" that are like that. It's as if I'm channeling a universe that already exists somewhere.

CBR: And on a related note, what, work wise, keeps you busy when you're not penning comics? You've written for the Cartoon Network's "Justice League Unlimited" series in the past, and some screenplays as well, is there any more TV or film projects looming on the horizon?

JMD: Right now I'm writing a screenplay with a friend who's a very respected director and I've got a couple of other movie-related things in development. But nothing I want to talk about at the moment. The movie business, as you probably know, is a notoriously fickle one. Sometimes it seems that the moment you announce something, the project is dead!

CBR: When you're not too busy with all the things piled on your plate at the moment, what comics do you currently enjoy reading? What about some of your All-Time favs?

JMD: My buddy Tom DeFalco sends me big packages of "Spider-Girl" comics a couple of times a year and I absolutely love it! It's a smart, exciting super hero comic book that you can hand to a ten year-old and a thirty year-old and they can both enjoy it. Can't say that about too many comics these days. There's also a wonderful all-ages comic called "Lions And Tigers And Bears" that I've enjoyed. And "Hero Camp" [at Image] is a great read as well. But I really don't read much of anything these days unless someone sends it to me. I think my brain overloaded on comics about eight years ago!

Listen to a track off this CD. Click here to download BABA Rain.
"All-Time" favorites? Anything by Lee & Kirby...the Lee-Buscema "Silver Surfer"...the Lee-Romita "Spider-Man"...Steve Gerber's 1970's Marvel work...the Wein-Wrightson "Swamp Thing" (I also loved Wein's run on "Justice League")...Kirby's "New Gods" material...the Thomas-Smith "Conan" material..."Green Lantern/Green Arrow"...Steve Englehart's DC stuff from the 70's...R. Crumb...Harvey Pekar...and anything by Will Eisner to name just a few!

By the way, if anyone's interested in reading a terrific book about comics, try Danny Fingeroth's "Superman On The Couch."

CBR: J.M., what makes me think you're from Brooklyn?

JMD: Maybe because I wrote a (thinly-disguised) autobiographical graphic novel called "Brooklyn Dreams" [for DC's Paradox Press] several years ago?

I grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn (Ocean Avenue and Farragut Road, for you Brooklynites out there.) But I haven't lived in Brooklyn for many, many years.

CBR: Thanks, J.M., I think that should about cover it. Sounds like you're a very busy man at the moment, so we'll let you get on back to work.

 
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