An Interview with J.M. DeMatteis
liked the book so much, they bought the company.
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.
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.
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.
e-mail, we spoke to Abadazad co-creator and series writer
J.M. DeMatteis about his plans for the project.
McCaw: How will going from comic book to more formal
“children’s book” change your approach
to writing Abadazad?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
McCaw: Your work has often had a very spiritual
aspect to it. Will that reflect in Abadazad?
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.
got no body.
McCaw: How has it been working with Mike Ploog
as co-creator? How does that divide up?
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
McCaw: Can you describe some of the story ideas
the Hyperion books will explore?
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
McCaw: Do you want your own Abadazad land somewhere
in the Disney theme parks, and what would some of the rides
Weirdworld after all...
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!
McCaw: Are you already envisioning actors doing
voices for your characters as you write them, in hopes of
an animated film?
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.
McCaw: Make your pitch here: why should parents
go out and pick up the Abadazad books for their children?
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.
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.
for the return of Abadazad in the Spring of 2006!