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Abadazad and Stardust Kid:
An Interview with Writer J.M. DeMatteis

It is an honor to introduce some of you new to comics to writer J.M. DeMatteis. He has been writing some of my favorite comics for as long as I have been reading them. He has written some very dark books and some very funny books in the past, and now he has two all ages books out that I think are a bit of a mix of both.

Mr. DeMatteis, I have been reading your books for years (I even tried teaching my baby daughter to laugh by going Bwa Ha Ha, but my wife made me stop), but some readers out there may be new to you. Tell us a bit about your career so far.

I started out as a rock music journalist, then segued into the comics field in the late 1970's/early 80's. I've written almost all of the Marvel-DC super-hero icons as well as original projects like Moonshadow, Blood: a tale, Brooklyn Dreams, Seekers Into The Mystery, Abadazad and the Stardust Kid.

I've also written for film and television and, these days, thanks to Abadazad, I'm moving foursquare into the children's book world.

Tell us a bit about Abadazad . What is it about? Who are the major characters?

Abadazad is a magical land that our lead character—a surly, cynical fourteen year old named Kate—has only known through a series of famous fantasy novels written, a century ago, by a writer named Franklin O. Davies. But when Kate suddenly finds herself journeying through the real Abadazad in search of her beloved younger brother, Matt—who vanished five years earlier—she discovers that the truth of Abadazad is far stranger, and more amazing, than fiction.

Abadazad predates the new popularity of the fantasy series Narnia and LOTR. What inspired you to write this story?

My primary goal with Abadazad was to create a comic book series that I could read with my daughter. I wanted to write a story that was smart and literate, exciting and whimsical, with strong ideas and a resonant emotional core. Something that a parent and child could share and enjoy equally. A tale that paid tribute to Oz and Narnia and Neverland...and all the great children's books that have nurtured me and my kids...and yet moved forward into new, and challenging, territories that were uniquely my own.

The story began as a regular comic series (the traditional format). Now the series is being printed in digest sized graphic novels with a mix of comic and text pages. Why the change?

When CrossGen [Abadazad's original publisher] went into bankruptcy, Brenda Bowen, at Hyperion Books for Children, approached us about publishing Abadazad...and suggested the hybrid format. Mixing prose, illustration and sequential art sections, so that we had something new that would stand apart from both the graphic novels and prose books. At first I wasn't sure about it...and then I realized that this was just an extension of what I'd been doing throughout my career in comics. I've always tried to push the border between so-called comics and so-called prose. If you look at projects like Moonshadow (and, even more, the sequel, Farewell, Moonshadow, which uses a format almost identical to Abadazad's). And, of course, if you look at the Abadazad comics, you'll see that certain sections were simply prose with illustration, while others had the more fluid storytelling skills of traditional comics.

What Brenda was suggesting was taking what we'd already done and pushing it to the limit. No matter how hard I tried to include lengthy prose sections within the context of a comic book, there were inherent limitations in the form. By taking this idea and moving it to a book, I was free to write as much as I wanted, to bring in the comic book sequences when the story demanded it. And Mike Ploog was allowed to indulge his considerable illustration skills, creating beautiful images that aren't constrained by the comic book format; I am incredibly grateful to Brenda for suggesting it, for pushing us even deeper into that frontier between “books” and “comics.” And I'm grateful to the people at Hyperion who have worked so hard to make Abadazad books such beautiful, unique packages.

Ultimately what this did for Abadazad was make it less of a graphic novel and more of a book, which is why, when you stroll into your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, you'll find it in the children's book section and not in the graphic novels section. This allows us to reach an audience we never could have reached in the comics shops, or even in another section of the store.

I often hear/read that the comics industry has a hard time making comics that appeal to girls, and when they do, the have a hard time getting girls to actually read them. On the other hand, within the education community there seems to be little trouble getting girls to read. It is the boys we worry about. How do Abadazad and Stardust Kid appeal to both boys and girls?

I think that if a story has a strong protagonist, male or female, that a reader can relate to, they'll be carried along by the story. In Abadazad, Kate is (I hope!) a real, three-dimensional fourteen year old, beset by the kinds of problems many contemporary fourteen year olds have to deal with. I don't think it matters all that much that she's female. I think a boy would relate to Kate as easily as a girl. In the end, it's the depth, the reality, the relatability of the characters that matter.

In Stardust Kid we've got a group of characters, boys and girls, that I hope are interesting and relatable. And, in both these stories, the main characters provide a doorway into magical lands that should appeal to all readers, regardless of gender. (There was a time when I think boys were a larger part of the audience for fantasy and science-fiction. I think that's changed in recent years. We live in a time when many, perhaps most, young readers adore stories of fantasy and adventure. They've been raised on it. It's woven into our popular culture.)

I think the problem with some fantasy is that there's no one contemporary for the reader to relate to, and so the otherworldliness of it becomes overwhelming or off-putting (at least it does for me). I want someone like me, someone from my world, my time, to be my eyes and ears in that fantasy world. Given that, I can accept whatever otherworldly thing a story throws at me.

