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J.M. DeMatteis Interview

J.M. DeMatteis is the writer of such popular comics as Moonshadow, Abadazad, and is the co-writer with Keith Giffen of Formerly Known as the Justice League. This month, he re-teams with Mike Ploog, the artist for Abadazad, for Image's The Stardust Kid. Worlds of Westfield's Roger Ash recently contacted DeMatteis to find out more about this new book.

Westfield: How did this project, The Stardust Kid, come about?

J.M. DeMatteis: Believe it or not, this project began back in the l980s. After working on Moonshadow and Blood: A Tale - both of which were squarely aimed at an adult audience - I very much wanted to do something just as poetic, just as literate, but aimed at young readers. I thought then, as I do now, that, despite some lip service from the Big Companies, our business has pretty much abandoned the kid audience. So I cooked up The Stardust Kid and actually sold it to DC in, I think, l987. I wrote the first few issues then began to realize that the market wouldn't be able to support the book, that DC really wouldn't be able to promote it to the audience I needed to reach; so I asked if I could buy it back. DC generously allowed me to do that.

I never forgot The Stardust Kid - or my dream of doing comics for a family-friendly audience (a dream I realized, years later, with Abadazad). I kept noodling with SDK, in a variety of forms, for years... but there was always something missing. That something turned out to be Mike Ploog.

Because of the CrossGen bankruptcy and our lawsuit to regain the rights, Abadazad was trapped in legal limbo. Mike and I were both floundering a little, depressed over the whole situation. I thought the best cure for our blues would be to get back to work, creating another all-ages series in the spirit of Abadazad. We bounced a few ideas around: I mentioned The Stardust Kid and sent Mike one version of the story (out of the many I'd done over the years). He liked the idea and the characters... but immediately saw the underlying problems that I couldn't see. We began to talk about it and, with Mike's input, I envisioned a whole new way to do the story, a whole new direction to take it in. All the themes, and many of the characters, from my original version remained... but within a new, and far more exciting, context.

As we discussed the new concept, Mike began barraging me with sketches he'd been stockpiling for years: an array of wonderfully weird, Ploogian characters. I'd look at a sketch and instantly get a sense of who that character is and how he or she (or it) fit in our story. I went off in a white heat and wrote up a short proposal... which, thanks to our original Abadazad editor, Ian Feller, ended up on Joe Pruett's desk. Joe said yes, he'd love to have The Stardust Kid as part of his new, creator-owned Desperado line... and we were off!

Westfield: What can you tell us about The Stardust Kid? What can you tell us about the story and who are the main characters?

DeMatteis: The story begins here and now, in The Real World. The main characters are Cody DiMarco... a kid on the cusp of adolescence (struggling through that awkward phase where your body starts to sprout like a weed and your parents suddenly seem like the two biggest idiots on the planet) and his best friend, Paul Brightfield - who just happens to be an ancient, magical being - the last of a race that abandoned the Earth thousands of years ago.

But there's Something Else out there. Something that's been buried in a local park for years. Something that has broken free of its cocoon-like prison. And that Something Else is powerful. And very angry.

One night - the same night the Cocoon-Creature breaks free - Paul Brightfield disappears. Soon after, spirits of that Ancient Age begin to grow, like living plants, up out of the earth. The Cocoon-Creature - now in the form of a woman - uses her spells to cut Cody's neighborhood off from the outside world, transforming it, and everyone who lives there; re-creating that long ago time of magic. But this is no perfect Golden Age. This is a world of darkness and great danger.

The only ones who survive the transformation (thanks to a spell Paul left behind) are Cody, his sister, K.M., his oldest friend, Alana, and Alana's younger brother, Nathaniel. These four children have to find a way to restore their families, their world, and stop the Dark Woman. And the only way they can do it is to find someone, or something, called The Stardust Kid. But they have no idea who or what that is!

Westfield: As you mentioned, you're working with artist Mike Ploog on this book. How much story input does he have?

DeMatteis: I'm very grateful to CrossGen for bringing Mike Ploog onto Abadazad and putting the two of us together. Working with him has been one of the great pleasures of my career. Mike's a down-to-earth guy with a terrific sense of humor... who just happens to be one of the great fantasy illustrators on the planet. More important: He's one of the best storytellers in the comic book business. When Mike designs a page, every choice he makes, every character movement, exists to further, and enhance, the story. And, of course, there's his amazing imagination. Every time I have an idea about how a character will look, Mike always finds a way to both meet my vision... and top it at the same time. He infuses the work with emotion, drama, and a wonderful sense of the whimsical. He's really extraordinary.

