July 23, 2014

 




Interview:
J.M. DeMatteis

By Dan Epstein



 

J.M. DeMatteis certainly needs no introduction, but we'll give him one anyway.  A star at Marvel Comics for years, DeMatteis completed classic runs on the Spider-Man books, as well as tackling Man-Thing and Silver Surfer.  Over at DC, however, is where DeMatteis made his other big mark, on both Superman and a Justice League book with collaborator Keith Giffen, among many other projects.  It is the latter achievement that is most applicable for today's interview, as DC has announced that both creators will once again be joining forces for a brand new League miniseries entitled, Formally Known as the Justice League.  See, the humor is still there.

Now let Slush hold your hand as we delve into the mind of J.M. DeMatteis.  We'll talk the League, Spider-Man, G'Nort, handlebar moustaches, and much, much more.

 

Dan Epstein: What made you and Keith Giffen decide to do another Justice League book?

JM DeMatteis: Well, itís come up a few times over the years but I donít know the actual behind-the-scenes shenanigans. I had fun working with Keith, so my feeling was that doing something else would be fun and if it happened, great. This time Dan Raspler [DC Group Editor] said that DC would really do it. I donít know if there was big melodrama or not. For me, they asked if I wanted to do another project with Keith so I said, sure [laughs].

DE: Keith Giffen used to only plot his stories but he moved on to writing in the early 1990ís. Why isnít he writing this?

JD: I think because he wanted to get back to what we used to do together. It was a very unique collaboration in my many years of doing comics. We -- and in that ďweĒ I have to include our editor, Andy Helfer -- created the feeling of that book together. That said, I have to give the lionís share of the credit to Keith and Andy because theyíre the ones who really put the book together and decided on the tone and direction. I came later, responded to what theyíd done, and then made my contribution.

DE: How about short plot description of the new Justice League mini-series?

[Silence]

DE: Really short?

JD: Well, itís a lot of the old characters from way back when in a new context. Itís five years after our League. Maxwell Lord brings them back to make them sort of populist heroes. Like 1-800-dial-a-superhero. You canít pick up the phone and call the JLA, but you can call up our guys. The characters have gone through their changes. But to me whatever changes they have gone through, itís still the same old idiocy weíve all come to know and love. Iím only halfway through the first issue but itís almost weird how quickly the old rhythms asserted themselves. Suddenly Iím filling up more pages than I ever would in any other book.

DE: Are you getting Bob Lappan to letter it again?

JD: Heís the only one who could fit it all in! Whenever we had another letterer besides Bob, Andy would have to have edit the scripts more. I just have no sense of control when I work on these stories with Keith. He sets up the character bits and the plot structure and then I just take the script and go crazy. I just go off at the mouth and do my vaudeville shtick.

It is fun but itís also bizarre coming back after ten years.. Part of me thinks itís weird that weíre doing it. Like itís part of this 1980ís nostalgia boom. Itís like watching a really bad Facts Of Life reunion movie and for the most part these reunion things wind up pretty embarrassing. I keep hoping Iím not in a bad reunion movie.

DE: That could be a joke for the series.

JD: I hadnít thought about it but Iím sure it will get in there now.

In the first issue, itís just Maxwell Lord kind of going to them individually and trying to convince them to do this. So they donít really come together until the second issue.

DE: Is Batman in the book?

JD: We will see the current day JLA in one of the issues. But he canít be in it because heís in the current League and heís busy being Batman. So heís not going to join this storefront group. Keithís brilliant idea is their name; it wonít be the cover name but in the context of the book the name will be The Superfriends. We got permission to use the Superfriends logo from the cartoon show. My main concern with this book is having fun. That was always my criteria with the Justice League.

When I first started on the book years ago, I almost quit after a few issues because it was too easy. I was on the fourth or fifth issue. I figured I should be sweating over it, it should be art -- but I suddenly realized that I was having great fun and they paid me nicely. What was I complaining about? And of course it went on to be one of my favorite all-time comics gigs.

DE: You got Kevin Maguire again to pencil right?

JD: Yes, and Joe Rubinstein will be inking again. So itís going to look really good. Someone from some website or magazine asked me, ďWhat do you think the contribution of this book will be to this industryĒ and I said, ďNone I hope!Ē [laughs]. This is not going to Change The Face Of Comics but itís going to be fun.

DE: That person never read the book.

JD: But yíknow when it came out originally it did have a ripple effect on the industry because it was so different from anything else going on then with superheroes. We were never in it to make a statement or anything, though. It was nice to go to a place where I could leave the statements behind and get goofy. These characters have always felt more real to me than most of the other superheroes out there with their angst and breast beating. Of course this is coming from a guy whoís spent most of his career doing angst and breast beating. But our Justice League always reminded me of real people that I knew growing up, hanging out with my friends in Brooklyn and goofing on each other. To me, they are far more realistic -- at least within the parameters of their weird little world -- than most superheroes.

DE: When you and Keith started were you worried about doing a humor book?

JD: The fun of this book for me is that I was always on the tail end of things. They handed the plots to me, I did whatever the hell I wanted and handed it back. Andy and Keith might have worried about that stuff. But within an issue there was no question because it was a hit. It used to bother other creators because when their characters would appear in our book, they would freak out about what we did with them. Keith would go tell Paul Levitz, ďLook, when they appear in our book weíre going to twist them all out of shape, but I promise to put them back at the end.Ē I always liked half those characters better in our book anyway.

DE: So how did you first meet Keith Giffen?

JD: Well, I met him just through working at DC Comics. Before we did Justice League we worked on a Dr. Fate mini-series together. I wrote and he penciled. Even then, he was always adding interesting things to the plot.

Then Andy got stuck because Gerry Conway had left the old Justice League series...which was coming to an end. So Andy needed someone to do the last four or five issues. So I wrote those last issues...which, frankly, were nothing special. When the new League started up, Keith didnít feel confident in himself as a writer and he wanted someone to dialogue. Actually, he had written the first issue of the new book and hadnít liked it. So I went in and rewrote what he had written.

I think he was always more-than capable of writing but never had the confidence. We didnít realize that this chemical reaction [laughs] would happen between us. Iíd co-plotted with people but I had never co-written with anyone. Almost immediately we trusted each other. Keith would lay out the book, set up the situations and wonderful jokes but I was totally free to do whatever I wanted. Keith has no ego with this stuff and weíre working the same way with the new series. 

There are times when I would stay really close to what Keith wrote in the plot and there are other times when I just went off and wrote something totally different and neither one of us cared. We respect one another. Itís not like we pal around with one another. But on a creative level we did pal around in the best sense. We did so much work together for five years. Justice League, Justice League Europe and those 80 page quarterlies. I finally freaked out and got off Justice League Europe but Keith kept piling it on himself.


Click here for the next page...







Discuss this article on the Slush Forums!