The way distribution is these days, comics are not as readily available as they were in the 80's and before. On the other hand, a few comics are now being carried by the Scholastics book clubs and many bookstores have large Manga sections. How is Abadazad and your newer all ages series, Stardust Kid , being distributed to ensure that kids get a chance to read them?

As noted, Abadazad isn't being treated as a comic book or a graphic novel. It is being treated as a book that incorporates comic book elements. Which is why you'll find it in the children's section of your local bookstore and not in the graphic novel/comics section. Kids who've never looked at comics will be able to find Abadazad...and perhaps that will ignite an interest in comics that will drive them to the graphic novel section and their local comic book shop.

At the moment, Stardust Kid is coming out in traditional pamphlet form, only available in comics shops. A kid has to know about it in order to find it. But once the series is done (our final issue comes out in November), we'll be collecting it together in a nice hardbound volume and sailing it out into the bookstores. We're hoping that the Abadazad connection, the fact that the same writer-artist-colorist team that does Abad is doing SDK, will help raise awareness and bring new, young readers to the Stardust Kid.

Is there a possibility that since SDK is by the same creative team that it will be stacked in bookstores next to Abadazad?  

I would certainly hope so—but you never know.  Since the STARDUST KID collection will probably be typed as a "graphic novel" while ABADAZAD is being typed as a "children's book," there's a possibility that SDK will be placed in the graphic novel section.  My hope is that the ABADAZAD momentum is so strong that it would make perfect business sense to put the two books side-by-side in the kids section.

Same question as before: Tell us a bit about Stardust Kid . What is it about? Who are the major characters?

Twelve year old Cody DiMarco's best friend is Paul Brightfield:  the bond between the two boys is deeper than anyone could ever suspect. You see, Paul Brightfield isn't human :  he's the last of The Old Ones, ancient elemental beings from The Time Before — when no man walked the Earth and magic was a given—and Cody is the only one in all the world who knows Paul's secret.

One October night, Paul Brightfield vanishes...at the same moment that, in nearby Wilde Park , a massive cocoon burrows up out of the earth:  Within the cocoon lies a hate-filled creature that will soon destroy Cody's life — and the lives of everyone he loves...

You have been well known to comic readers for years. Many of the comics you wrote in the 80's were likely written knowing that anyone from eight to eighty might be reading them. The climate is different now with most comics being written for high school aged teens and up in mind and comics written for kids being a small part of the market. Has your writing changed over the years to adjust to this?

Not really. I've always been able to bounce back and forth between genres. Writing Marvel and DC super-heroes, doing adult-oriented material for Epic, Vertigo or Paradox Press, kids' projects like Abadazad. I'm always aware, when I'm writing mainstream super-heroes, that there's just so far you can—and should go—into the realm of so-called “adult” material. (Although, to be honest, I've certainly pushed the boundaries with projects like Kraven's Last Hunt which, at the time, was as dark a Spider-Man story as had ever been done.) Knowing that I could go off and write Moonshadow, Seekers Into The Mystery or Brooklyn Dreams meant that I wasn't trying to force that kind of writing into the mainstream Marvel and DC books.

I've been lucky in that I've had a chance to do just about every kind of story over the years. I've followed my muse, my passions, and written the stories that have mattered to me...regardless of genre or perceived audience.

Thank you for your time. Before we go, what is coming up next for you?

I'm, of course, continuing to work on Abadazad. We've signed for eight books and, if things go well, we'll continue with at least twelve. So a large part of my writing time will be spent in Abadazad. The wonderful thing about the series is that there are so many directions we can take the stories. Once the current story is over, the door is open for sequels, prequels and side stories...and there are many ideas percolating in my head.

I've got another book project—a young adult fantasy novel—in the works, with a very interesting collaborator, and, if it flies, it will be another dream project that I can pour heart and soul into.

I'm finishing deep into a screenplay that I've been writing with my old friend, Carlo Carlei (a wonderful director from Italy —where he's best known for Flight of the Innocent and Padre Pio. In the States, he's known for his wonderful children's film, Fluke ) and Carlo and I have also cooked up a TV project that we'll be shopping around.

Comics-wise, Keith Giffen and I are still co-writing Hero Squared and Planetary Brigade for Boom! Studios...and we're talking about another project that Keith would draw and co-plot: a graphic novel that I cooked up with my friend Derek Webster. It's as exciting a concept as I've ever stumbled across in twenty-five years in comics. But right now that's in the very early stages of development.

I wouldn't mind doing more Stardust Kid, as well...but time will tell whether we continue it as a comic book or jump over into a book format, as we did with Abadazad.

Thank you to to J.M. DeMatteis for his time. He informed me that he and Mike Ploog, the artist on Abadazad and SDK, and going to be interviewed on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in September. I will let you all know when that is going to be aired.

Be sure to check out abadazad.com, the animated site put up by Disney.

HERE is a review of the first issue of Stardust Kid.

And HERE is a review of the first issue of Abadazad. Remember, it is in a new format now - more prose and less comic, but I think the review holds up.

Any questions or comments, contact me at comicsintheclassroom @ gmail.com


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