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Return to Abadazad:
An Interview with J.M. DeMatteis

Disney liked the book so much, they bought the company.

The end of CrossGen left people hanging on both sides of the equation. Fans were left wondering how storylines would resolve, and creators, some doing the best and most personal work of their careers, suddenly had no outlet.

Last week, Disney announced that they had picked up most of the properties involved, and one they considered the jewel in the crown already has a place on Disney's schedule: the children's fantasy Abadazad.

Borrowing from only the best traditions in children's literature and funneling them through a modern prism into something new and strange, Abadazad absolutely deserves the Disney treatment. For comics fans, it also marked the return of master fantasy artist Mike Ploog to the pages of sequential art -- but in Disney's plans, you'll see, he may be stepping into something a little different.

Via e-mail, we spoke to Abadazad co-creator and series writer J.M. DeMatteis about his plans for the project.

Derek McCaw: How will going from comic book to more formal “children’s book” change your approach to writing Abadazad?

J.M. DeMatteis: It will change nothing...and everything. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter the medium or genre. Our first priority is to continue the story of Abadazad, to honor that world and the people who inhabit it. That said, we're looking forward to the challenge of embracing a new way to tell that tale. We're hoping to create something that hasn't been seen before: a hybrid that embraces prose, illustration and sequential art, weaving them all together into a format that we hope will be unique. These will not be comic books, these will not be graphic novels...but they won't be Just Another Kid's Book, either.

This is all new to us...we're sailing out into unchartered waters...and that's the fun of it; but it's also the reason I can't be more specific about our approach: we're all learning, and changing, every day.

Derek McCaw: There were some dark ideas going on behind the first issues. Aside from child disappearance, you also lightly touched upon racism – are those elements still there in the “Disney version?”

J.M. DeMatteis: Brenda Bowen at Hyperion Books For Children wants to publish Abadazad...not some alternate version of Abadazad. Those same "dark ideas" you mention will continue to run through the series. Nothing will altered in terms of story content. No one has drawn a creative line in the sand and told us not to step over it.

I very much wanted Abadazad to be a contemporary fairy tale with a contemporary child at its center: not some Dorothy or Alice but a real girl who's suffered through divorce and dysfunction and profound loss. That's not changing.

Mike Ploog and I have poured our hearts and souls into this series, telling the tale to the very best of our abilities and with no limits...and Brenda is encouraging us to continue doing just that—only in this new and exciting format.

Derek McCaw: Your work has often had a very spiritual aspect to it. Will that reflect in Abadazad?

I ain't got no body.
J.M. DeMatteis: No more or less than it's already been reflected in the story. I bring a certain spiritual point of view to everything I do; but, as I've said a number of times before, my job writing this is to just get out of the way and let the citizens of Abadazad send their story through me (sometimes I feel like a human teletype machine!). Now if Professor Headstrong decides he wants to give a lecture on The Nature of Reality As He Sees it...and if Mary Annette wants to tell him to stop being such a cosmic bore and shut up...well, that's their business, not mine.

Derek McCaw: How has it been working with Mike Ploog as co-creator? How does that divide up?

J.M. DeMatteis: One of the things I am most grateful to CrossGen for is bringing Mike to the project. As you probably know, Mike was out of comics for years, concentrating on storyboard and design work in film; he'd been thinking about returning to comics work and I was (and still am) completely flattered that Abadazad was the project that brought him back.

From Day One Mike and I hit it off, both professionally and personally. Our work on Abadazad is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable creative collaborations I've ever known. Abadazad is a world I've carried around in my head for years...but Mike has brought it to brilliant visual life.

There's a wonderful back and forth that goes on as I send him notes about characters and he sends back designs; as we bounce ideas across the Atlantic—Mike lives in England—and come up with the definitive visual representations of our extraordinary cast. He brings my scripts to life with humor and emotion and incredible imagination...and his storytelling, which is the single most important element in comics, is impeccable.

I can't overstate Mike's contribution to the success of the comic book: I'm very much looking forward to continuing our collaboration in a whole new way with the Abadazad books.