On Stardust Kid, Mike's input at the conception stage was considerable. As noted, I had the bones of the story for years, but talking it over with Mike helped me see the story in a new way. Then, I had the fun of creating characters and situations based on pre-existing Ploog designs... which really stimulated my imagination. Now that we're off and running, the story is all in my hands; but without Mike's amazing designs, his creative input, and especially his ability to help me re-think this project from the ground up, The Stardust Kid simply wouldn't exist.

Westfield: Do you have plans for more Stardust Kid stories if this mini-series is successful?

DeMatteis: Yes. I could easily see doing a Stardust Kid mini-series once a year. I can also envision spinning the series off into children's books, as we're doing with Abadazad.

Westfield: You've done some very successful books in the fantasy genre, such as Moonshadow and Abadazad. What is there about this genre that keeps you coming back?

DeMatteis: I think it's the opportunity to create an entire world from the ground up. With Moonshadow, it was a very unconventional universe, part fairy-tale, part science fiction... with Abadazad, a storybook fairyland come to life. Now with the Stardust Kid, we're creating another kind of world: more primal - and darker - than Abadazad. But in all these cases, the fun is just opening my head up and allowing the ideas to flow. Allowing the world to, essentially, build itself, atom by atom. It's been my experience that, once I tune in to these Other Worlds, my job is to get out of the way and let the characters, the places, the events just flow through me. I love being surprised by what appears on the page. When things are going well, it really feels as if I'm just a channel. As if these worlds, these characters, really exist somewhere... and they're the ones sending the stories through.

All that said, I'm not a big fan of the kind of fantasy where all the characters are otherworldly creatures. Much as I adored Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager, I can't write that kind of material. I have to have a real, recognizable human at the center of the fantasy. Abadazad is nothing without Kate. Moonshadow himself, despite his odd origins, was a very real teenage boy. And the characters at the center of The Stardust Kid are a group of believable contemporary kids - with believable contemporary problems.

Westfield: Anything you can tell us about the future of Abadazad?

DeMatteis: Abadazad, as you've probably heard, has been reborn as a series of children's books, to be published by Disney's Hyperion Books For Children. We're attempting to create a hybrid of prose, illustration, and sequential art that, we hope, will be unlike anything seen before. The first two books in the series will be in bookstores in the spring of '06, with the next following in the autumn of the same year and another in the spring of '07. If sales are good - as we hope they will be - we'll continue the series.

After all the struggles we went through at CrossGen, we're very happy to have found a home with Disney/Hyperion - and we hope that Abadazad has a long and happy future.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

DeMatteis: There are a few fun projects that I'm doing with the great Keith Giffen: The first part of I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League - the follow-up to our Eisner-winning Formerly Known As The Justice League - comes out from DC this month, as part of JLA Classified. It will be running through July. Kevin Maguire is, of course, penciling... with Joe Rubinstein on inks.

Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire will also be doing The Defenders for Marvel, starting in July. It's our opportunity to stand the Marvel Universe on its head and have some fun with Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer. We've been approved for five issues... and, if those sell well, we'll keep chugging along. It's the first book I've done for Marvel in quite a while... and we're having a very good time so far. The first storyline involves Doctor Strange's old enemy, Dormammu, and his sister, Umar. But forget everything you know about them. Our interpretation is a little... different.

Keith and I are also following up our Hero Squared one-shot, which was published by Atomeka, with a three issue mini-series that will be coming out in the spring. The art is by an amazing new talent, Joe Abraham. Hero Squared is a project Keith and I are very excited about. It's the story of a twenty-something named Milo Stone who finds a strange guy in tights and a cape standing in his living room. The guy's name is Captain Valor and it turns out that Valor is Milo Stone... from another universe, where super-heroes are real. That universe has been destroyed by a villain named Caliginous... and Valor, the only survivor, has come to our world seeking help from his doppelganger. Milo, of course, isn't super at all; just a lazy, directionless slacker. Meanwhile, Caliginous (who happens to be the alternate universe incarnation of Milo's girlfriend, Stephie) follows Valor to our world and... Well, it goes on from there. Hero Squared is a buddy comedy, a romantic comedy, a super-hero adventure... and, we hope, a lot of fun.

I'm also continuing to write for the Justice League Unlimited show on Cartoon Network... and I've got a couple of interesting irons in the Hollywood fire.

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