Wow, was this a thrill!
I've been a fan of J.M. DeMatteis' work for a long time, having read his work on, among others, Superman, Spider-Man, The Defenders, Moonshadow, and the Justice League.
But, as I've mentioned many times before, he was also the writer on one of my all-time favorite Aquaman runs, one that started off with a bang in Adventure Comics #475, featuring art by Dick Giordano, and gave Aquaman some of his most dynamic and exciting adventures, filled with slam-bang superhero action but also tender moments that exemplified what made Aquaman so special.
But after a mere four issues, the series was yanked out of Adventure and then put in the back of Action Comics, where DeMatteis continued to write it(this time with Don Heck doing the art) for a few more issues.
I've been wanting to talk to J.M. for a long time, and thanks to mutual friend(and Back Issue! editor) Michael Eury, I got the chance to do just that:
Aquaman Shrine: Did you read lots of comics growing up? Did you set out to write them?
J.M. DeMatteis: As I've often said, I don't remember a time when I didn't read comics. They've been a part of my life since I was very, very young. I was hooked on that heady mixture of words and pictures from the first time I saw one.
Did I set out to write comics? Actually, when I was a kid art was my passion, soon followed by rock and roll (both as a musician and a professional reviewer); but writing was always part of my life, as well. From the time I was a teenager, I was pretty passionate about wanting to write comics.
But I have to add I never saw myself as "just" a comic book writer: over the years, I've written for comics, TV, film, journalism and the book world. And, even within comics, I've tried to keep things diverse, writing superheroes, children's comics like Abadazad and Stardust Kid, the funny stuff with Keith Giffen, and more personal projects like Moonshadow and Brooklyn Dreams.
AMS: How did you end up with the Aquaman assignment?
JMD: As I recall, Len Wein, a wonderful editor who was my mentor in my early days in the business, just called me up one day and said, "You're the new writer of Aquaman."
To which I said: "Great!" That early in a career, you don't say, "Let me think about it." Someone offers you a gig, you scream "Yes!" at the top of your lungs and start writing.
AMS: How familiar were you with the character before you started writing him? The stories--as short as they are--reveal depths to the character would have seem to have come only from being pretty familiar with him.
JMD: I was certainly familiar with Aquaman from his own series and, even moreso, from Justice League. But I wasn't really immersed in his background and mythology. As soon as I got the assignment I went out and bought a stack of back issues--stories by Steve Skeates and David Micheline, as I recall--and wolfed them down. I enjoyed them all but felt a real connection to Micheline's work. He had a great run and I found it very inspiring.
AMS: You mentioned that the Aquaman run was the first superhero feature you wrote. Did working with an old pro like Dick Giordano make it easier to, er, get your feet wet with the process?
JMD: I was honored to have Dick do the art for those stories. There I was, a newbie, and this amazing artist was illustrating my stories? He did such a wonderful job. (As did Don Heck, who drew the stories in Action Comics.) Dick's major contribution was making the stories look so darn good. If someone else had drawn that run, you might not be talking to me about the stories now.
AMS: Any idea why it ran so briefly? It ran just four issues as the lead in Adventure Comics and then it got moved to the back of Action Comics.
JMD: As I recall they were just changing formats--and so the feature was booted over to Action. For some reason, Dick couldn't continue with the series, so Don Heck stepped in. I think I full-scripted the first couple of Heck stories, then I was offered an exclusive contract at Marvel and left DC--but not before I wrote the final plots, which Len Wein dialogued.
AMS: Was it a fun assignment?
JMD: Hey, I was just starting out in the business, I was working with an iconic character, Len Wein was my editor, Dick Giordano and Don Heck were drawing the stories: it was Heaven!
AMS: Were you overall happy with the results? It's always been one of my all-time favorite Aquaman runs, and when I talked about them on the Shrine it became clear I wasn't the only one who felt that way!
JMD: What's so funny to me is that I really haven't thought about those stories much over the years. Looking back, though, I think they were pretty solid, especially considering what a neophyte I was. (Having an inspirational editor like Len no doubt contributed to that.) Those Aquaman stories were probably better than some of the stuff I wrote in my first year or two at Marvel.
AMS: Any interest in writing Aquaman again?
JMD: Well, I did get to use Aquaman a little bit when I was writing for the Justice League Unlimited animated series a couple of years back. As for the comics--I don't really know what the character's about these days, so I can't really say!
AMS: What projects are you working on now?
JMD: I've got a bunch of projects--books, comics, TV, film--in the works right now, most of which I can't talk about on the record. But I'm busy and happy!
I was absolutely thrilled to get to talk to J.M. DeMatteis. Not only did he write some of my favorite Aquamans, but he was enormously friendly and a total pleasure to interview, and it's way cool of him to give us some of the back story behind Aquaman's all-too-brief final run in Adventure Comics. Thanks J.M.!