Derek McCaw: With the new format, will you be restarting Abadazad from the beginning?

J.M. DeMatteis: Yes, we will be starting over from square one...folding in material from the comics, combining it with new material...and then moving forward from there, heading out into the farthest reaches of Abadazad. The single most exciting aspect of working with Hyperion on this is that we're getting to continue our story. It was heartbreaking when we faced the prospect of Abadazad ending prematurely; of it, perhaps, being lost in legal limbo forever.

To know that we're starting up again, that this story can go on for at least four books and, with luck, many more...well, you can't put a price on that.

Derek McCaw: When you launched Abadazad with CrossGen, it was already in financial trouble. What kept you going on the series, and when it closed down, did you think Abadazad was now left behind?

J.M. DeMatteis: To be honest, when I signed on with CrossGen, I had no idea they were in any kind of financial trouble. If I knew, I never would have signed the contract! Once we got going and it became clear that they were...well, I had to keep faith that things would work out. I couldn't just walk away from this Dream Project that I nurtured for years.

As you know, it did finally reach a point where Ploog and I decided to take legal action to get all the rights returned to us. We were still very much in the legal thick of it when Disney came along...specifically when Brenda Bowen contacted me about the possibility of Hyperion doing Abadazad as a series of children's books.

Mike and I were incredibly intrigued...but we weren't just going to say yes after everything we'd been through. There were many issues that had to be ironed out. The great news is that we ended up with a deal that we're all very happy with...and now it's a whole new beginning for us—and for Abadazad.

I'm a great believer in the idea that "everything turns out for the best"—and the Abadazad saga has really been a lesson for me in holding on to my faith and hope, even when things look miserable. The situation was pretty wretched there for a while...yet now we're in a better place than we could ever have imagined. It's as if we're writing a fairy tale—and living in it at the same time.

Derek McCaw: Can you describe some of the story ideas the Hyperion books will explore?

J.M. DeMatteis: Considering the books won't start coming out till Spring of '06, I think I'll keep my big mouth shut for now. Besides, anything I say will probably be overturned the minute I sit down to write. I learned, early on, that my plans for the series are often, if not always, overruled by the Story Itself: as noted, Abadazad's got a life of its own.

It's a Weirdworld after all...
Derek McCaw: Do you want your own Abadazad land somewhere in the Disney theme parks, and what would some of the rides be?

J.M. DeMatteis: The fact is I'm a total Disnoid, especially where Classic Disney is concerned: Pinocchio is one of my favorite movies of all time (it's the Citizen Kane of animated films)...my wife and I enjoy going to Disneyworld as much as our daughter does (I could spend hours on the Peter Pan ride)...I get all weepy when I hear "When You Wish Upon A Star." So the idea of Abadazad, in any way, being folded into the magical universe that the genius of Walt Disney brought forth...well, I'm totally delighted.

A ride at the theme parks? Sounds terrific. But I can't wait for that Professor Headstrong action figure!

Derek McCaw: Are you already envisioning actors doing voices for your characters as you write them, in hopes of an animated film?

J.M. DeMatteis: I can't write that way. As exciting as it is to ponder the possibility of an Abadazad film (or any other spin-offs), in the end it's All About The Story. These characters have their own lives, their own voices—and it's my job to remain true to those voices...not inject some actor or actress into the mix.

Derek McCaw: Make your pitch here: why should parents go out and pick up the Abadazad books for their children?

J.M. DeMatteis: My primary goal with Abadazad was to create a comic book series that I could read with my daughter (my son, who's in his twenties now, grew up devouring comics—he still loves them—but he was originally hooked by those male-centric superhero universes that most little girls have no interest in whatsoever). 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 format may have changed but that goal remains. With the support of Hyperion and Disney behind us, with the magic of Abadazad to guide us, Mike Ploog and I are hoping that we can reach a much broader audience...and continue on with these stories for many years.

Look for the return of Abadazad in the Spring of 2006!

Derek McCaw

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