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The Last Word in Magical Worlds - Part 2

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In the  first part of our story, J.M. DeMatteis shared the story of his children's book series  Abadazad with Broken Frontier's Neil Figuracion. Now continuing the conversation, J.M. discusses some of the ideas behind his work, and exactly why it was so important to make comics for kids in the first place.

Part 2 – Why We Have Stories

BROKEN FRONTIER: Going back to your earlier work, like Greenberg the Vampire, many of your characters are story-tellers or writers. What would you hope for fans of Abadazad to feel about the people who tell them stories? Or would you hope for young fans to find inspiration in Kate's journals?

J.M. DEMATTEIS: I'm the kind of person who takes books to heart, who takes his favorite writers into the deeps of his soul. For me, the world of books has always been a doorway into something deeper—and sometimes truer—than so-called reality. A doorway into realms that exist inside all of us. My hope, with all my stories, is that somewhere out there is someone reading my work with the same kind of passion, finding the same kind of spark in my stories that I've found in my favorite writers.

The other reason I like to use stories within stories in my work is because I completely believe that we're all LIVING in a story; that the entire universe is an act of imagination; that God is writing the story and allowing us to participate in it and, ultimately, shape it with Him (or Her or It: take your pick). I don't mean this metaphorically, I believe this to be literally true. We're walking through a world composed of imagination, we're imaginary characters... but we're also the Writer creating the characters.

How could I not play with those themes in my stories?

BF: Even looking back on your work with Spider-man, it feels like your characters often take not only a physical and emotional journey, but a spiritual one as well. Is this something you set out to do intentionally, or is it something you find along the way?

JMD: Both. All of us, in one way or another, are on a spiritual journey. We're all seeking some kind of meaning, some kind of hope, some kind of purpose in our lives. And I very consciously choose to explore that spiritual search in my work, just as I very consciously choose to peel apart the psychological layers of my characters. I'm interested in who we are, why we do what we do. That said, ALL stories are ultimately found along the way. You set things in motion, you have a theme or problem in mind...but the best stories take off like rockets, determined to go their own way. It's all we can do to hang on for the ride.

BF: Had you ever written a novel before?

JMD: When you look at my comic work over the years, you look at Moonshadow or Brooklyn Dreams, they're very novelistic anyway. One of the reasons that Brenda had this idea... She read this comic and thought, well here's pages and pages of illustation with copy and even with Abadazad [the comic], it's trying to take a novelistic approach. I think it's sort of a logical extension. I don't know if you saw the sequel to Moonshadow, called Farewell Moonshadow...

BF: I did read that.

JMD: It was in illustration, then we'd have a little comic book sequence very similar to what we have in [the book version of] Abadazad. So I'd been sort of working in that direction for years. This was an opportunity to take that and expand it even more.

BF: In a way it feels like it was a new frontier. In other ways, do you think there were parts of the story that were sacrificed?

JMD: I understand what you're saying. There's a certain joy to a pure visual comic book experience that got lost. The hardcore comic book fans would say “I'm not going to read this. It's a book. It's not a comic and I like the comic book.”

BF: The comic book is great.

JMD: The comic book was great! But what this did for us is it got us into specific venues and it got is out to the audience that we wanted to read it in the first place – the book sections at Barnes and Noble.

I think some things got lost in translation and other things got added. It allowed me a lot more room to get into the texture and the psychology and the emotions of the characters in a different way. I think it's confusing to a certain percentage of the audience. Is it a book? Is it a comic book?

BF: Now that you're in bookstores, how has that experience been?

JMD: I have to say, the book came out in June and I walked into my local Barnes and Noble and there was this display box with all these Abadazad books. My wife brought the camera. We posed. It was very exciting! I think of it as a doorway into another world. I have been doing comics for a long time, so I'm always looking for a new challenge and a new place to expand outward and do something different. This is an opportunity to do something that has its roots in comics but its moving out into something different.

BF: What would you want that different thing to be?

JMD: Well again, the original impetus was – I want to reach kids! And the comic book industry is not reaching kids.

BF: It's that weird period where comics are not for kids anymore after the '80s.

JMD: You know, that's right, because DC had that slogan, I think it was in the '80s: “Comics are not just for kids anymore.” And they took the word just out. Now it's comics aren't for kids anymore. You look through the indies and see things like Lions, Tigers and Bears and Mouse Guard and things like that; one here, one there and one there. Marvel and DC, even when they try to do it, I don't think they have the right perspective. That's why I originally tried to sell a whole line of these – a kind of Vertigo for kids.

BF: If you had this line, who would you imagine in it?

JMD: That's a really good question. Like I said, Michael Zulli and I wanted to work on an idea. I have a sense that there are a lot of guys out there that given the chance would jump! What happens, you become a parent and it changes your perspective on your life, on your work. I have a daughter who's twelve. I have a son who's twenty-six and works for Boom Studios now.

BF: Has your daughter read Abadazad?

JMD: I've been telling my daughter Abadazad stories from before I wrote it. The main character in the series is named after her, Kate. And the Stardust Kid, his name is Cody. That's my son.

BF: So he was the first audience member?

JMD: He was – still is – he proofreads the stories. He gives me suggestions for characters. Y'know, all kinds of things.

BF: Have you met many children reading the book?

JMD: We were sitting at the Los Angeles Comic Book Convention and here was this whole long line and finally a little girl came along with her Abadazads in hand. That was the best part of the whole day! I did  a reading near my house and there were kids there. I've been getting letters and things. A friend of mine just told me she gave it to her nephew, who took it to school and all the kids were reading it now. That's what I wanted, even with the comic. I went to my daughter's class and did a presentation. [Mark] Alessi sent me copies of the first issue, when they were first coming out and we gave it to all the kids. This little girl came up to me and said “Mr DeMatteis, I don't like reading at all, and I love this!”

That's it. What else could make you happier?

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