Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, J. M. DeMatteis was a professional musician and rock music journalist before entering the comic book field. DeMatteis has written almost all of the major DC and Marvel icons—including memorable runs on Spider-Man (his classic “Kraven’s Last Hunt” was voted number one in a 2012 Comic Book Resources poll of Spider-Man stories and number twelve in a 2017 CBR poll of the greatest comic book stories of all time.
What was the first thing you remember reading?
I remember being around four years old, sitting in the children’s section of the local public library, looking at a Dr. Seuss book. Couldn’t say what it was…or if I was actually reading it or just enjoying the illustrations…but that’s the earliest, clear memory.
How did you get started in Comics?
I started at DC Comic in the late 1970s, pitching ideas to their anthology titles—Weird War Tales, House of Mystery, etc. That’s where new writers broke in in those days, writing little five to eight-page, twist-ending stories of the supernatural. A great way to play with the form and learn the craft of writing comics. Didn’t hurt that my editors were brilliant guys like Paul Levitz and Len Wein, who were there to teach me what I needed to know.
You’ve worked both on such historical titles such as on Spiderman, Capt. America the Defenders, Justice League, and others. What was the biggest difference between Marvel DC?
For me? No difference. The story is the story, no matter what universe it’s set in. I know people want to create some huge wall between both companies—and there certainly is, from a business perspective—but for me as a writer, I work with great characters—and great collaborators—at Marvel and DC. From my perspective, it’s all one big Comic Book Multiverse and I’m delighted I get to play in it.
Who was your favorite artist to work with?
I’ve had so many incredible collaborators that I could never pick one. When I started in the business I was lucky enough to have stories illustrated by some of the giants I admired growing up, guys like Gene Colan, Gil Kane, John Buscema. And then, once I established my career, I worked—and continue to work—with some of the very best in the business, from Jon J Muth to Sal Buscema, Mike Zeck to Michael Zulli. And those are just four names out of dozens of truly gifted collaborators. (If I listed them all we’d have no room for anything else!) I count myself very fortunate.
Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on the type of art you create?
I think the place we grow up in certainly shapes us. I haven’t lived in Brooklyn in many years, but that’s where I came of age and it infused me with a certain sensibility that follows me to this day. But, really, the stories come from someplace much deeper than that: from our heart and soul, our unconscious mind and spiritual core. Where we live is only one small part of it.
Is it easier for you to create if given an assignment or does it get in the way of your creativity?
Doesn’t get in the way at all. In fact, it often stimulates it. A writer can spend weeks, months, sometimes years, chewing over a new idea, bringing it to life, nursing it along—but, given a paying assignment and a deadline, the creative juices instantly kick in and you’re off and writing.
You’ve also written novels, screenplays, not just comics. What medium do you think you’ve achieved the most in your writing?
I love them all. The story is story is the story. It may express itself differently in a screenplay than it does in a comic book, but the essence of what makes a story work remains the same. So my favorite medium is whichever one I’m working in at the moment.
What have you written that you are most proud of?
Hard to pore through forty years of work, but if I had to choose, I’d pick three things: Moonshadow, with Jon J Muth…my autobiographical graphic novel Brooklyn Dreams, with Glenn Barr…and a children’s series (part prose/part comics) I did for Disney’s Hyperion Books called Abadazad, illustrated by Mike Ploog. But there are many more projects that remain very close to my heart. Especially the ones I’m working on now!
What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your writing career? A specific assignment from a comic book company, a screenplay for a producer, books for a publisher?
Maybe the Scooby Apocalypse series Keith Giffen and I did for DC a couple of years ago. I remember getting the call from Giffen, describing this strange updating of the Scooby-Doo universe and thinking, “Really? Scooby-Doo?” But I love working with Keith, so I said yes—and it turned out to be a fantastic gig. I fell in love with those characters and that world.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve got comics projects in the works with some of my favorite mainstream characters—but they’re in the top-secret phase, so I can’t spill the beans yet. (And that’s why I’m being so vague about it.) Also developing a number of original comics series with some wonderful artists. Waiting on word about a new animation project. Teaching my online Imagination 101 workshop. And keeping very busy!