November 1, 2014

 




Interview:
J.M. DeMatteis

By Dan Epstein



 

DE: Here's a blast from the past. What happened to Time Travel, the Rip Van Winkle-type movie?

JD: That was a movie I wrote for Chris Columbus [director of the Harry Potter films and Mrs. Doubtfire]. The title of the story was never Time Travel but Variety wrote it up that way. No one who was working on the movie called it that. It was called Straight On Till Morning. Over the years Iíve done a bunch of stuff for film and TV. Like most things in Hollywood, I wrote it, worked with nice people, got paid very nicely and it never got made. 

I also worked on the Daredevil movie with Chris Columbusís production company. Iím very curious to see Daredevil when it comes out to see if any of our ideas made it in. The fun and frustrating thing about Hollywood is that you never know, next week someone could dust off Straight On Till Morning and make it.

DE: You wrote for a few TV and cartoon shows.

JD: I wrote for Tthe Real Ghostbusters, the live action Superboy, and Earth: Final Conflict.

DE: How did that work come to you?

JD: Well, the first thing I did was an episode of The Twilight Zone [in 1985, the episode was called ďThe Girl That I MarriedĒ] and that was just me knocking on doors. I was lucky enough to connect with Alan Brennert [later to be a producer/writer on L.A. Law]. Then you get an agent and it goes from there. I got to Chris Columbusís company, 1492, because I had done an animated feature for Disney, which, of course, didnít get made. So when I was in town I had a meeting with a guy named Jim Mulay at 1492. I pitched him that story and he liked it, so then I pitched it to Chris over the phone and they bought it.

One of my favorite things that I ever worked on was a science-fiction series for CBS called The Osiris Chronicles; Caleb Carr [author of The Alienist and The Lessons of Terror] developed it. It was like being in on the ground floor of Star Trek. An all-new universe. So I wrote my episode and I was looking forward to that series getting picked up. It never did.

Itís a weird business, Hollywood. I know guys who are Academy Award nominated screenwriters and 90 percent of what they write never gets made. One of the really wonderful things about comic books is that you write it and itís out there and sometimes when the deadlines are really screwed up you write it and itís out there 2-3 weeks later. People read it, and then they write you letters. 

I liked that as a kid, as a reader, the immediacy of comics and now as a professional. I think all of us in comics are spoiled because we do our stuff and it gets printed, every month. Iíve had hundreds and hundreds of stories printed. Itís a great thing for a writer, there arenít many places for writers to go and get published regularly. Plus to have an audience that appreciates what you do. As much as I can get jaded about the business, there are many of wonderful things about it, even in its current strange shape.

DE: Iíd also like to talk about Avatar Meher Baba.

JD: Youíre poking around everywhere, huh? [Laughs]

DE: Itís something that people donít really know about you.

JD: Some people attribute it to me too much and they think that everything I write is some sort of spiritual proselytizing, even if itís a Spider-Man story.

Itís hard to talk about my spirituality without it sounding like something other than what it is. Itís so deeply personal. My spiritual connection is the center of my life from which everything springs out, my family, my career, my entire approach to life. Meher Baba is the face that I put on that center.

Brooklyn Dreams was as autobiographical as anything Iíve ever written but the reason I didnít want the character to have my name is because I wanted the freedom to lie a little bit to get at the truth. I think if you try too hard to be historically accurate you end up focusing on details and lose sight of other, far more important truths. But that story is about me being 17, waking up and thinking that something is off; that thereís a piece of the puzzle missing.

That was the beginning on my spiritual quest -- which ended (or perhaps began) with me having an experience which, for lack for a better phrase, I could only call mystical, and that changed my life. It opened me up to many paths to God from many cultures and in the course of that I encountered Meher Baba and I knew very quickly this he was the doorway for me. He was the One. Itís been nearly thirty years now.

DE: So all through your work...

JD: Yes, itís something that has only deepened and deepened with time. Iím at a point in my writing life now where I realize that there are other things I want to do. I still want to continue to work in the film business, but in the past year I feel like Iíve been wanting to put out more of the spiritual aspect of myself in a direct form as opposed to having to hide it behind the Spectreís cowl. As much as some people think Iím hitting them over the head, Iím very much keeping things in service to the story. To write a book that directly speaks to what I think and feel about that level of reality is very appealing. 

Iíve been noodling around with something for a couple of years now and weíll see if it manifests into something real or just something for myself. I feel drawn towards writing material like that and writing childrenís books. Iím interested in seeing if a year from now Iím still in comics at all. I really donít know if I will -- but Iíve said that many times over the years and then I get offered something that sparks my imagination and off we go. If I could get some good kids comics going that would re-ignite my fire a little bit.

DE: Why is it a hard thing to get comics for young kids out there?

JD: They donít think thereís money in kidsí comics. Kids books are in a major boom. Harry Potter proved that kids want to read wonderful fantasy stories. You would think that comic book publishers out of everyone else in the world would want to do these kinds of books. Thatís not the response that I get, though. The wonderful artist Michael Lark and I are developing a kids project, or an all-ages project as people want to call it. God forbid you should mention children and comic books in the same breath.

The point being is that I donít think comic book companies get it. I pitched a whole line of these books to one company; they said it was a great idea but that theyíd have to spend too much money to promote it. Well, yeah, you would have to spend money to promote it but the rewards if you do it correctly would be enormous. Imagine poetically written, lushly comics like the Harry Potter and Narnia Chronicles books.

DE: When you name Harry Potter and Narnia together, I get really upset.

JD: Because the Narnia books are so much better, you mean?

DE: I canít really say anything bad because I havenít read Harry Potter but the Narnia books rule.

JD: I read the Harry Potter books and the Narnia books are much better but Harry Potter is a lot of fun. Rowling is a fantastic storyteller. I feel the same way about Narnia as you do -- theyíre in a class by themselves -- but Iíve got a seven year-old daughter who is a Harry Potter fanatic and sheís got all the books and the audiotapes. Sheíll sit there and listen to all the books through over and over...just constantly listening to Harry Potter. We read plenty of other stuff too...all the Oz books...Mary Poppins...weíre now into Roald Dahl [author of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory].

DE: Another genius.

JD: Talk about amazing writers. These so-called childrenís book writers are as good as any writers you can think of -- and better than most. It takes a real skill and a love of the language.

DE: Well then, Marc, you have a good chance of doing those books then. Thanks a lot.

JD: Later, Dan.





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